Nuggets' postseason fate won't be due to lack of preparation
The anxiety increased with each piece of luggage that came off the carousel at Los Angeles International Airport.
The targeted cargo weighed 80 pounds and Nuggets assistant coach/advance scout Jesse Mermuys felt every ounce squarely on his shoulders.
In the bag were detailed scouting and statistical reports for Denver’s first-round Western Conference playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I had a bag full of them,” Mermuys said. “It didn’t show up. Until Coach (George) Karl gets that information, I can’t relax.”
Mermuys was finally able to exhale when the scouting books arrived about 90 minutes later on the next flight from Denver to LAX, and the countless hours of due diligence by the Nuggets coaching staff are starting to pay dividends.
Denver ran to victory in Game 3 of its best-of-seven series against the Lakers on Friday night and now trail 2-1 heading into Game 4 on Sunday. Regardless how the Nuggets fare the rest of the way, it won’t be due to lack of preparation.
Demanding detail from his staff, his players and his staff, Karl leaves nothing to chance. The 200-page spiral-bound scouting report compiled by Mermuys – with a big assist from video operations/player development coordinator Ryan Bowen – is a testament to that fact.
“I look through it,” Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson said. “They definitely tell you exactly what you need to know.”
If Lawson wants to know how often Kobe Bryant pulls up for a jumper while going to his left, it’s in the book. If he wants to know what percentage of Steve Blake’s shots come on spot-up jumpers, it’s in the book.
Tendencies, personalities traits, detailed play charts, Synergy player profiles … it’s all in there.
“The most important thing is having every play that they run possible so you’re prepared and you’re not surprised by anything,” Mermuys said. “In the NBA, whether it’s the regular-season or the playoffs, it’s so hard to win. These guys are playing on the biggest stage, and it’s tough. If you can help them, I’m proud of that.”
In addition to the comprehensive scouting report, Karl and his coaching staff have spent countless hours in the video room over the past eight days.
Given roughly 48 hours to put together a game plan against the No. 3 seed in the West, the coaches and video coordinators gathered for lengthy film sessions at the team hotel in Marina Del Rey.
They condensed the material for the players, and then reconvened for more analysis after Games 1 and 2.
“I probably watched Game 1 three times,” Karl said. “Then you have edits and, ‘Let’s look at the pick and rolls, let’s look at (Andrew) Bynum’s touches.’ Probably another couple hours after that of edits and situations.
“The assistant coaches probably do more work than I do. I just watch and then I commentate. They have to put the video together.”
Now in his 24th NBA season, Karl doesn’t mind putting in the long hours as he pursues his dream of winning a championship.
Despite his 1,074 regular-season victories and dedication , he is often criticized for his playing rotations, in-game adjustments and dedication to the fast-break offense.
Karl takes in all in stride. He operates the way he does because he believes it will give the Nuggets the best opportunity to succeed. Fans who take losses hard should multiply their disappointment by 100, and they might have an idea how Karl and his coaches feel.
“You can’t put numbers on it,” Nuggets assistant Melvin Hunt said. “We want to win so bad. When you say ‘yes’ to preparing, you’re saying ‘no’ to your family, you’re saying ‘no’ to sleep. It cuts at our hearts, too.”
Karl has surrounded himself with passionate young assistants – Hunt, Chad Iske, John Welch, Mermuys, Bowen and Patrick Mutombo – and he gives them more responsibility than a lot of their counterparts around the league.
In turn, they don’t take the responsibility for granted.
Mermuys keeps each of the playoff scouting reports that he has compiled since the 2010 postseason and cherishes them in the same manner an artist takes pride in his portfolio.
“That book, it’s a monster,” Mermuys said. “Every one, I put everything into it. It takes a lot of focus and a lot of time and a lot of study. When I’m applying for a head coaching job 20 years from now, someone can say, ‘Look he wrote this when he worked for the Nuggets.’ I have to be on top of my game.”
And if all goes according to the scouting report, the Nuggets will be, too.