An important thing for the Nuggets to establish in the preseason is a team identity.
Team identity is a valuable thing to identify. Think of great teams over the last few years: the Kevin Garnett Celtics and defense, the Spurs and sharing the ball, the Steve Kerr Warriors and shooting. Once these teams figure out their identity, they are able to build around that and find success.
For the Nuggets, Michael Malone hasn't been shy about talking about what he wants the team's identity to be.
"Our goal every day is to try and find a way to get better. Instilling our identity, what we want the Denver Nuggets to be — a team that defends, a team that gang rebounds and a team that runs," Michael Malone said.
While the first preseason game ended up in a loss, with the Clippers comfortably ahead most of the game, there were flashes of the team showing that identity that Coach Malone wants to implement.
This play happens about midway through the fourth quarter, during a push by the Nuggets to shrink the Clippers' lead. Lance Stephenson takes a long two-point attempt, choosing to put up a jumper rather than driving to the rim against four guards and Nikola Jokic (not the best decision). Will Barton boxes out his defender, Nikola Jokic elevates, snares the rebound, and hands the ball off to Barton to take the ball up the floor.
It's a basic rule of basketball - the ball moves faster than any player. Even fast players like Barton and Gary Harris aren't faster than the ball in the air, and the fastest way up the court is by passing the ball down the court. The value of this play is that Barton pushes the ball to Gary Harris halfway down the floor. Instead of Barton dribbling up the court facing five defenders, Harris now has the ball with only Austin Rivers to beat, with another Clippers guard back to provide help.
Harris bullies his way to the baseline against Rivers, spins, pump fakes to get Rivers off his feet, and lays the ball in off the glass. This is an easy shot, with his defender in the air, out of position and unable to adequately contest the shot, and no one nearby to provide help defense and contest the shot. Jokic gets the rebound, and six seconds later, Harris is releasing a shot attempt three feet from the rim.
"We want to be a great running team, but it's going to come from great defense and rebounding," Malone said. "Good teams don't beat themselves. So we have to make sure we are valuing the ball and sharing the ball."
This play is an example of what the Nuggets can become. Forcing the offense into settling for an inefficient shot, rebounding, running up the floor, sharing the ball, and getting easy offense. If Harris isn't able to get a good look at the rim in that possession, he can pass the ball out, get it into Emmanuel Mudiay's hands, and let the young point guard create in the half-court offense.
Let's hope that we see this type of execution many, many times more in the future.