The 2012-13 Denver Nuggets finished with an NBA franchise-best 57 wins, they clinched a playoff berth, and they won had both the Coach and Executive of the year. The 2013-2014 Denver Nuggets failed to accomplish any of that and finished with a losing record for the first time in a decade, but they still managed to take a couple steps forward.
Don’t get me wrong. This year’s Denver Nuggets weren’t nearly as good of a team as last year’s Nuggets, and the numbers clearly show that. Last year’s Nuggets scored more points, grabbed more total rebounds, dished out more assists, recorded more steals, blocked more shots, AND shot a higher field goal percentage than this year’s Nuggets.
So, needless to say, it took some digging to find the Nuggets biggest areas of improvement in Brian Shaw‘s first year as a head coach. Considering the Nuggets won 21 fewer games, the major statistical categories weren’t going to show much improvement. On top of it all, the team was running a brand new system under the new coach, so there had to be some good changes.
The simplest area of improvement this year’s Nuggets recorded was in 3-point shooting. NBA.com’s statistics show the Nuggets slowed down in Shaw’s system and only averaged 15.7 fast break points a game compared to 20.1 a game last season. With fewer layups, the 3-point shot became more important to the team’s offense, and the Nuggets responded by making 181 more 3s this year. Helping the cause, the Nuggets were also more efficient from deep as they shot 35.8 percent this year compared to 34.3 percent last year.
Also helping the cause, the Nuggets were better shooters from the free throw line this season. The team shot 72.6 percent from the free throw line this season, a 2.5 percent increase that led to 58 additional made free throws. It’s a good sign the Nuggets improved on their free throws in a down year, because we know free throw shooting is always a big part of winning a playoff series.
Another promising sign was the improvement this year’s team had on the defensive glass, which led to less second chance points for the opposition. Nuggets’ opponents scored 64 fewer second-chance points this season because they were limited to 90 fewer offensive rebounds. Shaw came to the Nuggets with a reputation of being a defensive coach, and this stat shows Shaw has hopefully started the long process of building a great defense.
Shaw’s Nuggets didn’t do many things better than the 2012-13 team led by George Karl, but in attempting to build a team that’s not going to lose in the first round of the playoffs the Nuggets to take a step back. Even with the losing record, the stats show the Nuggets at least shored up three areas (free throw shooting, 3-point shooting and defensive rebounding) that need to be strong in order to truly contended for an NBA title. If they build on top of the improvement next season we could see the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the playoffs sooner rather than later.