Thursday, November 02, 2006
Looking to Rebound (from a disastrous finish to last season) and Run (up and down the court)
Last season the Nuggets had about everything go wrong that could between injuries, internal strife and inconsistent play on the court. Despite these issues, the Nuggets still managed to win the Northwest division and Carmelo Anthony was able to take his game to another level. The season ended about as disastrous as it could with the Nuggets getting bounced again in 5 games by the Clippers and Forward Kenyon Martin getting into a dispute with Coach George Karl and subsequently getting suspended for the final 3 games of the series. The relationship between Karl and Martin appears to be at least amicable to start the 2006-2007 season. On top of that Martin appears to be healthy, something he has not been since being acquired from the Nets two summers ago. A healthy Martin is a must for this team to have a chance at getting another division title and advancing past the first round for the first time since 1994. Stud SF Carmelo Anthony redefined not only his image but his game over the summer playing with the USA National team and being named a team captain along with fellow draft classmates Dwayne Wade and Lebron James. In addition to being named captain, Melo led the bronze medal winning US team in scoring and steals. Coach George Karl could not be happier; since Karl arrival he's been harping on Carmelo to play better defense and become a team leader. Melo was able to do both with the national team, question is can he do the same with the franchise that gave him an 80 million dollar extension over the summer?
The Nuggets biggest off season need? A shooting guard. The Nuggets got a shooting guard on the cheap, acquiring 21 year old JR Smith from the Chicago Bulls for some gym socks, a ball rack and Howard Eisley. If Smith can live up to his potential he would be the other scoring threat the Nuggets desperately need. It's imperative that Smith plays smart and knows when to shoot and when to find a teammate. The biggest knock on Smith those far in his young career is that he's never seen a shot he did not like. That's a good and bad thing for a shooting guard. It's good that he's not afraid to take shots, but he needs to known when it's appropriate. The Nuggets front line is one of the best in the NBA, when healthy, with C Marcus Camby, F/C Nene, F Kenyon Martin, F Reggie Evans, F/C Joe Smith and F Eduardo Najera. This front court depth will be vital should the starters get injured for a sustained amount of time or need to make a trade down the road. Marcus Camby needs to play in at least 65 games for the Nuggets to be an elite Western Conference team. When Camby is on the court, the Nuggets have someone that can control the paint by blocking shots and grabbing rebounds. Camby led the league in blocks last year and was in the top ten in rebounding. Hopefully a healthy Kenyon Martin will return to the all-star player he was for the New Jersey Nets. The new up tempo offense that coach Karl wants to run is perfect for Martin's energetic and high flying style. Martin is best when he's running the court or getting easy looks around the basket. His energy is infectious, whether that's making a key block that leads to a fast break, or brooding on the sidelines. If Martin can show not only the Nuggets that he's healthy, but the rest of the league as well, there a decent chance he be shipped off if the JR Smith experience is lackluster. Nene, the beastly Brazilian, played in only one game last year, actually is was more like one quarter after tearing up his knee in the season opener. The Nuggets welcome the highly talented F/C back and he's said to be nearly 100% back physically from the knee injury. Nene was awarded a huge contract in the off season and it's time he proves that he's worth it. Frankly, the Nuggets took a huge gamble by signing Nene to that huge contract after major knee surgery and when his most productive season has been 11.8 ppg and 6.5 rpg. Nene make look like Tarzan but so far in his brief career he's played more like Jane. Carmelo should see the bulk of the minutes at the SF spot, being spelled by second year man Linas Kleiza. Kleiza played very well in preseason and should get 10-12 minutes a night. While his style is not flashy or all that exciting, Kleiza is the the type of lunch pail worker that Karl loves.
The Nuggets back court is led by iron man Andre Miller. Miller is a solid yet unspectacular PG. One of the biggest questions is if Miller can be the floor general for a team that has promised to run like the Fat Lever led Nuggets of the 80s did. Is it a good thing when your 5-5 back up point guard has never me t a shot he doesn't like? While the average fan seems to love Lil' Earl Boykins, the die hards are driven mad by his George Constanza like "chucker" tendencies. Some nights when Boykins is on he's a great spark for the team, but the all too frequent nights of pounding the ball into the hardwood only to launch an awful shot as the 24 second clock is winding down are hopefully over. Coach Karl has promised an uptempo pace and that he wants shot up with 8 seconds. Yes you read that right, 8 seconds. I think we'll see a lot less of Boykins hurling up awful shots the season. AS was mentioned above, the SG spot is being manned by JR Smith. The job is his to lose. DerMarr Johnson was re-signed a few weeks into training camp and will have to fight to wrestle minutes away from JR Smith and Kleiza. Karl likes undrafted rookie G/F Yakhouba Diawara as a defensive stopper of the oppositions 2s and 3s. He does not provide much of an offensive threat, but if he is playing tenacious defense he'll get his minutes.
Overall, the out look for the Nuggets is bright. A couple of key things to watch are:
1. The relationship of George Karl and Kenyon Martin. If these two can get along and Martin stays happy, it will be a great benefit to the Nuggets and eliminate an elephant sized distraction.
2. The health of the front line. The top three players in the C/PF rotation all battled injuries last season. AS mentioned above, the Health of Marcus Camby is vital to the success of this team. The Nuggets proved they can play with out Martin and Nene to a certain degree, but they are also integral to the Nuggets winning the division and moving on past the first round.
Enjoy the season folks, see you at the Can!