The Brian Shaw era in Denver has yet to begin in regular season form but the Nuggets have begun playing in preseason with two interesting contests against the Lakers. The happiest players on the Nuggets team right now may be the centers Javale McGee and Timofey Mozgov who with the arrival of Brian Shaw have seen a new world open to them. In the two preseason games so far the increased focus on the center position of the new ‘inside-out' style has been evident. The offensive balance may change once the season begins (and when Chandler and Gallinari return) but I have found watching the centers intriguing so far.
In this post I will focus on four interesting areas featuring the centers that have been present in the preseason using footage from the 1st game against the Lakers. As the focus for the Nuggets in learning the new offense is on the process rather than the results, I have used some misses as well as makes, as long as they illustrate the type of shots we might continue to see in each area I have chosen.
Keep an eye out as well for the new style actions Colin mentioned in his article about the first preseason games. The change from the cuts and some screens sending players towards the hoop in the dribble drive offense, to many more screens and actions that instead release players up towards the elbow to receive the ball, has been evident in the first two games. While I did not specifically select any clips to highlight the new actions Denver are running they are easily observable in many of the clips. In many cases the screens and actions themselves are a little clunky and imprecise but this is to be expected in preseason with a new offense.
1. McGee in the post
One of the most talked about aspects of the Nuggets in the offseason has been the increased role of Javale Mcgee in the coming season. The new ‘inside out' offense offers McGee many more chances to operate in the post, and in the preseason the Nuggets have been going to him regularly.
The signs over the first two games have been pretty encouraging with McGee showing clear improvements from his long post practice sessions with the coaches. He seems more comfortable than previously with being able to slow down, read the defense and react in the post which should serve him well.McGee in the Post: 4 plays
Javale's improved approach is evident in the first two clips, and in the third clip Javale reacts well in a broken play and able to draw a foul with a quick post move. McGee was called for clearing out with the elbow in the final play, but since neither the announcers nor I could see this elbow (even on the replays), I have ignored the call and included it as a nice post move example.
2. The Elbow
The elbow is the area of the court where the free throw line meets the lane line (also called the pinch post in the Triangle offense). Brian Shaw has previously said the elbow will be an integral part of the offense that he will run. Both centers have been involved in plays in this area and have not been afraid to shot a jumper from the elbow if left open. So far defenses have ignored them in this spot, but this may change as defenses realize that the Nuggets centers have both the range and the green light to shot from the elbow.Elbow: 3 plays
The first two plays involve Javale setting a high screen for the ball handler. In both cases his man remains in the paint much more concerned with stopping the dribble penetration of the ball handler, and so leaving McGee open to take a jumper at the elbow.
The third play has Mozgov coming from the low post to receive the ball from Ty who loops around him and cuts into the paint. Gasol gives him a ton of room and Mozgov takes and makes the elbow jumpshot. Idealy Mozgov could have probably set himself to receive the pass 1 step closer to the basket i.e. right on the elbow, to give himself a higher % shot (as in the made jumpshot in the picture below from the second Lakers game) but he looked comfortable shooting from the longer range.
3. Quick post ups
Another new play that that Mozgov has already employed on a number of occasions is the quick post near the basket.Quick post ups: 2 plays
In both clip examples Timofey quickly gets deep in the post and uses his bulk to establish position. He receives the ball from the point guard and is able to get off a close hook shot on the edge of the restricted area.
Shots like these in the post (16+ secs left on the shot clock) were just not a part of the Nuggets offense under George Karl but actually offer a new way for the Nuggets to get a quick high % shot in the paint while taking advantage of Mozgovs skills at establishing post position.
4. Mozgov Defense
The concept of ‘verticality' (a defender challenging without fouling by going straight up) came to the fore in last seasons playoffs as Roy Hibbert helped the Pacers to the Eastern Conference finals with some strong interior defense. As Brian Shaw has indicated he wants to bring a tougher style to the Nuggets defense the ability of the Nuggets centers to challenge inside will be a key component.Mozgov Defense: 8 plays
In only 15mins of play in the first game Timofey recorded 5 blocks and a steal employing verticality pretty well. As can be seen in the clips he is able to challenge by standing with his arms straight up and staying vertical. Most of his jumps are not large but he makes it very difficult for the offense inside, and importantly 4 of 5 of the blocks lead to a turnover of possession by Denver.
If Mozgov is able to play this way (and limit his fouls) and McGee is able to mesh his shot blocking ability with the team defensive scheme then Denver may be able to have high quality interior defense for 48 minutes. This would go along way to making them ‘playoff ready'.
I look forward to seeing how the M&M center 1,2 punch performs in the remaining preseason games as Brian Shaw's vision of the Nuggets continues to develop.