J.R. Smith to Serve Hard Time

The Denver Post is reporting that J.R. Smith has been sentenced to 90 days in jail for driving recklessly in the 2007 accident that killed his good friend.

However, 60 days of the sentence are suspended and J.R. will likely only have to spend 30 days in jail as long as he performs 500 hours of community service.  The judge has ordered that the community service be spent with J.R. visiting sick children in the hospital.

In a statement released by the Nuggets Mark Warkentien responded to the judge’s ruling.  “We are fully aware of the legal proceedings involving J.R. Smith today and the judges’ decision. J.R. Smith took responsibility for his role in this tragic accident that occurred in June 2007. The legal statutes mandate that J.R. serve time for driving recklessly and he is grateful that the statutory sentence was reduced from 90 days to 30.

We will continue to support J.R. during this difficult period and will have no further comment at this time.”

Denver suspended J.R. for two games to start the 2007-08 season for the incident in an attempt to head off the NBA.  I am not sure if the NBA will look to tack on an additional suspension now that the legal proceedings have concluded.

Yahoo! Sports has some additional facts and quotes on the story (thanks to reader Ky Davis for the link).

No Qualifying Offer for Johan Petro

The Denver Nuggets arrived at the same conclusion regarding Johan Petro’s contract situation as I did.  They did not extend him a qualifying offer, a one year contract for just under $2.85 million, making him an unrestricted free agent as of July 1.

I do not know if the Nuggets are interested in bringing Petro back at a cheaper price, the only news regarding the status of his qualifying offer was a sentence long blip at the end of an article that I missed the fist time I read it, but I would think he would have to be a cheap option if Denver is looking for a cheap big man to fill the role of emergency big man that Petro did so well last season.

Hat tip to Nate at Pickaxe and Roll for actually reading the last sentence of the aforementioned article.

Anthony Carter – Creating Anger or Value?

There are two people who are part of the Denver Nuggets that some fans just love to hate. One is George Karl. Even if Karl were to lead the Nuggets to the next five championships would have some fans complaining about him and proclaiming that Denver made it that far despite him. The other is Anthony Carter.

The strange thing is Carter is the kind of player every team needs. Someone who is completely unselfish and does his best trying to do what the coach asks of him. So why are so many of us, myself included, so hard on him?

Maybe a more important question is what should we expect from a backup point guard? What does that job description look like? I believe a backup point guard needs to be able to run the offense, take care of the ball, play defense and hit open shots.

Did Anthony Carter run the offense? He absolutely did. He was the point guard in charge of pushing the pace and he did a good job of it. When the second unit was running Carter could compile assists as quickly as anyone. He may not have been a coach on the floor like Chauncey Billups is, but he was not afraid to run something and get his teammates organized.

Did AC take care of the ball? That is not an easy question to answer. If you look at his overall performance, I think you have to say that he took care of the ball almost as well as any of his reserve counterparts did. One of my main criticisms of Carter’s play during the season was that he did not take care of the ball. Carter definitely had some poor outings. He had a seven turnover game and a six turnover game. That is not acceptable. In the month of February he averaged 2.5 turnovers a game in less than 25 minutes a night. That was not acceptable either. However, he realized it was a problem and over the last three months of the season was able to turn things around. In the month of March he only turned the ball over 1.3 times a game and in the playoffs, when possessions are most precious, he was even better as he dropped his turnovers down to an amazing 0.7 per game.

Carter posted an assist to turnover ratio of 2.3. To put that in perspective Chauncey had a turnover to assist ratio of 2.8 last season. The only back up point guards in the NBA who had a better assist to turnover ratio were Ramon Sessions (3.0), Keyon Dooling (2.6), J.J. Barea (2.6), Delonte West (2.5) and Sergio Rodiguez (2.4). Carter had a better assist to turnover ratio than Kirk Hinrich (2.26), T.J. Ford (2.2), Bobby Jackson (2.2), Jordan Farmar (1.8) and Ronnie Price (1.8).

Ultimately, as a backup point guard, Carter does take care of the ball. Does he make some absolutely terrible looking turnovers? Sure, he does, but also keep in mind his job is to push the pace and apply pressure on the defense. Turnovers come with the territory.

Carter is also a good defensive guard. Look no further than the job he did on Dwyane Wade in Miami this season. It did not matter who George Karl asked him to cover, Carter would go after him as well as he could (it was not Carter’s fault he was sent out there to cover Kobe Bryant). Carter also did a very good job in the playoffs on Jason Terry. On the other hand, I believe we did see some slippage from Carter on defense last season. There were some nights where he was wildly ineffective. Needless to say I am concerned about what will happen now that he is 34.

