No D in Denver: Marcus Camby Must Step Up His Game

J. AlexanderCorrespondent IApril 8, 2008

Marcus Camby won Defensive Player of the Year for the 2006-'07 season and again is one of the leading nominees for this year's award.

But let me be the first to tell you that he did not deserve it last year, and he should not even be a consideration this season.

Camby's numbers are great. He is one of the best fantasy big men you can have because he averages over 13 rebounds and 3 blocks per game.

On paper, he seems like a terrific defender. Unfortunately, those numbers don't tell the story.

While many of his rebounds are solid, the majority of his blocks come when Camby has to recover from a defender going by him, not being in solid defensive position. Watching Camby play defense is painful; that should not be the case for someone who wins Defensive POY. While his numbers are good, the man has no idea how to defend an actual human being.

Camby has to learn how to stay with his man. When playing a team like the Suns, he has to stay with Amare Stoudemire and not let him get the easy dive cuts for lay-ups.

Against the Warriors, he can't let Andris Biedrins sneak behind him for a backdoor cut and a dunk.

One of his main problems is that he over-commits to the point guard. Frequently, the opposing point guard beats either Anthony Carter or Allen Iverson off the dribble, and Camby feels the need to help out. No, no, and no.

Let Nash take an 18-foot jumper. He'll hit the shot half the time, but it's better than the alternative. When Marcus goes out to defend the point guard, one of two things happens:

1. The point guard goes right by Camby for an easy lay-up because Marcus lacks the quickness and agility to stay with him.

2. The man Camby is supposed to defend sneaks right behind him and the point guard finds the big man for an easy lay-up/dunk.  

Although the Denver Nuggets hold the tiebreaker for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference, they are on the outside looking in.

With just five games to play, the Nuggets have three on the road, including games at Golden State and Utah. If Denver can take two of three, then possibly they can take their final two games in the Pepsi Center, where they are currently 31-8. However, as a Nuggets fan, I'm not optimistic.

Any NBA fan who has watched the Nuggets play this season knows that their primary concern is on the defensive side of the ball.

While Denver is right at league averaging in field goal percentage defense (.458), they give up the second most points per game of any team (about 107). The Warriors are the only team who surrender more points on a nightly basis. There has to be something to resolve this discrepancy.

Over the course of the season, teams have averaged surrendering 6,215 field goals (slightly over 80 per game). The Nuggets, on the other hand, have given up 6,835 shots, second only to the Phoenix Suns.

Per game, the Nuggets take about 86 shots while their opponents take about 89. In close games (and there have been many lately), this can easily account for the difference. Compare this to teams such as the Jazz, Pistons, and Celtics, who have all allowed fewer than 6,000 shots this year (less than 78 shots per game).

Most of this can be attributed to Denver playing at the fastest pace in the league, but the Nuggets also getting out-rebounded frequently.

In Denver's inexcusable double-overtime loss Sunday night at Seattle, the Nuggets were out-rebounded 52-44. The Sonics also got 12 offensive rebounds leading to several easy putbacks by Nick Collison and Jeff Green, who had the best game of his young career.

In Friday night's loss at home to Sacramento (the fourth worst rebounding team in the NBA), both teams grabbed 45 rebounds, but 16 of the Kings' boards were of the offensive variety.

If the Nuggets want to have a chance of making it to the postseason in the crowded West, they'll have to do a better job protecting the basket. Camby, who is second in the league in rebounding and first in blocked shots has to step his game up on the defensive side.

George Karl has given up on his team, and it's easy to see from the sidelines as he always bears a look of general disinterest.

When his team gives up its 30th lay-up of the game, he just throws his hands in the air with an expression that says, "obviously."

Karl will be fired at the end of this season barring a run to the West finals. Clearly, the team is not getting the message anymore. For four straight years, Denver has lost in the first round of the playoffs in five games.

This season could be the same, or even worse, if the Nuggets miss out on the postseason.

It is obvious that Denver needs someone new at the helm. But for now, instilling tighter man-to-man defense that does a better job of limiting opponents' offensive rebounds has to be the priority.

Camby should spend all day watching footage of guys like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett to really learn how a big man should defend, because his method is not getting it done. Giving him Defensive POY again this season would be robbing a truly great defender of the award.