Posts Tagged ‘George Karl’

After trial by fire, Nuggets coach Shaw eyes next season

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Go inside the huddle with Brian Shaw

DALLAS – Thirteen first-time NBA coaches will head into summer with experiences each will never forget, from Brett Brown coping with a bare-bones 76ers squad to Jason Kidd unlocking a star-laden Nets team whose luxury tax payment alone will nearly double the Sixers’ payroll.

Then there’s Brian Shaw. The Denver Nuggets coach, a disciple of Phil Jackson, took over a 57-win team coached by a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, an 1,100-game-winner and one of the league’s all-time great innovators. George Karl might have led the Nuggets out of the first round just once in nine seasons, but he won a lot with a fun, energetic style.

Shaw inherited a team that lost its two premiere wing runners, Andre Iguodala, also a defensive stopper, and Corey Brewer. It wasn’t long into the season before Shaw lost veteran backup point guard Andre Miller to a power struggle and banished him from the team.

Then there were the injuries: Dino Gallinari never returned from last season’s ACL tear, JaVale McGee lasted five games, then Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson and trade newcomer Jan Vesely. Point guard, leading scorer and top assist man Ty Lawson has missed 14 games; 12 each for second-leading scorer Wilson Chandler and reserve forward Darrell Arthur.

“A lot of people talk about the first-year head coach stuff and he [Shaw] hasn’t shown any of that at all,” Nuggets top assistant Lester Conner said. “He’s set the foundation. It’s been an injury-riddled season for us and the way he’s handled it, it’s like one of the best coaches in the league, and he is. He doesn’t have the tenure like some of them have, but if you look at our game and how we play and look at how we compete, if you were blindfolded, you wouldn’t think that there was a fisrt-year head coach. He’s been in a lot of wars as far as championships with Phil, so he knows what it’s like. He’s handled the media well, he’s handled the Andre Miller situation well. He’s done a great job.”

However so, the Nuggets are on pace to not make the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Yet it seems things could be a whole lot worse than Denver’s 32-39 record attained through stretches of feast or famine and seemingly always banged-up bodies.

“One of the things one of my mentor’s, Phil Jackson, always preached to me was believing in your system and what you’re doing out there,” said Shaw, who communicates with Jackson once every week or two throughout the season. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in great situations with great teams that have had the ultimate success at the end of the season, and so I believe that I know what it looks like, I know what it takes, what kind of work ethic goes into it and what kind of habits need to be developed by our players.”

Lawson, the fifth-year point guard seemingly on the precipice of making an All-Star team, and under contract through 2017, said he stands behind Shaw “100 percent,” and went so far as to make a bold prediction for a healthy — knock-on-wood — 2014-15 campaign: “I think we will definitely be good, maybe top four in the West next year.

“I look at [our] record and think about all the injuries we went through, especially [Chandler], me, Nate, everybody went down,” Lawson continued. “We had a lot of different parts.”

Shaw, 48, spent 10 years with the Lakers and then Pacers working toward this opportunity. He came in with no misgivings of the challenge and made no promises. He did have a vision, and a plan to transform Karl’s freewheeling Nuggets into a team that could execute in the halfcourt through inside play without fully stifling the run-and-gun style.

But Shaw his concept initially led to confusion. Frontcourt players interpreted it to mean they’d receive an entry pass every time down the floor and would be allowed to go to work. That frustrated Lawson, whose game is predicated on his speed and ability to drive to the rim.

“Ty was frustrated early on until we really were able to clarify what that meant, that inside play could be a small guy posting up, or if it was just penetration and getting into the paint,” Shaw said. “So now I think what you see is Ty flourishing (18.1 ppg, 8.9 apg), Kenneth [Faried] (12.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg) is really starting to come into his own; they’ve had their best numbers since they’ve been in the league. [Timofey] Mozgoz has had a chance to play and is developing, so I think they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Ten players are under contract for next season. Gallinari is expected to return and McGee will make another run at ditching his “Shaqtin’ A Fool” persona and becoming a legitimate NBA starting center.

As his first campaign draws to a close, Shaw is coaching the players still standing with an eye toward next season.

“Everybody now has an understanding of exactly what I expect of them, how we want to play and what we want to do going forward,” Shaw said. “Obviously there are some guys that are on the roster right now that are going to be here next year and some that aren’t, but for me, I’ve said that this is going to be a year of discovery to really understand what it is that we have to work with.”

Clash Of Cultures Is What Separates Bulls Vs. Knicks, Melo Vs. Thibs


VIDEO: Bulls send Knicks, Melo to sixth straight loss

CHICAGO – Boil it all down – the hand-wringing over Knicks star Carmelo Anthony‘s future whereabouts, the wild guesses about Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau‘s long-term future and the grass-is-greener presumptions about one or both somehow coveting what the other has – and what’s left is pretty simple:

A clash of cultures. Anthony’s vs. Thibodeau’s. The Knicks’ vs. the Bulls’.

The gap between them had little to do with Chicago’s 109-90 pasting of New York in a Sunday matinee at United Center and everything that went on before, during and after that lopsided network game. It was more than just one team losing six straight and the other bagging its ninth win in 10 games, getting right to the respective organizations’ tone, vision and priorities.

