The numbers do not lie.
It’s a small sample size, but the trend is unmistakable — Denver is a much better defensive team without Carmelo Anthony. They have given up 99.3 points per 100 possessions in the 10 games he has been gone, a number that would be the best in the league if spread out over a season. Again, small sample size theater at play here, but the trend explains why the Nuggets are 8-2 in their last 10.
Over at SB Nation, Rohan Cruyff dove into what the Nuggets are doing better and how much of it is the Carmelo factor.
What exactly are the Nuggets doing on the floor that has fueled this defensive turnaround? In a word: everything. Opponents are shooting nearly 3 percent worse from the floor (a seemingly small figure, but keep in mind the spread from first to 30th in the NBA is less than 7 percent), turning the ball over 14 percent more frequently, visiting the foul line 23 percent less frequently, and Denver has upped its defensive rebounding rate to almost 80 percent during the stretch (Orlando leads the league at 77 percent). This is a completely different team on the defensive end.
At the same time, it’s very important to note that none of these things are blanket indictments of Anthony’s defense. ‘Melo’s departure has likely allowed George Karl to place a renewed focus on the defensive side of the ball; at the same time, two of Denver’s primary defensive improvements — defensive rebounding and foul rate — have been in areas Anthony historically excels in.
The removal of one player — especially not a player who is a defensive anchor in the paint — is not going to make this kind of change. For whatever reason Denver has changed its focus on to the defensive end and is playing with much more energy.
Denver is a team playing with a chip on its shoulder, and at the NBA level defense is as much or more about effort than just scheme. They are trying, they are committed on that end of the floor in a new way.
And that is taking them into the playoffs, where defensive teams are hard to knock out.