Even the most ardent Carter supporter cannot argue against the verdict in the final category. Carter is not a good shooter. Carter made only 23.9% of his three point attempts in the regular season and that fell even further in the playoffs where he made only two of his 12 three point heaves for a startlingly bad 16.7%. His effective field goal percentage on jump shots was 40.8%. For comparison Nene’s shot 43.8% on jumpers.

So I ask again, why do so many Nuggets fans love to hate Anthony Carter? Maybe it is because he reminds us all a little too much of ourselves. We watch the NBA to see world class athletes do things that we could never dream of doing. When we see Carter, he rarely does anything fancy and he always seems to be a heartbeat away from getting embarrassed. Maybe watching him play is a little too personal for many of us.

Not only does Carter get the job done, but his real value is that he is a real value. It is amazing that Carter does what he does for the league minimum. That makes Carter almost invaluable for a team that has very little wiggle room when it comes to finances.

With the presence of Ty Lawson next season Carter’s place on the Nuggets roster could be in jeopardy. I thought there was a very telling quote, which I cannot seem to find, where Chauncey said that with Lawson on board maybe he can play fewer minutes. That was a pretty big condemnation of Carter. Even though Carter played well over 20 minutes a game Chauncey had to be on the floor for over 35 minutes a night. I think both Chauncey and the Nuggets would love to get that average down to the low 30s next season and Anthony Carter is not the player who can accomplish that.

However, the primary area of concern with Lawson is his defense. If he cannot get the job done on the defensive end the Nuggets are going to have to have another option. Even coming off a season where he was the starting point guard for a 50 win team after the 2007-08 season Carter’s only good option was to sign a one year deal with Denver. I doubt Carter is going to have any better option than Denver again this offseason. If the Nuggets want Carter, they can have him and they will be able to bring him on board for a minimum salary one year contract.

Until we see what Ty Lawson can do, I think it is a no brainer that the Nuggets bring Carter back for next season and there are few players that bring as much value as Carter.

From the Colorado 14ers to the Idaho Stampede

With their previous D-League team, the Colorado 14ers, not operating next season as they move to Texas the Denver Nuggets were temporarily without a D-League affiliate.  Fret no longer Nuggets fans, the NBA has just announced the Nuggets will be affiliated with the Idaho Stampede.

The Nuggets and the Stampede have seen their paths cross before.  When Kiki Vandeweghe drafted the unknown Ricky Sanchez in 2005 he was sent to Idaho to try to learn to play basketball.  Ricky never did sign with the Nuggets, or any other NBA team for that matter.  When the Nuggets hired George Karl he was a part owner of the Stampede and was forced to sell his share of the team in order to coach Denver.

I would be surprised if the Nuggets utilize the Stampede next season, but it is certainly possible that Sonny Weems spends some time there if the Nuggets determine he is not yet ready to contribute.

The Nuggets will be sharing the 14ers with the Portland Trail Blazers.

The other NBA team who was affiliated with the 14ers was the New Jersey Nets and they have been partnered up with the new and as of yet unnamed Springfield, MA team.

Looking for Signs

The pilot episode of Seinfeld was called The Seinfeld Chronicles and it surrounded a crisis of conscience where a woman Jerry recently met called him to say she was coming to New York and she asked if she could stay at his apartment. Jerry had only met the woman once and even though they got along very well, he had no idea what her intentions were. Did she want to stay in his bed? Did he need to bring in an extra bed? He had no idea.

If Jerry does not have an extra mattress for her to sleep on he ran the risk of looking like a presumptuous pig. On the other hand, if he brought in an extra mattress he may miss an opportunity to, well, you know.

The only option at Jerry’s disposal was to try to read the signs she gave him. Needless to say this strategy provided little assistance starting with her unorthodox greeting after deplaning at the airport.

In the end Jerry finds out she has a fiancé.

Why do I mention this? The Nuggets have this player named Chris Andersen and we really want him to be more than an acquaintance. We want him to be part of the family. Right now he has the freedom to join anyone’s family and we are left to look for signs that indicate he will stay here with us.

So far we have seen a few promising signs. Andersen has said he wants to stay with us and the family acquired $2.25 million to keep him here.

I just received another sign in our favor in the form of a press release. Andersen will be holding his first annual “Birdman’s Back to School Camp” this August for kids between the ages of seven and 18. Click here for information on the camp itself.

I think it is promising that Birdman is planning a summer camp in Denver. I doubt he would be doing so if he thought there was much of a chance that he is playing somewhere else next season. On the other hand, he loves Denver and it is likely that no matter where he signs he will still summer right here in Colorado.

