Some Nuggets, both Informational and Denver-ish

Matchup: Nuggets(30-15) @ Hornets(27-14)

The Hornets have already played the Nuggets twice – with one of the games being fairly recent, so I’m going to avoid my typical full-scale Game Preview, make a couple comments, and then move on to other things I wanted to talk about.

Unlike last year, the Nuggets are a team to be worried about this year.  Nene and Kenyon Martin have been mostly healthy this year – and both are better defenders than Marcus Camby ever was – so that is pure addition by subtraction.  Chauncey Billups is a fantastic defensive point guard, and an efficient scorer, and he replaced a terrible defensive point guard in Iverson, who was fairly efficient but not on the same level as Billups.

Together, those three upgrades have made the Nuggets a hard group to handle.  More than any team we’ve played since West and Chandler went down, the Nuggets are capable of scoring inside, so if Nene or Kenyon get moving in the post, or JR Smith consistently(Hee hee!  JR consistent!  Hahahaha!) drives into the paint, the Hornets will probably be in for a long night.

The Good news is that behind Nene, there isn’t a tremendous amount of size on the Nuggets bench – the Birdman and Kenyon aren’t physical powerhouses and rely more on athleticism than strength, so that it’s possible that Julian Wright will again get a nice run of playing time as the starter.  (West is confirmed out again)

As usual, Paul will need to be brilliant and two of our three shooters will need to be on to take this game despite the injuries.  Fortunately, Carmelo Anthony will be out, so that should help us a little.

Western Conference Team Rankings

There are a lot of ways to rank the Western Conference.  Most of the pundits, however, rely on team records and reputation.  There’s no problem in the West then when picking the top team, which is clearly the Lakers, but who is second?

Most pundits go with the tried and true San Antonio Spurs, who have the second best record and have the swagger and reputation of champions, and then it’s a toss up between Denver or New Orleans.

However, I prefer to use efficiencies to rate teams, and while one of those three is the second best, the third best team almost never enters the conversation.  Below is a table with the team efficiencies to date, sorted on the differential between how many points a team allows per 100 posessions compared to how many points a team scores per 100 posessions.

Team Off Efficiency Def Efficiency Differential
L.A. Lakers 110.6 101.9 8.7
Denver 107.1 102.4 4.7
Portland 110.2 105.8 4.4
New Orleans 107.6 103.8 3.8
San Antonio 105.7 102.1 3.6
Utah 106.7 104.1 2.6
Phoenix 107.9 105.8 2.1
Houston 104.3 102.5 1.8
Dallas 105.8 104.8 1.0
Golden State 105.5 109.9 -4.4
Minnesota 102.1 106.9 -4.8
Memphis 99.6 106.5 -6.9
L.A. Clippers 98.2 105.5 -7.3
Oklahoma City 98.8 106.6 -7.8
Sacramento 101.5 111.2 -9.7

That’s right, the third best team so far in the West has been the Portland Trailblazers.  It’s pretty bizarre seeing the team with the 20th worst defense in the league sitting that high on the charts, but their offense has, quite simply, been that good. 

The Blazers are an odd group, flying in the face of the stereotype that teams looking to outscore their opponents simply try to run the opponent out of the building.  Portland, far from being a running team, is the slowest team in the league, averaging only 87.2 posessions per game.  Looking at the raw numbers, it seems to me like Portland lures its opponents into a trap.  The opponent knows if they just settle into a half-court offense, they’ll eventually pick the Blazers apart and get a decent shot, so they slow the game down, work the ball and score.  Unfortunately, they’ve just played into Nate McMillan’s hands, because he too wants a slow game, because his guys are even better at picking a defense apart.

I need to ask Henry Abbott over at Truehoop what happens when Portland is forced into a fast-paced game.  Is that a good way to attack them?

Chris Paul is Pretty Good

In case you guys didn’t see it in Lagniappe, Dave Berri of the Wages of Wins Journal has produced his mid-season evaluation of the Hornets, including a glowing bit about Chris Paul.  It’s well worth a read.  I’m a fan of the way his metrics compare a player against an average player of the same position and then assigns a rating.  His ratings are also much less scoring-centric, giving rebounders that excel far above the average about as much weight as scorers who excel far above the average in efficiency.

He, of course, points out the obvious problem with this Hornets team:  The Hornets big men aren’t playing very big.  Tyson and David West have forgotton how to rebound, which is destroying the Hornets ability to play at the same level they did last year.

Other interesting points from the article:

  • James Posey is our 2nd most productive player.
  • Julian Wright has regressed.(C’mon Juju, break out!)
  • Antonio Daniels is very solid in his limited minutes.
  • Hilton Armstrong and Melvin Ely produce so little they actually harm the team while on the floor.

Enjoy the game.

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