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Many analysis’s saw the biggest reason for the Denver Nuggets early exit from the NBA playoffs was due to the lack of stardom on the team.
While the team obviously lacked a player that they felt comfortable giving the ball to down the stretch of the game but it wasn’t due to lack of stardom – more like lack of experience.
This wasn’t last year’s team that featured Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, this year’s team was a bunch of newbies to the postseason party.
Sure Kenyon Martin, Nene and Al Harrington have a combined 174 playoff games, but the rest of the Nuggets squad have combined to play in just 139 playoff games. It also was Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari’s first playoff action and Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton’s second season in the postseason. All four played valuable minutes for the Nuggets in their first round exit.
And with uncertainties with some of the veterans on the team the Nuggets could be much less experienced next season:
- Martin is a free agent and wants to play for a winner
- Harrington has a big contract that the Nuggets would gladly trade
- JR Smith may choose to play elsewhere due to his relationship with George Karl
- Nene may opt out of his contract if an extension isn’t worked out with the Nuggets
- Felton has said he would to be a starter and it is easy to see this is Lawson’s team
If all five players do decide to play elsewhere the Nuggets would lose 218 games of playoff experience.
But on the bright side the Nuggets still have two very young players with high ceiling: Gallinari, 22, and Lawson, 23, under contract. The duo still have a lot of potential and will be keys to the Nuggets future. Add in Arron Afflalo and the Nuggets have a talented nucleus to start with:
- Gallinari, who was hobbled for part of his time in a Nuggets uniform, wasn’t able to play up to par during his time in Denver. But if you want to see his potential go back to his second game in a Nuggets uniform.
On the road against the Portland Trailblazers, despite struggling from beyond the arc (making only 1 of 5 treys), Gallinari started attacking the basket and finished with 30 points and nine rebounds. He hit 7 of 14 shots and made 15 of 17 from the charity stripe, but he did miss a key free throw down the stretch which allowed the Blazers to come back and tie the game. Gallo also missed a 3-pointer in overtime as the Nuggets lost by one point. Gallinari would end up missing the next eight games due to a broken big toe that he broke late in the Portland contest.
Gallinari would once again show his potential in Game 4 of the NBA playoffs where he went toe-to-toe against the League’s top scorer Kevin Durant. Gallinari was key in the Nuggets victory by scoring 16 of his 18 points in the second half.
Gallo may never be as good as Dirk Nowitzki, but who is. But if he continues to grow he could be a more complete version of fellow Italian Andrea Bargnani.
- Lawson has gone from the Nuggets backup point guard to arguably the team’s best player in a little over a year. Everybody knew what he was capable of doing, but they weren’t able to see it until the Nuggets shipped Chauncey Billups to New York along with Carmelo Anthony.
After the trade, Lawson didn’t disappoint as he thrived in the starting role. Averaging 16.3 points and 7.6 assists in the month of March and doing it all while shooting .53 percent from the field, .40 percent from behind the arc and .884 from the charity stripe.
The only knock against Lawson was his lack of aggression which frustrated Karl at times and found Lawson on the bench late in favor of Felton. However, Lawson proved once again to be the Nuggets best player down the stretch of the season.
He scored a career-high against Minnesota by scoring 37 points and was the first player in NBA history to make each of his first 10 3-point attempts to start a game, according to Elias.
Lawson was once again valuable in the playoffs, topping 20 points in Game 2 and Game 4. In Game 4, he led the Nuggets with 27 points to get the victory.
One player that Lawson could mirror in development is Boston Celtics’ point guard Rajon Rondo. Much like Lawson, Rondo was drafted late and took over as the Celtics starting point guard in his second season. Lawson is much smaller than Rondo and probably won’t match him defensively, but he does have a better jump shot and is much quicker.
- Afflalo is a rare breed. He (like Lawson) is one of the few rare players in the NBA that shot .50, 40 and .80, which are rare numbers in the League – but especially at shooting guard and as a starter. Afflalo has steadily grown from a bench guy in Detroit to a leader in Denver. His growth was shown against Dallas in February when Afflalo made the game-winning basket after Anthony fouled out.
While his ceiling is not as high as Lawson’s or Gallinari’s, he is one of the more consistent and hard-working players in the NBA. Not to mention he is a valuable glue guy, much like Memphis’s Shane Battier. While Afflalo is a more offensive player, his leadership and work ethic will be important for the Nuggets for years to come.
Topics: Al Harrington, Andrea Bargnani, Arron Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Chris Andersen, Dallas Mavericks, Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets, Dirk Nowitzki, George Karl, J.R. Smith, JR Smith, Kenyon Martin, Melo, Minnesota Timberwolves, Nene, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trailblazers, Rajon Rondo, Raymond Felton, Shane Battier, Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler