A Denver Nuggets Primer

Published: April 17, 2009

This is the first of two opening posts I have planned to talk about the Denver Nuggets – the next one, hopefully up tomorrow evening sometime, will address matchups and some of the schemes I expect the Nuggets and the Hornets to open up with in the first couple games.

The intent of today’s post is to help those of you unfamiliar with our current opponent to get to know the Denver Nuggets a little bit better, and understand some key differences between them and the Hornets.  Enjoy:

Team Analysis

This season the Nuggets owned the 7th most efficient offense, and the 8th most efficient defense.  For every 100 posessions, they score 107.5 points and allow 103.5 points, for a differential of +4.0.  Among the top four seeds in the West, that is the weakest differential of any team, which is a numerical reflection of why Hornets fans were happy to draw them as a first round foe.  The fact still remains that the Nuggets produced a better offense and defense than the Hornets this season.  To close that gap – we’ll need our injured guys to . . . well . . . play.

One interesting indicator to watch is how fast the game seems to be going.  Denver is the 5th fastest team in the league, using 97.1 posessions per game.  The Hornets are the 3rd slowest in the league, using 90.1 posessions per game.  If there is a lot of transition and early shots going on, then the game is probably going to end up in Denver’s favor.  Paul doesn’t get sucked into playing other people’s games often, but it’s still something to watch.

The Nuggets as a whole are very efficient shooters and scorers.  Their Effective FG%, a stat that measures shooting percentages but includes a bonus for made threes to reflect their increased value, was 7th in the league at 51.2%.  Their True Shooting %, a stat that incorporates not only threes, but free throws as well, is 3rd best in the league at 56.3%.  The Hornets are ranked 14th in Effective FG% and 13th in True Shooting %.

Though the Hornets have had problems rebounding the ball this season, much of it due to Tyson’s struggles.  This won’t be as big a problem as you’d think however, since the Denver Nuggets are not a very good rebounding team themselves.  Over the course of the season, Denver ranked 16th in rebounding, snagging 50.2% of available rebounds.  The Hornets ranked 18th, grabbing 49.8%.  Offensively, the Nuggets were 15th best in the league, grabbing 27.5% of available offensive boards, while the Hornets were 25th in the league, grabbing only 24.6% of available offensive boards.  Defensively, however the two roles swap.  The Nuggets were 23rd in the league, coralling only 71.7% of defensive boards, while the Hornets cleaned up 74.9% of their defensive boards, good for 7th in the league.  If Tyson is able to go, rebounding in the series could tip in the Hornets favor.

The weakest part of Denver’s offensive game is their propensity for turnovers.  Denver was the 7th worst team in the league at keeping their hands on the ball, losing it 24.8% of the time.  The Hornets, on the other hand, were tied for 8th best, turning it over 22.3% of the time.  That may sound like a pretty small difference, but it’s a couple posessions a game – which equates to a swing of 2-3 points either direction.  As for forcing turnovers – Denver forces about the same number of turnovers a game that it gives away, while the Hornets typically have a one turnover advantage in each game.  I wouldn’t expect huge differences here.

The Players

Here’s some brief descriptions I put together for the Nuggets players most likely to see time in the series, using my own observations and stats gleaned from basketballvalue.com, 82games.com, NBA.com(hot spots) and ESPN.com.  I’ve also tried to figure out if a player is doing particularly well or badly currently and noting it where applicable.  Away we go:


Nene, C
The most efficient scorer on Nuggets, getting 1.58 points per shot.  A vicious pick and roll finisher, Nene can sink the 18-foot jumpshot at a high rate, though he rarely gets sucked into taking it.  Nene is also good at receiving ball on cut across the paint and finishing with a quick hook.  Is too often ignored on offense.  Draws 4.8 free throws per game and hits at 71%.    Good rebounder, though better on the defensive boards than offensive.  Has surprisingly fast feet, and is a good on the ball and help defender.  Is one of the best at containing opposing centers in the game.

