All-Access with the Denver Nuggets

They may have just missed out on earning a spot in this year’s NBA playoffs, but the Denver Nuggets are considered one of the up-and-coming teams in the league. 

Much of that can be attributed to their young core of players, which is a healthy mix of talent found domestically and abroad. However, if you look beyond the surface, the future is bright due to more than just general manager Tim Connelly’s eye for talent identification.

The Nuggets – who use Sportscode, Hudl’s elite video analysis software, to capture video, create custom video clips and analyze breakdown data – are on the cutting edge of video analysis, thanks in large part to their general manager’s experience as a video coordinator. 

“Tim Connelly, our GM, started out as a video coordinator, so he’s cool with us and he understands what we go through,” said Travess Armenta, Denver’s head video coordinator. “He probably appreciates our staff and video analysis more than most GMs in the league.” 

It’s no secret the NBA has fully embraced analytics, and having a front office be so hands-on with breaking down practice, game and scout footage is a something most video staffs can only dream of. But Armenta knows the league can pass you by if you don’t do your due diligence throughout each season.

“A lot of what we do is anticipating what the coaches want and what other teams are thinking. That’s where the familiarity with your coaching staff and your experience with the technology comes in.” – Travess Armenta, head video coordinator

“When it came time for coach (Mike) Malone to hire a video coordinator here in Denver, he wanted to do things the way Elvis Valcarcel [his head video coordinator in Sacramento] did things at his previous stop. He [Malone] knew that I had learned under Elvis, so I had proven myself to him in Sacramento. I had a good relationship with a couple of assistant coaches already, so it was kind of a perfect storm of everything rolling together with coach feeling comfortable having me.” 

His familiarity with Malone’s preferred workflows helped Armenta assemble a staff with varying expertise that could provide insights key stakeholders throughout the organization deemed most valuable. All the while meeting the always-changing needs of the coaching staff.

Video Team, Assemble

As the team behind the team, video coordinator staffs have to be well-rounded when it comes to opponent scouting and post-game analysis. That’s why Armenta employs his staff to balance the then and now when it comes to breaking down film.

In addition to Armenta, the Nuggets video staff consists of assistant video coordinator Tommy Massimino Jr. and video intern Andrew Munson.

“My responsibilities for game days focus on working with the scout coach to have the exact thing they need for that specific opponent,” said Armenta. “Tommy and Andrew are focused more on the future. So if we play Houston the next night, Tommy and Andrew are working on Houston so the next coach has that stuff ready. They are one game out, two games out, three games out making sure everything is found easily. Then they’ll hand all of that to myself and the rest of the staff and we’ll go through the same old process. So it’s about two coaches meetings, two team meetings, on the court once and the game.”

In addition to balancing their game preparation responsibilities, each member of the video staff brings their own specialized skills, honed from their previous coaching stops.

“Tommy knows the draft better than most people in his position and his knowledge is probably above what’s expected of him,” said Armenta. Massimino Jr., who happens to be the son of legendary college basketball coach “Rollie” Massimino, refined his eye for talent during his stints at the University of Iowa and Villanova University and his time as a video associate for Denver.  

“I know Tim Connolly and the guys involved in our prospect and international scouting are always watching video throughout the year, mostly the top guys just to have an overview of them,” said Andrew Munson, video intern for the Denver Nuggets. “That’s something Tommy does a lot of. He’ll put together a highlight video of each guy, that way instead of them having to go through hours of film to watch their clips, Tommy can put it together and have it to them in an hour or two. They can watch the highlights instead of five or six games.”

Munson, who previously served as the head student manager for the Iowa Hawkeyes men’s basketball team, leans on his mastery of Sportscode to efficiently cut up scout film to the staff.

“So the five games out things that Trav was talking about, my role is to make the consumption of that film as efficient as possible. So like we have a code window for Utah that includes all of Utah’s plays. So whenever Gordon Hayward makes a three, that goes through and records all of those instances and then Tommy makes up personal edits.” – Andrew Munson, video intern

“So instead of having to go through and watch an entire game for Gordon Hayward’s possessions, you can just look in the matrix and pull up his shots and look at those. Then we have on the side of our window play types so that when the coaches watch them, they can go through and watch certain type of plays they are most interested in. We don’t know the play calls, we try to pick him up as best we can, these are all just ways to kind of streamline the edit making process.”

Game Preparation

Once the NBA regular season hits, it’s all hands on deck for Armenta and his staff.

“On home game days, we get here at seven in the morning,” said Armenta. “On wins we’ll get out of here a little quicker than on the losses. We’ll probably get out of here 10:30 or 11, but for the guys look at other teams’ games, they’ll still have games at night, that West Coast game that doesn’t end until 11 our time that we have to wait to download and go through it.

