Blink And You Might Miss It – Fuel Behind Denver’s Offense

On Saturday night, the Denver Nuggets took on Houston Rockets at home. It was the team’s first game since Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL and Ty Lawson was still not back in the lineup. Without two of their leading scorers, how would the Nuggets put the ball in the basket? Well, the fact that they were up against Houston, one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, certainly helped their cause.

Even without their scoring leaders, Nuggets dropped 132 points on the Rockets. They did so by gambling on defense and creating fastbreak opportunities.

Houston won the first quarter 35-25, keeping Denver to a mere 4 fastbreak points. Following the slow start, Denver put pressure on the Rockets’ ball handlers and ended up forcing 18 turnovers on the game, which resulted in 32 easy points.

Late in the first quarter, the Nuggets were down by nine points, and decided to go for a full-court press:

Nuggets 1

At first the Nuggets deny the inbound pass, forcing the Rockets to inbound the ball to Jeremy Lin. As soon as Lin gets the ball, Evan Fournier closes down on him, while Andre Iguodala comes over to double:

Nuggets 2

This forces Lin to pass the ball back to Patrick Beverley, who blows past his defender. All of a sudden, Denver is in a defensive predicament. Or so it seems.

Nuggets 3

At this point the Rockets are essentially playing 5v4. All Beverley needs to do is to find one of his completely open teammates, who are positioned on their respective wings. However, Iguodala is one of the most athletic guards in the NBA. Fournier is already putting pressure on Beverley and Iguodala reads the pass perfectly and deflects it. The gamble pays off and leads to an easy transition basket.

Here is another play in which the Nuggets forced a turnover, this time in the halfcourt:

Nuggets 4

Donatas Motiejunas reveals his card quite early – he is looking to find Lin, who is making a cut towards the basket. Three Denver players instantly notice this, and choose to abandon their defensive assignments in order to collapse on the area where the pass is directed.

Nuggets 5

Three is clearly better than one and the pass is thus incomplete, leading to yet another fastbreak opportunity.

Denver gambles like this very often. They don’t mind giving up an open three if there is a good chance they can get a steal, because when they do they are practically unstoppable in the open court. Here is another freeze shot of a forced turnover:

Nuggets 6

Here Fournier leaves his man completely open to double the ball handler. At the same time, he anticipates the pass and deflects it.

Other than trapping their opponents and forcing them to pick up their dribble and make a mistake, the Nuggets love playing the passing lanes. The team’s greatest strength is how versatile and quick almost every player on the roster is. Anthony Randolph, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee are all quick enough to swiftly cover a short distance and force a steal. Look at how much distance Randolph makes up here:

Nuggets 10

Randolph sees exactly what Motiejunas’ intentions are and he manages to get in the passing lane and steal the ball.

This type of gambling on defense is obviously risky, but it is also what has helped the Nuggets excel in running the fastbreak. Denver constantly takes these calculated risks, in order to fuel an otherwise average offense. They rank first in the league in fastbreak points (per and they exploit every arising opportunity to run, whether it is created by a steal or a defensive rebound. Almost a fifth of Denver’s offensive possessions are based on transition offense, where they rank fourth in the league with 1.18 points per possession and shoot 63.2% from the field, per mySynergySports.

What allows Denver to transition defense into offense this effectively is the team’s personnel. Ty Lawson, Corey Brewer and Andre Iguodala are some of the quickest players in the league. Pair that with their athletic big men and you can see why Denver ranks second in the league in steals. If any of these players force a turnover, the opposing team more often than not concedes an easy two points in transition. George Karl wants his team to relentlessly push the ball and that is why the Nuggets are ahead of the pack in points off turnovers (rank second to Los Angeles Clippers, per This is a great offensive weapon, which strikes fear into opposition and will continue to do so come playoff time.



  1. I really like reading an article that can make men and women think.
    Also, thanks for allowing for me to comment!

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