The Clippers are parachuting into Denver without Al Thornton, Chris Kaman, and Marcus Camby, so I don’t expect tonight to be much of a game. The Nuggets’ frontcourt rotation is composed of legitimate big men — Nene, Kevin Martin, Chris Andersen, and Renaldo Balkman. They don’t engage in a lot of smallball, despite what their 5th ranked pace number might suggest. At times, Linas Kleiza will assume the 4 spot in the second unit, particularly with Martin still recovering from a back injury, but they generally have two big bodies out there at the 4 and 5.
Along with Chauncey Billups, these bigs are a primary reason the Nuggets rank 8th in defensive efficiency. On Thursday night, they held Utah to a mere 104 points in 107 possessions. X’s & O’s of Basketball watched the game, and illustrates Denver’s effective pick-and-roll defense. Jeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company made some similar observations a few weeks back.
X’s & O’s has a video clip of a particularly good defensive set where Denver traps Deron Williams:
I just like this defensive/offensive sequence from the end of the first quarter. The Jazz are in their ISO and high PNR set for Deron Williams, the Nuggets do a great thing by trapping the ball screen, then zoning up, forcing the 24 second shot clock violation…I really like [trapping the screen] because it takes the ball out of the offense’s best playmaker. You might give up an open look, but I think when you play against a team with a great playmaker, the key is to force the other players to make a play, create their own shot. In fact, even if the Jazz didn’t run a high ball screen, I would’ve doubled Williams anyways to get the ball out of his hands…
There’s no question that S/R defense is the linchpin of any NBA defense, but X’s & O’s reveals a point that often goes unsaid: The two guys defending that action are vital, but the three guys covering the rest of the floor are just as important to a defensive stop.
Carmelo Anthony, Linas Kleiza, and J.R. Smith aren’t anything special as individual defenders, but they do a great job here of blanketing the floor, accounting for Utah’s perimeter people, and ultimately rotating while Chauncey Billups and Chris Andersen work against the S/R. In doing so, those three guys buy Andersen enough time to get back to the basket area, where he’s most useful as a defender [and where he blocks Andrei Kirilenko's layup, resulting in a shot clock violation].
Remember that Clippers’ #8 ranked defense of 2005-06? As individual defenders, they weren’t all that much, but they did this sort of thing remarkably well — which goes to show that alertness and chemistry account for a lot.