Denver Nuggets' Issues: Guard D and Offensive Rebounding

It's a team effort to drop three straight to a Lee-less Warriors, and both the big men and the guards have played a part.

About this time a week ago, I wrote an article explaining why the Warriors wouldn't take too much of a hit without David Lee. Most of that analysis centered around Carl Landry, who I figured was Lee's natural replacement. Instead, it's been Jarrett Jack who has gotten the time in the spotlight. But it hasn't mattered, because the Warriors did exactly what the numbers expected.

You know, for that whole 13.70 percent chance of winning the series in that article. Three games and three victories later, they are now up to 74.3 percent odds.

The Denver Nuggets have absolutely collapsed, and it's not just statistically unexpected performances that are to blame. The Nuggets have fallen behind in this series thanks to two huge missteps: their guard defense and their inability to take advantage of the offensive glass.

Defense? Any defense?

Sure, the Warriors finishing with a .734 effective field goal percentage (eFG%) in Game 2 was unexpected in that no other single team accomplished that feat over the entire regular season. But game 3's .575 eFG% and Game 4's .627 eFG% make for some strong evidence that Golden State's shooting is no one-hit wonder.

It takes two to tango, though, and some blame here should be placed on Denver's complete lack of defense as much as Golden State's hot shooting. Ty Lawson and Andre Miller in particular have been taken to the cleaners on Golden State's offensive end.

Curry has shot .618 eFG% so far these playoffs, pretty far above his .549 eFG% season average. Jack's .640 eFG% is miles better than his .499 eFG% season average. Both players also have ludicrously high offensive ratings, with Curry scoring 1.33 points per possession and Jack at 1.27 points per possession. It's not even fair.

But I would say that this is a wholly unsustainable trend, if not for Lawson and Miller's season-long issues with defending the shot. Both players ended with a 109 defensive rating, four points above Denver's 105.1 points per 100 possessions allowed as a team (No. 11 in the NBA). And despite Denver's three victories over Golden State in four regular season games, Curry still averaged 18.5 points per game against them this season, including a 152 offensive rating in the final contest (a Denver victory).

Holding Golden State is almost a must if Denver is to win each of the next three games. The Warriors matched their worst performance of the past three games, .575 eFG%, in 11 contests during the regular season. In those games, the Warriors went 9-2, with losses coming against the Knicks and... Nuggets.

Crashing the Offensive Glass

So, you know, maybe there is a way to win despite the Warriors shooting well? And taking a look at that one game where Golden State shot .598 eFG% but still lost, the key was offensive rebounding. The Nuggets grabbed 13.1 percent more offensive boards than the Warriors and ended up winning by 11.

But that wasn't a surprise. Coming into the series, the Nuggets were in the top five in exactly one Four Factors category: offensive rebounding percentage. With Kosta Koufos patrolling the boards like offensive rebounds provided their essential lifeforce, the Nuggets raced out to an NBA-best 31.4 percent offensive rebound rate during the regular season.

Of course, Golden State was naturally built to neutralize that weapon: the Warriors finished the regular season No. 1 in defensive rebound percentage at 75.5 percent of all available boards. That would mean no lifeforce for Faried or Koufos... if, you know, the Warriors didn't have their leading rebounder come down with Old Man Back Problems (actually, a torn hip flexor) after Game 1.

Strangely enough, though, Lee's injury hasn't seemed to make a difference on the rebounding side: the Nuggets only grabbed a pitiful 16.7 percent of offensive boards in Game 2 and barely above the league average (but below their own season average) at 26.8 percent of offensive boards in Game 3. Game 4's 35.3 percent offensive rebound rate was a minor return to normalcy, but it still wasn't enough.

The issue isn't just one player. In fact, offensive rebounding seems to be down across the board. Five different Nuggets played in at least regular-season 39 games and grabbed at least 10 percent of offensive rebounds (including Timofey Mosgov, who hasn't played in the playoffs). So far this series? Zero. Zilch. Nada.

PlayerSeason ORB%Playoffs ORB%Net
Kosta Koufos13.3%9.4%-3.9%
Kenneth Faried13.2%7.1%-6.1%
JaVale McGee12.6%9.1%-3.5%
Anthony Randolph10.1%0.0%-10.1%

Granted, Kenneth Faried may be hobbling around like a broken man, but there hasn't been a single person around the pick up the slack. In fact, the only Nuggets player with a higher offensive rebound percentage than his regular season total is Andre Miller, who has posted an unsustainable and surprisingly team-leading 9.4 percent ORB% in four games. During the regular season, he was 10th on the team with a 3.2 percent rate.

Well, so much for that competitive advantage. Especially when Golden State is shooting this well, you need to find another way to take control of the game. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, their go-to option simply hasn't been working.