34.8% shooting, 45 points, six assists, five rebounds and 12 turnovers. Sounds like a pretty full game for Carmelo Anthony. Well, actually it is accumulative stats during the Nuggets three game losing streak. That is right, after looking like a new and improved Carmelo who could potentially average nine rebounds and five assists Melo is averaging two assists and 1.7 rebounds over his previous three games. The sad thing is he is playing a mindless brand of basketball. How brainless has Melo been on the basketball court lately? Well, let’s just say if Forrest Gump’s mom wanted to get Carmelo admitted into “regular school” she would have to pork the principal a few more times than she did to get Forrest admitted.
Melo may have had one of his worst games as a pro tonight and you could make a very good case that Melo lost the game against Phoenix tonight. Chauncey missed the big shots down the stretch, but had Carmelo not stunk the joint up so badly up until that point Denver may not have been desperately trying to catch up to the Suns in the first place.
Ignoring the fact that he was almost completely useless during the game, and much to the dismay of those of us chatting it up in the game thread, George Karl reinserted him into the lineup with 5:42 left in the game and the score tied at 95. Chauncey Billups made a free throw for a defensive three second violation that occurred before Melo entered the game so technically the Nuggets were ahead 96-95 before Melo was part of the action. By the end of the game with Melo on the floor the Suns had outscored the Nuggets 13-5. Melo was either horrible or non existent down the stretch and I have put together a little summary of his activity over the last five minutes of the game. I recommend if you are easily disturbed by disgusting basketball I recommend you skip past this section.
Upon entering the game Carmelo stood in one place for the entire possession, behind the three point line on the right wing, and when Kenyon Martin retrieved an errant shot by Anthony Carter he kicked it out to Melo who possessed the ball for approximately .003 seconds before chucking a three pointer with 23 seconds on the shot clock. Needless to say he missed.
Following that shot on the Suns possession Melo was a detached observer and allowed Amare Stoudemire to drive the lane without helping even though he was at the free throw line in position to help.
Returning to the Nuggets end of the floor Melo stood outside the three point line on the right baseline while Chauncey and Nene play pick and roll. Nene turned the ball over and Melo could not catch up with Grant Hill who scores an easy layup over Anthony Carter. Honestly, he did not really do anything wrong on that possession and the fact that he stayed out of the way on offense was probably a good thing.
On the next possession Melo posted up on the left block with Grant Hill guarding him. Melo backed Hill down into the lane, but instead of going up strong or spinning by Hill he took a weird turnaround jump hook type shot. When you are 3-12 it is not a very good idea to fiddle with a new type of release. Denver needed a bucket there badly and he was in great position to score, but made an inexplicable decision on how to take his shot. It would be his last shot attempt of the game as “Mr. Big Shot” takes over from here.
Defensively Melo was very stationary did not move with any sense of urgency or desperation. He was covering Grant Hill who was not a threat to shoot from the perimeter and should have been ready to help at the drop of a hat. He did box out Shaq on one possession where Nash made a three and stepped into the lane on another Nash three pointer, but his passivity was shocking.
We all marveled at Melo’s performance when he tied the record for most points in a single quarter, but I think it has corrupted Melo’s mind. His average stats since that quarter are horrible. (Note that for the purpose of these per game statistics I have converted his stats from the fourth quarter of the Minnesota game into a full game’s worth of stats by multiplying them by four. That may or may not be the accurate thing to do, but it makes sense to my simple mind.) Anyway, here is what Melo has done per game since his 33 point quarter. He is averaging 17.8 points on 37.3% shooting with five rebounds, three assists and four turnovers. The sad thing is almost all of his shot attempts have been from the perimeter. At some point he will realize that the style he is attempting to play is a dead end, but I have to wonder when that point will come. His play is a big reason behind the Nuggets three game slide.
However, it is not just Carmelo. A disturbing trend for the Nuggets starting five continued tonight. For the third straight game the Nuggets entire starting five had a negative plus/minus rating. I am not just talking about some totals that are barely into negative numbers, each and every one of their minus totals have been in double digits. Think about that. All five of the Nuggets starters have had double digit negative plus/minus totals for three straight games! That is baffling and disturbing. Their average plus/minus over those three games is -16.5! Against Houston and Phoenix Melo had the lowest plus/minus of the entire team posting a -24 in Houston and a -26 tonight against the Suns.
