LAS VEGAS — In today’s NBA you rarely see teams full-court press one another 94 feet. Ball-handlers are simply too quick with their handle and defenses aren’t quick enough to effectively trap world-class athletes who thrive in transition.
But at Summer League, where most of the talent on the floor won’t be on an NBA roster next season, there’s more room for experimentation.
Enter Nuggets’ Summer League coach Micah Nori, who saw Friday night’s opener as a chance to deploy what Denver is calling their “Diamond” full-court press. Nori was hoping it would switch up the game’s tempo while creating more opportunities for deflections and turnovers.
“I think the one thing we talked about last season was keeping up on our pressure,” Nori said of why he went to the press. “Maybe get some more steals, get some more deflections.”
The Nuggets finished the night with nine steals, three of which came in the fourth quarter when Denver was able to trim Houston’s margin to three on a Malik Beasley three-point jumper with 1:07 left on the clock. Credit the Nuggets’ press for a few of those takeaways.
“We didn’t shy away from it, we kept it up,” Nori said. “It kind of paid off for us down the stretch. We got back in the game and got the energy up.”
Denver’s “Diamond” press, which is a pretty standard look, put the Nuggets in a 1-2-1-1 formation and is designed to trap the ball-handler, rotate and get a steal. Here’s how it looks on the court.
Denver wants their opponent to enter the ball into the corner, where the Nuggets’ point man (whoever is at the top of the press), along with one of their wings traps the ball-handler in the corner. Usually your “point man” is a long, athletic, mobile player like Juancho Hernangomez, with a guard-oriented player like Beasley manning one of the wings.
Then, the offense will try to get the ball into the middle or one of the opposing wings will try and beat the defense on the sideline. The No. 1 rule of “diamond” is for the defense (in the video below, Hernangomez) to get their foot on the sideline and prevent that.
That’s exactly how Houston was able to beat Denver’s press here:
The Nuggets won’t press after every made basket, but when Nori feels they can get their defense set and in position, he’ll call for it.
“In Summer League, it’s a 40-minute game. It’s pretty funny because that eight minutes is a big difference. We’ve got nine guys, we should have fresh bodies fresh legs. We just felt with the Diamond, it’s just to make sure we get a little more active, maybe get some deflections. We got lucky we got some turnovers.”
Don’t expect Denver to turn to their press, aside for maybe a couple of random possessions during the regular season, but Summer League presents an opportunity to play a wildcard that you probably wouldn’t over the course of an NBA season.
Keep an eye on “Diamond” and if Denver goes to that look to try and get some steals and force some turnovers in their second Summer League matchup against Minnesota on Sunday.