Jordan Kahn is the newest contributor to Hickory-High. He will be stopping by sporadically to break down some NBA trends in video form. You can find more of his work at Basketball Things and follow him on Twitter @AyoitsJordan.
The Nuggets have been among the league leaders in pace for nearly a decade. This year they’ve jumped to the top of the league in transition possessions, despite playing at a slightly slower pace. For Denver, it’s not just about shooting early in the shot clock; it’s about getting open court opportunities. While the Nuggets only rank 8th in points per transition possession according to mySynergySports, a transition possession will nearly always yield more points on average than a half court possession. Maximizing those possessions is a sound strategy. Denver’s lack of a superstar could be a reason for this increased emphasis on getting easy baskets. Players like Rudy Fernandez, Corey Brewer, and Al Harrington have made statistical improvements in part because of increased transition possessions. Let’s take a look at how the Nuggets get these transition opportunities.
The Nuggets get plenty of chances to get into the open court through explosive plays like steals and blocked shots, where they are among the league leaders. However, they also get transition possessions because their wing defenders are leaking out after the offense shoots. If the shooter lingers at the offensive end or takes a step in the wrong direction, it can quickly be a layup going the other way. Many times the opposing players don’t start sprinting until it’s too late. The following video shows what can happen when that is the case.
Denver also creates transition situations through sheer hustle, even when the numbers don’t seem to be in their favor. Because George Karl stresses it so much, Denver is running while the other team jogs back on defense, especially the big men. You would expect this from a high energy player like Kenneth Faried, but Nenê and Timofey Mozgov are also sprinting to the rim. With Ty Lawson’s speed and Andre Miller’s passing ability, those big men are often rewarded for their hustle. The video below shows how hard the Nuggets work to get their transition opportunities.
The Nuggets are also able to get open three pointers out of their transition game. Because their big men run to the rim, the defense is forced to protect the paint, leaving shooters open. The clips below show how the last man under the basket is put in a predicament if everyone else isn’t getting back on defense in a hurry. Note the last clip against Memphis, where Marreese Speights assumes Al Harrington is running to the rim and loses contact with him as he fades to the corner.
With Denver’s commitment to the transition game, it’s not as simple as reducing turnovers to stop them from running. When you combine that commitment with their mix of point guards and wing players, stopping them requires all five players getting back on defense and getting to the right spots, even after made shots.