Still, I am looking for signs and whether it is right or not, I am going to take any sign I can as the gospel truth and I encourage all of you to do the same.

Dahntay Jones – Is it Enough to Be Chris Paul’s Least Favorite Person?

He was the only player in the NBA to start more than 35 games and average less than 18.4 minutes a game. There were eight Denver Nugget players who averaged more minutes per game than he did (nine if you include short timer Allen Iverson). On the other hand no Nuggets player seemed to frustrate opposing coaches than he did in the playoffs.

Well, if you read the title to this post you already know I am talking about Dahntay Jones.

When I found out the Nuggets had added Jones to their summer league roster last year I thought it was a big waste of everyone’s time. Jones was clearly a poor offensive player and had never been worth much on defense either. That is not a good combination. Jones took advantage of his time in Vegas and earned an invite to training camp thanks to his ability to play solid defense. He even scored a few points on offense thanks to his ability to get to the free throw line.

It seemed clear that Jones would not have such an easy time putting points on the board facing off against the increased talent level of the NBA. Fortunately for Jones the Nuggets had plenty of scorers, including explosive shooting guard J.R. Smith who played the same position as Jones. With the Nuggets looking to become more of a defensive squad there was a clear opening for a shooting guard who was dedicated to being a stopper.

George Karl knew the Nuggets needed a player like that too and Jones was one of only two players in camp who could fill that role with the other being self proclaimed Kobe stopper and former Nugget Ruben Patterson. I honestly do not know what the deciding factor was, perhaps Patterson at the age of 33 had lost a step or possibly Karl and Patterson still did not quite see eye to eye on some things, but the player with the defensive reputation was let go and Jones made the team.

Not only did Jones make the team, he found himself a regular starter as Karl was still not ready to hand the reins over to J.R. Smith who was not quite as interested in defense as Denver needed him to be.

As is the case with every mediocre player Jones had a few good moments and a few bad ones mixed in with a bunch of forgettable performances. Even as a player whose sole purpose on the floor was to play defense Jones was pretty inconsistent with his focus night in and night out. Plus he seemed a little too interested in shooting early in games as he forced shots on several occasions, probably because he knew after the first few minutes he would not see much more playing time.

Despite his special purpose there were only a handful of games where his defense was exceptional and those efforts largely came against point guards. There were two players in particular that he hounded above and beyond any others and they were Jose Calderon and Chris Paul.

Fortunately for Jones the Nuggets drew the New Orleans Hornets in the first round of the playoffs which gave him a chance to take on a marquee player under the national spotlight. Jones did a tremendous job defending Paul. He did such a good job that Byron Scott called him a dirty player, which I hope Jones took as a compliment. Jones did not do anything dirty to Chris Paul, he simply played him physically. He bodied him up and did not play intimidated. He also received plenty of help defending the pick and roll as Paul’s teammates pretty much made a bunch of nests around the court and started laying eggs. In a series where the Nuggets advanced out of the first round for the first time in 15 seasons and with Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony playing very well Dahntay’s play was one of the top storylines in the series.

Jones was much less important in the second round series against Dallas as Anthony Carter was a much better matchup against Jason Terry than Jones was. Jones went from playing 20.6 minutes a game against New Orleans (a number that was reduced by the wide margin of victory for Denver in four of the five games) down to 16.6 minutes per game against Dallas.

With Denver facing off against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals it appeared Jones’ talents would once again be of great value to Denver as they needed someone to slow down Kobe Bryant. Instead of playing a bigger role as expected Jones saw his playing time decrease yet again, this time down to only 15.5 minutes a gam,e as he was largely ineffective against Kobe.

Instead of proving how indispensible he was Jones may have proven that the Nuggets can get along without him just fine.

Jones deserves credit for remaking himself into a capable defensive player. He certainly did not display much competency in that area during his first couple of go rounds in the league. He possesses the quickness and strength to be a good on the ball defender, but he is not great at chasing players off of screens, which is pretty important when defending shooting guards.

Offensively he is still almost completely helpless unless he has an unimpeded track to the rim. Surprisingly, Jones shot 64.7% from the three point line during the regular season, but he only attempted 17 three point shots. That percentage definitely carried the stench of flukiness especially after he shot 3-12 from behind the arc in the post season. Still he showed the discipline to only attempt corner threes, which is a sign he was not trying to do too much. His lack of scoring is only made worse by his below average passing ability and ball handling.