The Knicks are of, and for, Anthony. He is the sun of their solar system, around which everything revolves. It’s the supernova, BIG MARQUEE approach that New Yorkers love. So fans at Madison Square Garden can’t have LeBron James now or Shaquille O’Neal or Michael Jordan back in the day? Fine – they’ll take a second-tier star and feed his dreams as if he is one of those guys.

And that’s what they have. Anthony is a prolific scorer who does the most important thing in basketball – he puts points on the board – without doing a lot of other things that matter on the very best teams. Like defense, intensity or making lesser players better.

Then there are the Bulls, who continue to draw admirers and win over doubters with their Three Musketeers approach. Already this season, they’ve taken two of the most severe hits a team can endure – another season-ending knee injury for MVP Derrick Rose and the trade of All-Star forward Luol Deng. The Bulls took those hits, their knees buckled even … but they have steadied themselves right into the third-best record in the Eastern Conference.

“Everybody knows what this team is going through, playing without our best player,” Bulls center Joakim Noah said after orchestrating his way to 13 points, 12 rebounds and 14 assists, his second triple-double this season. “Right now, our mentality is, we just want to get better playing those big games and do everything we can to play the best basketball possible. So when our young boy comes back, we’re ready.”

Ready for what? That barely matters. It’s the attitude evident in words spoken by Noah but straight out of Thibodeau in all his next-man-up glory.

Thibodeau is the guy who renders any personnel losses or roster shortcomings irrelevant in Chicago. As much as his players miss Rose as their offensive big gun or felt sorry for themselves and their friend Luol, on and off the court, in the days immediately after the trade, the Bulls have pushed forward with shark-like tenacity.

The Knicks, meanwhile, get lost gazing into their vast, shiny navel over whatever that day’s crisis might be, whether it’s yesterday’s shot-blocking or next summer’s free agency.

“It says a lot about their team, the character of the players in the locker room and their preparation,” New York center Tyson Chandler said after the game. “They obviously feel that they can win with whoever they throw out there. It wasn’t fun to watch, playing against them, but as a player, you can respect what they’re doing.”

Said Noah: “Y’know, people really counted us out. We’ve gone through a lot, and just to be in this position feels good. We’re happy with today. We’re not satisfied. We’re still hungry – I feel like we’re still the hungriest team playing in the NBA.”

Now compare that to Anthony’s comments after he scored 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting.

“It’s just hard to keep coming up with excuses about whys,” he said. “We’ve got to have some sense of pride just to go out there and compete. It doesn’t seem like we’re even competing right now. … It’s frustrating, it’s embarrassing. A winning attitude is just not happening.”

That’s it right there, isn’t it? A winning attitude doesn’t just happen anywhere. It isn’t happening in New York because it hasn’t been a priority of the team’s best players and of management. It didn’t happen in Denver when Anthony was there, either, in the way that the Nuggets needed.

George Karl, who coached Anthony to a string of Denver playoff berths but just one trip beyond the first round, talked with Harvey Araton of the New York Times recently about Anthony and his history of never really going “all in”.

… “I don’t think Melo understands that coming to work with the best attitude every single day is a precious commodity when you’re the best player. That’s not the same thing as playing hard. That’s bringing the total package, 100 percent focused on all the little things. Those are rare breeds. Kevin Garnett. Michael Jordan. LeBron didn’t always have it, but he has it now.

“Melo doesn’t get an A in that department — maybe not much more than a B-minus. It is, in a sense, the A.A.U. mind-set: We worked hard yesterday, maybe we can take a day off today. That’s why he really needs that player – the point guard or someone who takes on that role – to be the bridge from the coach to him.”

That’s why the talk about Anthony maybe signing with Chicago this summer troubles some skeptics, including this one. He is a culture unto himself who, so far, has swamped two organizations. Even if Rose returns as the player he was, the point guard’s personality isn’t dominant enough to prevent the Bulls from becoming “Melo’s team.” And all indications are, “Melo’s team” will be winning nothing, not now, not later, not with Anthony as the unassailed No. 1 option and presence, not with him on the dark side of 30.

Anthony increasingly needs to be the second- or third-best player on a contender, which will require him taking less money in a shorter contract if he’s even willing to leave New York. He needs a point guard more headstrong and established than him – the Clippers’ Chris Paul would be ideal or, as Karl suggested, Jason Kidd of about five years ago. He needs to bring as much good Melo as he can while shedding the bad Melo, in terms of ego, sideshows and what his old coach in Denver flat-out called selfishness.

Could Thibodeau’s drive and will impose itself on Anthony’s habits and sense of entitlement without any player-coach “bridge” from inside the locker room? Or maybe, could Noah be that guy? Anthony did call him the Bulls’ “quarterback” and “spirit of their team” Sunday.

But 11 years into his NBA career, he’s never done it. He’s been Allen Iverson with more size and less incorrigibility, a scorer who needs to have (and stop) the ball and a supporting cast fashioned around him.

