2011-2012 Denver Nuggets Season Preview
Last season the Denver Nuggets weathered the Carmelo Anthony trade media firestorm and still managed to win 50 games, good enough for fifth in the Western Conference. That team had many free agents and this year’s roster will look dramatically different. As a team the Nuggets are younger and more athletic, but are those traits enough to keep them in the playoff conversation?
HOOPSWORLD takes a look at the Nuggets and how their 2011-2012 season looks to shake out.
|Five Guys Think…|
Going into the abbreviated offseason, nobody had more cap room to spend than the Nuggets. Unfortunately, the best free agent on the market happened to be Nene, who they had been negotiating for months with unsuccessfully prior to the lockout. On top of that, three guys they would have strongly considered bringing back, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Wilson Chandler, signed contracts without opt outs in China. Barring any unforeseen kindness from the Chinese, they won’t be able to return to the league until March at the earliest. That leaves the Nuggets in a terrible position for this season. They’ll play a fast pace and rely on strong play at the point, but they’ll have a hard time controlling the paint on both ends.
5th Place, Northwest Division
- Yannis Koutroupis
The Denver Nuggets have been left for dead quite a few times over the past 12 months, and yet they persist in being the team that won’t go away. They were fantastic after the Carmelo Anthony trade and look to be even better this season. re-signing Nene was huge, and adding pieces like Andre Miller, Kenneth Faried, and Corey Brewer will make them even more exciting in 2011-12.
2nd place, Northwest Division
- Bill Ingram
It’s hard to gauge my feelings about the Denver Nuggets at this point in the preseason because they simply don’t have their roster all put together yet. Nene, happily, has opted to re-sign in Denver, but Arron Afflalo, who still is very highly-coveted by several teams, has yet to receive an offer sheet from anyone. Based on what Denver is bringing back—and that includes one of the best coaches in basketball, George Karl—we can most likely look forward to another year of scrappy, over-achieving basketball from a solid core of guys playing without a superstar. This is an organization that played way above its means last season, and the loss of Wilson Chandler, who may have been the team’s best shot at an All-Star had he re-upped in Colorado rather than heading for China, isn’t going to make repeating that success any easier.
3rd Place, Northwest Division
- Joel Brigham
The Denver Nuggets are in a state of flux. The team was the surprise of the league in 2011, successfully withstanding the trade of superstar Carmelo Anthony and ending the campaign as one of the league’s hottest teams. But here’s the bad news. Nene is an unrestricted free agent taking his time testing the market and seems willing to relocate, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and Wilson Chandler are playing in China without opt out clauses and backup point guard Raymond Felton was traded on draft night. Not to mention talented guard Arron Afflalo is a restricted free agent (Nuggets can match any offer). This season it would be wise for Nuggets fans to temper their expectations somewhat.
4th Place, Northwest Division
- Lang Greene
Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin are playing very well in the Chinese Basketball Association. That’s bad news for the Denver Nuggets, who were affected by the overseas exodus more than any other NBA team. Even though the Nuggets were very successful after trading away Carmelo Anthony last year, the team will enter this season with a very different roster. Not only will the team be without Chandler, Smith and Martin until at least March, Denver may also lose Nene and Arron Afflalo to free agency. The Nuggets may compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but it’s difficult to imagine another 50-win season for the team.
3rd Place, Northwest Division
- Alex Kennedy
|Top Of The List|
Top Offensive Player: Danilo Gallinari – Gallo’s numbers dropped a tiny bit after being traded from New York in the Melo deal, but he still is the most versatile scorer on the team. He can create his own shot both inside and out, hit the three-ball (38% for his career), and has the ability to find the open man when double-teamed. On this team he will become the focal point of the offense and be expected to make shots and good decisions.
Top Defensive Player: Arron Afflalo – Afflalo has a good reputation as a wing defender, but he’s only as good as the players around him. Generally the Nuggets are not a good defensive team, so even if Afflalo does his job the numbers may not back up the claim. He doesn’t get a lot of steals, but steals are overrated as a defensive statistic. The key is he knows team defense – now he just needs to teach his teammates.
Top Playmaker: Ty Lawson – The Nuggets are a roster of young, athletic players who want to run and the perfect point guard for that offense is Lawson. Andre Miller brings years of experience and is a very, very good point guard in his own right, but Lawson’s ability to push the ball up the floor is what sets him apart and will likely lead to him being named the team’s starter.
