The New York Knicks host the Denver Nuggets at 7:30 EST tonight. The Nuggets and Knicks are both in 10th place in their respective conferences, which is not a good place to be in the NBA. This will be the second meeting of the season for the two clubs, with the Nuggets winning the first game 97-95. To get a better idea of where the Nuggets are now as a team I brought in Nate Timmons of Denver Stiffs and David Walker of Roundball Mining Company.
The Nuggets are coming into tonight’s game winner’s of their last two. Prior to that, they lost two in a row, won two in a row and lost three in a row. Consistency seems like it’s been an issue with this team, why?
David: Prior to that they had a five game winning streak coming right off the back of a seven game losing streak, so yeah, this team is pretty erratic. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact reason but injuries and re-imaginings of the rotation have played a big role as Andre Miller, Darrell Arthur, Nate Robinson, Ty Lawson, Anthony Randolph and Jordan Hamilton have had their minutes sporadically distributed for one reason or another. Its hard to build stability in a constant state of flux, especially with an inexperienced coach at the helm.
Nate: There are a whole lot of issues with this Nuggets team. You can look at injuries … Ty Lawson recently missed two games and the team lost both of those. Nate Robinson was also lost for the season during Lawson’s absence against the Bobcats, leaving Randy Foye and Evan Fournier to run the point (both guys are shooting guards).
But the bigger area of concern has been the team’s lack of focus against the “lesser teams” – for some reason the team gets amped up to play good opponents and they don’t seem to come out with the same energy against teams that lack a big presence. Brian Shaw has been talking about this issue for months and it has plagued the Nuggets. Denver has to come out with big time focus on both ends of the floor in order to be in a position to win games – they can’t beat anyone by thinking they can skate by on talent alone.
What’s going on with the bizarre Andre Miller situation? Many feel he’d actually be a nice fit for this Knicks team, but I’m not sure what the Knicks could offer that would interest the Nuggets outside of Shumpert. Do you think these two clubs could be trading partners at the deadline?
David: Dre’s a veteran leader who’s not afraid to speak his mind and very used to a set way of doing things. Brian Shaw is a first year head coach trying to make his mark on a team still molded in George Karl’s image and a relatively benign clash brought this sort-of internal war to a head. Unfortunately for Miller, he’s no longer good enough for him supersede Shaw like someone like Ty Lawson would so a trade seems rather immanent. As for the Knicks involvement, well, the problem remains that New York just doesn’t have any assets. The competency of Denver’s new GM remains to be seen but its hard to view a scenario where either the Nuggets or the Knicks wouldn’t get bilked in a Andre Miller trade.
Nate: If the Knicks and Nuggets could swing a deal that would essentially swap Miller for Shumpert … sign me up! The salaries side would need to be matched up, but Miller no longer has a place on this Nuggets team as a youth movement is in place and the 37 year-old would be a nice addition to a team that is making a playoff or title push. Miller has been a good mentor for the young guys on the squad as a few players have told me they turned to Miller often for advice on NBA life.
I don’t know what Denver will do with Miller, it seems they are not too interested in just swapping him for a trades sake. I would be pretty surprised if Miller is still a member of the Nuggets past the trade deadline, but I’m not sure who/what the Nuggets are targeting. A young backup point guard would be nice, a shooting guard could be welcomed if Randy Foye were moved (Fournier is making nice strides in development), and I don’t know what is going on with all the big men the Nuggets have. It’s going to be an interesting build up to the deadline.
Former Knick Timofey Mozgov and J.J. Hickson have really stepped up and played well in the absence of JaVale McGee. Why have the two big men been successful in Brian Shaw’s system?
David: Hickson thrives in the pick and roll, and he’s reaping the benefits of playing in a system that revolves its offense around high screens and playing alongside Ty Lawson. However his defense remains bad at best and akin to a turnstile at worst and Shaw playing him at center mostly isn’t helping matters. As for Mozgov, it seems he’s just grown into a much better player. Kind of ironic that Denver’s patience with a raw big man is being rewarded with Mozgov while McGee is wasting away on the bench.
Nate: They have both definitely had their moments this season and they both have also experienced growing pains, too. Mozgov has a very strong work ethic – he’s often the last guy off the practice court and he has a pregame workout too. George Karl’s offense callled for the bigs to set screens, stand out of bounds to make room for driving wings, and go after rebounds. Mozgov possess more skill than that and it has been nice seeing his post-game get featured. That has been the biggest difference in Denver – the bigs have an important role on the team.
Aside from Mozgov’s offense, his defense has been outstanding. He’s a rim protector, plays the pick-and-roll well, is a beast in post defense, and gobbles up rebounds. He might be Denver’s best defensive player and whatever Shaw’s staff has done with him has worked very well in a very short time span. Moz does tend to get into foul trouble from time-to-time as he’s the last line of defense and has a tendency to reach a bit and not go straight up on block attempts, but he has been awesome.
Hickson’s biggest liability has been on the defensive end – from losing his man to not being in position to get rebounds. But he is playing out of position and is often at a detriment going against bigger guys. I would really like to see Hickson at power forward more and Shaw has been playing him there a bit with Moz at center.
Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried unsurprisingly have the two highest PER’s on the club, 20 and 18.9 respectively, but there was some concern how the two would adapt from George Karl’s system to Brian Shaw’s. Are both long-term fits in his system?
David: It’s not a coincidence that Lawson is having his best offensive season outside of George Karl’s system, as great as it was for the offense overall, it didn’t taylor to Ty’s individual ability in the pick and roll. Faried, though, is struggling to find a role in the offense. He’s a bit redundant to Hickson and Shaw seems to have made it clear which of the two he prefers, and with Faried expected to get paid this offseason, his future with the team seems to have an expiration date.
Nate: I think Lawson can play in any system. People have been concerned at how he could run a half-court team, but I think he has been doing a good job over the past couple seasons. The Nuggets were a better half-court team last year than people give them credit for and a lot of that had to do with Ty. I spoke with him before the season about noticing how much his shooting has improved in each NBA season and he credited that with a lot of hard work. His true test has come as a passer. He’s a lot better this season in the pick-and-roll and in dropping passes off when he’s airborn while attacking the rim. He has learned that waiting until the possible second will free up his bigs for easy drop passes and dunks and if the defense doesn’t over-commit he can just lay the ball in. It’ll be interesting to see if Shaw really wants to play as fast as the Nuggets have this season and if he does then Lawson will be a long-term guy in Denver (as he should be).
Faried … he has had an up-and-down season. Shaw tends to nitpick Faried’s game and his minutes this season have been a reflection of that. He’s down from 28 minutes per game to 24 a night and where Karl used to rely on him as the center late in games, Shaw chooses to ride the hottest hand while closing and sometimes that means Faried is on the bench when the game is on the line late.
I’ve seen improvement in Faried’s offense as he’s developing a nice jump-hook in the lane and he continues to be almost automatic around the paint when you think he has no chance of getting a shot off. Shaw has been preaching more of a defensive rebound approach with Faried and he has been following suit and getting more hungry for defensive boards. I don’t know if Faried is a long-term player for Shaw though, something tells me that Shaw would like to have more of a David West type guy that can play in the post and out on the elbow as his power forward. Both Hickson and Darrell Arthur seem to be more “Shaw” guys than Faried.
Who wins tonight, and why?
David: This is a tough one because both teams are hard to gauge night-to-night but I’ll go Denver. Energy has been an issue as of late but I think that MSG will provide enough incentive to bring their A-game against a team they should be able to beat on the road.
Nate: The Knicks’ ability to get hot always is a concern, but the Nuggets will be ready to play at MSG. This is Wilson Chandler’s first game back in New York since the big trade and I think we’ll see a focused effort from the Nuggets. Call it a homer pick, but I think the Nuggets come out victorious tonight.