"To me, style is consistency" - Adam Ant
I've secretly been chomping at the bit on this for a while now. Denver Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw is infuriating. Maybe I'm coming off a bit brash. Probably not.
I'm not discounting his coaching acumen or his leadership abilities, I'm just questioning some of his decision making. We all know that Denver is, on paper, the deepest team in the league. We know what the benefits could be, but they have yet to realize them.
They're lost. They don't know who they are as a team.
If you notice, sprinkled around this young season has been talk about the rotation, that's a key part to a team's identity. If you trace the steps you can almost find the keys to its rotation issues.
Back on October 22nd, Nate noted Shaw's early thoughts on his rotation:
"There's going to be 10 guys at the start of the season, will be two at each position, that'll be in the main rotation," said Shaw after practice at Pepsi Center today. "Barring foul trouble or blowouts, one way or another, that will determine if it gets deeper than that. That's a problem for myself and our staff with the depth that we do have, and guys are just going to have to accept that."
This made sense at the time, still does, given the myriad of injuries to key players (Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson, JaVale MaGee). The thought from most was look at the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. Not one player averaged over 29 minutes in the regular season, that depth paid off with a NBA Finals trophy with a role player as the Finals MVP (Kawhi Leonard) and other role players among the MVP candidates (Boris Diaw was on that list......yep).
Let's keep digging.
"So, when you start, if [McGee] hasn't outplayed [Nurkic] or Timo or anybody that's in front of him by the time we start the regular season ... and I don't want to just judge him off of last night's performance because he's been out for a year. But if he's not there and he's not ready yet, then as fast as he comes along? We'll move him that fast," Shaw said.
It makes sense, McGee, coming off an injury may be along slow, but his spot is his to lose. He shouldn't get a ton of minutes at first, Jusuf Nurkic had a solid preseason. He did enough to earn his backup spot, and given Shaw's assessment, McGee wouldn't make much of an impact (minutes played) this early. The trend says otherwise:
Never mind that the Nuggets have been +9.5 points better (Per 100 possessions) when Nurkic has been on the floor compared to 13.2 points worse when McGee is on. The minutes are akin to a team trying to find themselves during preseason. Shaw talked as if he had an idea established rotation, given that this was essentially the same team from last year. That just hasn't been the case.
Again I know injuries and such play a role, but case in point:
"In our film session today, I talked to the guys about that group that was in there [vs. Portland]: Randy, Alonzo Gee, Wilson, D.A., and Nurkic. They showed me something, that group, the way they defended and their physicality during that stretch from the third through midway though the fourth quarter. If it's an arrangement of guys like that, that have to be on the floor to get us to compete at that level and play with that kind of intensity, that's who will be on the floor, regardless of their star status, salary, popularity amongst our fans, or whatever.
Those were the some of the same players that were a part of the lineup that brought the Nuggets back against the Cleveland Cavaliers last Friday. Now look at some of those players minutes over the first six games:
Shaw recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of his team, he said as much, so why not settle the rotation? Why are there new strategies to deploy McGee in one game, but Nurkic is clearly playing better at this point? Is the goal to slowly working the injured players back into the rotation or is the urgency to rush them back?
Take a look at the minutes for those healing from and/or dealing with injuries:
They're all over the place. One day Nate is playing his regulated minutes (20), the next he's filling in for Ty Lawson. Never mind a rotation of Randy Foye, Arron Afflalo, and Erick Green could have handled those six minutes attributed to Nate in that game (the Cavaliers game). Wouldn't a consistent role have done a world of difference by showing the focus is on getting his health back, instead of being used as an over matched hero in a game that Erick Green was playing better?
If Shaw is going to change the mentality of his team on the defensive end and help his team gel on the offensive end, why the shakeup in everyone's minutes?
"Some of that is legit in that, you know, once again they haven't been able to develop a rhythm because even in practice, certain guys can only play so many minutes and same thing in the game," Shaw said. "We do have a couple of new faces, so they haven't been able to gel like you'd want them to gel at this point.
Even his high-profile starters are suffering from unestablished roles and minutes:
Now the biggest issues found in Shaw's rotation decisions are that they are inconsistent and contrary to some of the philosophies and strengths of his team. Look back at those trend lines, there are too many spikes in minutes game-to-game.
The depth that the Nuggets have should be their largest tool in fighting the injury and identity issues facing them currently. Shaw could push the pace on offense, distributing minutes like the Spurs do to take advantage of the depth needed in a high-pace offense, while simultaneously limiting minutes for his injured players. This leverages the need for their skills with properly allowing them to heal.
Jeff pointed this out last week, "Depth only works as a backstop, not a first option." The goal in this case would be to get the key players healthy enough to establish a solid rotation, where everyone can maximize their strengths in the roles that they fit the best.
McGee should sit more than Nurkic, the defense group that plays so well, should be given a consistent time period together, the starters should know the end goal regarding minutes restrictions, and the offense and defense can continue to grow around this foundation.
This team has an identity crisis, a consistent rotation could go a long way in helping the Nuggets find themselves.
And Brian Shaw can stand firm on his "line in the sand."