One thing that deserves to be mentioned is Jones certainly seemed to be a good teammate. He was always up and applauding when he was on the bench and even though he took a few more shots than necessary on multiple occasions he was mostly content to play defense and let others shoot.

As of July 1 Jones is an unrestricted free agent. Thanks to his defense against Chris Paul there is bound to be interest in him (Boston has already been tied to Jones in the media) and it may be his one and only chance to cash in on a long term contract.

I am not opposed to having Jones come back to Denver next season, but there is no way Denver should pay him much more than minimum money. He will undoubtedly want a multiyear deal and I have no problem with that as long as the annual salaries are low.

Karl has already made references to the fact that J.R. should probably be starting at shooting guard for Denver from here on out and as I have already written I think Sonny Weems is deserving of some regular playing time next season. Denver may not need a defensive oriented shooting guard as J.R. has significantly improved his defense each of the previous two seasons. By the end of the season I do not think there is a significant difference between he and Jones when it comes to guarding shooting guards. In fact when Denver played the Lakers it was Smith, not Jones, who did the best job between the two on Kobe.

Denver can afford to play a waiting game with Jones. Even though he is unrestricted I think they can let the market fall into place and see if he is affordable or not. They definitely should not be knocking on his door at 12:01 AM on July 1 offering three years and $9.0 million and I doubt anyone else will be either. However, if some comes forward and offers three years at $4.5 million (or less) I have no problem if Denver matches it to keep Dahntay in the Mile High City.

It is not fun to have to watch every dime that is paid to free agents, but one of the good things about being pressed up against the luxury tax level is it makes it impossible to overspend for average or below average players. We do not need to worry about Jones getting a Tariq Abdul-Wahad contract. That may not be good news for Dahntay, but it is good news for Nuggets fans.

How Good is Ty Lawson?

For the first time in years there is a reason to watch the Denver Nuggets’ summer league team. I cannot wait to see Ty Lawson in a Nuggets uniform, even if it is two sided and made of mesh.

The Nuggets have been interested in Lawson since last year’s draft, but he withdrew his name from consideration after he was pulled over for playing his music too loud. That may not have been a very big deal, but the traffic stop resulted in charges of driving after consuming alcohol and driving with a suspended license. Plus he was only 20 at the time.

That traffic stop may turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to Lawson.

He returned to North Carolina, won a national championship and patched the one massive hole in his game. Lawson possessed the quickness, vision and demeanor to be an NBA point guard, but his poor jumper was a major issue as he converted only 36.1% of his three point attempts in 2007-08.

To start the 2008-09 campaign Lawson only made two of his seven three point shots and it appeared that he was going to continue to struggle from behind the arc. However, Lawson would go on to convert 51 of his 108 three point shots and finished the season shooting a stellar 47.2%. Those 108 three point attempts convert to over three threes a game so it was not a fluke or statistical anomaly.

Now that Lawson has addressed his outside shot, he is arguably one of the most efficient players I have ever seen. Just look at this report from Draft Express:

“As we put this data together, we weren’t surprised that Ty Lawson excelled from a situational perspective, as he did play for the most potent offense in all of college basketball, but we didn’t expect him to look this good. He ranks first in a number of key categories, including overall FG% (52%), Points Per Possession [PPP](1.13), pull up jump shot FG% (47%), and %shots he was fouled on (16.1%). Though his teammates did a lot of scoring as well, Lawson functioned seamlessly as a complementary scorer. Looking past his efficiency as a shooter off the dribble, he was second in catch and shoot field goal percentage at 48%. From a purely statistical sense, no player on this list scored more efficiently than Lawson.

“We thought that UNC’s transition offense might have given Lawson a decided advantage over some of his counterparts in terms of efficiency, but that wasn’t entirely true. He did get 10% more offense in transition than any of the other players we looked at (an outrageous 38.6%), but his transition PPP of 1.2 is the same as his PPP in spot up situations and not as far above the average as his PPP in pick and roll situations (1.19 PPP, +.29) or on isolations (1 PPP, +.16). Lawson was an incredibly prolific transition player (which is quite an advantage in itself today’s NBA), but he was comparatively better in other areas as well. When you consider that he only turned the ball over on 13.8% of his half court possessions (5th best) and can drive left and right equally well, it seems like Lawson could be an excellent offensive fit on virtually any team, regardless of tempo.

It does not stop there. I read somewhere that Lawson has the second best assist to turnover ratio in the history of the ACC. Lawson shot over 50% from the field in each of his three seasons at North Carolina and he averaged 1.7 points per shot last season. Typically only big men produce points at that level of efficiency. For example Blake Griffin averaged 1.73 points per shot.

