Basketball innovation is in the eye of the beholder, but at some point it becomes difficult to classify the league's unique operations as anything other than what they are. Such is certainly the case with the intently weird Denver Nuggets—a team composed with utmost care but that to the untrained eye would appear to be assembled using a bin of random LEGOs.
It's an odd bunch by any conventional teambuilding standard, but the real wizardry comes in George Karl's uniquely open-coaching sensibilities. Karl is simply more willing to adapt to life without a superstar than many of his contemporaries, and his open-mindedness allows the Nuggets the explore every bit of their bizarre potential.
At risk of oversimplifying Karl's game plan and the Nuggets' operations, Denver stands apart from the field based on its concurrent commitment to three different ideas.
Rarely is a team so completely reliant on its pace of play. The Nuggets are equipped to run, run, run, and their offense tends to stall when the tempo lets up.
The clearest answers are thus No. 1 to compensate for their lack of half-court efficiency by changing personnel or No. 2 to ensure that they can best take advantages in transition. Karl and the Nuggets opt for the latter, and they use a pressure-heavy defense and a quick-trigger fast break. Ty Lawson and Andre Miller look to sprint out into transition the millisecond the ball touches their fingertips, and the array of shooters and finishers around them are all first-class athletes.
End-to-end speed is a weapon for these Nuggets, and they utilize the break more consistently and aggressively than any other team in the league.
Other teams operate with relatively ordinary rotations, but Karl has little regard for positional specificity and seeks to employ players in whatever slots best suits the team.
Dual-point-guard lineups featuring Lawson and Miller as co-generals became a staple of the Nuggets repertoire last season, but the evolution of Denver's roster has only made the possibility for positional exploration more promising.
Andre Iguodala's arrival in Denver gives Karl yet another incredible athlete, defender and playmaker to consider when piecing together his rotations, and within that skill set exists the principles and applications of four distinct positions.
The Nuggets' best players—of which there are many—are all able to shift and stretch and fit into different molds, all of which pits Denver's opponents against a moving target.
Denver doesn't have a single shot creator to lean on; with Iguodala now in the fold, Lawson, Miller, Iggy and a combination of wing scorers will be responsible for generating the bulk of the offense.
It can be difficult for an offense to subsist without a single elite player to create points against stifling defenses, but if the Nuggets are able to establish and maintain the right balance, they'll have no problems shuffling between scorers in order to keep their offense afloat.
Balance between scorers isn't at all a weakness, and though Denver will continue to be criticized for its lack of a go-to, crunch-time option, the more important factors—such as the foundation for a successful bulk offense rather than an emphasis on a few individual possessions—are in place nonetheless.
Karl keeps his own team and its opponents on their toes, and that ingenuity has had a credible payoff.
So long as the Nuggets remain committed to the pillars of their offense (including their complete scoring codependence), their systemic creativity and unique roster construction should be enough to position them in the second tier of the Western Conference.