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How Do The Nuggets Do It?

January 23, 2012
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The Denver Nuggets have won 12 of their first 17 games this season and don’t have one All-Star on their roster (yet). Last season they replaced one “superstar” (Carmelo Anthony) with four very good players (Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, and Timofey Mozgov). They played better following that trade and were two-deep at every position. This year they’ve lost some of that talent and are somehow playing even better. They swapped unhappy reserve guard Felton for the older Andre Miller (who’s now also disgruntled about not starting). They then lost Chandler, J.R. Smith, and Kenyon Martin to an entire country (China), only to replace them with the Dallas rejects Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer (can you say addition by subtraction?). Drafting rugged rebounder Kenneth Faried may have been the one upgrade here, but it’s too early to tell. Either way, on paper, this team should be worse…but they’re not. How are they doing it?

The Nuggets have one of the better backcourts in the NBA today, one that casual NBA fans don’t hear enough about. Point guard Ty Lawson is as quick as they come in this league and has NCAA championship pedigree. He’s averaging 16pts, 6 assts and is the team’s undisputed leader. Arron Afflalo has steadily turned himself into one of the better shooting guards as well. He was always a great defender but now has become a reliable shooter and capable go-to guy at the ends of games.

Denver also has a great 6th man. No I’m not talking about the altitude, I’m talking about ALtitude…as in Al Harrington. Their bench overall isn’t as good as last season’s (The Birdman’s tat-to-rebound ratio this season is an embarrassing 4:1), but Harrington guy has more than made up for it. If it wasn’t for the start that James Harden has had in OKC (has he missed a shot yet?) ‘Big Al’ would be the favorite for Sixth Man of the Year. He’s 3rd on the team in scoring with 15.5/gm and has had some huge 4th quarters (see games in Los Angeles and New York).

The team also has a real center on the roster now…Timofey Mozgov. He doesn’t stand out in the boxscore but his presence allows Nene to play the PF, something he’s more suitable for. No one has ever confused the Brazilian with a shot-blocker, or even a shot contestor (is that a real word?). The artist formerly known as Hilario can just concentrate on offense and not have to bear as much pressure following the big deal he signed in December. The Atlanta Hawks should take notes and do the same with “center” Al Horford…but that’s for another blog.

Another key for this group of Nugs is balanced scoring. Danillo Gallinari leads the team in scoring with over 17 per game, but is followed by five more guys that average in double figures. They play a team game on both ends, like a college team. If you squinted at your League Pass you’d probably confuse their powder blue for UNC. Heck, even Harrington has learned to play a more team game in Denver (see his New York Knicks tenure). They lead the league in scoring, assists, point in the paint and fastbreak points…..enough said.

And last but definitely not least, this team has great coaching. Most of the above factors are a result of good decisions by head coach George Karl. Nene at PF, Lawson’s development, balanced scoring…Karl has had a hand in all of it. He’s been adamant in saying ‘we don’t need a superstar’ (checkout The Association on NBATV for more details)…to the point where he’s annoyed when you ask him about the lack of one. Despite reaching the NBA Finals in 1996 with Seattle and numerous runs with the Milwaukee Bucks ten years ago, George finally has a team that suits his personality as a coach. Keep the ball moving and play for each other. Good teams take the personality and DNA of their head coach. When I watch this team, I see twelve young George Karl’s flying up and down the court (minus the short shorts).

How far can the Nuggets go in 2012?? Beats me, I picked Orlando to be in the lottery this summer…..Conventional wisdom says that Denver can’t make it past the 1st round without a true “star”. But then again, there are some teams with ample star power that can’t seem to get out of their own way and stay above .500.

New Yorkers know what I mean.

 

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One Response to How Do The Nuggets Do It?

  1. Emanuel Helsel on February 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    this is my favorite team in the league. i don’t miss an episode on NBATV.

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