How Denver Nuggets Can Replace Andre Iguodala on Defense
Iguodala, who finished ninth in 2012-13 NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting, forced 1.74 steals in his one season with the Nuggets. He was primarily responsible for creating takeaways and turning them into transition points in Denver's uptempo offense.
Now the Nuggets need a solution to replace his productivity. Not only that, but who will guard the opposing team's best player in crunch time?
With a new head coach in Brian Shaw and four players putting on a Denver jersey for the first time, the Nuggets need more than just one person to step up defensively.
Coach Them Up
Since Denver doesn't have another Iguodala on the roster, Shaw knows his team needs to be more defensive-oriented overall. Luckily for the Nuggets, Shaw has great experience in that department from improving the Indiana Pacers' defense the last two years.
How is he going to do that with the Nuggets? In Nate Timmons' article at SB Nation, Shaw says he's making his guys play man-to-man defense with no switching to start training camp.
In Denver's first preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers, we got a pretty good glimpse of that. There was help with ball-screens, but everyone played their man straight up and rotated if the ball swung at a fast pace.
More than anything, it's a philosophical change.
Most of the players are used to George Karl, who was more of an offensive-minded coach with an emphasis on running the floor. Not that Karl didn't put any attention on defense, but the Nuggets have given up at least 100.9 points each season since Karl's first year with Denver in 2005-06.
Sure, part of that statistic is influenced by Denver's pace, but that's not a recipe for playoff success.
Even with Iguodala playing a team-high 34.7 minutes last season, the Nuggets gave up 101.1 points. Then, in the postseason against the Golden State Warriors, Iguodala racked up 40.5 minutes—but Denver allowed 107.2 points.
It's not that Iguodala is fully responsible for that, because he's a great defender, but it's more that the team needed a change as a whole. With Shaw, the players now have a new voice stressing the importance of getting stops consistently.
So even though Iguodala's defense won't be made up for by just one person, Denver does have a couple of players who could step up and make an impact.
Is Wilson Chandler one of them?
Chandler is more recognized as a scorer who can play anywhere from the 2 to the 4, but 2013-14 is an excellent opportunity for him to have his best year yet. As Chandler mentions in Christopher Dempsey's article at The Denver Post, he expects to be out on the perimeter a lot more this season, which is more in his comfort zone.
Add that Danilo Gallinari's return date from his ACL injury is still unknown, and Chandler will likely start at small forward and get plenty of exposure to start the season. Plus, if Chandler excels and gets it done on both ends of the floor, we can't rule out the possibility of him staying in the starting lineup or sliding down to the 2 when Gallo is healthy.
Granted, Chandler hasn't forced a ton of steals in his career, but his numbers are improving. Just last season—and despite playing a fair amount at power forward—he forced one steal in just 25.1 minutes and 1.3 steals in 34.1 minutes for the postseason.
Obviously it isn't all about steals, but now that Chandler will primarily be defending on the perimeter, he'll be able to contest more shots with his athleticism and 6'8" length. Plus, without the physical beating he'll take down low, he should have more energy for his outside defense and offensive game.
He still has work to do in terms of locking players down and keeping people from getting to the rim, but considering that Shaw was able to help improve Paul George's defense in a short amount of time, there's no reason why he can't do the same with Chandler.
We didn't get to see Chandler in Denver's preseason opener because of his hamstring injury. However, according to Dempsey from The Denver Post, if his progression continues, he'll be back practicing on Friday.
One person we did get to see a fair amount of against the Lakers was Jordan Hamilton. Even though he came off the bench, Hamilton was active on both ends and had a very productive outing.
With his two steals and alertness on the perimeter, Hamilton earned several easy buckets in transition off the Lakers' mistakes. This resulted in 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting and being a plus-10 for the contest.
It's a continuation of Hamilton's improvement from when he forced 1.5 steals in only 26.8 minutes from this year's summer league. If Hamilton makes plays on the defensive end and they turn into points, that'll go a long way in earning playing time for the regular season.
Clearly the competition Hamilton has gone against hasn't been strong, but he's making strides.
It's unlikely Hamilton will be a starter this season, but he could have a similar role to what Corey Brewer had. He knocks down the three in the half court, forces steals defensively and finishes in transition.
How many points will the Nuggets give up per game this season?
For the Nuggets to fill Iguodala's defensive gap, it starts with Shaw boosting the physicality and tenacity of his players. We know about JaVale McGee's rim protection and Kenneth Faried's energy inside, but it's going to take a team effort and commitment to defending on the outside.
From there, as long as he stays healthy, Chandler should be the one guarding the go-to shooting guard or small forward in the final minutes. He has the best combination of speed, strength and length.
With Shaw emphasizing the man-to-man concept without switching to start the year, there's potential for Denver's defense to improve and not give up as many easy looks. Switching won't be eliminated permanently, but it gets the message across.
It may take a little time, but look for the Nuggets to evolve as the season progresses and not just be an offensive juggernaut.
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