Kenyon Martin, PF
Gets most of his points finishing hard at the basket on a pick and roll.  Takes half his shots as jumpers, and should be encouraged to do so by the Hornets.  Most inefficient scoring player in the rotation other than Carter, getting only 1.19 points per shot.   Poor foul shooter and only draws 3 per game.  Defensive beast.  Fast hands harass any type of ball-handler well.  Can probably defend any Hornet on the perimeter except Paul – though he can even be a problem there coming out to trap. Shot-blocking mostly focused on help defense, but effective from there.  Forces passes.  Very poor rebounder.  Martin has been battling injured ribs recently, and over the last three months he’s missed a bunch of games and produced very poorly on the offensive end, averaging about 29 minutes, 9 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 steal.

Carmelo Anthony, SF
Surprisingly inefficient.  1.25 points per shot and 3+ turnovers per game.  Good at drawing foul shots, earning 7.1 free throws per game while hitting at 80%.  Shoots very well from deep on the left wing, but is otherwise a fairly average shooter from midrange. Despite that, he happily takes 2/3rds of his shots as jumpers – and it is imperative he be tempted into that mid-range shooting by the Hornets.  Solid, if not great, defender.  Anthony’s March was pretty strong, but in April he’s been shooting very poorly.(40%)  He’s made up for it some by finding more open teammates(4.0 assists), but hopefully his shooting slump will continue.

Dahntay Jones, G
Gets points off broken plays, in transtion, or if left wide open.  Cannot be left open for the corner three, though he takes it rarely. 1.28 points per shot.  Moderate rebounder.  Jones is a defensive specialist used to pressure opposing players.  Doesn’t force a lot of turnovers, but does slow/disrupt offenses very well.  Jones’ shooting has slipped a little in April, but that’s such a minor part of his game, and matters little.

Chauncey Billups, PG
Most efficient perimeter scorer on the Nuggets, getting 1.43 points per shot and only commits 2.2 turnovers.  Draws 5.8 free throws per game and hits at 91%.  Poor Rebounder.  Deadly anywhere outside the arc, hitting better than 40% from all spots on the floor except the left corner.  Is by far the most dangerous in early offense, pulling up and taking the three in transition, sporting a nice eFG% of 58 if shooting in the first 10 seconds.  If the Hornets run him off the line, he is not a particularly good scorer inside the arc. At the basket, Billups only manages to finish 47% of the time, instead preferring to pump fake and try to draw fouls.  Footspeed and Defense has fallen off this year, and team defense improves greatly when he leaves the floor – though the team offense declines even worse.


JR Smith, SG
Efficient scoring based on three-point shooting.  1.3 points per shot.  Poor rebounder.  Great punch off bench.  As a shooter, will bury teams from the corner if left open.  Spots up from the wings well.  Rarely hits from straight on – usually because those are off the dribble.  Decent, but not great, finisher inside if contested.  Must be run off the line to limit his effectiveness.  When focused, and we can assume against the Hornets he will be, offers good perimeter defense. Smith’s March and April have been two of the best months of his career.  He’s still been allergic to rebounding and passing, but in only 25 minutes, he’s been pouring in a crazy 19 points per game on 48% shooting.

Chris Andersen, C
Scores almost exclusively on putbacks and in the open court. Sometimes on a pick and roll, but Denver prefers to use Nene or Martin on those.  1.55 points per shot due to the nature of his opportunities. Decent foul drawing rate, hits at 71%.  Good rebounder – no drop off from Nene.  Blocks lots of shots, but his eagerness to do that can cause him to make a few mistakes.  Overall though, he’s a plus defensively. 

Anthony Carter, PG
No shot to speak of.  Terrible from deep and midrange and only a threat to score if driving to the basket and left open.  An abysmal 1.07 points per shot.  Is on the floor for defense.  Average passing and turnover numbers for a point guard – good ones for a backup.  Stats say he’s a good defender, but that may be skewed because he’s replacing Billups who is marked as a poor defender.

Linas Kleiza, F
Decent scorer off the bench, though most of his points come at the basket on cuts or somewhat slow, powerful drives.  1.26 points per shot.  Few free throws.  3-point shooting very poor this season. Defense is average. Lame Rebounder.

Renaldo Balkman, F
Hustle and energy player.  Scores purely at the rim, and only really gets there in transition, broken plays and putbacks.  1.34 points per shot.  Disruptive defender with long arms and quick hands.

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