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Denver Nuggets: The Defense Is Solid but Coach of the Year Is Fools' Gold

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Denver Nuggets: The Defense Is Solid but Coach of the Year Is Fools' Gold
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

NBA.com writer John Schuhmann posted an article on the NBA's Hangtime Blog laying out a statistical case for George Karl of the Denver Nuggets to win the Coach of the Year award yesterday, but I think his data mining came up with more lead than solid gold.

Schuhmann's case was based on the fact that Karl transformed the Nuggets from the most efficient offense in the NBA before trading Carmelo Anthony to the league's most efficient defense after the trade. While Schuhmann concedes that the shift in Denver's offensive and defensive stats have something to do with the players, I don't think he gave them enough credit.

NBA writers and analysts tend to give coaches credit for surprising outcomes that can't be explained by scoring because defensive statistics are not as mature as offensive statistics. Dan LeBatard of the Miami Herald illustrated this point in his column about people voting Derrick Rose for MVP because they don't understand that the Chicago Bulls defense is why they have the best record in the NBA Eastern Conference.

The Nuggets defense has improved because several players have improved their defensive contributions after the Melo trade and not because Karl has become a better defensive coach after the All-Star break. One of the best ways to illustrate this is with the Win Score and Wins Produced statistical models developed by sports economist David Berri from the Wages of Wins Journal.

The Win Score and Wins Produced models measure how much a player's box score statistics contributed to their team's efficiency differential and wins. An average player produces an estimated 0.100 wins per 48 minutes (Est.WP48), a star player produces 0.200+ Est.WP48 and a superstar produces 0.300+ Est.WP48. More information on these stats can be found at the following links:

Simple Models of Player Performance
Wins Produced vs. Win Score
What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say
Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

This article will use those models to analyze the following:

  • How the Nuggets defense has changed,
  • How the Nuggets rotation has changed since the trade and
  • How the Nuggets new rotation has changed their defense.
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