I have made a pretty big deal this season about the defensive improvement we have seen in the Denver Nuggets. I was going to put some clips together after the Lakers game, but when news of the Chauncey Billups trade began to leak out I decided to wait until we had some footage with Chauncey in action.
We all suspected that swapping Allen Iverson for Billups would only make the defense better and we were indeed correct. Chauncey has tremendous defensive instincts that allow him to not only cover his man and fit in to the Nuggets defensive scheme right away, but he has also shown the ability freelance within the defensive system without compromising its integrity.
The question is what are the Nuggets doing this year that they have not done in the past? Over the previous few seasons the Nuggets have shown an ability to play good defense in stretches, but it was based more on increased effort than funneling that effort through a scheme where they all worked together and understood thier responsibilities. They used to look like there was absolutely no organization to the defense whatsoever.
This year the Nuggets are playing a completely different brand of defense. They have improved in four key areas. First of all they are maintaining their positioning and responsibilities nearly 100% of the time. It used to be a common occurrence that an opponent would flash into the lane or run the baseline with no reaction from the Nuggets defense whatsoever. Now you can go an entire game where no opponent motion goes unnoticed. It is a night and day difference.
Secondly, they rotate like they share a collective purpose. Rarely do you see two guys running at a shooter or conversely no one running at a shooter which was another hallmark of Nugget defense in the past.
Thirdly, they have extended their pressure out to a step beyond the three point line. Ball pressure is a key to playing good defense, but in the past Denver defenders have simply stood a few feet in front of their man and allowed them to survey the entire floor while the decide what to do. There are still instances where someone will sag off of their man, but you get the feeling it is more by design this season rather than due to disinterest.
Lastly, the Nuggets are playing the pick and roll very aggressively. They are jumping the ball handler and sending help before the offense gains the advantage. Last season when the ball handler came off of a screen he had a lane to do whatever he wanted. Not so in 2008-09.
Below you will see evidence of these changes in the first installment of the Pickaxe and Roll Film Room for the new season. I start out with a couple of examples of how the Nuggets defended last season from a game against the Mavericks to show how far they had to go. That is followed by clip after clip of stout defense from game five against the Mavs, which was Chauncey’s first game back with the Nuggets.
There you have it. The Nuggets could still work on beating cutters across the lane to the spot and their transition defense, but after the other advances we have seen from last year I am not going to complain too loudly.
Oh yea, one last thing. I hate to say I told you so, but the Nuggets have proven to be a better defensive team without Marcus Camby and Eduardo Najera. Take that national media!