Lawson even reclaims the ball more frequently than he coughs it up averaging 2.1 steals a game compared to only 1.9 turnovers. He is not a long defender who parlays his great reach into deflected passes, he actually had the shortest standing reach out of everyone at the combine, he simply has great instincts.

Lawson seems to be a perfect fit for what the Nuggets are trying to do on offense. He can run when the situation present itself, but when games slow down, he can earn you easy points in the half court offense as well either off the pick and roll, penetration or as a shooter.

Draft Express was not the only analysts to find Lawson to be more impressive than his counterparts. ESPN’s John Hollinger found that statistically Lawson was the top prospect in the entire draft (subscription required), even ahead of Blake Griffin. He explains that point guard is the position that is the most difficult to project statistically, but when coupled with everything else we know about Lawson it is clear he is a great prospect.

If you are a Nuggets fan, and you are not thrilled about Lawson coming to Denver, I do not know what to tell you.

The only possible objection I can think of to the trade is that we should not have given up the Charlotte Bobcat’s pick, and I was of that opinion 24 hours ago. I did say I could be talked off that stance though and the more I think about it, the less valuable that pick might be.

The first rounder Charlotte owed Denver, and now owes Minnesota, had some pretty strict protections attached to it. Apart from being protected 1-14 this year, it is protected 1-12 in 2010, 1-10 in 2011, 1-8 in 2012 and 1-3 in 2013 before being completely unprotected in 2014. It is true that in a perfect world Denver could have landed the top pick in the 2014 draft, but what kind of value is that for a team built to win now? In all likelihood that pick gets conveyed next year or in 2011 as a late lottery pick. If Charlotte signs Allen Iverson, the only logical location for him that comes to mind, that pick may end up being in the mid teens next year. I will take Lawson over that.

The other issue Denver faces with Lawson is how does he fit in with the Nuggets rotation? For a team that was so close to reaching the NBA Finals, will he be a difference maker?

Those questions are a little more difficult to answer.

For starters there is a quote in the Denver Post from George Karl that gives us some insight into what he is thinking for next season.

“My hope is we can get A.C. back and Chauncey and have Ty as a guy that will work hard and prove that he’s got to play sometime.”

I have no problem with bringing Anthony Carter back next season. He has been on one year minimum salary deals the past two seasons and I doubt he will command anything more than that this summer. On the other hand if Lawson is tied to the bench while Carter plays 22.9 minutes a game again next season, I may have a coronary.

I realize the danger in telling a kid that he will come in and get playing time, and hopefully that is all Karl is doing here, but I believe as a rookie Lawson can be a more effective player off the bench than Carter. Carter has been a good to great defender and can collect assists quickly when Denver is running, but my concern is he is 34 years old. How much longer can he stay in front of opposing point guards? I think we saw some cracks in Carter’s defense last season although he definitely had his moments (hounding Dywane Wade in Miami anyone?).

Even considering the defensive drop off from a 32 or 33 year old Carter to Lawson if Lawson is the third string point guard and Anthony Carter is going to play 20-24 minutes a game next season, then Lawson becomes just another prospect for the future. Any improvement the Nuggets make on their conference finals appearance last season will have to come from an upgrade somewhere else on the roster and there is a possibility they shot their wad on improvements last night. Any additional moves will most likely require delving deep into luxury tax territory and I am not sure Stan Kroenke is willing to do that.

Before you start envisioning Lawson collecting DNP-Coach’s Decision after DNP-Coach’s Decision keep in mind whether or not AC comes back next season is not entirely up to George Karl. Management may choose to let Carter go and force Karl to play Lawson. At this point, who knows what will shake out?

One thing that Lawson has going in his favor if he is in the rotation is Karl’s love of playing two point guards at once. We might see Lawson and Billups on the court together quite a bit and I believe with their ability to create for themselves and others and they way they can both shoot, they will play off of each other very well.

We may not know if Lawson will play 20 minutes per game next season or four. We do know Denver acquired a player who is highly capable who might be running the point in Denver for the next decade. I think Lawson compares favorably to Jameer Nelson right now and has a chance to be even better than that in two or three seasons.

For the 18th player selected in a terrible draft, that is pretty good.

Moving on briefly to the 34th selection, I was beside myself when the Nuggets passed on DeJuan Blair, but I have heard some rumblings about the cash considerations that Denver received from Houston for Sergio Llull that has helped me accept the decision Denver made. All I will say is Denver was very well compensated by Houston for Llull. (Update: It has been announced elsewhere so I will post it too.  Denver received $2.25 million, a record payout for a second round pick for Llull.)  For a team who is looking to scrape together money here and there to hang onto Chris Andersen and as dissatisfying as it was to hear they sold their pick with a player like Blair on the board I think they made the right move.

Of course, if Blair turns into Charles Oakley with a back to the basket game, I reserve the right to be retroactively furious.

Denver Nuggets Do Not Draft DeJuan Blair

A couple of picks before the Nuggets were up I commented on the draft live blog that I wanted DeJuan Blair so badly that it guaranteed that either someone would pick him right in front of Denver or they would pass on him.

Anyone ever heard of Sergio Llull?

Me neither.  If you want to know more about Mr. Llull (seriously, he has that many l’s in his name) here is his Draft Express profile.

As excited as I was about Denver acquiring Ty Lawson, I am that disappointed in their selection of Llull.  To make matters worse, Blair ended up going to San Antonio.  That was just pouring salt in the wound.

Update: Denver sold the draft rights to Llull to the Houston Rockets.  I understand Denver wants to save as much money as possible, but what makes me mad is you can save money by having a player like Blair who has a bottom dollar contract on your team.  They will now have to spend much more on a veteran big, whether it be Johan Petro or someone else, to provide that depth.

Denver Nuggets to Trade for Ty Lawson

According to Ric Bucher the Denver Nuggets will send the future first round pick owed to them by Charlotte in exchange for North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson.

As players like Jrue Holiday, Eric Maynor and Lawson kept falling I thought it brought those players into Denver’s wheelhouse.

Before the draft I did not want to give up the Bobcats’ pick, but I knew I could talk myself into it for Lawson or Maynor and I already feel pretty good about it.  Lawson should be a very good fit in Denver.  He greatly improved his three point shooting last season and can learn the finer points of defense from Chauncey Billups.

The Nuggets can now focus on best player available with pick 34.

Update: The Denver Post confirms the trade.

At this point I would be happy with trading number 34 and next year’s first rounder to move up and draft DeJuan Blair.  If they want to, they can get it done.

Is the 2009 NBA Draft Monumentally Bad?

There has been a great deal made about how weak the 2009 draft class is.  I actually do not think it is that bad of a group.  The real issue is the top of the class is lacking in star power.

There is no top three or four players in this draft.  In fact a lot of analysts believe that you can get just as good of a player at 18 or 20 as you can at four or five.  That does not reflect well on the top of the class, but I think there is some depth here.  Players such as Earl Clark, Eric Maynor, Ty Lawson, DeJuan Blair, Jeff Teague, Chase Budinger and Nick Calathes are all good prospects.  There may not be a superstar in the group, but there are a lot of potential starters out there.

The other observation I will make about this draft is I actually think Blake Griffin is overhyped because he is head and shoulders above the rest of the group.  Working off that analogy if the average height of the top players in this class is 6’0″ tall, then Griffin is 6’5″.  Griffin looks great righ now, but the typical draft class has an average height of say 6’4″ and when Griffin gets out among those players he may not be such a sure thing after all.

Kind of reminds me of a guy out of Cincinnati named Kenyon Martin.

One thing I think Nuggets fans should be concerned about is despite having to worry about the Jazz and Trail Blazers, the Timberwolves and Thunder are both in a position to really help themselves tonight.  The Thunder are drafting third and I expect them to add another nice piece to their collection of young talent.  If they land Ricky Rubio, look out.  There are reports that Russell Westbrook is telling the team, or at least his agent is, that he does not want to be shifted to shooting guard and not to draft Rubio.  General Manager Sam Presti cut his teeth in San Antonio.  I do not think he is going to let the desires of a second year player prevent him from doing what he thinks is best for his team.  In addition to the third pick they have selection number 25 too.  That is right in the range where some undervalued players will be waiting to be snatched up.

Minnesota has four first round picks.  I know it is difficult to think of Minnesota drafting well, but if they manage to pull out two starters and two rotation players, that will put them well on their way back to respectability.

I will leave you with three lists.

Players I like: Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, Earl Clark, Eric Maynor, Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough, DeJuan Blair, Jeff Teague, Chase Budinger, Nick Calathes and Toney Douglas.

Players I do not like: Hasheem Thabeet, Stephen Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Gerald Henderson (Dahntay Jones part two), Terrence Williams, Austin Daye and Sam Young.

Players I do not know what to think about: Jonny Flynn, Jordan Hill, James Harden, Jrue Holiday, James Johnson, B.J. Mullens, Omri Casspi, Taj GIbson and Darren Collison.

Second round value: Patrick Mills, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, A.J. Price, Paul Harris, Lester Hudson and Jon Brockman.

