There you have it. The Atlanta Hawks are good, especially when they are making threes from the parking lot with the shot clock winding down. The Nuggets defense is not as good as it was early in the season. In fact, the Nuggets have had eight straight games with a defensive efficiency of over 100 and over their previous 20 their defensive efficiency has been over 100 in 16 of them.
During that 20 game stretch Denver’s defensive efficiency has been 109.1 which would place them in the bottom third of the league for the season.
That is not the team we put our faith in early in the season. It is frighteningly similar to what they did last season. Their defensive efficiency was actually in the top five for much of the first month or two of the season. They ended up a top ten team, but their efficiency was very poor the last four months of the season.
What has been the problem? First and foremost it has been a lack of desire. The Nuggets knew that in order to run with the big dogs they needed to be able to get stops when it counts. They did a great job of playing with that mentality for all four quarters. They were a good defensive team and they knew it. Instead of working to build on that foundation they have chosen to turn it on only when they have to.
We all know that is not the mentality that the best defensive teams in the NBA operate under.
On a more tactical level the Nuggets pick and roll defense has become shoddy. The bigs are not hedging very well at all and that creates a beve of issues. The ball handler has plenty of room to shoot or drive. Because there is no pressure he can also hit the roller cutting down the lane. Another problem is the Nuggets have begun to rely on switching far too often as their primary pick and roll strategy. The result of those switches are mismatches all over the floor. Mismatches result in either easy baskets or double teams, which can frequently result in easy baskets.
The other issue that has arisen that has weakened their pick and roll defense as well as their defense as a whole is their lack of communication. They have displayed confusion on both switching screens and defensive rotations more and more over the last couple of weeks. Hopefully they bottomed out in the first half against the Kicks where they seemed more confused than a hillbilly at a foreign film festival.
The other area where the Nuggets have fallen short of the standard they set early in the season is their lack of on the ball pressure. They seem content to allow their man to survey the floor and pass it to whomever he wants. Ball pressure can help make up for breakdowns in other areas by restricting the offensive player’s view of the floor and by threatening the passing lanes with active hands.
To be fair, the Nuggets have also faced more efficient offenses over the previous month as their schedule has increased in difficulty, but good defense is good defense no matter where, when or who it goes up against.
And oh by the way, the Nuggets record over their last eight games 3-5 and over their last 20 games they are 12-8. They need to do better.
Other Observations from Game 32:
- I have to wonder how much Nene was just looking for a night off and the sore neck happened to be as good an excuse as any. This was only the second time since the 2003-2004 season that Nene has played in 31 straight games and before training camp he admitted that he still felt the effects of his chemotherapy treatments.
- There was a popular movement a couple of years ago that gained a lot of traction amongst Nugget fans that postulated that Marcus Camby was the most indispensible Nugget. After tonight’s game look for the Nene is the most indispensible Nugget movement to take off. Interestingly enough just today I wrote that the Nuggets can survive without one of their big men for a few games here and there, but if one of them goes down for a prolonged period of time they will be in trouble. Well, I would hate to see the Nuggets play without Nene for more than two or three games and I doubt they will be able to trade for anyone who is capable of filling even a portion of his shoes. We all knew that Nene would be a major key to the Nuggets success this season and tonight served as a reminder of that.
- Now that Linas Kleiza has heated up Chauncey Billups is in a shooting slump from three point range. He has only made six of his last 30 attempts good for 20.0%.
- As J.R. Smith has regained his shooting touch he has gotten away from setting up his teammates. When things are not going well he does a better job of setting up his teammates, which is great, but until he realizes that he can get his own points and use his talents to get his brothers in arms easy hoops he will never reach his full potential as an offensive player.
- After handling the ball like it was a sub prime mortgage the past few games it was good to see Anthony Carter end up with seven assists and only a single turnover.
Razzle Dazzle Game Stats
Pace Factor – We have a new leader in the race for the slowest Nuggets game of the season with a pace factor of only 81.6.
Defensive Efficiency – When you give up 109 points in a game with a pace factor of 81.6 the result is a defensive efficiency rating of 133.7, the worst of the season.
Offensive Efficiency – 111.6, not bad, but nowhere near good enough when they play defense the way they did tonight.