I was always in awe of tightrope walkers as a kid.
High above the crowds and the safety of the ground, these professionals would perform dazzling stunts in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people on a wire the width of a quarter. From quick turns, to flips, to even laying down on the wire, these performers were and always have been amazing.
How does one get good at walking a tightrope though? Surely lots of practice goes into it, but all (sane) tightrope practitioners use a harness to stay attached to the wire or a safety net to catch from below if things go wrong. While the practice goes on, and the walker becomes more adept and skilled, the net is always there to catch them just in case.
The Nuggets don’t have an adequate safety net if the goal truly is to win games.
Safety nets in basketball are the stars and quality players that a coach can rely on to perform when all else fails. When nothing seems to be working on a given night, just go with player X, and he will make sure the team gets a W.
Who is the Nuggets’ safety net right now? Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Jameer Nelson, and Will Barton all have adequate cases for being the trust guy, but the fact is: it hasn’t helped.
The Denver Nuggets don’t have the right stuff offensively in the fourth quarter. In close games, the team has largely shrunk from the moment offensively in its ultimate act. Take a look at the Offensive, Defensive, and Net Rating of the Nuggets by quarter through eight games this season:
|Quarter||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Net Rating|
What these metrics clearly say to me is that the Nuggets tighten up on defense in the second half, but tails disappear between legs on the other end of the floor. Right when efficiency and mistake-free basketball are most necessary, the team is doing the exact opposite. The Nuggets are last in the league in True Shooting percentage, Effective Field Goal percentage, Assist/Turnover ratio, and second-to-last in Turnover percentage. All of these numbers are factors in the overarching theme that the Nuggets offense in the fourth quarter has been astonishingly dreadful.
The solution to the youth movement on the team was to balance it out with effective veterans who could run the offense efficiently in spite of the youth. The problem? They aren’t performing. Nelson and Kenneth Faried have Turnover ratios exceeding 24 percent in the last quarter, while Gallinari, Chandler, and Nelson are all posting a lower true shooting percentage than Mudiay. Gallo has been especially bad with a ghastly 18.8 percent true shooting on just a 15.4 percent usage rate, meaning he hasn’t just shot poorly, but he’s not demanding the basketball.
With five of their first seven games coming down to the wire, the Nuggets need to win more of these close games if they want to be a playoff participant. Giving up games in October and November puts them in a hole for March and April.
The facts of a rebuild for a mid-market team are pretty simple: find a player or two that projects to be a star and build around a small core for a couple years until that player or two can carry the team. Looking around the league, there are recognizable faces helping to begin rebuilds with Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota, Devin Booker in Phoenix, Joel Embiid in Philadelphia, Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee, and D’Angelo Russell in Los Angeles. Who is the face of the Nuggets rebuild? Emmanuel Mudiay seems like the guy they have picked to lead the charge, but it’s questionable whether he’s the player with the most star potential on the roster anyway.
Because of this lack of certainty, there’s an argument to be a heavy buyer on the trade market for some of the stars in the NBA. This player would not only be an upgrade over the current safety nets on the roster, but it would be a way to hedge the bet on no one making a legitimate leap to stardom, which is very possible.
Three players I have tabbed for this kind of move are Paul George, Jimmy Butler, and John Wall.
These are the kinds of guys the Nuggets need to be targeting for their ability to shoulder the offensive burden when the going gets rough. Paul George in particular has done an excellent job of taking his game to the next level with the Indiana Pacers, and he’s unquestionably the fourth best small forward in the NBA behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.
Oh, and his numbers in the fourth quarter? 68.3 true shooting percentage on a 28.8 percent usage rate.
Would he cost a whole bunch? Sure. Is he worth it? As a 26-year-old who’s only played 12,000 minutes in his career, absolutely.
Here’s what a potential Paul George trade would look like if the Nuggets added an additional first round pick or two. Some of the long term pieces in Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris are sacrificed in a deal, but based on Daniel’s excellent piece dealing with the looming extensions for both Harris and Nurkic, there are legitimate reasons to make a move. I would rather pay George 30 percent of the salary cap long term than 27 percent (or higher) to retain the young guys given that George is already a star.
The other names I could think of off the top of my head are Jimmy Butler and John Wall. I expect both players to become very unhappy in their current situations, forcing somebody to act.
Regardless of who the Nuggets were to go after, there’s a legitimate reason to package young assets and turn them into some production right now. The team simply has too much depth at the moment. Jamal Murray, Juancho Hernangomez, and Malik Beasley are all starving for minutes. Murray in particular looks like he could be a star, but how would anyone confirm that if he doesn’t play? Clearing up some of the depth and turning it into a star player makes sense with regard to need for offensive firepower, a face of the franchise, balancing out the roster depth, and even financially.
Making a deal is harder than talking about one of course, and it takes two to tango, but the Nuggets should be on the floor right now waiting to capitalize on the right opportunity.