Breaking Down the Denver Nuggets Formula for Dominating Without a Superstar

Jimmy Spencer@JimmySpencerNBANBA Lead WriterMarch 19, 2013

Denver Nuggets beat writer Benjamin Hochman went on NBA TV on Monday and might the right call.

The Nuggets are Kate Upton hot.

The Denver Post reporter is on to something.

Like the young model, the Nuggets have caught the attention of the nation thanks to a win streak that actually only highlights what Denver has accomplished lately.

The Nuggets are riding a 12-game win streak into Oklahoma City Tuesday to face the Thunder.

But the streak is only a part of what Denver has been doing for the past few months. The team's fantastic turnaround began in December when the team that began under. 500 at 11-12 started to surge.

Since then, the Nuggets have won 35 of their last 45 games, and are currently in a virtual tie with the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 4 spot in the west. The Nuggets are 30-3 at home and feed off their altitude advantage.

But how have the NBA's most fashionable darlings climbed so far?

There's no ball-dominating superstar

In those last 45 games, the Nuggets are shooting 48.6 percent and are scoring 108.6 points per game, according to the NBA's media stats portal.

During that stretch beginning on Dec. 14, six different Denver players are averaging double-digit point totals and three others are close.

Ty Lawson 17.8 points
Danilo Gallinari 16.7 points
Wilson Chandler 12.7 points
Andre Iguodala 12.4 points
Corey Brewer 11.6 points
Kenneth Faried 11.4 points
Andre Miller 9.3 points
Kosta Koufos 9.1 points
JaVale McGee 8.7 points

The depth is remarkable. But the knock on Denver, and it's a concern only come playoff time, is that the team doesn't have an authentic superstar to lead the way.

In the playoffs, when the game slows down and every detail is scouted, it takes a superstar that can't be stopped to lead a team. The Nuggets' system under coach George Karl is obviously working with efficiency, but can it last in the postseason?

Yes, it can.

Because they do have a superstar

Lawson is enough.

Our basketball culture too often creates superstars based on shot attempts, Twitter followers and endorsement deals rather than play on the floor.

Lawson generates the high-scoring transition game of the Nuggets, and as their best player he averages 16.8 points, seven assists and 1.5 steals on the season.

Since Feb. 1, Lawson has been especially superstarish, averaging 20.9 points on 50.5 percent shooting with 7.5 assists per game.

During that same time period, Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul put up similar numbers and has averaged 16.6 points on 50.8 percent shooting and 9.3 assists.

You can't say the Clippers are contenders and not feel the same about the Nuggets.

It certainly didn't look like the Nuggets missed Carmelo Anthony when they delivered a 117-94 win against the Knicks.

Easy buckets

The Nuggets are dangerous in the postseason because they don't have a superstar and can score with variety.

Denver, the league's third-highest scoring team, leads the NBA in two simple-scoring statistical categories:

  • 57.8 points in the paint per game
  • 19.8 fast-break points per game

The Nuggets' ability to get out and run is based upon their ability to defend. Tips and deflections turn into easy buckets and the Nuggets force the third-most turnovers in the league at 15.8 per game.

A team with great depth has more energy to run and the Nuggets transition game threatens with a variety of talents.

Certainly Denver's speed in the open court is strengthened by the team's depth, but opponents also must fend off talents perfect for transition.

Faried is faster than others at his position while Koufos is also size packaged with speed. Obviously Iguodala's athleticism on the break is a value while Gallinari can punish in transition with spot-up three-pointers.

Once in the half court, Lawson is managing tempo and spacing at a superstar level.

But can they win it all?

There is no longer a reason to disregard the Nuggets as a threat, but there remains plenty left for the team to prove.

The Detroit Pistons of 2003-04, regarded as the only team of the last two decades to win a title without an authentic superstar, was successful because of its defense. But the Nuggets rank 25th in points allowed by an opponent.

Run-and-gun teams without superstars haven't won any recent titles.

They're as hot as Upton, but will they be remembered for more than just a fun, good-looking run?

Let NBA Lead Writer Jimmy Spencer know on Twitter at @JimmySpencerNBA.


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