Moore: How Nuggets Deployed “Anybody But Ant” Defense

Moore: How Nuggets Deployed “Anybody But Ant” Defense article feature image
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Photo by David Berding/Getty Images. Pictured: Anthony Edwards (Wolves)

DENVER — Call it the ABA defense: Anybody But Ant.

The Denver Nuggets have made a calculated gamble as their series vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves has gone on, and Game 5 was the most chips they've stacked in the middle.

The gamble? They can live with any of the other Wolves beating them offensively, but Anthony Edwards isn't going to be dropping 40 anymore.

In Game 5, the Nuggets sold out on Edwards from start to finish with "boxes and elbows." They showed help from every angle to prevent drives and challenge him. They not only played at the level in every pick-and-roll to encourage him to pass, but they also sent help defenders on top of those sequences just to be sure.

After the game, Edwards said he had never seen so many double teams in his life. He finished with just 18 points on 5-of-15 shooting and only one made 3-pointer. He had nine assists as a product of the scheme Denver ran, but the Wolves lost his 44 minutes by 12 points.

On the Wolves' first possession, the Nuggets completely ignored Rudy Gobert even before he screened, showing Edwards multiple defenders at the level.

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The Wolves were creating good looks, but Edwards was unable to get anything in rhythm.

When Edwards finally had space to get a shot off, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope wrapped him up — even after a whistle — just to make sure he didn't see one go in.

This is what Ant would see routinely in Game 5:

When Edwards did get some separation by setting the screen higher, Nikola Jokic contained well at the level. But on top of Jokic challenging him here and causing a steal, watch Reggie Jackson's help in the paint to prevent a Eurostep or pivot spin.

Jackson completely abandons Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who's wide open, but Edwards isn't an adept enough playmaker yet to make the read.

Alexander-Walker had success in the first half, but he was 1-of-5 in the second half. Denver kept daring other Wolves to score, and they couldn't.

Here Jokic moves into a matchup zone by leaving Kyle Anderson and calling for a switch, with KCP defending Naz Reid. They let Reid go on the slip to contain Edwards, and even though Anderson gets the offensive rebound, he can't make them pay.

Then the Wolves tried to get Edwards some movement off-ball — like on this sequence.

Once again, the Nuggets showed multiple defenders and let Gobert go wide open — the Wolves didn't trust him, even wide open under the basket.

This, though, is the real encapsulation of the ABA defense.

The Nuggets not only put two on Edwards at the level of the screen, but KCP completely ignores a cutting Anderson to send a third defender at the star.

After he tries to relocate, Jokic abandons the paint to close out on him off the 3-point line and force the miss.

This about sums it up:

Anybody but Ant.

So what's the counter? Well, first, the Wolves need Mike Conley back after he missed Game 4 with a sore Achilles. They need Conley not only as a shooter, but as a playmaker who can create off the dribble and will willingly pass to Gobert.

Conley will live with Gobert's mistakes because he knows the big is also likely to draw fouls, which puts pressure on the rim.

But the second adjustment has to be different screeners. The Wolves will have to use Karl-Anthony Towns more as the primary screener, with Edwards popping out to the 3-point line.

The Nuggets may help on those actions and leave Gobert again, but that's the starting point.

The Wolves can also use screens from the guards and wings like Conley, Alexander-Walker and Jaden McDaniels, but the latter two will have to hit shots like they did in the first half. Misses will only reward the Nuggets for their gamble against them.

The Nuggets won Game 5 because Jokic was capital-G Great, dominating Gobert and carving up the Wolves like only an all-time legend in his prime can.

But the Wolves lost because Edwards was indecisive and untrusting against a defense that made one simple declaration of what it would allow in this series, especially after Edwards sparked Michael Jordan comparisons in the first two games.

Anybody But Ant.

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May 29, 2024 UTC