Do you guys honestly expect me to write cohesively about that monstrosity? What a horrible display of basketball. The Denver Nuggets struggled to put away the San Antonio Spurs JV squad after Greg Popovich chose to hold Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili out of the game. Reportedly Manu has a hip contusion he suffered the night before in Oakland, but there was no apparent reason that Duncan and Parker sat out.
The Nuggets had some problems of their own as Kenyon Martin was home with tonsillitis and strep throat (Tonsillitis? Really Kenyon? I had my tonsils out when I was four. I freaking missed Halloween.) and Chauncey missed the second half after tweaking his right ankle in the second quarter.
The Nuggets appeared to take control of the game late in the first quarter as they turned an 18 to 12 deficit into a 29 to 21 lead in just over four minutes. They carried a double digit lead for most of the second and third quarters. The Spurs would not go away, or more accurately, the Nuggets would not give them a reason to go away as they kept sloughing off on defense.
I have not seen the Nuggets so confused on defense from start to finish of a game all season. Perhaps that had something to do with Denver not having time to adjust to the Spurs scaled back roster. The Nuggets made about every mistake you could imagine at some point. They failed to rotate, they overrated frequently as it was fairly common to see two defenders running at a shooter, the bigs failed to step up on picks even late in the game after they should have realized that the one player that could bring them down was Roger Mason, in some instances both players would go with the player coming off a screen and there were other times where neither player would guard the man coming off the screen. It was the most disorganized defensive effort I have seen in a long time.
Offensively, they mailed the second half in as they have been prone to do settling for jumper after jumper. The offense had good flow to it in the first half and Denver did a good job earning easy shots. I wish I could blame the insipid offense on the absence of Chauncey, but we know he has been prone to join in the chuck fest when the Nuggets start getting completely perimeter oriented.
Even when the Spurs pulled to within two in the fourth quarter it was frustrating, but I never got the feeling that Denver would completely let the game slip away. There was a lot of a wins a win type analysis after the game, but the way Denver’s defensive effort yo-yoed all second half long it only creates more concern in my mind about their mental toughness.
With that Denver now embarks on two road trips broken up by the All-Star break and game one is tomorrow night in Oklahoma City. At this point it is not known if Chauncey will be able to play.
Additional Game 48 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 95.9
Defensive Efficiency: 100.1
Offensive Efficiency: 108.5
Before we get started make sure to head on over to the ESPN/TrueHoop Network Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell for a mini-interview with a world renowned Nuggets blogger.
Beware the San Antonio Spurs. I was one of the moronic suckers that really honestly though the Spurs had no shot to keep their run of championships in odd years going in 2009. Well, guess who is second in the west after overcoming early season injuries to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili?
Playing against the Spurs is always an event for the Nuggets due to the fact they have put the kibosh on Denver’s two most promising campaigns over the previous four seasons, but tonight’s game is especially vital. The winner takes the season series two games to one and thus earns the tiebreaker should it come into play.
The Spurs have won four straight and eight of their last nine with the sole blemish being a smack down at the hands of the Lakers at Staples Center. Tim Duncan has been playing great this season. His scoring is up a smidge and his rebounding has fallen off a bit, but what has made him so effective this season is he is averaging his highest assist rate of his career.
Tony Parker is scoring at a higher rate than in the past. After leveling off a bit in the middle part of January he has scored from 23 to 26 points over his last four games, although he did not post those totals in numerical order.
The only concern Spurs fans have really had lately has been whether or not Manu was going to be healthy enough to do Manu things. Well, over his previous three games he is averaging 28 points per outing. Last night he dumped in 32 points in Golden State as the Spurs came back from a double digit fourth quarter deficit to win in overtime.
We all know what those three can do, but to me the real key to the Spurs success this season has been Roger Mason. The only flashy number Mason is putting up is his 44.9% three point shooting, but if the Spurs need a big basket and the ball finds its way to Mason, he always seems to come through.
Hopefully the extra reps that Golden State put the Spurs through last night will help Denver tonight.
The Nuggets need all the help they can get. The last time they played the Spurs in Denver San Antonio simply demolished the Nuggets thanks to a 31 to 15 second quarter run that basically ended the competitive portion of the game. The Nuggets will have to close out the Spurs shooters, defend the pick and roll soundly and keep Parker and Ginobili out of the paint.
Obviously those things are not easy, but good teams are able to take away what their opponent does best.
One other thing to keep in mind is this is the Nuggets last home game until they play Boston on February 23rd.
A second other thing to keep in mind is George Karl has said he wants to limit Carmelo Anthony’s minutes in his first few games back from his fractured hand. It will be interesting to see how much Melo plays if the game is close, which I fully expect it to be.
The trade deadline is less than three weeks away and the rumors surrounding the Denver Nuggets have seemed to die down a little since the revelation that Denver scuttled a Linas Kleiza for David Lee deal with the Knickerbockers. While it may be a waste of time to make up trades and debate nonexistent deals it sure is fun.
