In the fly-over basketball city known as Denver, Colorado, NBA fans are hungry for relevancy. With a talented young team of rising stars in a post Carmelo Anthony city, the Nuggets are improving, but not an elite team yet. This anxiety has once again turned on the Nuggets head coach, who has over 400 wins with the franchise and is the eighth winningest coach in NBA history. Is George Karl a King of the Court? Is he a master strategist in the NBA, best capable of balancing the young immature egos of rising role players? Or is Karl Lord of the Manor, the elder statesman happy to cash in on an easy paycheck, a playoff team and lowered expectations holding the Nuggets back?
To understand Denver Nuggets coach George Karl, look no further than hybrid forward/guard Wilson Chandler. The veteran had 23 points against the Los Angeles Lakers, up from his 10 points a game average, playing increased minutes in Danillo Gallinari’s absence. It has also been reported that he is not happy with his playing time. If a coach can manage the egos of an NBA team and still get this type of productivity from an unhappy player, he is doing very well.
Karl rewards hustle, but not to the point of hurting the basketball team. Kenneth Faried went from a zero to a thirty-minute starter over the course of the second half of last season. As long as he brings energy, he is getting the minutes. It’s the reason that Corey Brewer successfully grabs minutes off the bench and why, on his good nights, Javale McGee is left in late in the game.
Watching the games every night and not just looking at the stats shows an improving system in Denver. Javale McGee is no longer just a punch line for Shaquille O’Neal to make fun of. McGee was the sounder player in a battle with the Los Angeles Lakers’ Dwight Howard earlier this week. Similarly, Kenneth Faried won a battle match-up with the Boston Celtic’s Kevin Garnett last week. Danilo Gallinari is shooting other teams out of contention, while Ty Lawson’s speedy attack at point guard is being noticed across the league by the likes of Kobe Bryant. The one player not improving appears to be Andre Igoudala, but he has not yet found his place in this system in his first season with the team.
In his supposed indifference, Karl rewards allegiance to the system. There is no other reason Andre Miller gets so many minutes late except for this buy-in. He is a soldier of Karl’s making and his example should motivate the rest of the team. This is the reason that the Nuggets continue to lose on the road. They do not embrace road defense. Playing decent defense in two quarters in Washington this weekend would have saved the team from a defeat by the Wizards. Karl believes the team should learn from its mistakes.
Is Karl’s patience late in his career unnerving, unusual and infuriating? Yes. There are times when his decisions make even a casual Nuggets fan cringe and scream, but the players are developing. The Nuggets have constantly been improving in the post-Melo era. Comparing Karl during the Melo-era is hard since he was dealing with veterans with large egos who did not believe in a team philosophy. The post-Melo Nuggets only work in the team concept, which is why the buy-in to team defense is critical.
Besides, the only way to survive in the NBA, if you do not have a superstar, is patience. The refs are slanted against the teams without star power, in accordance with the NBA’s marketing campaigns. Patience requires slow growth and requires a young team to not be beaten down by their own failures. A continual trend of young athletes in the 21st century is their immaturity, so they have to be developed and taught the professional way to play.
Fans may not like this approach. Outside of the San Antonio Spurs, who many basketball fans hate because of their style of play, this strategy is not embraced effectively by any NBA teams. The Nuggets are three Hall-of-Famers behind the Spurs, but with a fast paced game and a commitment to defense, could they compete in a series? Shouldn’t we give the Nuggets the chance to find out before Karl’s strategy of patience is heavily questioned? Not even he knows if it will work, but you don’t win the number of games he has by getting lucky. His patience still results in technicals and players feeling left out of the game.
George Karl is developing a brand of basketball. Rushing the expectations on the young players too quickly could damage this idea, but dismissing the coach unnecessarily could destroy it. Remember how Adrian Dantley’s coaching destroyed the Nuggets in 2010? Are we ready to give him another shot?
In the end, George Karl is proud of the progress of his young team. He is much happier with Lawson, Gallinari and McGee than he ever was with Gary Payton, Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. He’s Lord of the Manor, but not just a spectator. Karl’s strategy is the best one out there for the Nuggets and it could lead to new Kings of the Court.