Is it too early to judge Nuggets success?

No doubt nobody thought the Denver Nuggets would be 7-2 after the Carmelo Anthony trade while the New York Knicks would have a marginal 6-5 record.

But Nuggets fans should hold off on jumping the gun and saying the Nuggets are better without Anthony. Denver has been one of the best franchises over the previous seven years with Anthony, and the Nuggets have played less than 10 with their new players.

And while Denver is still gelling together with its new squad, opposing teams are also still learning the Nuggets style. Teams are still discovering what the Nuggets strengths and weaknesses are, which player to key on and what works best against Denver’s high octane offense.

It is a similar situation to when George Karl first took over as the Nuggets coach in 2005, Denver caught fire and finished the regular season 32-8 and even beat top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first game of the playoff series before they ended up losing 4-1.

No doubt, at the top of opposing teams scouting report is second-year guard Ty Lawson. Lawson has by far been the most successful Nugget player since the trade, shooting 50 percent from the field, averaging 16.6 points, nine assists and having an impressive 5:1 assist to turnover ratio. He also has made life easy for the Nuggets bigs, Nene and Chris Andersen.

Unlike Chauncey Billups, Lawson is better in the pick-and-roll. Add that he is a great driver and an adequate shooter, Lawson is a terror for opposing teams. But teams may decide in the future that they’d do better if they made Lawson a jump shooter by going under the pick and guarding the drive.

In the Nuggets two losses, Lawson has shot less than 40 percent and he isn’t prone to shoot the ball if he isn’t feeling confident and instead would pass up an open shot.

Another player that has shined with the new style of offense has been Nene, who is also a very unselfish player. As of late Nene seems more driven and with his size and athleticism he is a force playing with Lawson. Nene played a lot of pick and roll during the Allen Iverson-era, and has been more successful with a more unselfish squad. Taking Lawson out of the equation would definitely force Nene to create his own shot, which he isn’t a fan of doing.

Denver has been successful playing Lawson and Raymond Felton together, but don’t be surprised if opposing teams turn to the zone defense when the two are on the floor together.

The NBA is a copycat league and as soon as a team finds a weakness to the Nuggets, other teams will follow suit. But with two of Denver’s top players, Danilo Gallinari and Arron Afflalo struggling with injuries it remains to be seen if teams will learn how to defend the Nuggets before the postseason – especially with only 16 games left.

And while the Nuggets will more than likely go through some growing pains with a young and upcoming squad, they have a unique core that are each having career seasons. Not to mention Lawson, Nene and Afflalo shoot incredibly high percentage from the field:

  • Nene has a career-best in points (15.2), rebounds (7.3), field goal percentage (.631) and free throw percentage (.75).  He also on average only attempts 8.9 shots a game.
  • Afflalo has career-high all across the board, but more impressive has been his shooting. He is shooting a career-best .501 (9.2 shots) from the field, a career-best .85 from the charity stripe and he also has a career-high percentage from behind the arc at .429.
  • In only his second seasons, Lawson has career highs (10.8) in points, rebounds (2.4), assists (4.3) and steals (1.0). He is also shooting .496 (8.1 shots), .74 from the charity stripe and .385 from behind the arc.

Add in the three new guys (Gallinari, Chandler and Felton) who were having career seasons in New York and the future remains bright for Nuggets.

However, Denver’s schedule down the stretch is not as bright. Nine of the Nuggets final 16 games are on the road and also nine of the games are against playoff teams. And how the Nuggets do during their four-game road trip this week will help paint a bigger picture for fans and opposing teams. Denver opens the trip today in New Orleans, at Atlanta on Wednesday, at Orlando on Friday and close it out Saturday at Miami. All are playoff teams and have a combined 90-41 home record.

Topics: Arron Afflalo, Atlanta Hawks, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Chris Andersen, Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets, George Karl, Miami Heat, Nene, New Orleans Hornets, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson

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