One of George Karl’s biggest worries going into this season was how the Denver Nuggets would replace Kenyon Martin’s toughness. And six games into the season it seems Martin’s toughness and defense has been replaced by an unlikely player.
Al Harrington hasn’t just given the Nuggets spark on offense, he has provided the team with leadership and tough defense. But before you can even talk about his defense you have to rave about his much-needed offensive spark. Two years ago, Harrington was known as a chucker on New York Knicks bewildering offense. He led New York in scoring in the 2008-09 season after averaging 20.7 points a game. He was second on the squad with 17.7 points the next season and he also scored 41 points in his lone visit to the Pepsi Center in 2008. Even though he could score the ball, he did it at an inconsistent pace.
This year, however, Harrington has been the polar opposite. He abandoned the chucker image from years past and has provided a better mix with his offensive game with a wide variety of jumpers from outside as well as impressive footwork in the paint. Six games into the season and Harrington is shooting over .50 percent from field and provided the Nuggets with a spark off the bench by averaging 15.7 points. Harrington scored 15 or more points in four games and had a season high 21 against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. Monday night, Harrington, who rarely plays above the glass, did his best Martin impression with two thunderous dunks that woke up the crowd in the fourth quarter and sparked the Nuggets to victory.
He also has been a force on the glass, he had a double-double (12 points and 11 rebounds) in Saturday’s loss against the Lakers. He grabbed eight boards in Monday night’s win over the Milwaukee Bucks to go along with 17 points.
While Harrington provided a spark on offense and has been much more active on the glass, but it is on defense where he made the biggest impact in the last two wins.
Harrington had the tough task of slowing down Pau Gasol on Sunday, but he limited Gasol to a mere four points in the fourth quarter – including keeping Gasol scoreless in the final eight minutes of the game.
The veteran forward once again came up huge on the defensive side of the ball on Monday. With the Nuggets facing a five-point deficit in the fourth quarter, Harrington was thrust in at center and had to defend Andrew Bogut. Bogut only scored two points the rest of the game and the Bucks could only muster 10 points, while Harrington, himself, closed out the game with eight points to help the Nuggets rally to a 91-86 victory.
Not what many expected when the Nuggets signed Harrington last season to stretch the defense for Carmelo Anthony.