“So sometimes our video breakdowns aren’t done until 1 or 2 in the morning, but we’re physically in this building from about 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on game days. Road is a little different, obviously, because we’re in a hotel, but it’s probably a 14-hour day.” – Travess Armenta

As for what each staff member is focused on during game preparation, Armenta tailors his team’s video breakdowns to each coach.

“We’ll get here in the morning and I’ll usually meet with each coach, each of them having different scouts,” said Armenta. “So four games out, each of our assistant coaches will be the lead scout for that game. So let’s say we’re playing Golden State tomorrow and it’s (assistant coach) Micah Nori’s scout, I’ll meet with Micah and we’ll get his edit together and ready for the morning.”

Discussions about game planning happen in the coach meetings Malone holds each morning.

“We have coach meetings in the morning where we show the edit and hit on a few key points of main plays the opponents run,” said Armenta. “For example, the type of pick and roll coverage you want to run against them, the type of post defense you want to run. Pick and roll and post defense are the main things you want to go over and how are we going to guard a Curry. How are we going to guard Durant and stuff.”

Once coach meetings are complete, video breakdowns continue as the coaching staff relays their findings to the players.

“So in the morning we’ll have roughly 45 minutes to an hour coaches meeting. Then we’ll go to our shootaround,” said Armenta. “At the shootaround we’ll show film, similar to what we were watching in the coaches room, but more condensed for the players. Maybe two to three minutes for the players. Just enough to show them basically the five main plays to focus on. We’ll take these clips to the court and go through those plays live while they get some shooting drills in, work on our shell offense.”

After the players get their work in, the coaches continue game planning while the video staff caters to any needs that may arise.

“After the morning sessions you have some downtime to do whatever you want until about 3 p.m., then the coaches will meet again,” said Armenta. “Throughout the day coaches are talking about everything. Then the players do their warm-ups and for us it’s about making sure we have the video ready for whatever is needed.”

Finding a Competitive Edge

Every team in the NBA utilizes some form of video analysis, so getting a leg up on the competition can be challenging. However, Armenta takes a straightforward, but effective approach when it comes to gaining a competitive edge on Nuggets opponents.

“You just try and find weaknesses in teams,” said Armenta. “I do this thing called ‘Play Edits’ where we’ll have every play they run in the edit, and coaches will go skim through it and organize it as they see fit. So if we’re playing Houston tomorrow, we’ll cut their five most recent games before the game tomorrow and then separate it and organize it by half court defense, transition defense, pick and roll defense, post defense, that kind of stuff. Then our coaches are really good at looking at it and seeing what is the best way that it was covered and then what they think is the best way we should cover it.”

Although the video staff has the know-how and freedom to recommend strategic adjustments, they know it’s up to the coaches to make game plan decisions.  

“For us, trying to find an advantage, it’s more on the coaches to shine and do all of that stuff,” said Armenta. “We’re just presenting them as much information as possible as efficiently as possible.”

Even though focusing on opponent weaknesses is key to Malone and his staff’s strategies, emulating what works throughout the league is also paramount to the team’s success.

“Our head coach has five or six teams that are his favorite teams to watch play defensively. So he will key in on five or six things. If we played those teams in the last 10 games, he’ll want that game broken down, even if it’s not part of the five because he really likes the way that defense guards things. He’ll try to implement a similar defensive scheme.” – Travess Armenta

Ready for Anything

Being able to adjust on the fly is vital to any team’s success, but that’s especially true in the NBA. Between coaching changes, injuries, player trades and insights gained through statistical analysis, video staffs need to be nimble enough to provide breakdowns pertinent to any possible situation.

“The work we do before the season will make our lives easier in the future,” said Armenta. “We may not know exactly what the coaches will want, but we want to make sure whatever they do ask for we can go through right away and find it really quick. They may never ask for it and it sounds like a big thing, but it’s not actually that tough because we already have everything coded. Our goal is to save time in the future and make our lives easier and the coaches lives easier.”

For the Nuggets, prepping their code windows to account for staff and player changes throughout the league is the key to being flexible.

“Before the season he [Andrew] made a code window for every team we were going to play and made adjustments based on trades, injuries, that kind of stuff during the season,” said Armenta. “It’s all about being prepared and getting your stuff done. You will look like a stud because a project that would normally take who knows how long will get done quicker.”

“You learn quickly that you need to tailor your code window for the future.” – Travess Armenta

It’s obvious nailing down your video analysis workflows prior to the season can ensure you’re well equipped to handle any unforeseen challenges throughout the year. However, by becoming proficient in industry standard software such as Sportscode, you can make yourself an attractive candidate for teams at the highest levels of competition and be ready to take advantage of any opportunities that arise.   

“If you’re a 22-year-old kid and that wants to be a head video coordinator, pay your dues, learn the tech, be an intern, be a seasonal, go and do whatever,” said Armenta. “Just don’t say ‘no’ to any opportunity. Just like the life of a video coordinator, you never know what will come up.”