The Denver Nuggets hired Brian Shaw as their head coach a little over a year ago and the results through that first year have been mixed. It’s far too early to make any conclusive judgment on Shaw as a coach but will he be the right coach for the Nuggets?
Shaw was considered as one of the best young, up and coming coaches for many years. Despite that, though, he was passed over for a few times before landing the job with the Nuggets. After one season, it’s easy to see why he was considered one of the best young minds but it’s also easy to see why he was passed over.
First the good, Shaw had to deal with his fair share of adversity in his first season and handled most of it well. Most of that adversity derived from injuries to key players. Shaw still hasn’t had a chance to coach Danilo Gallinari, who is probably the Nuggets best player.
The Nuggets also lost point guard and spark plug, Nate Robinson early in the season and that injury changed Shaw’s rotation immediately. There were also injuries throughout the season to Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler and others. The Nuggets number one strength is their depth, they can play up to 10 guys and not experience too much of a drop off when healthy.
The injuries really hurt that depth and forced Shaw to play more like other NBA teams, and go only seven or eight deep on most nights. In order to win that way, a team has to have a star or two and the Nuggets just aren’t built that way. Gallinari and Lawson are very good players but not good enough to carry a team. The Nuggets are going to beat teams with waves and Shaw did not have that available to him in 2013-14.
Given all those injuries, Shaw did a pretty good job of keeping the Nuggets competitive. They had a couple of really bad stretches but they finished strong, and Shaw deserves credit for that.
As for the areas of concern, I really don’t know what offense Shaw is trying to run. When he was hired, he talked about wanting to play more in the half-court because that’s how you have to play in the playoffs. That didn’t work at all early in the season as the Nuggets got off to a horrific start. Shaw then let the Nuggets run and they started winning some games, and were fun to watch at times.
While I understand and agree with Shaw about the half-court offense, I also understand that this team plays half their games at altitude. That’s always been the biggest advantage for the Nuggets and they must take advantage of it. Yes the half-court offense must improve if they are ever going to advance out of the first round but to advance, the Nuggets have to make the playoffs first and the best way to do that is to run.
Secondly, the Nuggets just don’t have the roster to play in the half-court. They have a bunch of guys who are at their best when they are running the wings and getting easy shots. I know Shaw would love to run the triangle offense or some version of it but in case you haven’t noticed, the Nuggets don’t have a Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. The triangle offense needs stars to run it right and the Nuggets just don’t have those guys.
Shaw’s challenge going forward is can he mesh the two; can he let the Nuggets run enough to make the playoffs while at the same time installing a half-court offense that will win once they get there? It’s a daunting task and I have my doubts about Shaw, but I am more than willing to see what he does when he has his entire roster available to him.
Lastly, Shaw must take some personal ownership and responsibility for his own mistakes. The blaming of former coach George Karl got old in a hurry and that has to stop. For those who missed it, Shaw used Karl as an excuse as to why he could not get the Nuggets to play the way he wanted them to. He claimed that the players were stuck in the way Karl wanted things done, and that’s why the Nuggets struggled at times.
For the record, that’s probably true but it’s true every time there’s a coaching change in every sport. Stop looking for excuses and go to work.
Is Shaw the right coach for the Nuggets? It’s far too early to tell and it would be completely unfair to judge him based off of last season due to the injuries. Having said that, 2014-15 is a big year for Shaw and the Nuggets. Provided they stay relatively healthy, they should make the playoffs. If they don’t, then questions will be asked and rightfully so.