Coming up next, the ESPN/TrueHoop Network draft live blog/chat.

Draft Day Rumors

Andy Katz is reporting that the New York Knicks have purchased pick 29 from the Los Angeles Lakers for $3 million and will be selecting a guard, possibly James McClinton from Miami.  He also says that the Cleveland Cavaliers at 30 will be hoping one of the top point guards falls to them.  Those are two more teams who may snatch up point guards that would be good fits for Denver.

On the other hand Katz claims that Minnesota is hoping a specific player with pick number 18 and the two players he mentions are Earl Clark of Louisville and James Johnson of Wake Forest.  If they player they want is gone they will trade the pick.  Both Clark and Johnson are expected to be gone before that point in the draft.  If Minnesota is looking to move that pick, it could be a possibility for Denver to jump up and nab a point guard or draft DeJuan Blair.

Denver Nuggets 2009 NBA Draft Preview

As exciting as it is to have your team in the NBA Draft Lottery with a decent shot at landing the first pick and watching them make a selection in the top five or six picks of the draft, I sure hope to get used to having the Denver Nuggets picking late in the first round.

As I am sure you all know by now Denver does not have a first round pick in the 2009 draft. They dealt what would have been the 26th pick in the draft as part of the Atkins for Petro deal, but they also received the Thunder’s second round pick, number 34, which is where they currently stand.

It is pretty clear that the Nuggets have two areas that are in need of an upgrade. One is finding a backup point guard who can fill in for Chauncey. Most Nugget fans have had a love/hate relationship with Carter, but the truth is he has been one of the more solid back up lead guards in the NBA. When you factor in his minimal salary he quite honestly has been a Godsend. However, Carter just turned 34 and you have to be concerned about him showing up to training camp having lost a step or two.

This draft is full of point guards from top to bottom and there may be a decent point man or two who go undrafted. The two mock drafts I trust the most, Chad Ford’s at ESPN.com (subscription required for picks 6-60) and DraftExpress.com, have all of those players being selected by pick 24. That is not to say someone will not fall, but if Denver wants to get a point with a decent chance of succeeding, they will probably have to move up.

I think if one of the point guards they want drops into the mid to late twenties there is a good chance the Nuggets make a deal to trade up. So the big question is what players are we talking about?

If Denver jumps up a few picks players like Eric Maynor, Jeff Teague or Darren Collison could be the target. Maynor is a senior out of Virginia Commonwealth University who has made a name for himself thanks to a couple of nice moments in March Madness. In 2006-07 Maynor made a name for himself when he picked the George Mason point guard clean on back to back plays scoring five points all by himself in seconds to tie their conference championship game at 57. VCU went on to win the game (I think Maynor had 11 points in the final two minutes) and in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Maynor hit the game winning shot to knock Duke out, which may have been one of the happiest moments of my life. See all three plays starting at 2:17 of this video.

VCU missed the NCAA Tournament the following year, but came back in 2009 and fell one point short of upsetting UCLA. Maynor is a point guard through and through. He has a slight build, but can play defense and he knows how to run a team. He has been tagged to go to Philadelphia for weeks now by both ESPN and DraftExpress, but if Philly does something else or if one of the higher rated point men drops to them Maynor may be available for Denver in a spot where they could possibly trade up.

Jeff Teague a sophomore from Wake Forrest, but he is more of a scoring point guard. He is a very good three point shooter converting 39.5% as a freshman and 44.1% as a sophomore. He has tremendous quickness and Chad Ford compares him to Devin Harris. The bad news is Teague averaged roughly one turnover per assist, which is not what you want out of your point guard. His defense is a big question mark as well.

Collison was a decent college point guard and if Denver is not able to move up to get Maynor, Teague or another top rated point, the Nuggets may have to take him. He has tremendous quickness and Ford has compared him to Aaron Brooks who drove the Lakers crazy in the playoffs. I have seen Collison play on several occasions and have never been blown away by him, but to be fair the past couple of season he has shared the backcourt with a couple of lottery picks in Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holliday so his getting overshadowed is understandable. He is a good defender, but is small even compared to skinny players like Maynor and Teague.

Another name that keeps popping up around the Nuggets’ pick is Patrick Mills. Mills is an Australian who played at Saint Mary’s. He made a name for himself in the Olympics when his quickness was too much for the United States’ guards to handle. He can get in the lane at will, but he is not a very good shooter and he needs to ball in his hands to be effective. He is another player that was helped by Brooks’ performance against the Lakers. However, he is not the shooter that Brooks is and he lacks the finishing prowess of a Tony Parker when he gets in the lane. I would not be upset if the Nuggets plucked him at 34, but I see him as more of a taller Earl Boykins than a Chauncey Billups.

