It's pretty crazy to think that 43% of the 30 NBA teams have new coaches this season, but it's true. As we all know, the Nuggets are among those teams with a new HC and they have been experiencing the growing pains that come along with changing philosophies. The issues with Brian Shaw's team seem pretty bad, especially when you consider Denver won 57 games last season. But when you put things into a bit on context - are they really that bad?
Let's take a look at how the new coaches are doing, in order of wins:
|Los Angeles Clippers||Doc Rivers||36-18|
|Phoenix Suns||Jeff Hornacek||30-20|
|Memphis Grizzlies||David Joerger||27-23|
|Atlanta Hawks||Mike Budenholzer||25-24|
|Denver Nuggets||Brian Shaw||24-26|
|Brooklyn Nets||Jason Kidd||23-26|
|Charlotte Bobcats||Steve Clifford||22-29|
|Detroit Pistons||Maurice Cheeks/John Loyer||22-29 (1-0)|
|Boston Celtics||Brad Stevens||19-34|
|Cleveland Cavaliers||Mike Brown||18-33|
|Sacramento Kings||Mike Malone||17-34|
|Philadelphia 76ers||Brett Brown||15-38|
|Milwaukee Bucks||Larry Drew||9-42|
Based on the above standings, Shaw ranks fifth among new coaches in terms of wins. Five out of 13 is about middle of the road, which is where the Nuggets basically sit among all 30 NBA teams, as well. This is not where Nuggets fans want their team to be. This is not where NBA teams want to be either. The middle of the road in the NBA is no man's land. You're not competing for a title and you're not going to get top draft picks that may or may not help your team improve.
The Nuggets are going through growing pains, bigger than most people realize. In a world of wanting everything now (NOW!) ... there is no time for patience. The 57 win Nuggets were built to run and coached to run. The style deployed by George Karl masked certain weaknesses and highlighted certain strengths. He coached the roster he had the only way he could in order for it to be successful.
Main cogs on that team are not around this season, namely: Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, Kosta Koufos, JaVale McGee, Corey Brewer and Andre Miller. Sit back for a moment and remember just how important those guys were to the success of the 57 win Nuggets. Three of those six guys played in just about every key moment for the team last season and even Brewer, Koufos and McGee played in crucial stretches, at times.
The 2013-14 Nuggets are not the same team and they are not trying to do the same things. Good or bad, right or wrong ... the Nuggets have changed and they need to change more, much more. We heard a lot from Shaw before the start of the season how the Nuggets needed to play big, play inside-out, and get away from the reliance on running. But the truth is that the Nuggets don't need to get away from their up-tempo game.
You can win in the NBA by playing quick at times, just look at the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, and Los Angeles Clippers. Heck, last year's Nuggets were just fine. Don't you think the Pacers, Grizzlies, and Bulls would like to play faster? They just can't do it. You play to your strengths in the NBA and the Nuggets are going through a period of trying to figure out what those strengths will be.
Josh Kroenke wanted to take his franchise in a different direction, enter Shaw. What Shaw seems to be trying to do this season is win games, that's what all NBA coaches are trying to do. What that means is Shaw has been sacrificing some development in order to maximize wins (even though there has been development for young guys, but also quick hooks). The Nuggets have played faster than a lot of people expected, they've begun to utilize their big men in a manner unseen in Denver for a brief time (Nene was a post beast for Karl), and they no longer have a high-risk / high-reward defense that creates chaos for a fast-break offense (more man-to-man D designed to force tough shots and limit possessions ... when it works).
The biggest question that is being created this season? Is Brian Shaw's system going to be a success?
You have a few options on how you want to view how things are going:
1.) The Nuggets will be okay once they get "Shaw guys" on the roster.
2.) The Nuggets will be okay once they get "Shaw's system" ingrained.
3.) The Nuggets have stayed afloat with some rough injuries.
4.) Shaw's system is not working.
Why have Rivers, Hornacek, Joerger, and Budenholzer experience more success this season? Rivers went 12-6 without Chris Paul for a good chunk of January and four games in February, Hornacek has impressed with a roster that few fans would get excited about, Joerger went 10-13 without Marc Gasol, and Budenholzer has gone 9-11 since losing Al Horford for the season (torn pec). Does any of it mean much through roughly 50 games for NBA teams?
The Pistons seemed to think that 50 games were enough to make a judgment call. Detroit GM Joe Dumars canned Maurice Cheeks after a 21-29 start and replaced the first year coach with John Loyer (1-0). Cheeks has a career coaching record of 305-315, so there is a bit to be said for what type of coach he is ... but you can also look at the Pistons' roster and say, 'What did you expect?'
It's tough to read where the Nuggets are going. The most disturbing recent pattern? The Nuggets have lost three in a row by a combined score of 362-279. They have been outscored by 83 points in three games. As Darrell Arthur told me at the beginning of the season, you have to want to play defense every night. Fans shouldn't mind when their team loses, but you have to recognize when a team is barely competing. Injuries are one thing and could account for some low offensive totals, but there is no excuse for bad defensive efforts.
If a system is good then it shouldn't really matter what players you put in it. But if your players are not buying into your system then you have a problem. If you have players that are tuning out your coach, then you have a problem. The Nuggets have problems, but it has been tough pinpointing exactly what they are. Hearing from Shaw, there is a lack of players following his game plans. We have heard a lot of, to paraphrase: We game planned for this and the players didn't execute that. Any way you cut it ... whether it's the coach or the players, it's not good.
Is the problem the roster or is the problem that the players are not buying what the coach is selling? That's what the front office has to figure out. At some point the question is going to turn to: What are the 2014-15 Nuggets going to look like? And we're not talking totally about what the roster will look like, it's bigger than that.
Is what the Nuggets are going through today going to be helpful tomorrow? If you believe in Shaw's system then you have hope for where the team will be headed. But have we really seen Shaw's system yet? There has been a degree of sacrificing system for wins, but we don't know how much.
We are 50 games into the 2013-14 season and the Nuggets still do not have an identity or a clear direction.
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