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. 

Report: Tim Connelly rejects Wizards, staying with Nuggets

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Nuggets president Tim Connelly could have led the Wizards’ front office, worked close to his native Baltimore and presumably gotten a raise from his reported $2 million salary.

Instead, he’s stay in Denver.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This is a huge win for Denver and even bigger setback for Washington.

Connelly has put the Nuggets into a great position. They’re young and good in a combination rarely seen in NBA history. Connelly drafted Nikola Jokic in the second round then built around him a short time later. This season, Denver won 54 games and reached Game 7 of the second round with 24-year-old Jokic flanked by Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap.

More decisions always lie ahead – notably Millsap’s $30 million team option for next season. But the Nuggets’ core is already in place and mostly under team control.

The Wizards need far more work. John Wall‘s contract is arguably the NBA’s worst. Ian Mahinmi and Dwight Howard are also roadblocks. Several key players will be free agents this summer. If he makes an All-NBA team this season, Bradley Beal be eligible for a super-max extension – a tricky decision for the club.

It would have been great for Washington to entrust Connelly with all that. He has proven excellent at his job.

Troy Weaver, Danny Ferry or Tommy Sheppard might do well for the Wizards. But they’re candidates who offer far less certainty.

Kawhi Leonard tries to downplay leg issue, “I’m good”

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Toronto won a gritty Game 3 at home — and are back in the Eastern Conference Finals — because of Kawhi Leonard.

From the opening tip, he was the man guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo (although in a game with a lot of switching plenty of others also got their shot). It was the biggest adjustment Toronto coach Nick Nurse made — and it worked. Antetokounmpo had 12 points on 16 shots in the game and, according to ESPN’s tracking, was 1-of-9 when guarded by Leonard. On the other end, Leonard had 36 points, nine rebounds, and played 52 critical minutes. He was the MVP of Game 3.

And he did it all through a noticeable limp.

He landed awkwardly on a first-quarter layup and all game this clearly limited his mobility.

When asked about it after the game, Leonard shrugged it off.

For much of the season, whenever Leonard was mentioned so was with the phrase “load management.” He had missed all but nine games the season before with quadriceps tendinopathy — the treatment for that, and whether it was a muscular injury or not, was at the heart of Leonard’s discord with San Antonio — and in Toronto he missed 22 games in the regular season to help keep that issue at bay.

That may not be related to what is bothering him now, but the Raptors and Leonard had gone to great lengths to get him rest during the regular season so he would be ready for the playoffs. He has responded, being the best player in the East through the postseason so far. That includes hitting the game-winner to send Philadelphia home, then on Sunday keeping Toronto alive against the Bucks by force of will. But he has played a heavy load of minutes — physical, playoff minutes — to get there.

Will that slow Leonard Tuesday night in Game 4?

It can’t if they want to even this series. Milwaukee will play better in Game 4, keeping Antetokounmpo bottled up may be near impossible, and other Bucks had off-games as well (they shot 37.3 percent as a team in Game 3). Toronto will have to play better to keep pace. Marc Gasol will need to continue taking and hitting the threes (shots the Bucks dared him to take in the first two games), Pascal Siakam will have to have another big game, as will the Raptors’ bench.

But mostly, Leonard needs to be the best player on the floor again, the guy doing this:

If not, Toronto’s season will be on the brink.

After coaching search, Minnesota reportedly settles on owner-favorite Ryan Saunders for job

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“I think he has a good chance [to get the job]… I would just say I really like him as a person. I have known him since he was a young man, and I am really pleased with how he is starting out coaching this team.”

That was Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor on his interim coach, Ryan Saunders, a statement made with about 20 games to go in the season. The Timberwolves reportedly negotiated the outline of a contract with Saunders, but when Gersson Rosas was brought in as team president, he was given the freedom to run a full coaching search.

He has settled on the guy the owner wanted, a story broken by Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

Rosas interviewed other candidates and ran a legitimate job search for the position, but it seems the smart political move for the guy new on the job to hire the guy the owner wanted, and the guy the star player bonded with.

That’s not to say Saunders is a poor choice, he earned this chance. Saunders was thrust into the big chair after Jimmy Butler‘s sabotaging of the team’s season led to coach/GM Tom Thibodeau being shown the door. Saunders quickly developed a strong relationship with Karl-Anthony Towns, who played much better under Saunders the second half of the season. There were other signs Saunders was up to the task and would be a good hire, not just a prudent one.

Now it appears Saunders has the job.

The real task for Rosas is to give Saunders a team that can live up to Towns’ potential. It will not be easy with a capped out roster and some anchor contracts (Andrew Wiggins).

Report: Cavaliers hire J.B. Bickerstaff to John Beilein’s staff

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are still trying to figure things out. LeBron James left for the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, and now the team has hired John Beilein to be its head coach. The team doesn’t have a top pick the way it has in years past, and barring any trades they will select 25th overall in the 2019 NBA Draft.

But at least they are figuring out there coaching staff Issues.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Cavaliers have hired former Memphis Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to be its top assistant coach. Bickerstaff was apparently also in talks with the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Sacramento Kings.

Via Twitter:

Bickerstaff previously headed the Houston Rockets from 2015 to 2016, and was the top man for the Grizzlies over the last two seasons after the team canned David Fizdale.

This is a solid hire for the Cavs. Bickerstaff has been a respected assistant in the league for the past decade-and-a-half, and he should give some veteran NBA oopmh behind Beilein, who most recently coached at Michigan for 12 years and is headed into his rookie season.