Top Clutch Player: Andre Miller – This is a new role for Miller, who in the past has been the player initiating the offense at the end of games. Now he’ll still be on the floor but it’s likely he’ll be looked to make a player rather than create one. With his ability to back down almost any guard in the post and hit jumpers in the mid-range from anywhere on the floor, don’t be surprised to see the Nuggets go to him more.
The Unheralded Player: Corey Brewer – Last season was a big disappointment for Brewer. After a breakout season in 2009-10 where he posted career-highs in just about every category while starting all 82 games, injuries, a trade, a buyout, and a new team gunning for a title with few minutes to spare all conspired against his success. Now on a team where he can define a new role for himself, expect Brewer’s production to return to the 2009-10 levels.
Best New Addition: Kenneth Faried – A first-round pick out of Morehead State Faried averaged 14.5 rebounds per game last year as a senior. He may only be 6-8, but expect to see him running with the first team when Coach George Karl goes small, keeping Gallinari and Faried as his forwards and running out three guards. His ability to rebound and convert in the paint will help this team all season long.
|Who We Like|
1 – Coach George Karl: Karl has 1,036 wins in his coaching career, 328 of those coming as coach of the Nuggets. His teams have won 50 or more games in each of the last four seasons and his press conferences are sometimes as entertaining as the offense his teams provide. There is never any doubt Karl has his teams ready to play.
2 – Arron Afflalo: The Nuggets need to keep him. As a restricted free agent the market around Afflalo has been quiet, but Denver needs him. Afflalo is the glue, a player who can give a defensive stop, create a shot, hit a three-pointer, and drive to the hoop. Without him there will be a big hole to fill at the two.
3 – Ty Lawson: One of the fastest players in the league baseline to baseline, very few can keep up with him in the open floor. After the trade of Chauncey Billups to the Knicks, Lawson took over the starting job (to the consternation of the newly arrived Raymond Felton) and led the Nuggets to an 18-7 record down the stretch into the playoffs, surprising many who had written them off sans Anthony.
4 – Nene: After a sometime contentious negotiation for a new contract, Denver’s center is now back in the mix for five more years. Last season Nene led the league in field-goal percentage at 61.5%, the second time in three years he topped 60%. He commands defensive attention in the post and is a big body on defense. His rebounding could be better, but paired with a good rebounding power forward the flaw can be masked.
5 – Danilo Gallinari: This is a key season for Gallinari. He has tantalized and teased with this talent the last couple years, but how he plays this year as the focal point of an offense is going to go a long way towards determining his NBA future. Next summer he will be a restricted free agent and a solid season – think 18 points and 8 rebounds – should give him a long-term deal.
The Denver Nuggets will run a team to death. Built with athletes, powered by Lawson and training in the Mile High city, most teams are going to be hard-pressed to keep up. By restocking their roster post-Melo with plenty of youth while keeping their big man in the middle fans will find them incredibly entertaining to watch. They are also gunners from deep; Afflalo, Lawson and Gallinari all shoot an excellent percentage from beyond the arc.
Even with Nene back in the mix those are the weakest parts of this team. Their other big men – Timofey Mozgov, Al Harrington, Chris Andersen and Kosta Koufos – are not considered exceptional at either of those things as well, so matching up with teams who run their offense through the post could prove extremely difficult. They were 11th in the NBA in rebounds per game last year, but their three top returning rebounders combined for only 17.9 a game last year. These Nuggets are going to score points, but they are going to give up a lot too if they can’t control the glass.
|The Coach’s Chair By Anthony Macri|
We definitely have a different team. However, with change comes some interesting new possibilities. Ty, your college coach once said that when he has a younger, less experienced or less talented team, he usually wants them to try to play even faster than they normally would. With this group, that is our edge. That is our best way to steal practice time from other teams: to make them use time to prepare for us. So, we want to get out and run. We want to be the fastest team from end to end, and to force teams into playing our pace. Additional pieces will be added to supplement what we already have here, but understand that we can ride the wave of pace-creation all the way to the postseason, and that point, all bets are off. Let’s have fun playing super-charged up-tempo basketball.
- Anthony Macri
|The Burning Question|
Are the Denver Nuggets rebuilding to simply re-tooling?
Trading a player who meant so much to a franchise as Carmelo Anthony did to the Nuggets leaves a hole, not just on the floor but also in a team’s identity. At least one of their many young players needs to make the leap from promising prospect to star management can build around in order to say this team has bounced back from the circus of the 2010-11 season. If someone does step up the Nuggets have a shot of staying in the playoff conversation, but it no one steps up they could easily find themselves in the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery.
How do you see the Nuggets this season, leave your comments below…