Like the Grizzlies, the Nuggets could hardly improve their roster. They both have solid players everywhere and a good bench. The problem is the West—too many very good teams and a couple of great teams. The Nuggets are not great—just damn good, hungry and quite capable of nabbing the 4th playoff spot—or even the 3rd spot– that ensures home-court advantage. Then anything can happen.
The perception is that the Nugs don’t have a superstar and that’s their problem. But they had Carmelo and it didn’t work. And it didn’t work for the Knicks either. Conclusion: Carmelo is not a superstar? Hard to say. The point is that you probably do need a great player to win it all but you also need an outstanding supporting cast. The Knicks don’t have one and the Nuggets didn’t have one either.
Now, while the Knicks are suffering through their Superstar Syndrome (with Anthony and Stoudemire), the Nuggets are enjoying success as a non-superstar team, and one to reckon with.
Their strength starts at the point. Ty Lawson is still a blur, constantly pushing the ball and making things happen. Andre Miller backs him up and I can’t think of a better PG 1-2 punch in the league. They recently signed Anthony Carter, who had gone to New York in the Carmelo deal. Then there’s Julyan Stone, an intriguing 6’7” point guard from UTEP who went undrafted. They’ll probably keep three PGs and use Miller at off guard at times.
The starting off guard is now Andre Iguodala, with versatile veteran Corey Brewer backing him up, along with Miller. Iguodala is a slasher acquired from the Sixers for Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington. I didn’t get the deal at first, and I’m still not sure about it. Afflalo was an emerging talent and Harrington a versatile bench player. In fact, Afflalo averaged a couple of points more than Iggy did last year, and so did Harrington. And Iguodala’s contract is twice as much as the other two guys combined. I’m guessing that GM Masai Ujiri thinks Iggy, unleashed, will provide more offense on the starting five. Though not a prolific scorer, Iguodala is a consistent one, averaging 15 ppg lifetime, but only 12.4 last year despite playing a hefty 35.6 minutes a game. The Sixers had a lot of shooters and Iggy took only 10 shots a game. He’ll be taking more shots with the Nuggets. An all-around guy, Iguodala last year also averaged 5.8 rebounds a game, 5 assists, and is an outstanding defender. Though he isn’t known as a 3-point shooter, he hit a career high 39% last year. I would think the Nugs would want him to hoist 3s more frequently. Iguodala looms large for the Nugs because they want him to join SF Danilo Gallinari as the team’s primary scorers. The Nugs ain’t the Sixers. The Nugs have few shooters. Those two must be productive all season. If they are, watch out.
C JaVale McGee played with the Wizards for the first two-thirds of last season. When he got dealt to the Nuggets (in the 3-team deal that sent Nene to the Wiz), he came alive. Playing in meaningful games will do that to a player. He finished the regular season averaging 10.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots in a mere 20 minutes a game. Wow, when you think about it. But it was in the playoffs that McGee shocked the NBA world by tormenting the Lakers (until the Nugs finally went down), averaging 8.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and a whopping 3.1 blocks a game, playing 30 minutes. For the potential he showed in those last two months, McGee was rewarded with a 4-year, $44 million contract. The Nugs should encourage McGee to be a third scoring option, and not to be afraid of being the first scoring option. He’ll be backed up by Kosta Koufos.
Gallinari will have Jordan Hamilton, Wilson Chandler and rookie Quincy Miller, vying for minutes as a backup. That seems pretty solid.
Kenneth Faried is an undersized power forward who makes up for his lack of size (6’8”, 228 pounds, average size of a small forward) with a ferocity that comes of simply outworking the other guy. He averaged 10.2 points, 7.7 boards and one block in 22.5 minutes. Like many “high-energy” players, Faried doesn’t have a shot yet, usually scoring around the hoop, but Faried is not only a good rebounder for one who’s undersized, he is a rebounding fool, a dominating rebounder. And he’s a blur running the court. Hey, you saw him last April against the Lakers.
Behind Faried is Anthony Randolph, who has been seriously underused and is thus undervalued. The Nugs are his fourth team in four years after Golden State drafted him (#14) in ‘08. Randolph is even lighter than Faried. Both are athletic and Randolph, at 6’11” is known as a leaper. I‘ve got a hunch about Randolph this year. And then there’s Timofey Mozgov, a valuable 7’ PF who can also backup McGee. Except for the lack of shooters the frontcourt looks very strong.
And except for the lack of shooters the Nuggets lost to the Lakers. They need more points from the frontcourt–and the backcourt as well. I would think Ujiri also knows this and is on the phone as we speak trying to pry loose more firepower off the bench.