The Nuggets are off to a decidedly mediocre 4-4 start and if not for some overtime heroics, could very well be 3-5. Here are some facts behind their early shooting woes.
We all knew this start to the season would be rough.
Playing 17 of 22 games on the road to start the season, including the first 3 on the road (each of which the Nuggets lost) is a tough row to hoe for any team, let alone the 4th-youngest team in the league. Expectations were and are higher than perhaps they've ever been for this franchise with a collection of young, athletic, talented players and a changing Western Conference landscape. Right now, the Nuggets seem to be struggling with the weight of these expectations on their shoulders.
It's not just the inconsistent defense they're suffering from, either.
For one reason or another, the Nuggets are experiencing a precipitous decline in their shooting ability. The Denver Post's Nick Groke notes that the Nuggets are now dead last - last! - in the NBA in free throw shooting (just 64% from the stripe), and fourth worst at three pointers, making just 30%. Forget the defense, that level of poor shooting is not sustainable if the Nuggets hope to be a serious Western Conference contender.
Earlier this summer, the Nuggets shipped off Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee to Hakeem Olajuwon to get some tutelage on becoming better post players and taking better shots. In Faried's case, he's averaging a double double this season on 59% shooting from the floor.
Yet Faried is struggling mightily from the line, shooting just 15 of 31 for the season for an abysmal 48%. Ty Lawson has seen his career free throw percentage drop almost 25 points, from 77% to 54% this season, and at 15 of 28, is shooting nearly as badly as Faried from the line. Wilson Chandler has missed half of his eight attempts and Kosta Koufos has missed 6 of his 15. Ironically, the Nuggets' centers (McGee, Koufos, Timofey Mozgov) are shooting a respectable 20 of 28 (71%), well above the team average. The Nuggets continue to leave free points on the board across all positions, and it's hurting them badly:
- Against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Nuggets missed 6 free throws in a 9 point loss.
- Against the Orlando Magic, the Nuggets missed 9 free throws in a 13 point loss.
- Against the Miami Heat, the Nuggets missed 7 free throws in a 3 point loss.
- Against the Phoenix Suns, the Nuggets missed 7 free throws in a 10 point loss.
Other than a dunk, a free throw gives a team its best chance at putting points on the board. Free throws have long been critical to this team, whose offensive philosophy is predicated on points in the paint. You can sense Karl's growing frustration with every clank. Each of the above games would have been within a few possessions - or perhaps even a win - if the Nuggets had made just half of those misses. Road games, by their nature, are more likely to be games where just a few points or possessions are the difference between a win and a loss.
With another 13 games on the road before the Nuggets road-home split finally begins to normalize in late December and early January, correcting these free throw problems must be high on the list of issues to address going forward.
Do the Nuggets have the "yips"? - Nick Groke wonders if it's time to bring back Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who shot 96% from the line in the 1993-1994 NBA season, to tutor the young Nuggets on their free throw shooting.
Kenneth Faried OK after scary fall - After getting undercut by a stumbling Markieff Morris, Kenneth Faried landed hard on his shoulders and upper back. Fortunately, Faried's extensive dreadlocks appear to have cushioned his head in the impact. Rest up, Faried, this team needs ya.
Knicks improve to 5-0 after beating hapless Orlando Magic - After 9 years in the NBA, Carmelo finally appears to have mustered up enough care to lead his team to an excellent undefeated start in his chosen city. Of course, that 5-0 needs to be looked at through the lens of a schedule that had the Knicks playing just 2 of their five games on the road - in 11 days.
Royce White struggles to cope with demands of NBA life - Despite reaching an agreement with the Houston Rockets in which young rookie Royce White is now allowed to take a bus to some games (where feasible), he continues to have issues surrounding his anxiety disorder. Rockets' GM Daryl Morey seems to be committed to White, but the question now is how long Houston will continue to support him in what appears to be a growing distraction for the team.