Nuggets Ready to Take Next Step
With one bold move this offseason,the Denver Nuggets have clearly established that they are going all in for the 2012-2013 season.
Jumping in head first as one of the four teams involved in the Dwight Howard trade, the Nuggets acquired all-star swingman Andre Iguodala from the Philadelphia 76ers. In the swap, Denver was forced to ship young and promising guard Arron Afflalo along with veteran big man Al Harrington, but this team is anticipating an even better season this upcoming year.
“We didn’t want to make a trade unless we knew it was going to make us better,” Nuggets head coach George Karl told Scott Hastings on KKFN in Denver. “Iguodala was kind of rumored all last year and a little bit after the season, they have Evan Turner that they maybe want to give a little more opportunity to, they see Iguodala and Turner being a little bit repetitive and of course Iguodala has the bigger contract so I think [Nuggets GM] Masai (Ujiri) just did a great job of keeping a good pulse of what was going on. The negative of the trade is giving up Arron Afflalo and Al who were both very, very pivotal players on our basketball team last year and they’re good leaders on our team.
“Everybody is saying, what is the difference of the team going to be and I’m not afraid of the differences. I’m hoping we can get whoever, Ty Lawson or Iggy or someone, into that locker room and give us the positive leadership that Arron and Al gave us and maybe a little bit more.”
One of the more consistent teams in the Western Conference over the past decade, Denver has made the playoffs in each of the last nine seasons but Karl and the Nuggets are hoping for more in 2013.
“It’s our young guys gaining confidence and building trust,” Karl said. “We can’t worry about what the fans and sports writers think excellence is. … We are excited about this season and we think we can be a top four team in the West. If we get to a top four team in the West we should expect to try to win the first round and see what happens after that.”
Already possessing the highest scoring team in the NBA last season, it’s obvious that if the Nuggets truly want to contend, the team will have to shore up the NBA’s 29th ranked defense. Denver’s fast paced tempo dictates that they are going to allow some points, but the onus will be on making teams work harder to get buckets and making sure point differential is at a more reasonable number.
“I don’t think there’s any question that we have to balance our strengths out by becoming a better defensive team and I don’t think we will weaken up offensively but statistics for our defense lie because we give up more points because we play faster,” Karl said. “My question would be point differential. We were probably in the top 15 in point differential but I’d like to see us move into the top six or seven in point differential and that will be something that I think that’s going to tell us because the pace of our game is statistically going to cheat us a little bit because we’re going to give up more points.
“At times, we’re probably going to give up a few more but the things that we can do better defensively, we can defend the three ball better than we defended it, we can be better at pick and roll coverage and we need individual challenges,” Karl explained. “We need guys like Iguodala who can jump into a game and say, ‘Hey I got this one. Here’s a problem and I’m going to take him out. You worry about the other things.’”
One of the keys to Denver’s offensive efficiency is the sheer amount of talented players at Karl’s disposal to throw at teams throughout any given contest. The Nuggets are at least two-deep at every position on the floor and that type of depth allows Denver to wear other teams down over the course of a game.
Making sure the team’s rotations are crisp and effective for both the Nuggets and the individual player will be a key facet of Karl’s job responsibilities again next season. With an up-tempo attack that keeps opposing defenses on their heels all game long, keeping Nuggets’ players fresh is a key component of Denver’s run-and-gun style.
“I think you will see us rotate the game very positively to the second unit,” Karl said. “Now would we keep the second unit and not kind of bridge them together by meshing certain guys with other certain guys with different units? … I’ve never seen it be that successful in the NBA but I think the big thing for us is who is going to commit to playing fast. We talked about it and last year we did a good job at it but there’s no way I want to slow down.
“I want to try to prove the world wrong that you can run and win in the NBA and you can win big if you keep running.”
Going against the grain in terms of tempo is just one of the long standing NBA principles that Karl will be trying to deviate from next season. Lacking a clear-cut superstar, Denver will be trying to prove once again in a few months that a team chocked-full of quality players can both compete and win against teams that feature one or two (or three in the Los Angeles Lakers’ case) elite-level players. While not quite superstar caliber, an All Star talent like Iguodala can only help push forward Karl’s team-first philosophy.
Life won’t be easy next season for the Nuggets in an even more potent Western Conference, but the safe bet is that Karl and this talented bunch will right in the thick of things in 2013.