Even if Anthony really wants to win – enough to leave New York, enough to give up serious dollars for four years and that fifth-year bonanza entirely – he would have to have the guts to seek out a possible champion with no assurances. He would risk signing with a better team but not the right team, getting himself two, three or even four rounds of playoffs but not necessarily a ring.

He would have to answer the question, what’s more important to him really: Two months each springtime, possibly without a payoff? Or 12 months guaranteed as a billboard in New York?

It comes down to a clash of cultures, instilled by Anthony and Thibodeau and embodied by the Knicks and the Bulls for all to see Sunday: Me vs. we.


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony talks after the Knicks’ blowout loss in Chicago

Duncan Not Publicly Planning His Exit


VIDEO: Tim Duncan and the Spurs pick up a big win vs. the Clippers in L.A.

During his news conference with the world’s media just a few minutes before Sunday night’s All-Star Game in New Orleans, Kobe Bryant said he hadn’t given any real thought to when he might finally retire.

“I don’t really want the rocking chair before the game,” he said.

Neither would Tim Duncan.

For 17 NBA seasons now, he’s been about the game and not the showmanship. In winning four championships and two MVP awards, Duncan has been as inscrutable as the Sphinx, keeping his personality walled up within the Spurs locker room, rarely even smiling in public. Except, of course, for that time he supposedly laughed at referee Joey Crawford.

One could more readily imagine Duncan slipping into a shirt of thorns rather than a comfortable public embrace from all corners of the NBA.

That’s why it would be unwise immediately to dismiss the comment made by former NBA coach George Karl, now an ESPN analyst, on SportsCenter:

“You know over the weekend, that was the whispers that I got. I got a couple of phone calls, one from San Antonio that said that Tim Duncan’s thinking this is going to be his last year. The best, most fundamental big guy ever to play in the NBA, and he leaving would make me very, very sad. The San Antonio Spurs without Tim Duncan would be very difficult for me to watch.”

Even as he approaches his 38th birthday in April, it is not at all difficult to watch Duncan play near the incredibly high standard that he has always set for himself. He’s averaging 15.6 points and 10 rebounds per game and has a true shooting percentage of 53.6. His PER of 22.09 ranks 18th in the league, even though he is playing an average of just 29.6 minutes.

In the last game before the All-Star break, Duncan scored 23 of his 25 points in the second half, leading a Spurs lineup that was without Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter to a win at Boston. He has been as sturdy as an oak, starting more games (49) than any other member of the lineup to push San Antonio to the No. 2 seed in the West. In other words, Duncan is still an elite player and likely could have appeared in his 15th All-Star Game if Gregg Popovich hadn’t likely spread the word to his coaching peers that his big man needed a weekend off.

There was a time after the 2011 playoffs, when the No. 1 seeded Spurs were upset by the No. 8 Grizzlies in the first round, that it seemed unfathomable that Duncan would still be playing now. He was slow, worn out, injured and overwhelmed by the inside Memphis tandem of bruising Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

But Duncan used that humbling experience as a reason to spend the summer changing his diet, changing his workout regimen and ultimately changing his body so that he’s returned to the court lighter, healthier and able to have fun and dominate again. The result was the Spurs going to the Western Conference finals in 2012 and pushing the Heat to the Game 7 limit before losing in the NBA Finals last June.

Duncan signed a three-year, $30-million contract in 2012, the final season a player option and there was talk at the time that he might very well take a pass on that. But since then the Spurs signed Parker and Ginobili to new deals, all of them set to expire at the end of 2014-15, the assumption that the Big Three would take two more cracks at winning the the fifth title in franchise history.

So would Tim walk out the door prematurely on Tony and Manu and Pop?

Only if he feels like the spark and the joy are no longer out there on the court every night. Only if he decides the physical and mental sacrifices to keep himself pushing forward at his high and exacting standards are too much. Which, creeping up on 38, that could happen any day.

So much will depend on how the Spurs and Duncan handle another playoff grind. You can certainly see the championship that slipped through their fingers as a motivational force this time around. But what if the injury-plagued Spurs don’t get back to The Finals for another try at the ring? Or even out of the first or second round?

Even if he’s thinking it, Duncan won’t crack and let us know or share his feelings or an itinerary. He’ll just keep shooting and rebounding and setting screens and doing all those things that make him the Big Fundamental until he doesn’t.

He won’t hit the rocking chair, just the exit door.


VIDEO: Tim Duncan talks about the Spurs’ win against the Clippers

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

Hickson’s Flexibility Vital To Hot Nuggets


VIDEO: J.J. Hickson finishes off the Randy Foye lob with force

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The NBA hands out end-of-year awards for just about everything, so why not an MAP award?

Most Adaptable Player.

If such an honor existed, the Denver Nuggets’ 6-foot-9 starting center J.J. Hickson would (again) be a leading candidate. While undersized for the position, he played it all last season for the Portland Trail Blazers and had a breakout year offensively, averaging a double-double (12.7 ppg and 10.4 rpg).

