NBA Playoffs: Nuggets limited by defensive execution, but also offensive scheme

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anthony_ref.jpgThere’s no question that Denver’s inability to play defense is a big reason why they find themselves on the brink of elimination, but TrueHoop’s Kevin Arnovitz has discovered something of an oddity in the Nuggets’ deliberately inefficient offense:

The Denver Nuggets have a secret arsenal of nearly unstoppable plays. There’s only one hitch headed into Game 5:
Acting head coach Adrian Dantley isn’t sure he can get his team to run them.

That’s because the Nuggets see themselves as a certain kind of
basketball team with an anti-system. Mike D’Antoni has
7-seconds-or-less. Phil Jackson has The Triangle. Jerry Sloan has The
Flex. And Dantley has inherited from George Karl what he’s referred to
more than once as “random basketball.”

What does “random basketball” mean? That’s Dantley’s description of
how the Nuggets perceive themselves offensively — a team that
flourishes by pounding you with dominant one-on-one play in the half
court and with breakneck transition buckets. Dantley isn’t the only one
to make that general characterization. When asked about the Nuggets’
woeful assist total of 13 following Game 4, Chauncey Billups conceded,
“We aren’t really a high-assist team. That’s not how our offense is
made.”


A stubborn devotion to “random basketball” is one of the reasons
Denver’s offense has fallen off since Game 1, and there’s something
obtuse about the Nuggets’ unwillingness to construct coherent
possessions in the half court against Utah. When the Nuggets choose to
run deliberate sets, they’re shredding the Jazz — particularly on the
pick-and-roll.

Arnovitz goes on to dissect the strengths of the Nuggets’ 3-5 pick-and-roll, making particular note of the effectiveness of Carmely Anthony and Nene in such situations. The most troubling part of Arnovitz’s excellent piece, though, ared the cries from acting head coach/substitute teacher Adrian Dantley, who claims that not only is he aware of how effective the team has been with the pick-and-roll, but has implored his players to run more of them.

Maybe this is where the Nuggets miss George Karl, who if nothing else was a superior coach in his ability to manage and connect with his players. Then again, Karl’s commitment to “random basketball” could be equally zealous and misplaced, leaving Dantley as one of the few guys on the bench left shaking his head after Denver runs another isolation play.

This particular assembly of players in Denver is not an easy one to reach, particularly for a coach with little experience as a showrunner. Even Karl has struggled with the task at times, despite that aspect of coaching being considered his strength; George is first and foremost a manager of personnel and personalities, as opposed to a strict X-and-O type.

So while Dantley’s struggle to reach this team may indeed say something about his prospects as a head coach, it’s hard to read Arnovitz’s account (supposing you take Dantley’s comments at face value) and see Adrian as anything other than the guy in the room that gets it. He may not get the communication aspect of coaching just yet — at least not with this team — but the indications from the top are that Dantley is telling his players the right things, but something lost in translation to the hardwood. 

Nikola Jokic’s All-NBA first-team selection shows his meteoric rise

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Just four years ago, Nikola Jokic was a second-round pick still playing in the Adriatic League. Just three years ago, he was battling a struggling Jusuf Nurkic to be the Nuggets’ main center.

Yesterday, Jokic made the All-NBA first team.

Jokic has risen incredibly quickly. Before this season, he had never even been an All-Star.

That makes Jokic the first non-rookie in NBA history to make an All-NBA first team without a prior All-Star season (including ABA All-Stars).

The No. 41 pick in the 2014 draft, Jokic is just the fourth second-rounder to make an All-NBA first team since the NBA-ABA merger. The others: DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol and Marc Price.

For most players not immediately deemed to hold first-round talent, it takes a while to build stature in the NBA. Jokic made the All-NBA first team in just his fourth season. That’s way sooner than Gasol (seventh season), Price (seventh season) and Jordan (eighth season):

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The Nuggets didn’t wait for this honor to make Jokic their franchise player. They gave him a near-max contract last summer, and by leading them into the second round of the playoffs, he triggered incentives to reach a max salary.

Denver has built a young supporting cast – mainly Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – to grow with Jokic. The Nuggets also signed veteran Paul Millsap, whose defense complements Jokic’s offensive-minded game.

So much is coming together so quickly for Denver, and Jokic’s honor is just the latest example.

Report: Trail Blazers sign president Neil Olshey to contract extension

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Just after a rumor emerged about the Wizards trying to hire Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey…

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

It’s nice to be wanted. It always adds leverage in contract negotiations.

