We have finally come to the top spot, the pinnacle, the Numero Uno, the Greatest Denver Nugget of all time……Drum Roll Please!!!! My pick for the greatest Denver Nugget of all time is South Carolina Native, smooth shooting, all time leading scorer for the franchise, the ONE and ONLY…..Alex English!
Alex English began his NBA career after graduating from South Carolina University with the Milwaukee Bucks after being drafted in the second round (23rd overall pick) in the 1976 NBA Entry Draft. He spent 3 fairly non-descript seasons with the Bucks before signing with the Indiana Pacers prior to the 1978 season. He was traded to the Nuggets in February of 1980 in a trade that was extremely one sided in the Nuggets favor. The Nuggets traded an aging and ineffective George McGinnis to the Pacers for English and that is when his legend was born. He made an immediate impact with the Nuggets right after the trade as he played 24 games for Denver in 1980 and with his increased playing time he average a respectable 21.3 points per game in that part of the season. His career would take off the following year after becoming a starter for the Nuggets and averaged 23.8 points, 8 rebounds and 3.6 assists in the 1980-1981 season. He would then go on a run of 8 straight seasons where he averaged more than 25 points per game and ended the 1980’s with the most points scored by any player of that decade.
English was such a prolific scorer that he was in the top 10 in scoring average for every season of the 1980’s except for 1980-1981. He won the scoring title in 1983 averaging 28.4 points per game and had his high water mark for scoring in 1985-1986 averaging a career high 29.8 points per game. English was a terrific offensive rebounder as well as he led the Nuggets in offensive rebounds for much of the 1980’s as well. As you will see by the list of all time top ten records in Nuggets history, this guy could do it all. He never averaged less than 3.6 assists a game in his career even though he was a forward and did not have the ball in his hands as much as the point guards did. He averaged a career best 9.4 rebounds per game during the 1979-1980 season with the Nuggets and averaged over 7 rebounds a game in 5 seasons.
English was one of the most durable players of the time as he never played less than 77 games in any season while with the Nuggets. He played all 82 games 5 times and never seemed to be injured even though he played almost 36 minutes per game during his career with the Nuggets. From 1981-1989 English never averaged less than 25 points a game and had 6 seasons during that span where he averaged more than 26 points a game. Take a look at the list of top tens that English shows up on in the Nuggets all time record book. This is just ludicrous how his longevity and talent translated into him being the greatest Nugget of all time!
English shows up in the following statistical categories in Nuggets history:
1st in games played with 837
1st in minutes played with 29,893
1st in field goals made with 8,953
1st in field goals attempted with 17,604
2nd in free throws made (behind only Dan Issel) with 3,721
3rd in free throws attempted with 4,428
1st in offensive rebounds with 2,038
7th in defensive rebounds with 2,648
4th in total rebounds with 4,686
1st in assists (and this guy was a forward) with 3,679
3rd in steals with 854
tied for 5th in blocked shots with 624 (with Chris “Birdman” Anderson)
1st in turnovers with 2,263 (O.K. so he has one blemish on his stat line….)
tied for 1st in personal fouls with 2,288 (Tied with Dan Issel)
1st all time in points scored with 21,645 (He is 18th all time in points scored in NBA history with 25,613)
6th in minutes per game with 35.7
1st in points per game with 25.9
9th in field goal percentage at .509
tied for 9th in free throw percentage at .840
Whew! My fingers got sore typing out all of those accomplishments!
English was part of 9 playoff teams with the Nuggets. They made the playoffs every season from 1981-1990 while English was with the team. He was a prolific playoff scorer as well owning the all time scoring record for the Nuggets by averaging 26.1 points per game in 59 playoff games in a Nuggets uniform. He also averaged 5.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, shot 50% from the field and 87% from the free throw line in his playoff career.
The images I have of Alex English in a Nuggets uniform are many and varied. The first thing I remember is his patented “Running One Hander”. This was the jump shot English perfected while in Denver. He would dribble towards the middle of the lane and pull up while still moving and hold the ball way over his head and…..Flick!… launch the ball towards the basket without ever coming to a stop. This was also a reason he was such a good offensive rebounder because he would be going towards the basket and still moving his feet while the shot was released and be in great position for put backs on the rare occasion that he missed the shot. I also remember the precision with which he shot free throws. When English was at the line, they might as well have put 2 points on the board because he was that good of a free throw shooter. English wasn’t as athletic as some of his contemporaries but what he lacked in raw athletic ability, he made up for in guile and deception. English was listed at 6′ 9″ but anyone who was around the league at the time knows that English barely hit 6′ 7″ and was almost always playing against taller defenders. This never seemed to slow him down as he never had trouble getting the running one hander off over any defender.
After retiring from the NBA in 1991 he left the NBA completely for several years before surfacing as the Director of Player Development and Assistant Coach with the Toronto Raptors from 2004-2011. He was also an Assistant Coach for the Sacramento Kings from 2012-2013. The Nuggets retired his #2 Jersey in 1992 and he was elected the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997.
English also dabbled in acting while he was still in the NBA starring as “Amazing Grace Smith” a fictitious Boston Celtics legend who befriends a young boy named Chuck who has quit playing Little League Baseball to protest Nuclear weapons. The Celtics star decides to quit the NBA to help the boy in his endeavor in the 1987 film “Amazing Grace and Chuck”. He also had minor roles in a couple of TV Series and was in the movie “The Premiere” in 1997.
I feel fortunate to have seen Alex English play in person on hundreds of occasions and see him on TV on hundreds more. He was one of the smoothest and most graceful players I ever saw play an NBA game. He was unassuming and gentle as a person as well and that made him a silent assassin on the basketball court.
English’s stats and the other reasons I noted above are why I have made my pick for the greatest Denver Nuggets of all time…… Alexander English!
I would like to conclude this post by saying that I have had a great time writing the stories for my top 20 Nuggets of all time. Being a fan since 1975, I have seen each and every one of the 20 play for the Nuggets in person and on TV and found the research extremely enjoyable to get to my finished product! For those of you who have been following my top 20, thanks and I hope you enjoyed the series. Some of the photos I found for many of these players weren’t up to today’s quality standards and were a little grainy but I wanted authenticity in the stories so I left them as is for publishing. I also know that some of my picks could be argued with, even my choice for #1, but that’s one thing that makes sports so awesome. There is really no definitive answer to who is the greatest, just each person’s opinion. These have been my opinion and I think I hit the mark on most of them.
I will be listing the entire top 20 in my next post and will be doing the top 3 coaches in Nuggets history in the coming days. So stay with @Nugg_Love for these posts and all the other Nuggets news and notes now and through the entire 2014-2015 season. Training Camp is only a couple months away!
Thanks to NuggLove and the Fansided Network for giving me this opportunity! And as always…….Go Nuggs!