There were many highlights and lowlights of the 2009-10 Denver Nuggets season, but in the end it was yet another first round exit for this squad. It has been the sixth time in seven years the Nuggets couldn’t advance past the first round, which will probably force the hand of the Nuggets Front Office to make some changes.
The Nuggets if anything were unpredictable, as they beat the Lakers in three of their four meetings, swept the Cavaliers and than lost to Minnesota at home and lost on the road to the Wizards and Clippers. The team also had to deal with its fair share of injuries, losing Carmelo Anthony for 13 games, Kenyon Martin for 24, Chauncey Billups for nine and Ty Lawson for 17. However, the biggest loss of the season was Coach George Karl who missed the Nuggets first round playoffs and the tail end of the Nuggets regular season due to throat cancer. Without him Denver stayed above water, but didn’t play good enough to advance to the second round.
Grading the players
- Nene: Despite being ridiculed by Nuggets fans, Nene had quietly put up career highs all along the board. He played all 82 games and led all Centers in steals (115). Nene was third in the league in field goal percentage (.587), but he was frustrating with his lack of aggression. His aggression has its advantages, as he averaged 2.5 assists a contest. However, his rebounding was by far the most frustrating part as he averaged only 7.8 rebounds a game. He only grabbed double-digit rebounds in 28 games and had double-doubles in 13 contests. He only broke 20 points 12 times this season, including a 24-point, 15 rebound performance he had in a loss against Philadelphia. He could potential be traded, but more than likely he will be back next year with hopefully a more complete arsenal. GRADE: B-
- Kenyon Martin: K-Mart was the Nuggets most important and best player this season. However, injuries hampered him once again and he missed 24 games. Martin, who historically was a weak rebounder, had arguably the best rebounding season of his career (9.6 rebounds). His defense was huge for the team when he played, as he trapped and shutdown some of the opposing teams players. However, Martin’s offense is still inconsistent. He averaged 14.9 points in December on .51 percent shooting. But in September and October K-Mart barely broke 11 points and shot under .45 percent. He played his best game in San Antonio, scoring 27 points, 11 rebounds and also dished out four assists to guide the Nuggets to a huge road victory. But he seems to be the only one that thinks he should shoot jump shots that make the fans cringe. He is in the final season of his massive contract and an expiring $16.5 million should attract some interest from other teams. But more than likely this vocal leader will be back. GRADE: (A if healthy) B+
- Carmelo Anthony: Melo was nearly unstoppable to start the season, shooting nearly .50 percent in November and averaged over 30 points a contest. But injuries set in halfway through the season and Anthony missed five and than eight games, which hurt his MVP bid. He slowly wore down during the final stretch of the season and Melo faded due to him playing nearly 40 minutes a contest. He did average 30.7 points and grabbed 8.5 rebounds a game in the playoffs, but in the four losses he averaged five turnovers. The Jazz also attacked Anthony on defense, which again seems to be an area where he needs to improve. GRADE: B+
- Arron Afflalo: AAA was a pleasant surprise for the Nuggets. He not only filled in the defensive stopper that the Nuggets lost when Dahntay Jones left, but he also proved he wasn’t an offensive liability with his shots from behind the arc. Afflalo shot .434 percent from distance and in wins he shot nearly .50 percent from behind the arc and during losses he shot .318 in three-point shots. He also proved to have an amazing work ethic and at 24-year-old he should have a great career. GRADE: B+
- Chauncey Billups: Mr. Big Shot put up career high in points (19.5 per a game), but he also had an insane amount of turnovers and was very reckless down the stretch without Karl on the bench. He seemed to develop a shoot first and pass second mentality during the end of the season and while it worked in some games – in others it hurt more than it helped. He is on verge of being 34-years-old and his age is wearing on him and it didn’t help that Dantley played him 34 to 35 minutes during the final few games of the season. Hopefully next year he will be more aware of his inabilities and trust his teammates more and at the same time rest more with the improvement of Lawson. GRADE: B-
- Chris Andersen: The Birdman was just short of being atrocious and it could have been for many reasons. He wasn’t motivated because he was getting his paycheck, he wasn’t as healthy as last season, he let the fame get to his head or maybe there was a scouting report on him. It seems to be all three of them, he was playing hurt and teams were aware that he falls for pump fakes and doesn’t box out. It doesn’t hurt that he was making $3 million more. With all of his limitations, it is obvious he should not be the top big man off the bench. GRADE: C
- Joey Graham: Graham was signed on to step in and replace Linas Kleiza, but his inconsistency on both sides of the floor made his minutes cut. Graham struggled to hit a consistent jump shot and occasionally got lost on defense. He did show he could matchup well with smaller power forwards, but against longer post players he struggled. Same could be said when he guarded quicker small forwards, who were too quick for him. GRADE: C+
- JR Smith: Smith is the definition of a Wild Card, he played great one game and bad the next. He is arguably the most talented player ever to play the game, but hasn’t proven to have anything close to the mentality of a LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan. And after seven years in the NBA, Smith still acts immature and hasn’t lived up to potential that everybody keeps offering him. He also is tough to coach, because he refuses to listen to George Karl and showed no respect for Adrian Dantley when AD took over the squad. While he is 24, his potential label is slowly running out. This season alone, he sulked on the sidelines in two games (one that the Nuggets won) due playing time. He also called out his teammates on Twitter and called them ‘selfish’, not to mention he upset Martin by putting buttery popcorn in the white interior of his car as an April Fools joke. Smith’s problems run deeper than that, he was involved in the Knicks/Nuggets brawl in 2006 and he also killed one of his really good friend’s when he ran a stop sign. Considering his troublesome pass and that he has been in the NBA for seven games, he isn’t going to change his ways and it has proven costly to the team. If there is a core player to leave it will be him. GRADE: C-
- Ty Lawson: Lawson literally jumped into the season and into the heart of Nuggets fans. He began with a 17-point outburst in the season opener and than dunked in the Nuggets victory over the Lakers. He did deal with injuries after running into Andrew Bynum and missed 17 games. Lawson also stepped in well in replace of Billups, averaging 17 points and 5.6 assists. He also shot over 50 percent while he started. Over the course of the season, Lawson shot .51 percent from the field, .41 percent from behind the arc and averaged almost 2.4 assist per turnover. With this 22 years old leading the way, the future is bright for the Nuggets. GRADE: B+
- Johan Petro: Big Frenchy seems to becoming a fan favorite and this 7-footers length really helped the Nuggets, when he played. He started 16 of the 31 games he played and averaged 4.6 points and 5.5 rebounds a contest. It is unlikely this 24-year-old is coming back, because he wants playing time and this league loves to overpay for 7-footers. GRADE: B-
- Malik Allen: Allen was brought to this team as a veteran player, and also somebody that could defend and hit outside jumper. His leadership, but his defense and shooting was questionable. Many times when called upon Allen wasn’t ready to play and he got burned on defense and was forced to foul. Doubtful this 32-year-old is coming back. GRADE: D
- Renaldo Balkman: Kool was a fan favorite coming into the season and also a favorite of the front office, who game Balkman a three year extension. However, not everybody likes Kool. Karl hasn’t been a fan of Balkman ever since he was traded from the Knicks, due to Balkman’s non-caring attitude and poor work ethic. Kool barely even played this season, partly due to his work ethic and partly because of his nagging back injury. GRADE: D
- Anthony Carter: AC went from being the Nuggets starting guard two years ago, to losing his backup duties this season. However, nobody can deny that Carter thrived as the Nuggets third point guard. He was ready to play when called upon and when both Lawson and Billups were hurt AC provided a spark with his energy. There is no secret that Carter wants more playing time (28 DNPs), but this 35-year-old is more valuable as a third point guard. GRADE: B-
The Nuggets core had a solid season (outside of Smith), but when injuries mounted (Birdman, K-Mart, Anthony and Billups) Denver had to start depending on a group of players that shouldn’t be playing on a playoff roster and shouldn’t be getting consistent playing time. Something that hopefully the Nuggets higher ups will try and improve.
Up Next: Who leaves and who stays.