An Apology

Editor’s note: On Monday, March 11, I said there would be a Monday-Thursday writing schedule. Then I proceeded to miss last Thursday and this past Monday. In the time since, I agreed to write for ESPN True Hoop Affiliate, Warriorsworld.net. My first article, where I discuss Arron Afflalo, Kosta Koufos, and Kawhi Leonard, went up Monday afternoon. “Smooth’s Starting Five”, as it is known, will appear every Monday for the foreseeable future — or until they get sick of me, which could be sooner than later. Seeing how I will be there every Monday, I have decided to amend my writing schedule here at Smooth’s Hoops. From this point forward, articles will appear every Wednesday and Friday with a special Saturday edition popping up every so often. I promise (cross my heart and hope to die). Unless the WordPress Mobile app decides to lose a bunch of my content again. 

Well, this just got a lot more interesting. Thirteen straight victories? By the Denver Nuggets? I mean, thirteen (13) straight wins for THE Denver Nuggets? This doesn’t even seem real. And it’s certainly been no fluke. Maybe this isn’t the same movie after all. I certainly don’t remember THIS being in the plotline over the last decade.

47-wins. And they did it with room to spare, as thirteen games remain on their schedule. It figures Denver reached the 47-win mark on the road … in Oklahoma City … on the second night of a road back-to-back … after going into overtime the night before in Chicago … and extending their franchise-record 13-game winning streak in the process. It just really figures.

The funniest part of all is none of it still makes any sense — at least not in a traditional basketball sense. Outside of Andre Miller, they still have no post presence. Outside Danilo Gallinari, they still have no outside shooting to speak of. This team is so unconventional and unorthodox that they’re almost a classification unto themselves. Before we get into the how’s and why’s behind Denver’s resurgence, however, there is one thing I definitely need to get out-of-the-way:

To Arturo Galletti, Andres Alvarez, the entire staff at Wages of Wins, and, by extension, everyone associated with the Denver Nuggets organization, I humbly, courteously, and without pause, apologize for in any way leading fans astray into believing the team was anything but the same successful franchise it has been for a decade running. I was wrong.

Sure, the Nuggets will easily surpass the 47-win benchmark I set for them. But it didn’t look like it was going to be all that easy halfway through the season. It didn’t look like it was going to be all that easy as late as two weeks ago, for that matter.

Most of the concerns I had coming into this season have come to fruition. While the Nuggets will undoubtedly surpass 47-wins, they will do so while posting the league’s 25th-ranked 3-point percentage (34.2%) in tandem with a 29th-ranked free throw percentage (69.2%). In the case of the former, I predicted a three-point percentage worse than last year’s 33-percent. While there is still plenty of season left, I was probably wrong in that estimation. In the case of the latter, I was absolutely right. I estimated Denver to have a free-throw shooting percentage worse than last year’s potential composite score given each player’s career-mark, which would have landed them at about 71%.

Where was I wrong? Turnovers. I anticipated Denver to see an increase in turnovers with Andre Iguodala’s fast break style taking the place of Arron Afflalo’s straight-line to the basket. The Nuggets turned the ball over 14.1% of the time last year. Currently, this season, they’re doing so at a slightly less 13.6%. And that’s after starting the year more along the lines of what I had predicted. The fact Denver is among the top-ten teams in ball security is a testament to George Karl’s coaching and the fast break style he demands. Even though Andre Iguodala is, as I predicted, putting up a nearly career-high turnover rate (17.1%), the team isn’t getting bogged down in the half court as much this season to allow those turnovers to become a more pressing concern. Denver was second in pace last year at 94.2 (behind the Sacramento Kings). So far this year, that number has climbed to 95.0 (behind only the Houston Rockets).

The truth of the matter is this: Even the most statistically savvy prognostications didn’t see Denver winning this many games with Andre Iguodala having his worst season since 2008, Kenneth Faried facing a sophomore slump, JaVale McGee not living up to his hefty contract, and Ty Lawson (outside of the last two months) regressing to Darren Collison-lite. If production is the name of the game, then those games failed. Because I predicted each one of those things happening — from Iguodala’s struggles to Ty Lawson’s regression to a whole host of other things I haven’t even mentioned.

How could I get so much right yet come out looking so wrong? First, anytime you deduce someone’s knowledge down to a simple win-total, you remove all nuance from the argument. The simple answer is I overestimated the rest of the league. I anticipated the Lakers, Warriors, Jazz, Mavericks, and T-Wolves all being better than they ended up. I also thought the Western Conference’s supremacy over the East would be more exaggerated. Furthermore, I was of the mind that opposing teams would do a similar job defensively to Denver this season as they did during Allen Iverson’s brief tenure and use more zone strategies.

I was most definitely wrong, though. Let there be no doubt.

The Nuggets made some calculated gambles that paid off — gambles I wouldn’t have made. Trusting Kosta Koufos to become a dependable starting center after giving JaVale McGee a big contract. Expecting Danilo Gallinari to magically resurrect his shooting stroke while taking the ball out of his hands and preventing him from doing what he does best — play the point-forward. And believing Corey Brewer capable of stepping into Arron Afflalo’s shoes as a shooter from the corners and mid-range.

On Friday, I will dig deeper into the numbers and try to shed more light on how Denver’s resurgence all came about. There is still so much to discuss.

Thanks again for reading.

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About J.R.
I have been watching basketball for over twenty years. I like to think I've learned a thing or two in that time. Truth is, I've learned just one thing: I love this game.

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