There is currently a lot of negative opinions about the Denver Nuggets and how successful they will be this season when/if the lockout is lifted. And it is pretty apparent why.
Last season, they traded Carmelo Anthony – who many considered as the best player in Nuggets history. They have to replace three players who played important roles for the team. Wilson Chandler, JR Smith and Kenyon Martin have each signed to play in China and won’t be able to play in the NBA until April at the earliest. Even when they return there is no guarantee they will play for the Nuggets. And lets not forget that the return of Nene, who was arguably the Nuggets most valuable player down the stretch last season, is in question after he declined a contract extension this summer.
But despite all of this, there is still reason to be excited about the Nuggets when/if the season begins.
The Nuggets started last season as one of the oldest teams in the NBA, but they ended it as one of the youngest and more exciting teams in the NBA. Currently there are only three players on the roster that are 30 years of age or older (Chris Andersen, Al Harrington and Andre Miller) and five that are 25 or younger – including Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson, who are considered the Nuggets two best players. Gallinari is only 23 and is developing into the Nuggets go-to player, while Lawson is turning 24 in November and averaged more than 14 points and six assists as a starter. He also became the only player in NBA history to make his first 10 3-pointers to start a game. Arron Afflalo (who is a restricted free agent) may end up being the elder statesman in the starting lineup. He just turned 26 in October.
For nearly a decade it seemed like the Nuggets were one of the most undersized teams in the NBA. In fact since the 2000-01 season the Nuggets have only had nine players that were 7-foot or taller on the roster. And that list included Johan Petro, Cheikh Samb, Steven Hunter, Francisco Elson, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Mark Blount, Garth Joseph, Dan MaClintock and Kevin Willis. None of which were a valuable asset for the Nuggets squad.
However, this season the Nuggets have two young 7-footers that proven they can play in the NBA. Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos have each made an impact in games. Mozgov, who is listed at 7′ 1 and 250 pounds, is projected to be the Nuggets starting center and his best game last season came before the Nuggets acquired him. He drew the start for the New York Knicks and went for 23 points and 14 rebounds against the Detroit Pistons.
Koufos (7-0, 265) was considered by many as a throw-in in the Anthony trade. However, he proved late last season that he could be a force in the paint. He averaged 14.3 points during the final three games of the regular season, and the most impressive part is he only averaged 21 minutes a game and made 18 of 25 shots during that time.
For the past seven years the Nuggets salary cap has been maxed out. In 2007, the Nuggets had over $65 million invested in five players (Allen Iverson, Martin, Anthony, Marcus Camby and Nene). But that is all over now. Currently, with seven players under contract the Nuggets have the lowest payroll in the NBA. Of course, that doesn’t include the salaries of the Nuggets two rookies (Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton) nor the money the Nuggets need to invest in keeping Arron Afflalo, Nene and Gary Forbes. But when all is said and done, Denver will still have enough money left to land a player like Jamal Crawford, Rodney Stuckey, Jason Richardson or Nick Young.
It’s not often when the Nuggets look to the draft for help, but when they do it usually turns into something special (at least lately it has). Two seasons ago the Nuggets traded into the draft to get Lawson with the 18th pick, while this year they were lucky enough to snag Faried with the 22nd pick and then trade for the rights of Hamilton (who was drafted by the Mavericks with the 26th pick).
Both are more polished than most in the draft. Faried brings passion, athleticism and could develop into a defensive-stopper in the NBA. Hamilton on the other side will have a bigger impact on the offensive side of the ball. He has great size and can play at both the small forward and shooting guard. He has been compared to Stephen Jackson and could develop into a bench-spark like what Smith was for the Nuggets.
Love him, hate him, but Karl is the key to the Nuggets being a competitive team. With him at the helms, the Nuggets can compete. Without him, they are lottery-bound. He guided the Nuggets to a 17-7 record after the Anthony trade and has led the Nuggets to seven consecutive playoff appearances.
One reason why the squad was successful after the trade was because they bought into Karl’s ideas. There was no go-to scorer and each player knew their roles. But it did come back to haunt them in the playoffs, where Denver didn’t have a closer. If the team is going to return to the playoffs and be competitive Karl needs to be on the sidelines – and be just a little more flexible.
Tags: Al Harrington Allen Iverson Andre Miller Arron Afflalo Birdman Carmelo Anthony Cheikh Samb Chris Andersen Dan MaClintock Danilo Gallinari Denver Nuggets Detroit Pistons Francisco Elson Garth Joseph Gary Forbes George Karl J.R. Smith Jamal Crawford Jason Richardson Johan Petro Jordan Hamilton JR Smith Kenneth Faried Kenyon Martin Kevin Willis Kosta Koufos Marcus Camby Mark Blount Melo Nene New York Knicks Nick Young Nikoloz Tskitishvili Rodney Stuckey Stephen Jackson Steven Hunter Timofey Mozgov Ty Lawson Wilson Chandler