There are two questions the front office will have to determine the answer to over the next seventeen days. What areas of the roster need to be upgraded? Is it worth paying the price for that upgrade?
Let’s start off looking at the roster. The Nuggets have two point guards (Chauncey Billups and Anthony Carter), three shooting guards (J.R. Smith, Dahntay Jones and Sonny Weems), three small forwards (Carmelo Anthony, Linas Kleiza and Renaldo Balkman), one true power forward (Kenyon Martin) and four centers (Nene, Chris Andersen, Johan Petro and Steven Hunter). Obviously there are players that can play multiple positions, but that is the general breakdown.
Before we start looking at what holes need to be plugged it is important to figure out what the Nuggets have to work with. The answer is, not much. As far as expiring contracts they possess a few small ones, but nothing of any size that could bring back a high quality player. Carter, Birdman and Jones all have expiring contracts while Kleiza and Petro will be restricted free agents, which could be used as expiring contracts should the team they are traded to decline to make a qualifying offer.
I think we can be pretty confident that the Nuggets will not trade Carter, Jones or Birdman as they are all key players and beloved by George Karl. Steven Hunter does not have an expiring contract, but it does expire after next season and it could be attractive to teams looking to unload a longer term contract.
From a draft pick standpoint Denver already traded their 2009 pick to Oklahoma City in the Petro deal, but they do have the future pick from Charlotte. The Bobcats are one of seven teams who are in the mix for the final playoff spot in the east. If they somehow make it (John Hollinger’s playoff odd rater has them at roughly a one in four chance to make it) that pick will go to Denver this season. Such an event would be disappointing as the Nuggets definitely made that trade expecting to get a top ten or higher pick out of the deal. Even so, that is a nice chip to be able to throw into a trade. In fact, Chris Sheridan ranked that pick the ninth best trade asset in the NBA this trading deadline. Would the Nuggets throw that pick into a deal? Maybe so, but I believe they would rather hold onto it.
Another thing to remember is the Nuggets have a couple of nice trade exceptions to play with as well. They have a big one with the nearly $10 million left from the Camby trade that was “refreshed” in the Billups deal and the $3 million plus exception from the Atkins trade. They could land a nice player with either of those and the Bobcats pick, but I doubt that would happen because it would push them back over the luxury tax limit they worked so hard to get under.
In my mind if the Nuggets do any shopping it will be for Hunter’s almost expiring contract and maybe with Sonny Weems tiny contract or Petro’s larger one thrown in for good measure. Those three amount to roughly $6.25 million and if Denver is willing to part with all three players they might be able to bring back something of use. However, for the purpose of this article we are going with the presumption that Denver will only be willing to trade Hunter and maybe Weems. That severely limits what is available to them.
So now that we know what we are shopping with where are the weaknesses on this team and what solutions may be out there?
Denver is set at the starting point guard spot with Chauncey. The backup point spot has been a source of consternation for many Denver fans. Anthony Carter is a solid backup point guard he is a willing and determined defender, but he is a terrible shooter and his turnover ratio has jumped by roughly a third from last year to this year going from a 12.1 to a 16.1. He can be effective running the break, but if Denver could acquire a decent defender with a better shot it would help. Maybe a player like Golden State Warriors rookie C.J. Miles would be a good fit. Miles is a solid shooter and a good ball handler, but is not the defender Denver would be looking for. He is also a little on the small side, but he is pretty much the opposite of Anthony Carter and that has appeal for Nugget fans who begin daydreaming about electrocution or their parachute not opening at 10,000 feet when Carter enters the game.
At shooting guard they have an explosive scorer and budding playmaker, J.R. Smith, the “defensive stopper” and offensive liability in Dahntay Jones and the young prospect in Sonny Weems. A player who combines the defensive abilities of Dahntay Jones and the offensive abilities of someone not quite as talented as J.R. Smith would be Deshawn Stevenson of the Washington Wizards. Stevenson has horrible shooting percentages this season, but from 2004-05 through 2007-08 Stevenson shot 38.2%. I am not scared off by his 27.1% this season because he is only 27 and is playing for a terrible team. I think the added motivation of playing for a solid team would be exactly what he needs. Stevenson is no slouch on the defensive end as he actually did a good enough job, at least in his own mind, of defending LeBron James that he decided to call LeBron overrated. Of course, that ended up backfiring, but he is a capable defender.
Moving on to small forward the Nuggets are pretty well set. Carmelo Anthony accounts for 35 minutes a night at the small forward spot and is backed up by Linas Kleiza who can be a scoring machine (stress the can). Denver also has the defensive oriented Renaldo Balkman. As with shooting guard they have the issue where none of the players are truly two way players. Ideally Melo becomes a defensive beast and the Nuggets could merge the talents of Kleiza and Balkman and play Renalas Balza, but that is probably not going to happen and even if they could somehow pull it off, I bet it is against the Collective Bargaining Agreement. It is difficult to find a player who would come cheap enough for the Nuggets to acquire that I would prefer to play ahead of either Kleiza or Balkman.
