After the Nuggets went down to the Cavs 117-109, two days after getting arguably their best win of the season over the Warriors in Golden State, I read a few comments stating that we were always a big chance of losing this game ‘as a let down after the emotional win over Golden State’. Wait… what? So after showing just how good we can be we are happy to accept a loss to the Cavs at home? What world am I living in?
In my last article where I discussed the need for Brian Shaw to trade Andre Miller to set the tone and culture for the years ahead for the Nuggets, the above attitude towards our team is another reason why Denver will always be a middle of the road team. Nothing more, nothing less. We have the ability to beat some excellent sides, with the win over Golden State proof of that, and then we can follow that up with some awful performances that has ever Nugget fan tearing their hair out. To me the Golden State win means absolutely nothing unless we show the ability, as a team, to back it up. We can’t allow ourselves to win a huge match only to then roll over and let lesser teams defeat us, particularly when we are on our home court. But we need to look more deeply at our current predicament to understand just where we are at.
It could be argued that where we really struggle is down to two areas – our defense and our front line, and both can be linked together. During the first 9 games of January, for example, our defence has allowed the opposition to score 100+ points in 6 of those games, and in a 7th we allowed another team to score 98 points, a basket away from the magic number of 100. We currently sit 23rd for points allowed, at a disappointing 102, and while our up tempo style has never been conducive to defense, it’s time that we did something about. It feels as though the franchise as a whole has been promising a renewed focus on defense for a decade, but each year we tend to fall well short when it counts. Just 5 days ago we allowed the Utah Jazz to drop 118 points on us, something that is totally unacceptable.
And then we have our frontcourt. Yes, there is talent there. There is no denying that. Hickson and Faried are excellent rebounders on both ends of the floor, and Hickson is also handy around the basket, while Mozgov brings a little more size and strength that allows him to score around the rim and bloke his fair share of shots. Too often, however, we allow opposition big men to get easy buckets at the rim that we are seemingly powerless to stop. And it’s frustrating to watch. Invariably when we lose games of basketball it’s been lost inside 10ft of the basket. Again, if you take a peek at some of the stats from January, you see that big men have found it far too easy to score against use. Randolph 25, Gasol 28, Harris 22 (although we did thump the Magic in this one), Lee 28, Durant 30. Only Alec Burkes and Evan Turner were backcourt high scorers against us in January and, to me, this highlights a glaring deficiency for Denver at the moment.
Are these two things fixable? Of course they are. Brian Shaw has options to do so. The first option is that he still has JaVale McGee and Danilo Gallinari waiting in the wings. Granted, McGee never fills me with confidence on the defensive end, but when paired with the right players the cracks tend to be filled in a little. Gallo has always been handy on the defensive end as well, which will give the team more flexibility. The other options include making trades that will help us out in the short, and long, term. A guy like Omer Asik, for example, would be terrific in our line up. While his contract makes it close to impossible to get him, he is the sort of player who doesn’t require many touches on the offensive end but has the ability to be a game changer on the defensive end. And that is what we need. We have Lawson, Chandler, Foye, Gallinari, Robinson and Fournier in our backcourt who are more than capable of scoring. What they need are the defensive anchors in the middle to support them. Unfortunately, at the minute, what we have isn’t giving them that support often enough, and more and more this is beginning to show.
This Denver team has talent, but Brian Shaw faces some tough questions when it comes to harnessing it. Does he back himself to get more from a guy like Kenneth Faried? Or does he bite the bullet and look outside Colorado for the players he needs? Whatever the question is, he needs to find the answer soon, otherwise this season will slip away quickly, and we may be stuck in the middle of the road for too many years to come.