For Better and Worse, Denver Nuggets Look Like Old-School Mile High Teams

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2013

January 6, 2013;  Los Angeles, CA, USA;   Denver Nuggets small forward Danilo Gallinari (8) reacts with point guard Ty Lawson (3) after he hit a 3-point shot with 13 seconds left on the clock in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center. Nuggets won 112-105. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

For both better and worse, the Denver Nuggets are a habitual run-and-gun team.

Not that this is anything new, though. Denver is no stranger to blistering paces, and the Nuggets clearly prefer it.

Watching the Mile High's current convocation dart up and down the court really has them looking like certain groupings of the past. For those of you who aren't hardcore Nuggets fanatics, I'm referring to the 1980s, when Alex English and crew went absolutely nuts.

Between 1980 and 1989, in fact, Denver never averaged fewer than 105.5 possessions per 48 minutes. Throughout that span, the Nuggets combined to average 108.4, the most of any team in the league during that decade.

Fast forward almost two decades later to the Carmelo Anthony era, and we see much of the same. 

'Melo spent seven full seasons in Denver before being traded to the New York Knicks midway through his eighth. Over those seven campaigns, the Nuggets used 95.4 possessions per 48 minutes, topping the league once again.

Fast forward a bit further, to today, and we have an equally accelerated juggernaut on our hands. Denver is presently averaging 95 possessions per 48 minutes, second only to the Houston Rockets.

To those wondering whether such scorching speeds generate results, the Alex English-era Nuggets I alluded to earlier posted the ninth-highest point differential in the league over those nine seasons. 'Melo's outfit had similar success, posting the ninth-highest point differential for those seven years as well.

Do you know what those old(er)-school teams also had in common?

Minimal playoff advancement.

From 1980-89, the Nuggets made it out of the second round just once (1985), and during 'Melo's time, they escaped the first round just once (2009).

In other words, these generally fast-paced teams have exited rather, well, fast from the postseason.

Of course, such observations are not a be-all, end-all, know-all genre of insight, but they are a good measuring stick.

These current Nuggets play the same style of basketball, which on some levels is incredible. Few teams are as entertaining or enlightening to watch. Even fewer have rattled off as many wins at home (25).

But it's also dangerous, mostly because this particular style has a tendency to be coupled with subpar defensive performances.

Take English's Nuggets. They ranked first in possessions used and seventh an offensive efficiency during the '80s, but also ranked 21-of-25 in defensive deficiency. Averse as some may be to the whole "defense wins championships" adage, you have to admit that "defense at least helps" win championships.

Presently, Denver sits at fifth in offensive efficiency but 14th in defensive efficiency. Is the latter atrocious? Absolutely not, but it's middling, and that doesn't exactly instill hope.

Neither does the Nuggets' winning-by-committee tactics.

Who's their closer? Ty Lawson? Danilo Gallinari? Andre Iguodala?

Unselfish basketball is tough to defend and, yes, difficult to defeat, but Denver's absence of an irrefutable go-to guy is more than unnerving. Hero ball isn't always a recipe for success, yet in situations when the game is on the line, you want to have that one guy, that leader who wants the ball in his hands.

Not unlike 'Melo did.

And yet, it's difficult to chide the Nuggets' current attack too much. Having that one guy and an above-average defensive attack doesn't guarantee anything either. Melo's faction had a clutch scorer in him and even ranked ninth in defensive efficiency, yet they managed to advance past the first round just once in seven tries.

Sometimes the formula just doesn't add up.

Which is exactly why this aggregate's semblance of former teams is for both better and worse. Not "or," but "and."

We can look at Denver's fifth-ranked field-goal percentage during crunch time and declare that the team is ready, that the Nuggets are poised for playoff greatness.

Or we can take their current style of play for what it is, a potently heart-pounding attack that has yielded regular season results.

An attack that we've also seen before.

And one that hasn't culminated in anything other than a string of mediocre postseasons.

*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and unless otherwise noted.


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