With the Conference Finals now upon us, there has been one big thing about each of the four teams remaining, and each of the 16 playoff teams as a matter of fact. Each has at least one go-to guy, some have more, but every last one of them has at least one. Even the eighth and seventh seeded teams from each conference had at least one of these guys. The guy everyone in the building knows is going to come up large in the clutch and indeed does so more often than not.
But, if you look at the Denver Nuggets roster, you can’t really put your finger on that big time player. There are guys who have stepped up, but can you count on them? Let’s line ‘em up, shall we?
Ty Lawson – The Nuggets’ best player this season was without any doubt Ty Lawson, but was he born with the much fabled clutch gene? Well, there was the huge game-winning shot against OKC last season, but that shot will probably be remembered more for his shimmy after the shot than the shot itself. With that, though, that’s kind of the end of his clutch list. Everybody remembers sitting helplessly by as former coach George Karl tried to push Ty into the closer role that just didn’t suit him. After one of Karl’s play calls for Ty and the seemingly inevitable disaster that resulted, we fans were all left asking why over and over again. So, was Lawson lucky enough for that elusive clutch gene? Doesn’t seem so.
Randy Foye – In just one season with the Denver Nuggets, Randy Foye already has one spectacular buzzer-beater against the Clippers. After a rough start, Foye found his groove in the Mile High City and finished the season as one of coach Brian Shaw’s most trusted players. Foye had the second most three-pointers made in Nuggets’ history, and as that shot against the Clips showed, he will take them in the clutch. But, much like his backcourt mate Lawson, this is one of just a very few clutch highlights for Foye, so that counts against him here.
Kenneth Faried – The Manimal, fan favorite, high flyer, high-motor, some quick and easy (and accurate) descriptions of the Denver Nuggets’ burgeoning All-Star Kenneth Faried. Normally, Faried would be nowhere near this conversation as big men rarely are, but Faried consistently got plenty of run in crunch time when he bought in to Shaw’s coaching and became a trusted asset after the All-Star break. This trust was crystalized when Faried was given the ball late against the Golden State Warriors. Magic ensued. The Manimal hasn’t been given many opportunities like this in his career, but if he plays next season like he did in the second half of this year, that will surely change.
Danilo Gallinari – Two years ago, Danilo Gallinari was Denver’s most clutch player hands down, no question. Game winning shot after game winning shot fell for the Italian forward. The only thing that prevented him from having more was George Karl’s Ty Lawson-related stubbornness. There are a couple knocks against Gallinari for this role, however, and one is quite large. He missed this entire season after his knee exploded near the end of last season, so now we’ll have to see if he remains assertive in a new offense and if he’s even close to the player he was two seasons ago. The other, much smaller knock against Gallo is his lack of dominance. He might be able to make those clutch shots, but he won’t dominate the last five minutes of a game the way the go-to guys who led their teams to the playoffs can.
So, do the Denver Nuggets have that big time player who dominates the clutch with his over developed clutch gene? No. Not yet, anyway. With the continued development of Faried, the return of Gallinari, the growth of Lawson and a promising draft pick all coming down the pike this upcoming season, the verdict may very well change. Here’s hoping.