After practice was over, several Nuggets stuck around to continue working on their shooting. JaVale McGee was on the far end of the practice court shooting free throw after free throw with assistant coach Patrick Mutombo rebounding for him. J.J. Hickson was working on post positions with assistant coach Melvin Hunt. Kenneth Faried was putting in extra work on free throw shooting and his jump shots. Timofey Mozgov and Anthony Randolph were working late as was Quincy Miller. Miller however, had a friendly three-point shooting contest with head coach Brian Shaw.
"Coach Shaw used to be a player, so I think he's still pretty competitive," said Miller. "He encourages us to be competitive. That's the type of guy he is."
Asked if Shaw won any of the contests ...
"He didn't get one win," said Miller. "Coach Shaw won nothing."
While Shaw, 27 years the elder of the 20-year old Miller, may not have won the shooting contest, he is winning over his new players. The team is buying in. The biggest challenge for the Nuggets could be on the defensive end, where forward Darrell Arthur's knowledge, from his Memphis days, could come in handy. Arthur knows what it takes to be a good defensive team, his Grizzlies squads were among the stingiest on that end of the floor.
"Repetition. A lot of repetition," said Arthur. "We just have to feed into it everyday. You can't just not want to play defense. Defense has to be a thing that's played every time. When you miss a shot you can't give an excuse on defense, you gotta go out there and lock your man down. I think defense is going to be a key for this team."
In Denver, we are used to seeing a high risk, high reward defense that relied heavily on switching due to guys moving out of position to try to create turnovers. Shaw has scrapped that switching style.
"We're starting with the bare basics," said Shaw. "Right now, I'm not letting them switch at all. I'm making them fight over screens, making them talk, and just be accountable for their own man. Obviously, in game situations, there are times when you're going to have to switch, but when you have guards that are the size that we have ... we'll put ourselves at a disadvantage right away trying to switch a lot of things. We're going to try to fight over screens, give support, buy our teammates time to get back to their men, without switching, at least early on in the season."
Another wrinkle Shaw is working into the mix: picking up the pressure the guards put on the ball early.
"I was in the ear of Ty [Lawson] and Nate [Robinson], in particular, about teams will try to post them up, especially if they're in the game together," said Shaw. "The way they combat that is to be a pest when the guards are bringing the ball up court. I used an example with them of when I played, it was a nightmare for me to bring the ball up court against somebody like Muggsy Bogues. The only way I could combat that on the other end was try to take him down in the post. I wanted them to get a picture of that, bigger guards that are bringing the ball up against them, they should be a nightmare for them, in terms of trying to handle the ball. And if you have both of them out there on the floor, defensively, we should be able to do that with them out there."
It will be especially interesting to see how Denver decides to defend the perimeter. With the switching defenses of old, there were a lot of open shots to be had out at the three-point line. Shaw understands the threat of the three-ball, but won't sacrifice easy shots inside at any expense.
"I think the league, team-by-team, is making the three-point shot more of a weapon," said Shaw. "We want teams, if they are going to beat us at all, to beat us over the top as opposed to scoring in the paint on us. We want to run guys off the three-point line and if we don't quite get there, we just want to be able to get there to contest and challenge the shot and we'll live with the results of that."
By playing more man-to-man, the Nuggets might be able to fight against those open looks that we saw too often last season. It's still too early to tell what Denver is trying to do on the defensive end during scrimmages, but we'll see things come together as the concepts are practiced.
More from Shaw after practice:
Are any lineup combinations starting to stand out?
"We'll start seeing it in the games or as we start to scrimmage more," said Shaw. "Today was the first day that we had an extensive scrimmage. We did two and a half quarters, basically, the first two were 10 minute running time quarters - just to kind of see where their shape was. Now as we start getting closer towards our first pre-season game, tomorrow and Saturday, we'll have more scrimmages. We've been doing a lot of drill work up to this point, but now we want to see them get a feel for the game. So, hopefully in the next couple of days, some of the better combinations will start to show themselves."
