There are conflicting versions of the 2018 Denver Nuggets, and they both cannot exist at the same time. One, a slow-paced, defensive club that has more in common with the 2014 Memphis Grizzlies than the 2017 Nuggets. The other, a free-wheeling, fast and furious offensive squad that can score on any defense in the NBA.
Both of these styles exist within the same team and, most importantly, cannot exist together. It’s a fundamental clash in philosophies.
The Nuggets need to pick one and stick with it. Not only that, they need to pick the one that will win them the most games during what is shaping up to be one of the toughest stretches of basketball in the NBA. In the second half of the team’s 111-110 loss to the Boston Celtics the Nuggets ran a rapid-fire, quick, running offense and attacking defense (which resulted in … gasp … STEALS from Gary Harris) that we had not seen ALL SEASON. It pulled the Nuggets from 20 points behind to nearly winning the game, save for an end-of-game-brain fart.
The Nuggets can’t be a sludgy, 24 second, positional defensive team and a run-and-gun offense. The two things aren’t compatible because the defense doesn’t play into the offense. Even with the often-derided, so-called “Plumic” lineup — Mason Plumlee and Nikola Jokic on the floor together — the Nuggets played attacking style defense with two big men and scored 65 second half points against the best defense in the NBA, the Celtics. Where was that all season?
The Nuggets, and more specifically head coach Michael Malone, need to decide who they are going to be. You can’t have the best of both worlds in the NBA. The Nuggets have been this odd amalgamation of 1990s Knicks and 2017 Nuggets, and it’s resulted in only a slightly better record than last season. There’s nothing wrong with being a tough, positional defense with a sound offense. It CAN work in the modern NBA. Yet, you can’t ask your team to spend 24 seconds trying to induce a missed shot and THEN have them run. Particularly in the high altitude of Denver. However, you CAN ask them to play 24-second defense and run consistent sets on the offensive end that take up much of the shot clock.
At the same time, you can’t ask your team to be a free-wheeling, high-paced offensive juggernaut without employing a defense that feeds into that offense — trapping, steals and more. It was THIS type of defense the Nuggets ran in the second half against Boston. Somehow, the team found the formula between still playing good defense AND having that defense feed into the offense.
With Plumlee out for the foreseeable future with a calf strain, the Nuggets need to survive the most difficult stretch of the year. This stretch features three games with the San Antonio Spurs, two with the Houston Rockets and one with the Golden State Warriors — all in the span of 10 games.
In the meantime, will the Nuggets find that identity that has been largely missing since Paul Millsap went down with a wrist injury in November? The hope is that they do before the season sinks beyond their ability to recover with a stacked schedule and mounting injuries.
What are you going to be Nuggets?