As the Denver Nuggets fell to the Los Angeles Clippers last night to drop their fourth straight game, the thought hit me clear as day that much of their stagnation and periods of malaise on both offense and defense has occurred both because their lynch pins of offense (at least, the way Michael Malone wants to run offense) are not there. Malone seems to need a post player on both ends for things to make sense. Adam Mares covered some of the defensive issues in his column yesterday.
The defensive philosophy, similar to Brian Shaw, is to play defense for 24 seconds and hopefully induce a miss. It's fairly basic but it is the kind of defense that require the ability to stay within your opponents relative "zone" at all times (be it switching or man to man. Having the classic interior defender (I hate the term rim protector) will ease up the need for the Nuggets defense to "sag" to the middle. In turn it will help the perimeter defenders stay with their men ... or at least closer. The Nuggets don't have that interior player. In turn, they don't have freedom.Quite simply the Nuggets have to be absolutely perfect on every possession.
Much of the Golden State Warriors freedom comes from their excellence on the offensive end. They can put pressure on an offense to go outside their comfort zones because they have to play absolutely perfectly on every possession to keep up with the scoring of the Dubs. It's a fairly simple thing. Throw in defensive stoppers like Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala (the Mole) and you produce a perfect storm. Let me tell you right now, unless you have Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Green, Iguodala and Harrison Barnes ... you cannot duplicate the Warriors "model".
The injury of Joffrey Lauvergne has thrown a wrench into the Nuggets mix, just like Wilson Chandler's hip injury and subsequent surgery. Lauvergne was providing some toughness ... and while he doesn't provide the attitude and brute strength of Jusuf Nurkic, he is a solid interior player who was a lynch-pin of what the Nuggets are trying to do right now. There's no doubt that missing Lauvergne has left a gaping hole in what the Nuggets are trying to do on defense
What is becoming clear to me as we move forward this season is that the basic thrust and scheme of the Malone concept cries out for a post player. It seems like having a guy you can dump the ball into occasionally (Nikola Jokic has been doing an admirable job so far filling in and his development is quite encouraging) to get those tough points. A strong post player would open up the other side, posting from Danilo Gallinari or Kenneth Faried when he returns. Maybe, just maybe, this would take the pressure off of the perimeter players to make every shot.
The days of the Nuggets being a run and gun, fast breaking team are over. With post players such as Nurkic, Lauvergne and Jokic you need to play solid defense on one end, break when you can, and set up when you can't. Once Lauvergne comes back I'm anticipating things will look slightly better (although shots STILL need to be made, seriously). Hopefully Lauvergne will return soon, and work his way back into the lineup.
Jokic, and his recent good play has opened eyes. I've been very encouraged by his post moves, hands, and a Dirk Nowitzki like fade away in the Clippers game. Where he fit's in the "post" is another question all together and the team will figure that out as we go. He is instinctual right now and I'm looking forward to where he will be by the end of the year. BUT, the offense seems like it would make more sense and function a bit better with Lauvergne, then Nurkic back. Hopefully they return soon.