I'm a slow learner. Not due to lack of enthusiasm - as I love to learn - but because I'm pathologicallly non-linear. In my youth it frustrated me badly, as I didn't understand why I didn't want to learn things in any dumb order, but instead to be able to dive and duck down every rabbit hole I could... just to learn as much as I could along the way. Once I had grasped a concept I was usually successful, but I often came to it frustratingly slowly. And then one day my amazing stepfather shared a quote with me, something from a man who would become a hero of mine:
"Somebody asked me - you know, how come it took you so long to win a national championship? And I said, ‘I'm a slow learner; but you notice when I learn something, I have it down pretty good.' "
- John Wooden
I took a shine to Mr. Wooden that day, and was fortunate to have set so great a human being as an example early on in life. I never again looked at my method of learning as a challenge, but as a gift.
We all can be slow learners at times, and when those around you are impatient for you to "get it", it can be a maddening experience for everyone involved. And right now, no one seems to be learning their lessons more slowly than your Denver Nuggets. Take this Michael Malone quote from a recent interview with the Denver Post's Christopher Dempsey, in which Malone was taking the brunt of the blame for the Nuggets recent woes. In the article, Dempsey posits that most of the team's needs are an "easy fix", and they only need shave off a few rough edges to find success:
"I hope it's an easy fix," Malone said. "I'm not as confident as you, to be very honest. It's the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."
Your Nuggets took their mobile classroom to Chicago and the Bulls last night. Yet again, Denver tried the "same thing over and over" in the fourth quarter, and netted their eighth loss in a row as a result. The team's second half inconsistencies were well-documented earlier in the week by Stiffs' own Andrew Feinstein, and are a huge piece of the learning curve Denver must overcome. No passing, no driving in another second half? Insanity. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Another big part of that learning curve is consistency. Currently, the only thing consistent about Denver is their inconsistency. After 36 minutes against the Bulls, the Nuggets found themselves up by four against a squad that had just handed the Spurs a tough loss at the United Center. Twelve minutes later, Denver had been outscored by 13 points in the final frame.
Adding insult to injury, backcourt and frontcourt alike had new woes last night. The Nuggets backcourt garnered 11 points IN TOTAL amongst four gents with the lion's share of backcourt time - Emmanuel Mudiay (4 points), Jameer Nelson (0), Mike Miller (2), and Randy Foye (5). When Foye's shooting still hasn't improved, and he's your highest-scoring guard? A tough night indeed. Denver's shooting woes and inconsistencies were a part of a great article from Stiffs' own Adam Mares two days ago.
The frontcourt shot themselves in the foot on the defensive glass, giving up nearly a third of Chicago's total points to second chances. Inconsistent scoring, poor defensive rebounding, poor free throw shooting in another second half? Insanity. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Fortunately, the greatest thing about learning - as the Nuggets hopefully are - is that another opportunity to improve presents itself this afternoon in Toronto, with a tough-to-beat Raptors squad awaiting their chance to teach Denver another lesson, and that on the ugly end of an early back-to-back on the road. Have the Nuggets learned enough from eight losses in a row to not make it nine? If not, will we see incremental progress in their games, skills, resilience, or toughness?
Several things looked improved in Chicago, but there has been a "whack-a-mole" aspect in this season's progress, getting one set of issues under control simply to see another crop up. That characteristic is often the hallmark of a true learning curve, where the going gets tough before the breakthroughs come... If they come. After today, the Nuggets have 62 more of these lessons to go. What they glean from them is entirely up to them.
The Nuggets early successes were exciting, but 6-5 became 6-13 awfully quickly, and today's game marks the season already a quarter gone. Understanding that this season (and quite possibly the next) is all about learning, how do you feel the Nuggets have done in the first quarter of the campaign, mindful that they're nearly starting from scratch? Have they learned any lessons at all, or are they doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Even in most of their losses this season, there have been glimpses and occasional stretches of really encouraging play, including much of last night's Bulls contest.
If tomorrow were the midterms of the Nuggets' first semester, what grade would you be giving them thus far, and what homework would you be giving them to improve their grades before finals?
"Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss"
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
P.S. On a plane to the Mile High city today, just long enough to catch a breath of fresh air. Grateful for the uptick in weather, Denver. You had me worried I'd be showing off my SoCal weather wussitude. Phew.