A free agent in the offseason, he signed with Denver where the talented-but yet-to-put-it-all-together 7-footer JaVale McGee was hyped as the starting center and 7-foot-1 free-agent Timofey Mozgov re-signed, too. That meant the bruising, 242-pound Hickson could return to his more natural position of power forward, albeit behind entrenched starter Kenneth Faried, and get back to battling guys more his size.

Here’s what Hickson told me back in February about playing center for the Blazers and what it meant for his impending free agency:

“The NBA world knows what my true position is and they know I’m sacrificing for my team, and I think that helps us even more knowing that I’m willing to play the ‘5’ to help us get wins.”

In July, Hickson, 25, signed a three-year, $16.1 million contract with the Nuggets. Five games into the season, McGee went down with a stress fracture to his leg and remains out indefinitely. First-year coach Brian Shaw could have picked Mozgov as the traditional choice to start in Shaw’s inside-first offense. But Shaw chose Hickson.

“Some things never change it feels like,” Hickson said of starting at center again. “History does tend to repeat itself at times. I’m doing whatever it takes to win games and if it means playing center, that’s what I’ll do.”

Hickson said Shaw came to him and simply told him, “You’re starting at center.”

“Ever since that day, I accepted the challenge,” Hickson said.

Since Hickson took over at center, the Nuggets (13-8) have won 12 of 16 games following a rough 1-4 start that had critics of the franchise’s sudden overhaul — specifically the firing of longtime coach George Karl — shouting told-you-so.

Hickson is averaging 10.5 ppg and 8.2 rpg this season. He’s produced five double-doubles in his last 16 games — including an 18-point, 19-rebound effort against Oklahoma City — plus six more games with at least eight rebounds. As the starting center, he’s averaging 12.1 ppg on 51.9 percent shooting and 8.5 rpg in 25.6 mpg.

Without All-Star-caliber point guard Ty Lawson in the lineup the last two games due to a hamstring injury, the Nuggets won both to finish their six-game all-Eastern Conference road swing 4-2. Hickson combined for 21 points on 50 percent shooting and 18 rebounds in the two games while essentially splitting time with Mozgov.

“After every game, every practice I feel we’re jelling more and more and we trust each other more on the court,” Hickson said prior to the trip. “We’re playing together, we’re having fun, we’re learning how to close out games. Just the camaraderie amongst each other is great.”

Initially, Hickson’s signing in Denver seemed curious because it seemed to mean his accepting a bench role behind Faried. But the Nuggets needed additional frontline toughness and Hickson is happy to deliver. He won’t earn votes for the All-Defensive team, but he’s also not the turnstile the advanced stats crowd makes him out to be. Part of it is simply that Hickson is undersized and out of position practically every game.

Until McGee returns, Hickson is likely to continue to start in the middle. And even then, it’s not like McGee was tearing it up before his injury. Shaw saw fit to play McGee just 15.8 mpg as the starter, fewer minutes than even Karl — hardly McGee’s biggest fan — could stand bringing him off the bench.

When McGee eventually does work himself back into the starting lineup, it will at least provide the opportunity for Hickson to return to power forward. Not that he won’t keep fighting to stay in the starting lineup, no matter the position.

“I’d be lying if I said I came here to play backup, but that’s competition,” Hickson said. “That’s still to be determined and we’ll cross that road when we get there.”

Until then, Hickson will just keep adapting.

Nuggets’ Lawson Thriving With New Coach Shaw In Charge


VIDEO: Lawson’s double-double carries Nuggets over Mavs

DALLAS – After the Denver Nuggets surprisingly fired George Karl and hired Brian Shaw, everybody pondered the coming limitations lightning-quick point guard Ty Lawson would encounter outside of a structure-less offense rather than the untapped possibilities of playing within one.

“I knew that everybody thought that I can’t play in a system where it’s come down and run a play,” Lawson told NBA.com on Monday night following his fourth double-double of the young season. “But I can.”

Can he ever.

“He’s an All-Star,” assessed Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who watched Lawson slice his defense in consecutive games Saturday and Monday for 39 points and 20 assists. “He and [Tony] Parker are probably the two best paint penetration guys in basketball, and so it’s a big problem, it’s a huge problem. His speed is always in play and he’s shooting high 30s [percent] from 3. So if you lay way off of him he pulls up and shoots it.”

Fears that the 5-foot-11 speedster would be stripped of his identity and his brilliant ability to blow by defenders and attack the rim would be compromised by Shaw’s plan for a more traditional, playoff-tested approach to offense have gone unfounded. After an 0-3 start that included losses to streaking Portland and San Antonio, Denver has won three in a row, seven of 10 and moved above .500 (7-6) for the first time this season after Monday’s 110-96 win at Dallas.

“There’s obviously some differences in the way that George Karl played and the way that our team is playing, but we still want to run and try to take the first available shot,” Shaw said. “I think early on he was a little frustrated because my emphasis was on we have to play inside-out and get the ball inside and create penetration that way. But I think he’s picked and found his spots and he has a green light.”

Initially no one could be quite sure how the rookie head coach would go about implementing — and even Shaw was vague in the buildup to training camp — a more conventional, inside-out approach with a team built for speed. One assumption was that the Indiana assistant the past two seasons would try to ram the Triangle he learned in Los Angeles under Phil Jackson into the square hole that was a team that ran like thoroughbreds and didn’t boast a big-bodied, reliable low-post scorer.

