It looks like the Denver Nuggets aren’t going to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003. It’s difficult for many Nuggets fans to accept; after all, we’ve got a bright young roster full of talent (even if it’s also full of injuries), the advantage of altitude, a high degree of athleticism, and a new coach working on exactly what the team struggled with last year — their defense.
But it might actually be that last point that has caused the Nuggets to fall so far. I’ve heard a lot of gripes from fellow Nuggets fans that what the team is actually suffering from is a lack of basketball intelligence; that is, the ability to make smart decisions while the ball is in play, anticipate and analyze your opponents’ upcoming moves, etc. Last year the Nuggets were a fast-break team, but all that speed and agility can only get so far if you can’t figure out what the other team is going to use against you.
So then, since that’s where the Nuggets are struggling, it would make sense that Brian Shaw has been focusing on running defensive plays during practice. Practice makes perfect, right?
Maybe not. Brian McCormick wrote the book on basketball intelligence (literally), and he might have a different take on all the defensive practices Shaw is running. In this article, McCormick makes the argument that running defensive plays over and over again will make a team stronger at defending against the specific plays they’ve learned, but when players face new challenges, they can’t think quickly enough on their feet to address them in the game.
Having never attended a Nuggets practice, I can’t say how Shaw is practicing defense. But McCormick suggests that it might be more beneficial to have the team run little scrimmage games with fewer men on the court:
When players play 2v2 or 3v3, they get more touches and have more opportunities to read the game and make decisions as opposed to a 5v5 game where one player usually plays point guard and makes a majority of the decisions and handles the ball a majority of the time. In 2v2 or 3v3, the decision-making is easier, as there are fewer variables. Therefore, players attack aggressively – in 5v5, where there is less space and more variables, unconfident players rarely attack the basket and instead catch, hold and pass.
Again, I haven’t seen the Nuggets practice, and I am neither a basketball coach nor a scientist, so I could be misguided in this theory. But all we’re hearing about Shaw’s practices is “defense defense defense,” and the Nuggets don’t seem to be getting better at it. Maybe it’s time to just let them play some 2-on-2.