Are the 2014-15 Denver Nuggets the sluggish, play-through-quicksand outfit that we saw in Atlanta on Sunday in a 96-84 loss to the Hawks?
Are the 2014-15 Denver Nuggets the feisty, come-from-behind scrappers who almost beat the Raptors in Toronto on Monday night?
Are the 2014-15 Denver Nuggets the give up, lay down and humiliate themselves bunch seen in Washington in a Friday night embarrassment that resulted in a 119-89 Wizards' victory - i.e. the same Nuggets who gave up 84 points to a back-to-back playing Portland Trail Blazers earlier this season?
Are the 2014-15 Denver Nuggets the deep, athletic team that was able to take down the mighty Cavaliers in Cleveland and go on to win seven of their next nine games thereafter?
The answer, of course, is that the 2014-15 Denver Nuggets are all of the above. Or none of the above.
In other words we - the fans, media, etc. - have no clue who these Nuggets are. And, based on their play to date through 21 regular season games resulting in a disappointing 9-12 record, neither does the coaching staff or the team itself.
Perhaps this is the result of having "too much" decent talent, as suggested over the weekend by the USA Today's Adi Joseph with an article titled: "Nuggets' depth has become a blessing and a curse." Or as my Uncle Marty - aka the Nuggets Curmudgeon - would say more bluntly: "When you have 15 decent players you have no good players."
As has been written here and more so among the Denver Stiffs faithful in the comments sections of virtually every post published this season, the Nuggets are sorely lacking an identity. Are they half court or are they a running team? Do they play a set rotation or freelance the rotations nightly? Are they Ty Lawson's team or Arron Afflalo's team? Or Kenneth Faried's team? At some point (soon!) Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw needs to stick with a concept and roll with it, consequences be damned.
But the problem with this season's Nuggets may be beyond their coach simply picking a style and sticking with it. The problem might be that Shaw himself doesn't have a true identity. If you look around the NBA, many of the teams take on the personality of their head coach (Chicago's Tom Thibodeau, Phoenix's Jeff Hornacek and San Antonio's Gregg Popovich immediately come to mind) ... but who is Brian Shaw? Or who was Brian Shaw as a player? In theory, Shaw's team should take on the personality of what Shaw was like as a player - an everyman who did everything it took for his team to win. And win he did. Why can't the 2014-15 Denver Nuggets be a collection of everymen who do whatever it takes to win instead of the outfit presenting itself poorly on the floor in most instances thus far?
Shaw's personality being transposed onto his team aside, I've long argued for the run-and-gun style of basketball to return to the Pepsi Center floor, with my admitted bias towards the Nuggets franchise's colorful past coloring my opinion there. That style - employed terrifically by the best three coaches in Nuggets history (in reverse chronology; George Karl, Doug Moe and Larry Brown) - virtually guarantees a playoff spot whereupon, theoretically at least, anything can happen. In reality, of course, run-and-gun is typically ground to a halt in the post-season ... although all three coaches did guide the Nuggets to Western Conference Finals appearances once apiece when they were able to combine their penchant for running with a solid, tough, defensive-minded mentality. Moreover, and if for no other reason, run-and-gun is fun to watch from a fan's standpoint. And given that our beloved Nuggets aren't competing for an NBA Championship anytime soon, why shouldn't they at least be fun to watch in the meantime?
As a fan, I just want a team that makes sense to me when I watch them play. I want a team that capitalizes on its youth, depth and athleticism and makes me forget about a crummy day at work, holiday season obligations or whatever else I'm in need of escaping from for just a few hours thanks to some fun basketball. At the end of the day, that's what basketball is for all of us who don't work in it - an escape from our daily realities.
With the holiday season and New Year fast approaching, I trust that the Nuggets organization, coaches and players - like most of us - will begin a period of self reflection. A period of assessing the good, the bad and the ugly of one's previous year. In the case of our hometown pro basketball team, there has been a lot more bad and ugly than good (too many Portland games and not enough Suns games). And while I don't have the magic formula to reverse all that heading into 2015, the least the Nuggets can do is galvanize around some sort of identity and make themselves fun to watch again.
Because by just about any objective measure, the Denver Nuggets of 2014 have been no fun to watch.