“He’s cool, calm and collected,” Lawson of Shaw. “I knew he was going to try the Triangle or a variation of it and also still keep the running in our game. Late in games, that’s when we start running a lot of plays, when the shot clock’s running down, when we really need points. That’s helping us out a lot because you’re going to need that in the playoffs.”

A month into the season and Lawson is producing at career-high levels across the board: 20.7 ppg, 8.7 apg and 4.1 rpg. He’s got the coach’s green light to attack at will, but he’s also now equipped with a menu of plays to complement his impeccable freelance skills.

“We look inside first, like the first three seconds for a post-up, then it’s basically the guard’s turn,” Lawson said. “You go pick-and-roll, drag, just like Coach Karl, and if you have none of that, just get into a play real quick. And the plays — they’re unbelievable — we’ve got counters; these plays are something that I think a lot of coaches should have in their repertoire.”

Denver’s pace has actually picked up from last season, averaging 100.47 possessions per 48 minutes compared to 97.6. The Nuggets are averaging 103.6 points per 100 possessions, down a bit from last season (107.6) but still good for ninth-best in the league.

Unchanged is how Lawson makes teams pay with near-indefensible bolts to the basket. According to the new player tracking stats on NBA.com, Lawson is averaging 10.8 drives per game, second in the league behind Dallas’ Monta Ellis (11.4). And no team is averaging more points per game on drives by a player than the Nuggets on Lawson drives (13.9), a reflection of his ability to collapse defenses and dish to the open man.

“He’s always in attack mode and it’s eventually like a boxer, just punching and punching and punching non-stop,” new backcourt mate Nate Robinson said. “He just continues to punch, never gets tired, just punch, punch, punch and at the end he’s going to wear you out and wear you down, and that’s how he plays.”

The player tracking stats also reveal that Lawson ranks third behind Chris Paul and John Wall in both creating assist opportunities per game and in points created by assists per game.

“I feel like I can get in the paint on anybody and at least find somebody or get to the basket and cause confusion, cause chaos,” Lawson said. “That’s what I want to do every time I come down the court is cause chaos so where somebody has to help or I can score and get it done like that.”

Shaw’s top priority during the summer was connecting with and understanding his point guard. Rather than preach to Lawson how the offense would run, both came together with open minds about how best to run it.

“We had a lot of talks. When he first came in we talked for like an hour about what he was trying to do and I threw my ideas out there and we were just bouncing ideas of each other,” Lawson said. “Once I learn something I try to master it.”

Of having a batch of plays at his disposal, Lawson said: “It’s helping me a lot finding shooters, getting easier assists and also scoring.”

The Nuggets still aren’t whole. Center JaVale McGee is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his shin and forward Danilo Gallinari continues to recover from ACL surgery. But slowly, a team whose general manager jumped to another team, fired its coach with more than 1,100 career victories and lost defensive-minded swingman Andre Iguodala in free agency, is coming around.

“Right now everybody’s happy,” Lawson said. “I’m happy. Everything is working out.”

McGee’s Injury Adds To Denver’s Woe

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – JaVale McGee‘s hope-filled season started poorly and has taken a sharp turn for the worse. McGee is out indefinitely with a fracture to his left shin, the team announced Sunday.

This season was supposed to be something of a new start for the 7-foot center renowned more for his goofiness than his contributions in his five previous seasons, three-and-a-half spent with the Washington Wizards before getting traded to Denver.

Under rookie head coach Brian Shaw, McGee expected to take over as the starter, and he did, and figured to be a focal point of an offense that was turning more traditional coming out of George Karl’s up-tempo attack. But McGee’s minutes didn’t rise; they dipped to lower levels than under former coach George Karl, just 15.8 mpg. He was averaging 7.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg and 1.4 bpg.

His struggles have mirrored the team’s lackluster performances leading to a 1-4 record coming off last season’s franchise-record 57 victories. Before training camp commenced, McGee, who dealt with left shin pain last season, was as juiced for this season as any previous year. He was determined to be taken seriously as a difference-making center.

“I feel like I’m extremely athletic, extremely fast, extremely agile for being a 7-foot big man and just need the right people behind me to be able to bring what has to come out to be a dominant center in the league,” McGee told NBA.com in September. “There’s a lot of things that haven’t even been [brought out] of my game that people haven’t even seen. So I just feel like this is going to be the season.

“It’s really up to the coach as to how he wants to use me. It’s up to me to work and everything, and I’m going to do that. So if I work hard and I come prepared and in shape for training camp, there’s nothing that can stop me but the coach.”

Apparently Shaw wasn’t seeing what he wanted from the big man. Because McGee wasn’t playing much, perhaps his loss won’t be as costly as it might have been if he had gotten off to the start he had hoped. Shaw told reporters he’ll either start Timofey Mozgov or undersized J.J. Hickson, the 6-foot-9 power forward who played out of position in the middle all last season for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Denver plays at winless Utah on Monday and returns home Wednesday to play the Los Angeles Lakers.

