Every so often, Brian Shaw watches the Denver Nuggets revert back to their old fast-paced tendencies.
The first-year coach doesn’t particularly mind or get all that miffed, realizing that all of those years of pushing the tempo under George Karl can’t be changed in one training camp.
By the time January rolls around – maybe the All-Star break, at the latest – Shaw envisions his team fully embracing his system, one that hinges on half-court sets, a powerful presence in the paint and smothering defense.
Until that time, Shaw’s willing to overlook some of the growing pains that go along with the transition as he steps in for Karl, who was ousted after winning a franchise-best 57 games last season only to be bounced from the first round of the playoffs for a fourth consecutive time.
“We know that they’re going to fall back into the ways that they know,” said Shaw, a longtime assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers before joining Denver. “So I guess it comes down to this: If it works, it’s OK. If it doesn’t, try it the way we’re trying to get you to do it. For the most part, it’s a process that’s going to take time. But they’re getting it.”
This carries a lot of clout, too: Shaw has five NBA championship rings – two as an assistant coach and three as a player. His players are soaking up his brand of basketball because it’s “championship-caliber basketball,” Randy Foye said.
“You look at those teams that always get up and down and do a lot of great things in the regular season, in the playoffs that ain’t happening,” said Foye, who was acquired in a sign-and-trade deal that landed swingman Andre Iguodala with Golden State. “The playoffs are grind-it-out basketball: Who can score after a timeout, and then who can get a stop after a timeout. That’s something he’s trying to teach us.”
Here are five things to know as the Nuggets begin the Brian Shaw era:
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Danilo Gallinari, one of Denver’s best perimeter shooters, won’t be back until at least December as he recovers from a knee injury. The Italian forward had a team-leading 135 3-pointers a year ago.
“We will try to hold down the fort until he comes back,” Shaw said. “I know he’s been working hard trying to get back on the floor and help us, but his knee will tell us (when he’s ready).”
Wilson Chandler is expected to step in for Gallinari, but he’s been hobbled by a strained left hamstring.
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It was a tumultuous offseason for the Nuggets as general manager Masai Ujiri bolted for a similar role in Toronto, and Karl was let go. Now it’s up to general manager Tim Connelly and Shaw to guide the Nuggets.
“This league is defined by change and how you react to change,” Connelly said. “There’s way, way more good there than bad. We’re both very fortunate to be in these seats.”
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Shaw may use short but speedy point guards Nate Robinson and Ty Lawson in the same backcourt at times this season. That’s giving up a lot of height, though, since Robinson is just a generous 5-9 and Lawson 5-11.
“It’s heart over height,” said Robinson, a free-agent pickup after averaging 13.1 points with the Chicago Bulls last season. “I’m really a big man at heart. I’m just stuck in this 5-9 frame. I’m really 7 foot.”
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The biggest beneficiary in Shaw’s half-court system may be athletic center JaVale McGee. The ball definitely will move through McGee, which is why he’s been working on his low-post moves.
Shaw hopes McGee can be the Nuggets’ version of Roy Hibbert, the Indiana center whom Shaw helped mentor as an assistant with the Pacers.
“I told (McGee) what I expect of him, and he’s trying to deliver that,” Shaw said. “At this point, he seems to take himself a lot more serious than he appeared to in the past. That’s a good thing. If he wants everyone else to take him seriously, he has to take himself seriously first.”
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Shaw is encouraging his team to be a little more selfish and take the open shots. He doesn’t want his team passing up shots simply to drive closer to the basket.
“Last year, they wanted to get everything to the rim,” Shaw said. “Some of our turnovers in games have been us passing up open shots for what we perceive to be better shots, and we end up traveling. I’ve been on the guys to shoot the ball when you’re open.”