According to Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post, Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone has completed the process of hiring assistants. In addition to the highly revered Ed Pinckney as his lead sidekick Malone has also cajoled Chris Fleming, current head coach of the German national team; Wes Unseld Jr., most recently of Jacque Vaughn’s staff in Orlando; Micah Nori, who spent 15 years in the Toronto Raptors organization despite having a baseball background coming out of college; and Ryan Bowen, a former Nugget both as a player and assistant coach under George Karl. Nori and Bowen each held various positions under Malone during his brief tenure in Sacramento.

Though assistant coaches can only play so large a role in the NBA while answering to their superiors, it’s worth noting the somewhat surprising overall direction the Nuggets have gone with their coaching hires this summer. For once in their recent history — or perhaps just history — the Denver Nuggets have committed to defense. For longtime Nuggets fans this unprecedented change of direction should come as quite the shock, especially after hearing Nuggets brass incessantly yearn for the former fastbreak offense employed by George Karl and Doug Moe throughout the team’s coaching search this spring. In Malone, Pinckney and Unseld Jr. the Nuggets have three bona fide defensive basketball specialists. Malone and Pinckney in particular are well renowned for their defensive aptitude around the league, rendering the Nuggets coaching staff one of the more defensive minded from the top down in the entire NBA.

On a more personal note, from a fan’s standpoint, and from the viewpoint of someone who’s watched this team play basketball for the last 12 years, I cannot tell you how floored I am about the Nuggets long overdue acknowledgement of defense. Even if Malone flares out in similar Brian Shaw fashion, even if the Nuggets continue on a downward spiral towards the top of the lottery (not always a bad thing!), the fact they actually decided to place defense before running like a flock of headless chickens on offense makes me absurdly pleased. It should you as well. Because for far too long this team has totally and entirely disregarded one half of the floor — the one side they should have always emphasized first and foremost, just as all title contenders do.

So count me as a member of the camp incredibly thankful of the direction Malone appears to be taking this team. Again, I’m not willing to sit here and play Nostradamus, to predict exactly how many games the Nuggets will win next year or the year after. But what I can say with fair confidence is that your general basketball philosophy and attitude — your personal basketball religion, for lack of better phrasing — says everything about you. Are you the type who recognizes the imperative nature of defense or are you more concerned about selling tickets for pure surface-level entertainment? Often fans can excuse short-term failures if they recognize your heart and commitment to certain sides of the court are in the right place. With the hiring of Malone it appears the Nuggets are finally on the proper side of that equation.

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Below are some videos of the Nuggets’ newest assistants. It’s not much but it’s about all the Internet had to offer…




Kalen Deremo

Kalen was born in Durango, CO, in 1988 and graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2013 with a degree in journalism. Prior to joining BSN Denver he was editor and owner of RoundballMiningCompany.com, the ESPN TrueHoop affiliate blog of the Denver Nuggets. Kalen is a fifth generation Coloradoan and vehement advocate of the American Southwest. When not writing he prefers hiking, watching movies and reading over doing nothing.

  • Charliemyboy

    Looks like a nice mix. Golden State has an awesome defense, but has a better offense. You said we didn’t do well in defense. What was our defensive ranking over Karl’s regeim. I’m not sure you are correct, but let us know.

    • Kalen

      Hey Charlie, thanks for the comment.

      In terms of defensive efficiency under Karl the Nuggets ranked eight, ninth, sixth, eighth, 16th, 16th, 19th and 11th throughout his tenure in Denver, excluding his first half season with the team. That averages out to about 12th in the league during his eight and a half years as head coach. Under Brian Shaw the Nuggets ranked 21st and 26th. If you include those two years the Nuggets place about 14th in the league over the last decade in defensive efficiency.

      For a team made the playoffs 80 percent of the time, nabbing the two, three and four seeds, setting a franchise record for wins and winning 50-plus games five years in a row (excluding the lockout-shortened season), ranking just above average in defense over that span isn’t very impressive. Not once were the Nuggets ranked top five in defensive efficiency, meanwhile they ranked below average 50 percent of the time over the last decade. And yet throughout this period Denver consistently ranked as one of the better offensive teams in the league, placing top 10 in offensive efficiency 60 percent of the time, including four separate top-five finishes and one year where they were the most efficient offense in the league. Of course, anybody who follows this team knows what this high-octane offense paired with a mediocre defense got them: only one year of post-first round basketball.

      Again, defense is a culture. And the great thing about it is that it doesn’t require stars to implement. Just look at Milwaukee this year. They ranked second in defensive efficiency and gave the Bulls all they could handle in the first round despite missing their best player. Speaking of which, the Bulls have ranked as a top-10 defensive team five of the last six years and have advanced past the first round more than half that time despite being plagued by injuries. Same goes for teams like the Grizzlies, Spurs, Pacers, Hawks and Celtics. These are teams that place defense before offense, that honor defense as their religion, and because of this they consistently outperform what their talent suggests even through injuries and adversity. Why? Because defense is a mindset and a belief. It just takes effort. And when the chips are down, you always have it.

      Anyway, hope this helps to clarify my position. As I said above, the best part about defense is that doesn’t require star athletes, just commitment. It’s great to finally have that level of commitment in Denver after decades of placing offense first.

      • Charliemyboy

        Kalen, first, thank you for the response! And second, thanks for answering the right way! You first paragraph could support a good offense being better than a good defense but only to a a point. The second paragraph could support defense being more critical, to a point. I wonder if there is a chart indicating ranking of the playoff teams in defense and offense for the last six years and how far they went in the playoffs. Say, add their position in offense and defense and then show their average playoff ranking. If not playoff, perhaps the top ten teams with the best records.

        I do agree that defense is easier to overlook than offense. There is a reason Karl’s teams, although usually in the top 10 in defense didn’t go past the first round. But, they were almost always in the top 5 in offense due to his ‘taking chance on defense’ style.

        I’m a little concerned that focusing on defense means slowing things down and am not sure how we can do that and run, which has to be worth 5 to 10 points above any adversary in the mile-high city.

        One example of that, is Cleveland doing what they could to wait until 10 seconds before going for a shot. GS was the opposite and they finally wore Cleveland out (not withstanding other factors). Memphis failed also. Is GS offense first?

        I love the idea about commitment equaling defense, as sans Mudiay, Barton and Ty, we really don’t have any super speedy guys, so they had better be committed.

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