Lack of Leadership Dooms Nuggets
It’s been a frustrating week for the Denver Nuggets, to say the least. A loss against the New Orleans Pelicans this past Sunday coupled with a defeat to the now playoff-bound Portland Trail Blazers has put the team on its heels.
It wasn’t that the Nuggets lost to a very good Portland team or a Pelicans unit with one of the best and brightest in the league in Anthony Davis, it was how they lost both contests that proves worrisome. Whether it be a thirty plus point blowout loss to a sub .500 squad at home or fading down the stretch on the road against the Blazers, Denver clearly is missing an element on the team.
After the loss on Tuesday, players like Kenneth Faried and Will Barton both expressed their frustrations with result of the game. Barton claimed that the team simply didn’t dig down deep enough to get the win. Faried upped the stakes when he claimed the team was sluggish, in addition to not being prepared by the coaching staff.
There is nothing wrong with being emotional after dropping a crucial playoff-type game, at the very least is shows the players care about the outcome of the game. What is concerning, however, is saying things like “they wanted it more than we did” or “we got out hustled and out coached”.
For as many young up-and-comers the Nuggets have on the roster like Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris and so on, the team does have quality veterans in players like Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Jameer Nelson. The bench is also stocked with tenured vets like Darrell Arthur and Mike Miller. The core of this team is young, but not so inexperienced that they don’t have other capable mentors for the young pups to learn from either.
The team knew that outcomes of both contests this week prove to go a long way toward the Nuggets making the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Coming out lifeless and lethargic versus New Orleans and then failing to bow their necks defensively in the Portland game have little to nothing to do with effort from the players or tactics from the coach. It’s troublesome that prominent figures like Barton and Faried think otherwise.
Who is the Nuggets best player? Most would say that Jokic has far and away been the best player on the team this year. Who is the leader on the floor for the Nuggets? Who can the team turn to when a coach on the floor is needed to backbone a crucial basket or a late-defensive stand? Those questions aren’t as easy to answer.
Based on what transpired this last week, the Nuggets may not have that player in place. Nobody disputes that Gallinari and Chandler are both key cogs in a potent Denver offense, but rumors swirled earlier in the year that these were the same two players who were looking to be moved after Jokic become the main trigger man. Hard to rally behind guys who, while talented, have also proved to be moody about their own roles within the organization.
Lumping Jameer Nelson in that group, the tenured point guard was brought back this year to be backup plan in the case that mercurial Emmanuel Mudiay didn’t the next step in his maturation as was hoped. When Mudiay went down with an injury, Nelson stepped in admirably but no one expects him to be the player everyone looks to in the huddle either.
The same can be said for Miller and Arthur. It’s a nice luxury to have both veterans on the bench, but the young Nuggets really do need someone on the floor who can galvanize them and it’s hard to get that kind of reaction when they are seldom-used role players at this point in their respective careers.
It’s ironic to be passionate about losing a game when you say the other team showed more heart and desire than you did. It also shows equal amounts of immaturity to complain about being out coached when there was no way Head Coach Mike Malone could have stepped on the court to help out on the offensive glass or in not turning the ball over. For all the promising talent that resides in the Mile High region, the team is still lacking a leader to channel that youthful emotion in something positive on the floor.
In a season that has seen the emergence of Jokic, as he takes his place as one of the best young centers in the league and Harris becoming one of the more efficient off-the-ball guards in the NBA, it should not be counted as a failure. But in the final stretch of the season, if the Nuggets fail to overtake Portland for the last playoff spot, it’ll come down to its lack of leadership within its roster.