Slowing down the pace, holding back the team

Photo courtesy of Markus Spiske on

   In the 2012-2013 regular season, the Denver Nuggets were playing their best basketball since joining the NBA in 1974. The team totaled 57 wins in an 82 game season, a new franchise record. Then, they lost in the first round of the playoffs… again. The Nuggets have made the playoffs 10 consecutive seasons since 2003, and have been eliminated in the first round nine out of ten times. Josh Kroenke, owner of the organization, was understandably frustrated by the repeating pattern of the Nuggets being a “one and done” team. So what does he do? He decides to fire Coach George Karl and not re-sign General Manager Masai Ujiri shortly after the teams 4-2 playoff series loss against the Golden State Warriors. Who in their right mind would decide to fire a long term head coach the same year that the team had its most successful regular season in franchise history?

   Well, as Kroenke put it after being interviewed about his decision to fire coach Karl, “I’m not here to win awards. I’m here to win banners.” So his solution to “win banners” was to turn the fast break Nuggets offense into a slow paced, half court offense in the coming season. To do so, he signed Brian Shaw, a former assistant coach of the Indiana Pacers, who ran a slow pace offense. Kroenke’s whole purpose to make this change was because he thinks a slow pace offense is the only way to have success in the playoffs.

   As a fan, it seems ridiculous. The Nuggets offense averaged 106.1 points per game the previous season, which ranked first in the league. The formula for the teams success was fast break points and points in the paint on offense, assisted by forcing turnovers on defense. Unlike other teams in the NBA, the Nuggets were successful without any true “star players” on the team. What they did have was a lot of depth and team chemistry. With a filled roster of role players, the team was able to outrun their opponents with plenty of substitutes, averaging 19.7 fast break points per game, which was also the best in the league. Defensively, they averaged the most steals in the league, a key part in the Nuggets getting out on the fast break.

So by all means Mr. Kroenke pull the trigger on the staff by firing George Karl and departing ways with Ujiri, who created a successful formula for winning games without a star player after the Carmelo Anthony trade. They were developing a team of solid players who fit into the system, with a select few such as Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari who could hopefully develop into league powerhouses under the system. The Nuggets are trying to be something that they are not by switching to a half-court offense.  Now there is less chemistry between the players, as this 2013-2014 season has just got underway.

   Surprise. It is not working. The Nuggets are 0-3 to start off the season as of November 6, averaging only 94 points per game, already losing two home games, which is notable because the Nuggets only lost five games with a franchise record of 36-5 at home last year. Last year the Nuggets went on a 15 game winning streak, tying a franchise record. They set a franchise record for 21 consecutive home wins also. Now, they have kicked off the season with a three game losing streak, two of which were at our home court. The team is averaging only 94 points per game, and is currently in last place in steals. This is not surprising considering Andre Iguodala,  the Nuggets’ best defensive player, signed with a different team after he saw the Nuggets fire their coach and can their general manager. Only time will tell how successful a team is, but the Nuggets are off to a shaky start.

   Honestly, it will be hard to follow the Nuggets the same way as last year. Any avid follower of the NBA knows how fun it was to watch this team wrack up as many points as they did on the fast break last year, and put together a string of 15 wins in a row. The Nuggets played like an exuberant college team at the NBA level. Somebody needs to tell Josh Kroenke that Ty Lawson is one of the fastest players in the NBA, especially with the ball. He is not meant to lead a half court offense. The Nuggets lead the league in points in the paint last year, and with a half court offense the team will have less opportunity to score points in the paint, forcing them to shoot outside shots, an area where the team has proved to be very insufficient.

   In all fairness, the playoff disappointment this year against the Warriors was largely due to their spot on shooting. They played some phenomenal basketball and shot absolutely lights out behind the three point arc. The Nuggets were also without their key player Danilo Gallinari. The coaching could have been better, the playing could have been better, but this is still a young and developing team that deserved a year or two more to head in the same direction. They did not deserve to be drastically changed like they were in the off season.

   Josh Kroenke’s overbearing personnel decisions have been disappointing and were really just a way for him to inflate his ego. By jettisoning Karl and Ujiri, he has derailed this basketball team off of its promising track. At some point the organization will need to realize that it is not possible to fit a square peg in a round peg hole. It is hard to place the blame on the coach, since he is working with players who are not accustomed to a half court system..With that being said, the only way for the Nuggets to have a chance at a successful 2013 season is to readjust back to their old philosophies and pick up the pace. Otherwise, this city will not be seeing any banners or awards for quite some time. Do not fix something that is not broken.