That McGee got off to such a slow start is discouraging for his future with a franchise that gave him a $44 million extension in the summer of 2012. Only 25, McGee has long been considered a talent just waiting to break out, yet is constantly sabotaged by errors or buffoonery of his own creation. He has enticing offensive skills on the block and is an excellent shot blocker, but he has never been able to put together a full repertoire and execute it.

Last season, Karl was asked why McGee couldn’t crack 18 mpg. Karl simply simply said he didn’t deserve more. Shaw apparently didn’t need to see much to be in agreement. Now McGee will sit idle as he waits for his shin to heal.

The transitioning Nuggets, meanwhile, will try to figure out how to string together consistent efforts with a roster still missing its top two forwards, Danilo Galinari, who continues to rehab from ACL surgery and Wilson Chandler, who has yet to play this season due to a hamstring injury.

McGee’s injury only adds to his personal frustration and the team’s growing challenge.

Nuggets Down RPMs and Bodies

 

HANG TIME WEST – For one thing, there’s the pace. Brian Shaw has replaced George Karl as coach and halfcourt has replaced fastbreak. Gears have been grinding for a month with the sudden downshift.

For another thing, there’s the Nuggets as a whole. Or rather, there aren’t the Nuggets. Wilson Chandler got a few minutes into the first practice, strained a hamstring, and hasn’t been back since. Kenneth Faried missed half the exhibition schedule because of a hamstring strain and played 15 minutes in the opener. Danilo Gallinari is recovering from a torn knee ligament and probably won’t return for months.

A team that would have been facing a tough enough transition anyway – Karl to Shaw, veteran coach to rookie, Andre Iguodala to Golden State – can’t get what they need most: time together. Shaw has been able to slow down a lot of things, but the calendar isn’t one of them, so there went the chance to use the exhibition schedule to sort through lineups.

“It’s tough,” Shaw said. “But at the same time, that’s why we have 15 players on the roster. We’ll mix and match until the time when we get one of those guys back.”

Chandler will be back much sooner than Gallinari, barring a setback. But, yes, mix and match as the regular season begins, initially with a 90-88 loss at Sacramento on Wednesday while using a three-guard alignment of Ty Lawson, Randy Foye and Andre Miller down the stretch and now into the home opener tonight against the Trail Blazers (9 p.m. ET, League Pass). The same starting lineup — Lawson, Foye, JaVale McGee, J.J. Hickson, Anthony Randolph – is expected, but what happens from there is more of a feeling-out process for the Nuggets than most teams.

That includes the pace.

“It’s a lot more half-court offenses,” Lawson said. “Brian Shaw is a mastermind of a lot of half-court offenses, so we’ve been running less this year than we did probably in the past.”

There’s no probably about it.

“I actually like it,” Lawson said. “I feel like I can play the whole game now. With George sometimes, I knew I needed a sub, at the two-minute mark or something like that, to get my wind back. But right now, I feel like I can play the whole game with that type of system. Slow down, run off pick-and-rolls. It’s nice to have the ball come back to me, not have to make the play and then shoot. I can become the playmaker too.”

In the obvious problem, telling Lawson to slow down is the Nuggets taking away what had been one of their advantages. Same with Faried, the athletic power forward who thrives in transition. Opponents will welcome the chance to play at altitude in Denver without having to also face a speed game.

One Team, One Stat: Nuggets Own The Restricted Area

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Denver Nuggets, who are moving in a new direction after their best regular season in 37 years.

The basics
DEN Rank
W-L 57-25 4
Pace 97.8 2
OffRtg 107.6 5
DefRtg 102.0 11
NetRtg +5.6 5

The stat

1,412 - Points by which the Nuggets outscored their opponents in the restricted area last season.

The context

No other team in the league outscored their opponents in the restricted area by half that amount. Next on the list were the Houston Rockets, who outscored their opponents by 626 points in the restricted area. And since shot-location data was first charted in 1996, the only team that has come close to the Nuggets’ mark was the 1997-98 Lakers, who outscored their opponents by 1,128 points in the restricted area.

Offensively, the Nuggets relentlessly attacked the basket. It started with their transition game, of course. They were off and running once they got the ball off a turnover, a rebound, or even a made bucket. They led the league in fast break points by a wide margin, and 1,210 (*73 percent) of their 1,652 fast break points came in the restricted area.

*For comparison, league-wide, 57 percent of fast break points came in the restricted area.

When the break was stopped, point guards Ty Lawson and Andre Miller still looked to get into the paint and make plays. Among guards, they ranked eighth and 19th in restricted area field goal attempts. Almost 60 percent of their assists came in the restricted area, with Miller leading the league with 328 restricted-area assists and Lawson ranking seventh with 260.

And the Nuggets didn’t stop with their first attempt at the basket. They led the league in both offensive rebounding percentage and second-chance points, with 840 (*65 percent) of their 1,295 second-chance points coming in the restricted area.

* For comparison, league-wide, 53 percent of second-chance points came in the restricted area, which is probably less than you would guess.