An even stranger trend is that against Houston and Phoenix not one of the Nuggets bench players had a negative plus/minus. To be fair Anthony Carter had a plus minus of zero which is not positive, but it ain’t negative either.
I think it is clear that the Nuggets are not quite as good as we had all hoped they were, but we should not jump to drastic conclusions based on a three game losing streak either. Of course we had all hoped they would do better during this six game stretch and a sweep of the Trail Blazers in the upcoming home and home would be great, but they way the Nuggets are playing that seems pretty far fetched.
It is clear that there is something wrong with the mental state of this team. They are playing passive defense and offensively they are no where near the same team they were early in the season. They have returned to the take the first available shot with minimal movement and as few passes as necessary. As with Melo and his 33 point quarter the Nuggets may have let their early season success go to their head. Portland will have little problem with them in the next two games if Denver does not get much smarter very quickly.
Other Observations from Game 27
- Once again J.R. Smith was the Nuggets best player. He was the reason this game was not a 20 point blowout. For some reason he only played 13 minutes in the second half though and Karl had him on the bench for almost four minutes in the middle of the fourth quarter. Smith had been in the game from the 4:22 mark of the third quarter so I can see that he may have needed a break instead of playing the entire final 16 plus minutes of the game, but take him out before a time out and put him back in a minute or two later. Denver needed him tonight. The most damning thing of this team’s sad mentality was that despite being their best scorer in the game he did not take a shot in the last seven minutes of the game. The Dahntay Jones experiment made sense to start the season, and I have defended it, but with J.R. raising his play the way he has over the previous couple of weeks I think it is time for him to start and play 35 minutes a game. Right now he is only averaging 25 minutes a game for the season and that is silly.
- There continues to be a great deal of consternation among those of us who participated in the game thread about the Nuggets reliance on switching screens. I realize that there is a time and place for switching, but it should never be your primary defense on screens. I think a big reason why the Nuggets are struggling on defense against good teams is their refusal to jump the ball handler and force him backwards on pick and rolls.
- Linas Kleiza has picked up his game. Denver has needed his three point shooting and over his last 14 games he is 19-44 which equates to 43.2%. His defense is still subpar, but at the very least he is raising his trade value. Tonight I would have much rather seen him in the game over the last few minutes than Carmelo.
- Chris Andersen has also done a very good job off the bench. He has been incredibly aggressive on the glass and continues to just play hard.
- Keeping with the bench I know I am not the only one who is baffled by Karl’s inability to get Renaldo Balkman minutes. He needs to be on the floor for a couple of eight minute stretches every game.
- Nene bounced back from his disappearing act against the Cavs, but as noted he still posted a negative plus/minus. I am willing to assign the blame for that to the fact he played most of his minutes with the other starters and not directly as a result of his own performance. I thought Denver did too much double teaming of Shaq when Nene was guarding him. Make Shaq prove that Nene could not handle him before putting your defense at a disadvantage by doubling.
- Last year when asked by the Kamenetzky Brothers over at Lakers Blog what the Nuggets did best I replied that it was their ability to score easy points in the paint. Well, the Nuggets are no longer a force in the lane and they only scored 30 of their 101 points in the paint tonight. Last season that number was usually around 50. They are relying far too much on perimeter shots and as a result are struggling to beat the better teams in the league.
Razzle Dazzle Game Stats
The Pace factor was an unbelievably fast 104.9 at halftime, but as most games do it slowed down considerably in the second half. The final pace factor was 95.4 and as the game slowed down it was the Suns who took advantage by making the plays in a limited amount of possessions.
The Nuggets defensive efficiency was an atrocious 113.2. It was their third game in a row of finishing with a defensive efficiency of well over 100.
The Nuggets offensive efficiency was an acceptable 105.9, but they really fell off at the end of the game and I shudder to think of what it might have been without J.R.’s red hot second quarter.