As I pointed out above, the Nuggets really only have one true power forward on the roster, Kenyon, but there are a handful of players who can fill time there. Many people consider Nene a power forward, including Nene himself, but in today’s NBA he is a center who can play power forward. The bottom line is the Nuggets certainly could use another power forward. We already mentioned the David Lee for Linas Kleiza deal, but we can put that one to bed as George Karl has shot down any deal involving Kleiza such as the Ron Artest deal from last season. Surely the Knicks will need more than Hunter to do the deal and it is questionable if Denver would throw in the Charlotte pick to close the deal (personally I would). The only players I can think of that would come cheap would be Joe Smith from the Oklahoma City Thunder, Hakim Warrick from Memphis or Minnesota Timberwolf Craig Smith. Even someone like Joe Smith, who has an expiring contract, may be out of the Nuggets price range though.
The Nuggets are pretty well set at center with Nene and Birdman soaking up most of the minutes and Kenyon able to play in the pivot against small centers (he even played some center against Yao Ming to predictable results). Denver already brought in their insurance policy with Johan Petro and Hunter himself sounds like he may be able to play in March. I do not see the need or motivation to make a move to bring in another center.
Going through position by position it certainly seems like the Nuggets have a pretty solid roster. In my mind apart from worrying about strengthening a specific position one thing which would make the Nuggets a better team would be to add another scorer they could bring off the bench. That may sound silly with LK and J.R. on the team, but the reason J.R. Smith does not start is because George Karl does not want to have the entire bench scoring load fall on Kleiza. If LK is having an off night, Denver will have to rely completely on the starters for offense. If Denver could add another scorer to come off the bench Karl could comfortably move Smith into the starting lineup.
Who could fill that role? Honestly, there was no one that I think was cheap, available and capable that I did not already mention so I will throw it to you all. Who do you think Denver could acquire for very little, is available, makes less (probably much less) than $6.25 million and could provide some punch off the bench? I did come up with Lenardo Barbosa, but his defense is just too poor for my taste.
In conclusion, I believe that this is a pretty solid roster and the proof is in the fact that many pundits think the Nuggets have a great shot at earning the second seed in the west. On the other hand this team is clearly not on the level of the Lakers and I would not like my chances against the Hornets or Spurs in a playoff series either. They do need an upgrade at some point to be a true contender.
Building a championship team is a process. Even in Boston, where Danny Ainge seemed to concoct a championship team out of thin air, it took a few years to coddle together the assets that he used to acquire Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen all while keeping a competent enough cast around them to win.
That is what makes the 2009 trading deadline so difficult for the Nuggets’ front office. Denver is closer to being a title contender than they have been in over 20 years, but if you pull the trigger on the wrong deal in an attempt to push them over the top you might have disrupted the building process that may have resulted in putting together a championship roster in another season or two.
All salary information was from Storyteller’s NBA Contracts
Welcome back Carmelo Anthony! If last night’s game was just a regular game for Melo I would have thought he did very well. Add in the fact that it was his first game back from a fractured hand and that makes his performance even better.
You could have found more rust on Stan Kronke’s money clip than on Carmelo’s game.
Melo did a good job mixing up his offense. He started with jumpers and then moved on to attacking the rim. He made a couple of nice drives both to the left and the right for easy scores. His jumper looked solid even though he went only 2 on shots outside the paint. He also passed the ball pretty well finishing with five assists highlighted by a touch pass into Nene who was diving through the lane to the rim. Melo also had a good showing from the free throw line as he made 9 of 11 attempts.
If Melo did display any rust it was handling the ball. He was called for two palming violations, which I do not expect to see many more of in the future, on his way to five turnovers. He also only pulled down two rebounds, but that did not seem to be related to any attempt to avoid contact. He was in the lane when he needed to be.
The truly good news was I did not ever see him rubbing his hand at all. He did have his fingers retaped at one point, but it did not appear to be due to any pain or physical issues.
As far as the rest of the team, they certainly did what we all expected of them. They jumped out early after forcing six turnovers in the first 4:36. In fact Charlotte only led for 34 seconds. Denver pushed the lead up to ten points at 34-24 with 8:50 left in the second quarter and Charlotte never got closer than the final margin of 11 the rest of the night. It really was a smooth game. The only run Charlotte made was in the first quarter when they fought back to get within one late in the first quarter.
Denver came out of this game healthy and confident. That is about all we can ask for.
Additional Game 47 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 91.1 – Somewhat slow for a game at the Pepsi Center. Entering the game the Nuggets had a pace factor of 95.2 at home. Charlotte is third to last in the league in pace factor though.
Defensive Efficiency: 108.7 – Charlotte stopped turning the ball over and Denver let up a bit in the second half.
Offensive Efficiency: 120.8 – The last time Denver cracked the 120 mark in offensive efficiency was the Pacers game, which as you know was the last game Melo played in.
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