Of course, the Nuggets *couldn’t shoot very well, so they had little choice but to attack the basket. But for a team that doesn’t shoot very well to rank in the top five in offensive efficiency is pretty amazing.

* They ranked 23rd in effective field goal percentage from outside the paint and famously didn’t hit a shot from outside the paint until the final minute of a December loss in Portland.

The Nuggets took 45.7 percent of their shots from the restricted area, by far the highest rate in the league. And they made 63.1 percent of those shots, a mark which ranked sixth. No other team ranked in the top 10 in both the percentage of shots taken from the restricted area and field goal percentage there.

Highest percentage of shots from the restricted area

Team FGM FGA FG% Rank %FGA
Denver 2,016 3,194 63.1% 6 45.7%
Detroit 1,565 2,670 58.6% 24 40.2%
Houston 1,617 2,628 61.5% 11 38.7%
Minnesota 1,421 2,406 59.1% 19 35.9%
Milwaukee 1,432 2,530 56.6% 27 35.2%

Denver wasn’t just strong in the restricted area offensively. To outscore your opponents by 1,412 points, you have to be doing something right on the other end of the floor as well.

The Nuggets didn’t really prevent shots at the basket, but they defended them well, allowing their opponents to shoot just 56.2 percent in the restricted area, the second best mark in the league.

The following are some highlights from a December game in which the Nuggets outscored the Pacers (who ranked No. 1 in restricted-area defense) 48-18 at the basket. Denver shot 24-for-30 in the restricted area, while Indiana shot just 9-for-17.


While the Nuggets’ defense was better overall with Kosta Koufos on the floor, JaVale McGee was the team’s best rim protector. In fact, he was one of the league’s best, with opponents shooting just 52.8 percent in the restricted area with him on the floor.

McGee is back and now starting at center, so Denver opponents will continue to have a tough time converting at the rim. But the Nuggets won’t be as strong there themselves.

Only LeBron James was a better finisher at the rim than Andre Iguodala last season, and Iguodala has taken his dunks and layups to the Bay Area. Maybe more importantly, the architect of the Nuggets’ furious style is gone. And with Brian Shaw replacing George Karl on the bench, we should see a more traditional offensive attack in Denver.

Denver has played at a quick pace in the preseason, but has attempted only 34 percent of their shots from the restricted area. Of course, they actually have have a couple of guys – Randy Foye and Nate Robinson – who can shoot threes pretty well. And that is just as important as getting shots at the basket.

So the Nuggets will likely have more balanced offense in terms of shot selection. And who knows when we’ll see another team outscore its opponents by so many points in the restricted area again.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rose feeling ‘great’ after preseason debut | Bargnani likely to start in preseason | Karl discusses Denver ouster | McGee impressing Nuggets | Rivers shows improvement

No.1: Rose not sore after preseason debut: In his first NBA game (albeit a preseason one) in more than 17 months, Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose looked solid on Saturday night against the Pacers. Sure, there was some rust to his game, but he finished with 13 points in just over 20 minutes of play in Chicago’s 82-76 victory. Even better news for Bulls fans than a preseason win powered by their superstar is news that Rose is feeling fine after putting up such an effort, writes K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

The big question Sunday was how Rose’s knee felt the day after his first test.

Coach Tom Thibodeau limited Rose’s playing time to 20 minutes in the 82-76 exhibition win over the Pacers and took him out for good with seven minutes left in the third quarter.

“Feeling good,” Rose said Sunday before practice at Saint Louis University. “Thibs was asking me the same thing. I’m feeling all right. I could’ve played some more, but they took me out. If anything, (they were) just watching me, making sure I’m all right.”

Thibodeau joked Saturday that Rose was mad at him for taking him out so early. Even in a meaningless game, it was hard for Rose to sit and watch, knowing he felt strong enough to continue playing.

“Yeah it’s tough, especially for it to be a close game like it was,” Rose said. “To be sitting out, I just wanted to test myself a little more, but I wasn’t able to.”

Rose said he feels like he’s where we wants to be, crediting a rigorous training regime he has employed during his rehab.

“Conditioning and rehab and training definitely put me in the spot I’m in right now, where I’m recovering real quick,” he said. “I’m eating right. My diet has changed. It’s actually preventing a lot of (minor) injuries in the future, just preparing myself the right way and staying healthy. That’s the key.”

***

No.2: Woodson may opt for big-man heavy starting lineup: From the sound of what Knicks coach Mike Woodson had to tell reporters on Sunday, it seems that in terms of New York’s starting lineup, bigger is better. Woodson is more than likely going to start a frontcourt of Tyson Chandler at center, Andrea Bargnani at power forward, Carmelo Anthony at small forward, Iman Shumpert at shooting guard and Raymond Felton at point guard. That lineup pushes ‘Melo over one forward spot and shifts Shumpert to the guard line, displacing Pablo Prigioni, writes Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

“I like the makeup of Andrea and Melo on the floor at the same time with Tyson,” Woodson said after the Knicks’ noncontact practice in Greenburgh. “In the scrimmage we worked that combination. It wasn’t bad. Again it’s got to be done in the game, in real-game situations and see how it looks. If it’s good, we can feed off of that. Until we get to that point, I don’t know.”

