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When OK is Bad

We have addressed the defensive issues the Nuggets faced in game two yesterday.  Today we will shift our gaze to the offense.  Sure Denver scored 107 points in game two, but should the offense be let off the hook for the loss?  All season long the defense has received the attention of frustrated Nugget fans, but despite the big scoring numbers, the offense has been every bit as inefficient as the defense.

 

Game two in LA was no different.

The primary issue remains the same. They know they need to play with greater intelligence, they just seem incapable of actually doing it.  My greatest fear for the Nuggets on offense is that AI and Melo will try to do too much.  The bleaker the outlook the more Melo and AI count on themselves to carry the offense.

 

Even more concerning the offense enables both of them to do so as it is designed to get one or the other the ball and simply do their thing.  The result is more forced shots, less movement, stagnant offense and frustration.

 

However, in game two it was not just Melo and AI responsible for the Nuggets inability to move the ball.  Unfortunately, like the Jackson family (think Michael and Tito, not Phil), there are multiple offenders.  In his brief stretch on the court Nene was surprisingly black hole-esque.  I am glad that J.R. is going to the rim, but he is at his best when he is willing to dump the ball off to a teammate from time to time.  In the first two games he has been forcing shots when he penetrates and seems to have forgotten that buckets by his teammates count for just as many points as the ones he puts in himself.

 

It is clearly a team wide failure, especially against a good but not great defensive team like the Lakers, to end up a game shooting 44% on 12 assists.  There are two possible reasons for having an assist total that low.  One is that they just were not hitting their shots.  That does not appear to be the reason.  Had the Nuggets made five more shots, they would have shot 50%.  Making the wild assumption that they could have earned an assist on each of those five baskets, that is still only 17 assists and still not good.

 

The other, and more probable, reason for having so few assists was due to a massive overreliance on one on one, and one on two or one on three, basketball.

 

I tracked how many passes the Nuggets made in each half court set throughout the game.  This did not include fast breaks or offensive rebounds.  I also did not include outlet passes or inbounds passes from out of bounds unless it was from the side on the Nuggets offensive end of the floor and was entered to a player in a position to score. 

 

The Nuggets had 27 half court sets where they made zero passes.  Surprisingly these were there most successful possessions as they scored 34 points out of those sets resulting in an offensive efficiency rating of 125.9. The primary players behind that production were AI and J.R., but it was mostly AI.  He was very good at attacking the Lakers quickly and getting the shot he wanted.  I imagine that typically they do not score that many points with no passes very frequently, but because AI was hot from 14-18 feet it worked pretty well.

 

There were 47 sets where the Nuggets made one pass and in those 47 sets they only scored 31 points which equates to an offensive efficiency of 66.0.  These possessions were primarily entry passes and either shots or drives.  It is not good when the option you try the most is the option that performs the worst.  When something does not work, stop trying to make it work.  If that is confusing, go talk to James Dolan.  He knows all about it.

 

Moving on, the Nuggets had 22 sets where they made two passes resulting in 17 points.  That is an offensive efficiency of 77.3.  They are better after two passes than after one, but not much better.

 

If you are truly paying attention you will know that next is sets with three passes.  The Nuggets only had seven possessions where they made three passes.  Five points were scored in those seven possessions and that is good for an offensive efficiency of 71.4. 

 

There were three Nuggets sets where they made four passes.  Somehow they managed to not score in any of those three possessions and I imagine you can calculate what the offensive efficiency rating for those possessions is.

 

You would think it would not be difficult to accidentally end up with a possession where the Nuggets made more than four passes.  Imagine you make a pass or two, the player with the ball gets in trouble and has to pass out to a forward who gets it to a guard and then they rerun their set.  Heck, the Lakers have possessions where they pass four times after the pass that most of us would consider to be the extra pass.  The Nuggets did not have a possession where they passed more than four times the entire game!  They only had ten half court sets where they passed the ball more than twice!  Needless to say Norman Dale would not be very happy.  Their per school teachers who tried to teach them to share probably are pretty disappointed too.

 

Here is the damage. On 70% of their half court sets the Nuggets made either zero passes or only one pass.  Another 20% of their sets included only two passes.  90% of the time they had to play half court offense they made two or fewer passes.

 

Is that offense?  Could there be a bigger contrast between two teams and the way they attempt to score?

 

What may be most frustrating is the Nuggets always have four, and at times five, very good passers on the court.  All season long I have pleaded for the Nuggets to use the pass to make things easier for themselves.  That drive you make after the first pass can be much easier after you make two or three passes which will force the defense actually move around.  By employing such a strategy you will not have to work so hard on offense and you might actually have some energy left for the other end of the floor.

 

Hey, a guy can dream can’t he?

 

Other (Offensive) Observations From Game 2:

 - Can we please find a search party of the Nuggets running game?  The Lakers are doing a good job of keeping a forward up to challenge the outlet pass and they are also shadowing AI with a guard so he cannot get a long outlet pass to trigger the break.  Los Angeles is doing a good job of playing at a fast pace, but not playing at the Nuggets pace.  For some reason if a team slows Denver down a few times, they basically decide that they cannot run.  It is like divorcing after the first fight, unless that fight involves the words manage-a-trios. 

 

 - I have seen a lot of goofy flagrant fouls called on the Nuggets this season.  I think the play by Pau Gasol when he grabbed Linas Kleiza’s arm and pulled him out of the air was more dangerous than any of them.  There was little to no effort to go for the ball and absolutely no effort to try to cushion his fall.  To me that is a flagrant foul.

 

 - Staying with Linas, he did a good job of getting in the lane.  He is surprisingly quick going to his right.  If he can ever develop his left hand, look out.

 

 - Carmelo was very good when he made his move immediately, but the instances where he just kind of hung out and let the Lakers defense get into their help positions before he did anything, it was no good.  He also did a poor job of passing out of the double team, mostly because he rarely passed it.

 

 - Iverson nearly had a great offensive game.  He started out the first and fourth quarters being aggressive and attacking the defense.  It was during those stretches where he was at his best.  Unfortunately between those segments he took six catch and shoot threes.  Take his 1-6 performance on threes out of the equation and AI would have scored 28 points on 9-15 shooting.  I have to wonder if AI is a little hesitant to try to take over the game because of his 51 point game that resulted in a disappointing loss earlier this season.

 

 - Marcus Camby took two bad shots in the fourth quarter, including a challenged baseline pull up jumper.  Both missed the rim by a fair margin.  Immediately after the second air ball he was soon seated on a padded folding chair with a front row view.

 

 - Maybe coming back to Denver will help Eddie Najera find his stroke from long range.  It is always a nice boost to the team and the fans when Ed knocks a long bomb down.