The 2014-15 Denver Nuggets offense under Brian Shaw & Melvin Hunt was stagnant, isolation heavy and at times difficult to watch. That will change under new Nuggets coach Mike Malone, who has stated and shown early in the preaseason that he wants to install an uptempo offense in Denver. In this preview we are going to look at what Mike Malone ran in Sacramento and see if we can shed some light on what he might run this season in Denver. In the past I have done offensive previews for David Blatt and Steve Kerr based on both the summer league games and the preseason, and both of these breakdowns did not completely reflect how the team will run their offense. Keeping that in mind we will look at some of the sets that Mike Malone had success with in Sacramento and what he might utilize in Denver this season.

Early Offense

Mike Malone has stated that he wants Denver to play faster and attack more in transition and they do this a couple of different ways. The first way is to attack with ballscreens early in transitions, known in the coaching world as “Drag” or “Phoenix” screens. If you are looking for good examples of how effective this type of screen can be, this video showcases how lethal screening in transition can be: Golden State Warriors “Drag Screen”

Granted, that was Steph Curry attacking, but majority of NBA teams attack early in the offense with these type of screens and actions early. The way Mike Malone ran his “21 Series” or “Pistol” action was a little different than the typical action, by using Danilo Gallinari as the Pick & Roll Ballhandler looking to attack.

Early 21

In the diagrammed set above is the action that the Nuggets ran against the Dallas Mavericks and the same action that Mike Malone utilized to get players like Rudy Gay in Sacramento to attack off of the ballscreen early in transition. By attacking early, players can become cross-matched and a player like Gallinari may have a slower or smaller defender he can take advantage of in a mismatch.

Half Court Sets

Several half court sets that Mike Malone ran in Sacramento with success that I believe would be beneficial to this current Nuggets roster would be two series: “Push” & “Jungle” Series. The first series we will look at will be the “Jungle” Series, which just refers to the formation that the players are aligned in. This series allows for great spacing without great shooting, something which can benefit the Nuggets since playing with two post men who do not shoot great can limit some offensive opportunities. The first set in this series is a flare set designed to get action into a dribble hand off before the flare screen occurs, any movement before an initial set will always be beneficial in breaking down the defense.

Jungle Hoya Flare

1 passes to 5 at the elbow and screens down for 2. The first option is to look and get 2 the ball on the curl, then 1 comes off for a hand off from 5. Once 1 starts cutting toward 5, that triggers 4 to set a flare screen for 3 (maybe Gallinari!) to look for a shot.

The next set is the same exact action and alignment, the only difference is that 2 cuts through elevator doors from 4 & 5. From the link I placed under the Jungle up above, you can see that every team from the 2013 Heat to the 2015 Warriors ran this set.

Jungle Hoya Fence

Next we will look at the possibility of running the “Push” Series I mentioned up above, something I think that can benefit Emmanuel Mudiay. The principal behind the Push Series is to get the defense moving and create bad hedge defense against the pick & roll. The Atlanta Hawks run this action often for Dennis Schroeder who is not a great outside threat to get him quickly looking to attack the defense on the move. This is why I believe the Nuggets can have success with Mudiay running this set until his perimeter game develops like it should. The first set is the basic Push Fist set, another way of calling out a ballscreen.

Push Fist

This action pushes 4 down to the rim and 5 steps up into a ballscreen. I liked this action and how Malone ran it during his years in Sacramento when he had Isaiah Thomas (a lefty). He would always start this set toward the right and driving back to the left, his strong side, to attack out of the ballscreen, a pattern that Malone has followed even to Denver in the preseason. Running your point guard into a ballscreen going toward his main hand would seem obvious, but you might be surprised how often that does not happen. The next set we will look at is the same ballscreen action as the first, but with a little wrinkle.

Push Fist Empty

Kenneth Faried is not a great outside shooter, or a threat to score from outside the paint yet and that is why this set is perfect for a player like him. With the entire right side empty and his man having to show on the ballscreen, it will result in a good situation for a player with his athleticism to attack quickly off the bounce and with a step on his man.

Mike Malone Sacramento Kings Playbook

I studied Mike Malone’s playbook in Sacramento and it was extremely enjoyable and I was very impressed with his offensive capabilities. I have compiled it into a video, if you wish to gain more knowledge of what he ran for that team. Keep in mind that everything I have spoken about is a possibility and a hope that he will continue to run some of these sets in the regular season, but nothing is guaranteed. I hope you are as excited as I am to study Malone’s coaching style and how he utilizes the talent in front of him

Download PDF of Mike Malone’s Playbook Here

Reminder: Stiffs Night Out Season Kickoff 10/28
Please join us for the next Stiffs Night Out on Wednesday, October 28th at 6pm as the Nuggets take on the Rockets in Houston to kickoff the 2015-16 NBA season. The event will take place at Jake’s Sports & Spirits at 3800 Walnut Street and Jake’s will be serving happy hour drinks until 7pm and 50-cent wings all night long! We will also play Nuggets trivia for prizes, including Nuggets game tickets. See you on the 28th!