Olshey has done well in Portland, building a winner around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after LaMarcus Aldridge left. But Olshey’s job will get harder now.

Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless each have another season on the expensive contracts Olshey gave them in the wild summer of 2016. That’ll inhibit flexibility this offseason.

Then, Lillard is set to sign a super-max extension that will take effect in 2021. As great as Lillard is, it’ll be difficult building a contender around someone projected to earn $43 million, $46 million, $50 million and $53 million from ages 31-34. There’s so little margin for error, especially if ownership is less willing to pay the luxury tax than the late Paul Allen was.

But Olshey has earned a chance to handle these dilemmas.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert hits super-max criteria for extension projected to be worth $250 million over five years

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Anthony Davis signed a max rookie-scale contract extension in 2015, between his third and fourth seasons. Based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement at the time, the extension called for him to earn a higher salary if he was twice voted an All-Star starter or made two All-NBA teams during his first four seasons. Davis was voted an All-Star starter and made the All-NBA first team in his third season.

Unfortunately for Davis, he missed both honors his fourth year. The All-NBA and All-Star-starter tracks ran independently. Davis couldn’t qualify for a higher max salary by earning one of each.

That cost him $19,683,908 over the four pre-player-option seasons of his extension, which will end next year.

The current CBA’s more significant adjustments to super-max eligibility – changing the years for qualification, using Defensive Player of the Year instead of All-Star starter – obscured a minor tweak. The tracks now run together. A player can qualify with one Defensive Player of the Year and one All-NBA selection. He needn’t achieve two of one category.

So, Jazz center Rudy Gobert – who won won Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and made All-NBA this year – quietly became eligible to sign a super-max extension in the 2020 offseason. The extension’s highest-allowable value projects to be $250 million over five years. The first four years would follow the structure of the super-max Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are set to sign.

Newsflash: Gobert isn’t Lillard.

Gobert is elite defensively and underrated offensively. But paying him $50 million per year from ages 30-34 in a league overflowing with good centers? That’s a recipe for disaster for Utah.

But Gobert earned eligibility. That makes it harder for the Jazz to tell him they don’t deem him worthy. That tension is an unintended consequence of the super-max rules.

There is room for negotiation. In this case, Gobert’s designated-veteran-player extension must be for five seasons and have a starting salary between 30% and 35% of the 2021-22 salary cap. But his salary can increase or decrease annually by up to 8% of his first-year salary. The deal can be partially guaranteed.

Still, the lowest possible designated-veteran-player extension for Gobert projects to be $155 million over five years. If fully guaranteed, that’d be expensive for a player of his age. If not fully guaranteed, the Jazz would get savings only by waiving him, and that’d mean dropping the cheaper latter years.

Because he doesn’t have enough experience to qualify, Gobert can’t sign a super-max extension until the 2020 offseason. He met the award criteria, but a player must have seven or eight years of experience. Gobert just finished his sixth year. He’s also under contract for two more seasons – locked into salaries of $24,758,427 next season and $26,275,281 the following year.

So, there’s time to figure this out.

But this is the most uneasy super-max situation so far – unless Gobert just doesn’t insist on the money. Good luck with that.

Rumor: Wizards interested in Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey

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The Wizards struck out on luring Nuggets president Tim Connelly.

Washington’s next choice?

Ben Standig of NBC Washington:

As for the rumor mill, one name stands out: Neil Olshey.

Numerous sources told NBC Sports Washington of the Wizards’ interest in Blazers President of Basketball Operations

Olshey has done a good job in Portland. He drafted Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum then built a winner around those two after LaMarcus Aldridge left. Trading for and re-signing Jusuf Nurkic to a reasonable contract looks great. Olshey also overpaid Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe and Festus Ezeli, but many teams spent wildly in 2016. It was a weird summer.

The Wizards would do well to hire such a proven executive.

Would Olshey leave the Trail Blazers? Their ownership situation remains uncertain following the death of Paul Allen in October. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has demonstrated extreme loyalty to his executives.

Portland will also reportedly sign Damian Lillard to a super-max extension – a move that practically must be made, but one that carries massive downside risk. However, if he goes to Washington, Olshey would be trading uncertainty in Damian Lillard’s value on the super-max for certain negative value with John Wall on his super-max extension.

A couple years ago, Olshey signed his own extension through 2021. Maybe he’s ready to move on.

Or maybe he’s ready to use the Wizards as leverage for a raise.