“We have such a logjam at the two and three,” Woodson said. “If I want to play Melo and (Metta World Peace) over at the three, you still have (Tim) Hardaway (Jr.), Iman and J.R. (Smith). You’ve got to respect their position and see if they can hold it this year. As soon as they can get back on the floor, it should be a competitive practice where they’re competing for that spot.

“I know I can always go back to Pablo and Raymond. But at this point I’m going to try a big guard if I can and see how it plays out.”

***

No. 3: Karl opens up about end in Denver: In a frank conversation with The Boston Globe‘s Gary Washburn, ousted Denver Nuggets coach George Karl opens up about his tenure in Colorado, his future as a TV analyst for ESPN and how changes in the NBA led to the reigning Coach of the Year being fired shortly after the Nuggets’ first-round loss to the Golden State Warriors. Karl does not come across as bitter in the interview, but, like many NBA observers, remains confused about why he was shown the door:

“I was amazed at how quickly I accepted what happened,” Karl said, “because I had 8½ great years and last year was probably my most fun coaching any basketball team I’ve ever been associated with.

“I don’t have a lot of bitterness other than I don’t understand. But not understanding — when you are working in a world of millions, millions, and millions of dollars, there’s a lot of things I don’t understand.

“There’s a lot of contracts we give players that I don’t understand. There’s a lot of trades that I don’t understand. There are a lot of decisions I don’t understand.

“I can’t deny there’s an anger and frustration. But there’s much more celebration in my heart than anything else.”

“There are a lot of truths that change,” he said. “You win 57 games and win Coach of the Year, the truth was it probably did once create security, but the truth now is it doesn’t.

Lionel Hollins did a great job. The truth is when you do a great job, you should be able to be kept. In today’s world, it’s different. The truth to that is if you don’t adjust to that, you’re probably not going to survive.”

***

No. 4: McGee out to prove his worth to himself, Nuggets: As our own Jeff Caplan detailed before training camps opened, Nuggets center JaVale McGee is determined more than ever to prove he’s not just a “Shaqtin’ a Fool” regular and an NBA punchline. That mentality has carried over into training camp as McGee has impressed team officials and new coach Brian Shaw by staying later after practice to hone his game and showing a commitment to the game the Nuggets were hoping to see last season, writes Christopher Dempsy of The Denver Post:

Nuggets center JaVale McGee was on his last-one-out grind. On Tuesday: free throws well after most everyone left the Pepsi Center practice court. On Thursday, post-practice offensive work, followed by full-court sprints with assistant coach Patrick Mutombo.

It is all by design.

No one does everything right in the first week of training camp, but McGee is going after it, from improving his skills on the low block to getting a better handle on his conditioning. The seriousness of his approach is in stark contrast to a year ago, when his sluggish training camp cost him a starting job — and ultimately significant playing time — just weeks after he signed a four-year, $44 million contract extension.

McGee is eager to show he is much more than a player who had become largely expendable by last season’s playoffs.

“That’s exactly what I’m trying to show,” McGee said. “What people didn’t believe I could do is possible.”

***

No. 5: Rivers gives Pelicans some hope for future: As a rookie for New Orleans a season ago, Austin Rivers struggled to live up to much of the hype that surrounded him following a standout career at Duke. Rivers played a regular role in the Pelicans’ rotation and struggled the first half of the season before improving a bit shortly before a hand injury knocked him out of the lineup for the last 23 games. Rivers had a solid night in his preseason debut (21 points, five assists) and his opener has New Orleans hoping he and new All-Star guard Jrue Holiday can make for a solid backcourt combo, writes Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune:

“I just think he is right where he should be,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “We’ve heard about Austin since he was in the seventh or eight grade and everybody wants him to be LeBron (James), but he is right where he should be.

“He works his tail off. He’s probably one of the most competitive guys in the league. He’s hungry. He does some things you like from a young guy. He works hard. He’s coachable. He’s not afraid. To me, you can’t ask for more than that.

“He’s going to have ups and downs because he is 20. But he competed and that’s what I wanted.”

Rivers, who’ll get another opportunity to build on his performance when the Pelicans play at the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night, said he was encouraged by his performance.

“It felt good,” Rivers said. “That was the whole purpose for me playing summer league this year, to get my rhythm back. I missed a lot of games last year. I missed the last 22, 25 games last year. That’s a lot of games for anybody. So it’s been a while since I have played a game.

“And I really feel like summer league helped me this year, just to go out there and get my repetitions and play the point guard. I told everybody before the year I wanted to play the point. I have no problem playing the two, but I want to play the point. And that’s what I did (against Houston).”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Just call Cavs veteran guard Jarrett Jack “Crusty” from now on … Damian Lillard will help rookie C.J. McCollum get through his foot injuryChauncey Billups gets the OK from coach Maurice Cheeks to miss some practice drillsJose Calderon not expected to play in the Mavs’ presason opener

ICYMI of the night: Darius Johnson-Odom, who spent most of last season in the NBA D-League, is trying to make the cut for the Lakers this season. Dunks like this one last night against Denver won’t hurt his cause …