It's worth noting that Lawson and Robinson played together the whole time the media was allowed to watch practice. Nate played more off the ball and Ty ran the point duties, for the most part. Robinson is in tremendous shape and had his jumper going today.
Faried and Hickson played on opposite teams and had a couple chances to square off when Kenneth had the ball. Faried shot over the top of Hickson with a jumper on one instance and the rebounding of the bigs is as competitive as ever. Faried still managed to get his hands on just about every missed shot. He's unreal in that regard.
Is the team picking up what you want them to do?
"They're actually picking up the concepts pretty well," said Shaw. "The one thing that I do want us to do better is [to] pick up the pace which we're playing. The plays are really simple, but they're thinking about where they're supposed to be on the floor, in terms of the plays. I still want us to look to run and attack first. So, we have to be able to balance that. Although I have talked about us playing a little bit of a different style, inside-out, the first priority is still to push the ball up the floor."
Not to freak everyone out, but you could see some triangle-ish formations out there today. When a guy like Quincy Miller had the ball in the corner, Faried would flash to the free throw line, McGee to the post, and the point guard who passed to Quincy would clear out ... thus forming a triangle. You see it all the time with NBA teams, really.
What do you think Lawson and Faried took away from the Team USA minicamp this summer?
"They get to compete, at least for a few weeks, a couple weeks with their peers," said Shaw. "You know, guys that are being regarded as the next [Dwyane] Wade or the Olympic hopefuls, they get to see how ... last year when I was in Indiana, I thought Paul George benefited greatly from the previous summer, being on the U.S. select team, going against the Olympic team. It's good to see what those guys' work ethic was like, how they pushed themselves in practice, and hopefully it'll serve the same purpose for Ty and Kenneth."
To nitpick on Lawson. After practice the team did a free throw drill where if five guys missed shots, they had to run suicides. One on of the running sessions, Lawson finished last among guards and forwards (a few steps behind Andre Miller) and Shaw made him run with the bigs and told Lawson he needed to pick it up. During those same running drills, Arthur finished first among the bigs a couple times (he's in tremendous shape) and McGee was right behind him.
How is McGee looking in the post?
"He's doing alright, he hasn't really had a lot of touches," said Shaw. "Today was the first day that we really scrimmaged, he didn't get a lot of touches inside, in terms of that - to be able to judge that, I'm just trying to get him to slow down. When he does catch the ball, he's going 100 miles an hour, and he's not reading what the defense is giving him. So, that's what we've been working on with him. Just to slow down, so he can use the gifts that he has: his length and his athletic ability."
One of the special traits about Shaw - he knows how to criticize guys but still build them up. He has a big time teacher type mentality. He echoed comments we heard last season on McGee, going to fast with the ball and not taking the time to read what the defense is giving him. When McGee does take his time, like on his hook shots and some post moves, he finishes very well. It was really good to see McGee working after practice and he seems to be very focused on this season and with the opportunity in front of him.
On Lawson and Robinson playing together:
"I think it's nice at times to be able to play Ty off the ball," said Shaw. "Nate is more comfortable playing like an off-guard position, even with his size. It'll be nice to give Ty a different look when he's in there with Nate and have him off the ball. So if the ball does swing to the second side, you have two guys that are very good in pick-and-roll situations that we can hopefully take advantage of."
Truth be told, I'm intrigued at the Lawson and Robinson combo for certain stretches. They are both break-neck pace players that could really wear out opposing defenses. Will they give up some advantages on defense? Yes, but it could be outweighed by what they'll do with the ball.
On if Shaw would be okay giving up some execution to play fast:
"Not really. Even if we're pushing the pace, I still want us to be executing at that speed," said Shaw. "I want us to play at our optimum speed. As fast as we can go, while still being under control and being able to make the appropriate play. I've told them several times already, I wouldn't care if we didn't call one play during the game - if we can actually get the ball up court fast and get a good shot early in the shot clock. I'm okay with that."
Nate_Timmons on Twitter