The Denver Nuggets have now won playing the Indiana Pacers, the team with the best record in the NBA. The Denver Nuggets have also lost playing the Utah Jazz, the team with the worst record in the Western Conference.
The Nuggets’ biggest offseason acquisition, head coach Brian Shaw, officially has half a season as head coach under his belt. With a two-game win streak going, and one win against Shaw’s old team — the Pacers — it’s time to take an in-depth look at how he’s done so far.
To do this, I’m grading Shaw on his biggest responsibilities: player management, making adjustments, play calling, press/fan management and then grading him overall.
Player Management: D+
Andre Miller is still on the Nuggets roster… but it doesn’t feel like it. Shaw is known to be a “players coach,” but he has to take a big dock here because his rotation changes upset Andre Miller so much that the veteran doesn’t even come to practice. The rotation had to be reduced for the Nuggets to win games, but changes like that need to be communicated to players before the game so players feel like they know what’s going on.
However, Shaw doesn’t fail outright because he acted quickly on the lesson. After Dre’s suspension, Shaw held one-on-one player meetings and team meetings to define roles and clear the air in the Nuggets locker room. The meetings clearly produced a better product on the floor, fueling a season-best five-game win streak. The meetings preceded the team breaking their miserable eight-game losing streak before they were too far in the hole.
Also, Nuggets players (besides Andre) like Shaw. Numerous Nuggets have said good things about Shaw but no statement is more telling than Quincy Miller’s tweet saying Shaw was the best coach he’s ever had. With a young team, it’s so important for the developing players to believe in the coach.
It’s tough to judge a coaches adjusting skill after only 42 games. Shaw has shown adjustment promise, especially after seeing George Karl struggle with this for nine years.
Shaw’s biggest adjustment was bringing his rotation down from 12 in a close game to nine. Before the change was made, playing time was so random and it clearly affected the consistency of the Nuggets. Now the core of Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried, as well as key benchies Nate Robinson, Darrell Arthur and Evan Fournier can get into a rhythm and are playing the minutes they need to impact a game.
Good start, but we as Nuggets nation want more adjustments from Shaw! Besides Lawson and Chandler he needs to make more in-game playing time adjustments and keep the hot hand on the floor. There are games Fournier and Arthur are playing well, but Randy Foye and J.J. Hickson get more minutes. Why’d it take so long to bench Foye in his horrible slump? Mozgov is playing excellent lately, so why isn’t he starting at center over natural power forward Hickson?
Play Calling: A
I’m a biased grader here. George Karl didn’t have plays. No seriously, not even out-of-bounds plays as this Chauncey Billups profile shows. So anything Shaw does looks like a revelation on the floor. Shaw’s overcome the difficulty of getting a team told to run and only run to ‘”run” some plays. Pick and rolls with Ty Lawson have shown promise and are getting better, especially when run with Arthur. It’s nice to see plays for an open 3 over just a drive and kick.
Shaw’s also been smart to not completely shy away from fast breaks. Running the break is too much of an advantage when playing in Denver and this team was built for it. The best coaches will play call to their player’s strengths.
Press/Fan Management: A
Working with the press is highlighted in big bold letters on the NBA head coach job description. I’m looping in the fans for this grade because it’s another intangible part of the job that doesn’t affect wins.
Shaw’s been great here – his press conferences feel honest and he’s quick to point out the problems. He showed remorse in the Andre Miller fiasco. He’s also provided access enough for the media that we have reports like him not going into the halftime locker room in a Boston loss because he was so angry. We know he had one-on-one meetings with every player and when he had them. Don’t think the San Antonio media gets access like that.
Shaw got a standing ovation in a game from the fans after getting a second technical foul and hasn’t been booed yet. Since it takes years to develop a fan relation, this is a big WIN. Denver isn’t outraged over Andre Miller, but we’ll see if the fans remain on his side when Denver starts paying attention to the Nuggets again after this Super Bowl (GO BRONCOS). However, the energy in Pepsi Center appears to be excited to have some fresh blood on the bench after the George Karl reign.
No head coach deserves an A when his team is one game over .500 and not currently in the playoff picture. However, Brian Shaw is living up to the hype and excitement that surrounded him over the past couple seasons when he was a “next up” coach in the NBA. He’s had to deal with the loss of two core players in Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee, the oldest player on the team cussing him out on the bench and a roster full of new additions. With all that, he’s got the Nuggets at .500 and in contention for a Western Conference playoff spot. It’s one half-season, but I’m excited to see the direction the Nuggets take under Brian Shaw going forward.