The Microscope: Death of the Dual-Creator Lineup in Denver and More
The Microscope is your recurring look at the NBA's small-scale developments—the rotational curiosities, skill showcases, coaching decisions, notable performances and changes in approach that make the league go 'round.
George Karl stays George Karl, but retires one particular lineup idiosyncrasy. The NBA has been lacking a proper mad scientist ever since Don Nelson's retirement from the coaching ranks, but the Nuggets' George Karl is genuinely quite creative...if still lacking some of Nelson's kookiness.
Case in point: although Karl was given one of the deepest rosters in the league and capable wing players galore, he often elected to play Ty Lawson and Andre Miller — his two nominal point guards — in the backcourt together for long stretches (and to great effect; most of the Nuggets' top high-usage lineups include both Lawson and Miller).
Plenty of NBA coaches have played multiple point guards together out of necessity, but Karl is the rare coach that does so out of principle; he simply prefers the flow of his team's offense when there are two players triggering the break and creating shots, even if that comes at the cost of convention.
Yet the Nuggets' depth may have finally caught up to Karl; with the acquisition of JaVale McGee, the signing of Wilson Chandler and the emergence of Kenneth Faried, Denver's rotation is more crowded than ever, leaving precious little room for Karl's bouts of pragmatic whimsy.
Monday night's game offered incomplete evidence due to Miller's second-quarter injury, but the early rotation (in which Lawson and Miller were used separately) coupled with basic assumptions of playing time would make it exceedingly difficult for Miller and Lawson to share the floor. Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Arron Afflalo and Corey Brewer will all demand minutes on the wing, and with Faried earning more and more playing time, there will be fewer opportunities for Gallo and Chandler to shift up and play out of position as a way of making room for Miller.
Injuries could help extend the dual-creator lineup's shelf life, but the writing is on the wall: Unless a player like Brewer or Rudy Fernandez were to fall out of the Nuggets' rotation entirely, the possibility for Lawson and Miller to share creative responsibilities in Denver's offense appears slim.
Glen Davis, demonstrating that things can always get worse. The Orlando Magic's primary offseason acquisition has always had his limitations, but Davis' current campaign makes those on-and-off struggles in Boston highly preferable by comparison. It just keeps getting worse; after 33 games of lousy basketball, Davis has really come into his own in March — with per-game averages of 6.5 points (on 35.5 percent shooting from the field), 4.5 rebounds and 1.3 turnovers (in a little more than 20 minutes a night, mind you).
Orlando just hasn't been a good offensive fit for Davis, whose struggles are merely compounding an already difficult situation. Barring a possible trade down the line (and how much value does Davis really have at this point?), this could be a long four years for both Davis and the Magic.
Joakim Noah, caught in the perimeter's gray area. The source of basketball's fluidity — and much of its intrigue — is a complete freedom of movement. Perimeter players come and go through the paint as they please, and bigs are free to wander outside as it serves their skill set or their team's goals. That freedom makes positions more irrelevant in basketball than any other major sport. It's what allows players like Kobe Bryant (as a post-up guard) and Dirk Nowitzki (as a sweet-shooting big man) to find success in areas not typically attributed to their traditional positional designations, and thrive in the game's root complexity.
Yet as a result of that freedom, we often see players caught out of their element. Such is the case with Joakim Noah — a big man with ball-handling and playmaking skills who nonetheless lacks the confidence in his jumper to consistently attack from the perimeter. Noah has every right to work from the elbow or the high post; he often acts as a fulcrum for the Bulls' offense, and is crucial to both resetting play action and reversing the ball to the weak side.
But as defenders give Noah more space on the perimeter (as Dwight Howard did on Monday night), he exhibits a certain tentativeness. Noah will still fire up a jumper on occasion, but in his assessment of the situation he frequently negates Chicago's offensive flow, wasting precious moments as he conducts his own internal calculus. Noah is talented enough that he has to consider taking those mid-range shots, but his jumper isn't reliable enough to warrant an immediate trigger.
He's stuck in a sense, and as those precious seconds tick off of the shot clock, so does Chicago's offense.
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