Fresh off a loss at home against the Kings, the Golden State Warriors (35-45) will take on a Denver Nuggets (49-31) team that just dispatched the Timberwolves Saturday night. The Nuggets have looked nearly unbeatable ever since the Carmelo Anthony trade (only six losses since the move) and the Dubs will have their hands full on the road Monday night.
This Denver team has given opponents fits because of their impressive offense. Indeed, they are averaging 107.2 points per game (best in the NBA) on 47.4 percent field goal shooting (fourth best in the league). There is no other way to this: the Nuggets might have the most impressive scoring team in the league.
Although they are not as talented as the 2000 Portland Trail Blazers, they certainly remind me of them with the amount of quality players they have at every position. Indeed, they have Nene HIlario to play down in the low block, Kenyon Martin to play in the high post, Danilo Gallinari as their designated shooter, Ty Lawson as their speedy ball handler that can break down defenses and Wilson Chandler as their slashing player.
In case that’s not enough, they have J.R. Smith coming off the bench that can be both a shooter and driver, Arron Afflalo who can occasionally create his own shot, Al Harrington to spot up as a stretch power forward and Raymond Felton as a shooter and ball handler. The end result? Chaos for opposing teams.
The Nuggets do a great job of getting in the paint and scoring with their big men, drivers and ball handlers as evidenced by their 44.0 points in the paint per game (sixth best in the NBA). Because they have a lot of players that can score at the rim, teams usually have to foul to prevent them from scoring; which translates into a league leading 29.6 free throw attempts per game.
In case that wasn’t enough of a headache for the rest of the NBA, Denver also shoots a sizzling 38.9 percent from 3-point range. One would think that a team that gets so much of its offense from the interior would be a low 3-point attempt team, but they actually fire away 20.9 3-point field goal attempts per game (eighth in the association).
Part of that is because these aren’t Carmelo Anthony’s ball stopping Nuggets. Instead this squad relies on sharing the ball to get the best shot possible whether it is from close, midrange or deep. Indeed, Denver generates 22.1 assists per game (10th in the NBA).
As great as this offense is though, there are chinks in the armor. The Nuggets turn the ball over 14.2 times per game (16th in the league) and do have instances where the ball sticks. J.R. Smith and Al Harrington have been known to get tunnel vision with the ball in their hands, focusing only on scoring instead of swinging the ball to the open man.
Raymond Felton can also at times dribble out the whole shot clock as he tries to run an offensive set. Granted, these are not issues that happen at an alarming rate, but the trend is there nonetheless for opponents to take advantage of.
On the other side of the ball, the Nuggets surrender 102.5 points per game (21st in the NBA) on 45.8 percent field goal shooting (15th in the league). Denver has the players to be a great defensive team, but not necessarily the culture for it.
Their roster features players such Kenyon Martin, Nene, Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler and Chris Andersen that are solid defensive contributors. However, most of the emphasis goes towards the offense. As a result, George Karl’s squad does not seem to display many sound defensive principles despite having a roster with good defenders.
For instance, Kenyon Martin and Nene do a good job of defending post players and swiping at the ball to cause turnovers. However it leads at times to the players playing with their hands as opposed to their feet, and they get beat to the basket where they have to foul to prevent an easy attempt. They also will throw out double teams in the post on occasion, which results in teams firing away from deep as we can see from their 20.4 3point field goal attempts allowed per game (29th in the NBA).
Their subpar interior defense explains why the Nuggets yield 41.4 points in the paint per game (18th in the NBA) and 24.9 free throw attempts per game (19th in the league).
Also worth noting, Denver’s big men do not seem to always trust that players will rotate to help them. Indeed, when perimeter players attack the rim (especially from the baseline), the Nuggets interior players do not always jump out to prevent the drive, but instead hug their man and leave him once the ball handler is ready to go the rim, where they contest his shot or commit a foul. It’s as if they are afraid that if they commit too soon to the defensive rotation that their man will get a pass for an uncontested lay up.
In order for the Warriors to defeat the Nuggets, they will have to find some way to limit their offensive efficiency. Given the fact that Golden State forces the second most turnovers per game and that Denver is known to cough it up, turning up the defensive pressure on the perimeter would be a great start.
The Nuggets perimeter players get confused on offense when they get trapped or double teamed; it would thus prove prudent to use such a strategy on perimeter players not used to handling the ball to force them into turnovers.
Also, the Warriors will get the opportunity to shoot from long range, but it’s important that they do not merely just settle for 3-point shots. Given the fact that the Nuggets give up scoring opportunities in the paint, it would behoove the Dubs to precisely attack them there to take advantage of their interior defense.
Denver game notes: In two games against the Warriors this season, Nene Hilario is averaging 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game on 80.0 percent field goal shooting.
Golden State game notes: In his lone game against the Nuggets this season, David Lee had 16 points, 12 rebounds and six assists on 46.7 percent field goal shooting.