George Karl's Stubborn Refusal to Start JaVale McGee Costing Denver Nuggets Wins
The Denver Nuggets have visibly struggled throughout the first few weeks of the NBA season. Their running and gunning seems to have a lot less gunpowder, and shots just don't seem to be falling at a rate that they're used to.
Danilo Gallinari has been shooting three-pointers like Rasheed Wallace circa 2010, chucking, hitting the back of the rim, watching the ball bounce straight up into the hands of a defender as he holds his pose a second too long.
The big problem is that Gallinari isn't the cause of their ills—it's a combination of all the wings the Nuggets have missing three-pointers. When they miss three-pointers, it's hard to get defenders to bite on a pump-fake that would usually give them enough room to drive to the rim. It's a vicious cycle that only seems to be getting worse as they lose confidence.
Devner paid three guys in the past year to be the future of their team, with big contracts going out to Gallinari, Ty Lawson and JaVale McGee. The thing is, the only one really living up to his contract at any rate is McGee.
Lawson and Gallinari have both struggled, meaning the crunch-time offense has either come from Andre Iguodala or not at all.
There's plenty of time for the Nuggets to fix their ills. They've played some tough teams early on (Miami twice and San Antonio makes for a rough start), so any weaknesses would have been (and were) exploited by teams that good.
Denver will be fine as we move down the road, but something keeping it from winning immediately is the fact that JaVale McGee remains outside of the starting lineup for the Nuggets.
It's hard to blame George Karl outright for shying away from giving McGee too much responsibility. He's got a history of knuckleheadedness, he's got asthma that is remaining a concern and the Nuggets have a wealth of options in their frontcourt.
Kosta Koufos has performed very well so far, rebounding well, scoring efficiently and playing decent defense. What's problematic is that McGee has been so visibly better that keeping him in his sixth-man role is hindering the development of the team.
We've seen that McGee has been a better rebounder, more active defensively and the most efficient scorer that the Nuggets have to throw out there, so if they can get the most out of him physically, they should do what they can to get the most out of him on the floor.
Very few areas see the Nuggets worse off with McGee on the court compared to when he's on the bench. They rebound at a higher rate, their assist ratio increases and they have a higher field-goal percentage, higher true shooting percentage and a higher net offensive and defensive rating.
A lineup combination of McGee and Kenneth Faried gives the Nuggets an extremely active frontcourt that will give them an even bigger rebounding advantage than they already have with Faried and Koufos.
Beyond that, I would even advocate plugging Faried in at the small-forward spot at times and running both McGee and Koufos alongside each other. It's an advantage they have that, if run for three or four minutes at a time could give them a quick edge.
The point isn't that they've got a big man starting who isn't making a difference—just that they have so many options on their bench that they need to start doing a bit of lineup experimentation. The depth they have is useless if they don't mix and match lineups.
I'm not too worried about the Nuggets turning things around, and there's not even that big a turnaround needed (they're only 4-6). They just need to play their best players as much as they can.
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