Smashmouth. Frank Vogel is responsible for weaving this brand of basketball into the Pacers cultural fabric. It is the central feature of the team’s identity. It is a term that encompasses numerous facets of the game – defense, rebounding, selfless passing, pounding the ball inside, and attacking the rim. It requires strength and demands relentlessness.
In the past, Vogel described the Smashmouth philosophy to Zach Lowe of Grantland as follows:
"Smashmouth basketball, we call it. We’re about pounding it inside, pounding the glass, and our guards playing with an offensive physicality — driving the ball, not settling. And we’re trying to be a great passing team too."
In an interview with Hoopsworld, Vogel added:
"We want teams to feel like they were in a heavy-weight fight after they have played against us. We want to play with physicality inside and be the stronger team."
Last season, this style of play propelled the Pacers to Game 7 of the ECF. During the regular season, it was the impetus for the Pacers being able to lead the league in rebounding, FG% defense, and 3PT% defense.
Now, the Pacers’ Smashmouth trademark is headed west.
According to Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post, under new Coach Brian Shaw, the Nuggets will institute a "new way to play" this season. That new way is described by Shaw as "Smashmouth basketball."
Sound familiar? The Denver Nuggets –Smashmouth Basketball 2.0.
Shaw defines the playing style as:
"Smashmouth means that you are literally going to get your mouth smashed if you're going against us for a rebound or a loose ball. We want to have a nasty disposition, both offensively and defensively."
Shaw added the following:
"The style of play ... is going to be a little different than what it has been around here for the past few years. We do still want to take advantage of getting up and down the floor and take advantage of the climate and the altitude. But, with that being said, the teams I've been associated both as a player and as a coach have had success establishing a presence inside, executing in half court and having a defensive identity, as well as being a good rebounding team."
Of course, Indiana fans know that the team Shaw refers to as having "been associated" with as a coach, and that used the term "Smashmouth" to describe its playing style, is none other than the Pacers.
To Shaw’s credit, the Nuggets could stand to improve defensively – especially with the loss of defensive specialist, Andre Iguodala. Last season, the Nuggets ranked 23rd in the league in terms of points allowed (giving up 101.1ppg), 11th in FG% defense, and 20th in 3PT% defense.
Shaw’s announcement of the Nuggets new identity begs the question of whether or not Smashmouth basketball can be universally implemented.
Is it dependent on personnel?
Remember that the Pacers boast two former All-Stars in the paint. USA Today Sports notes in its Pacers preview that, in the 2012-2013 season, Indiana had four players (Roy Hibbert, Paul George, David West, and Ian Mahinmi) rank in the top 10 of defensive rating.
The Nuggets did rank 2nd in the league (behind the Pacers) last seasons in terms of rebounding – mostly thanks to Kenneth Faried. Be that as it may, will a projected starting line-up of Ty Lawson, Evan Fournier, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, and JaVale McGee really be able to successfully execute the Smashmouth style of play?
Will the Nuggets’ Bigs be savvy enough to stay out of foul trouble?
Most importantly, will the Nuggets be able to maintain their signature pace while playing the Smashmouth style?
Defensive energy is oftentimes the first thing sacrificed for teams that prioritize pace and scoring.
One thing is sure, Smashmouth basketball going west just made the January 25th game in Denver and February 10th game in Indy a lot more interesting.
For more information on Shaw and the Nuggets: