It is easy to look ahead three months to opening day and chalk in newly acquired Al Harrington as the Nuggets starting power forward. Especially with Kenyon Martin on the mend and possibly on the move, Harrington seems to be his likely replacement in the opening lineup.
Of course, you could have said the same thing with JR Smith at shooting guard the previous few years. But yet, Smith has been relegated to a more suitable role at sixth man as Coach George Karl went with more defensive players like Arron Afflalo last year and Dahntay Jones and Yakhouba Diawara before that to start the game. And don’t be surprised if Karl goes a similar route at power forward, choosing to go bigger and more defensive by slating big man Shelden Williams next to Nene in the lineup.
It makes more sense, especially with the high-scoring duo of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups on the floor, joined by Nene and Arron Afflalo, Denver’s starting lineup doesn’t have a problem scoring. Harrington’s scoring would be better utilized off the bench and Williams’s defensive prowess would be in dire need in the starting lineup.
The former Blue Devil is the closest thing the Nuggets have to replacing the injured Martin. The one big thing (no pun attended) Williams brings is his size. He plays big (6-foot-9, 258 pounds and 7’4 wingspan) and is more affective guarding centers and as a weak-side shot-blocker, which would help Nene – who is more comfortable guarding smaller players and struggles patrolling the paint. Williams is also a beast on the boards (career high in rebounding is 17 and he had 10 against the Bulls last season) and is a rugged defender who battles for each ball, something that the Nuggets have been lacking over the years.
Much like Jones (another former Duke player), Williams doesn’t bring a lot on offense which could limit his time on the floor. But he has shown the ability to hit a minor jump shot here and there and should give the Nuggets a good 20-25 minutes a game in a similar role as Jones did at shooting guard – at least until Martin is healthy or they find a replacement.
Explosive players like Amar’e Stoudemire and long players like Pau Gasol may give Shelden Williams fits, but they are also players that Nene plays better against. Williams is at his best against the Dwight Howards, Carlos Boozers and Andrew Bynums in the NBA.
If Williams doesn’t cut it, Renaldo Balkman could also start for the Nuggets. Balkman only played 12 games last season – partly due to injuries and partly due to being in a doghouse. But as Balkman showed the year before he can do an admirable job replacing Martin.
Adding Harrington to the second unit gives the Nuggets strength to an already very good bench and as the Suns proved last season and the Nuggets the year before that, you need a good bench to advance to the Western Conference Finals and beyond.
The Nuggets second unit was killed by consistency and injuries. Ty Lawson missed 18 games and Chris Andersen played most of the season hurt, JR Smith was his usual sporadic self and the Nuggets couldn’t always depend on Joey Graham or Johan Petro. But Harrington, who has been in the League for 13 years, is about as consistent bench scorer as they come and should be the leader the second unit lacks. He averaged 17.7 points last season and with him on the floor with Birdman, Lawson and Smith the coaching staff could rest the starters longer.
But also don’t be surprised if Harrington, Lawson and Smith play more down the stretch, with Harrington and Lawson joining Nene, Anthony and Billups to close out games.