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The Denver Nuggets and the Art of War

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Why a few of the great strategic minds of battle have something to say to your Denver Nuggets

Laying down the battle plans
Laying down the battle plans
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

There was a scary moment last night, right before D.J. Augustin had an out-of-body experience and threw up a double-deuce in the fourth quarter, when it seemed like the Nuggets were about to hand the Lakers their 12th win of the year. Even scarier, they were about to do so at the Pepsi Center, with the Lakers in on the second night of a back to back. It was hard to not lament the loss of Danilo Gallinari... which made it hard to not lament the loss of Wilson Chandler... Which made it hard to not lament the unbelievable number of games and hours lost by the Nuggets to injury this season, the second-most in the league this year. Those lamentations finally brought blessed relief in an old war strategy quote that is a favorite of my Dad's, the war history geek:

"No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy."

- Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

Holy sh--, did we not survive contact with the enemy this year.

The quote as shown is actually a boiled-down version of Moltke the Elder's observations on the ever-shifting nature of warfare and engagement. The Nuggets have certainly seen this this season with the lengthy list of walking wounded. Between attrition, revolving contributors, and sporadic growth by their young-‘uns, the 2015-2016 Nuggets roster has seen more change than a 24-hour laundromat. How the Nuggets battle plans continue to evolve will test coach Michael Malone's experience and creativity. The battle plan the Nuggets walked into this season with will barely resemble the one with which they exit, and hopefully those adjustments will pay dividends over the long haul.

How about another?

"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The bright future of the Nuggets is apparent in the depth and breadth of their youth, as often discussed on these pages. But with youth comes a learning curve, and these Denver Nuggets are still discovering themselves with miles to go (before they sleep) to understand themselves well enough to consistently impose their will upon the course of games. You can see the difference in teams in the upper echelons that know their rosters and styles well enough to set the tone.

"In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."

- Dwight D. Eisenhower

The NBA has become the league of the multi-pronged tool, with many teams talking about striving for "positionless basketball" and finding ways to counter each other's strengths and styles. Many teams can adapt to their opponents night over night, and for long term success, year over year. To get themselves back into the playoff conversation, the Nuggets will have to continue to develop in this regard. To their credit, each of the players who make up the heart of this roster look to be able to develop their abilities in all aspects of the game. Even where those players are currently weak, signs of hope exist for improvement. The Nuggets will not be able to simply develop a single "plan" or style to achieve greater success, they'll need to be actively planning to counteract the evolving NBA.

"You may lose the battle, but win the war."

- Multiple attributions

I've seen a couple of very apt comparisons on the boards of this Nuggets team to the earliest parts of the Kiki Vandeweghe turnaround of the Nuggets in 2001-2002, and this one without quite as deep a sting. The Nuggets of that era dropped themselves into draft contention by shedding some unhealthy salary albatrosses, and got a star rookie in Carmelo Anthony, who helped them lift themselves back into contention.

Whatever goodies the Nuggets end up with in the offseason, they should have a lot of flexibility to improve themselves via a number of means in draft or acquisition. Be it a few small improvements or rolling the dice on someone "splashy", the next step could bring big things.

In their best moments of this year, the Nuggets have shown themselves to have the talent to compete with the league's best. In addition to growing and maturing the talent base, the attitude and effort of the team through the remainder of the season and into next year will be key to Denver's near future. It's not easy to slog through the mud they have thus far.

Battle-scarred, but still standing. Are we winning the war this way, Nuggets Nation? How would you rate the "battle" of this season's Nuggets campaign, given all they're battling through?


P.S. Two selfish weeks in a row. Happy Birthday to my OTHER lovely daughter, Courtney, who is off slaying dragons and having adventures. A lucky, lucky dad.