If the Nuggets are really feeling gutsy there is a possibility they trade away the Charlotte Bobcats’ first round pick they own along with pick 34 to jump way up to try and draft Ty Lawson or one of the other highly ranked point men who might be available in the early teens. I think that is a distinct possibility, but that Bobcats pick is a lottery ticket. As with any lottery ticket it may be worthless, but the chances it might pay off big makes it difficult to give up.

The other obvious area of need for Denver is their big man depth. Unlike the point guards that may be available, there are no big men who get me excited. DeMare Carroll of Missouri has been linked to the Nuggets, but with him I see a player who at best is Renaldo Balkman with a better jumper, and it is not just because of the hair. I realize the knock on Balkman is he cannot shoot, but if Denver is going to draft a power forward he needs to be a bigger power forward, not a small quick one in the mold of Carroll and Balkman.

Taj Gibson of USC is another big that is mentioned in the late first and early second round. He is taller and more explosive than Carroll, but he is very lean and I am not sure he will be able to rebound consistently in the NBA. He did pull down 9.0 a game last season at USC and rebounding is a skill that translates very well from college to the pros.

Derrick Brown from Xavier is a very good shooter and is athletic, but is not a real banger and as with Gibson I am worried about his rebounding. He only averaged 6.1 boards a game last season.

Chad Ford actually has the Nuggets drafting Jeff Pendergraph of Arizona State. Pendergraph is one of few big men with any beef projected to go in the second round, but he is still listed just an inch taller than Kenyon Martin at 6’10” and he weighs the same as Kenyon at 240. Quite honestly, I may have seen Pendergraph play, but if I did, I sure do not remember it. Based on his profile he would appear to be more of an offensive player than a defensive one. Offense on the block is nice, but not if it is not backed up with good defense and the ability to rebound.

Typically I would never lock in on a single position, but the Nuggets need for a young back up point guard and the plethora of such players available makes it safe to lock in on that position. The only way I would rather see Denver draft a big man instead of a point tonight is if someone like DeJuan Blair falls into the mid twenties and Denver is able to jump up and grab him. Other than that, I have no desire to see Denver draft a big just to add depth. I would much rather see them bring in a guy like James Mays who was in cap last year than take a flier on a someone they hope can play.

Denver is always unpredictable. They have made quite a few moves over the previous few years either leading up to the draft or on draft day itself. We also never know who they like and who they do not. Last year they claimed to have Sonny Weems in the top ten of their draft board so who knows what player they really like who will be sitting there at 34. Of course, if there is no one they like they will probably trade out of the draft and move on.

Quite honestly no one knows what will happen tonight and that is why the draft is so much fun.

Update: Andrew at Denver Stiffs is on board with the idea of Mills at 34 as is Brian at Nugg Love.

The 2009 NBA Draft is at Hand

I love the NBA Draft and draft day is here. I have not written anything about the draft yet thanks to the Nuggets only having the 34th selection, but look for a post or two tomorrow.

That will not be the end of the draft coverage though. You should plan on taking part in the live draft chat that will be featuring many of the bloggers from the ESPN/TrueHoop Network. I will be taking part to chronicle anything that Denver may or may not do and to help make fun of any GM that deserves to be made fun of.

Johan Petro – To Qualify or Not to Qualify

Heading into the season without Marcus Camby many Denver Nuggets fans were worried about the rotation at power forward and center. Nene and Kenyon Martin were considered health risks and it was impossible to know what we would see out of Chris Andersen. Juwan Howard was on the roster, but he was let go shortly after the season started.

Denver had big men Nick Fazekas and James Mays in training camp, but they were both waived prior to the start of the season. They did acquire Cheikh Samb in the Billups trade on November 3, 2008, but he was clearly not ready to contribute. As the season wore on and Nene, Kenyon and Birdman starting missing a couple of games here and there with bruised ribs or calf strains Denver realized they had to get another big man even for no other reason than an insurance policy against a serious injury.

Enter Johan Petro.

The Nuggets sent Chucky Atkins to Oklahoma City and swapped their first round pick for the Thunders’ second rounder in tomorrow’s draft to acquire Petro. The common analysis of the deal was if Petro cannot get on the floor for OKC how is he going to play for Denver?

Well, the plan never was for Petro to play much, just to hang out in a box with a hammer tied to it and that said “Break glass in case of emergency!” Petro came to Denver with 45 games left in the season and George Karl broke the glass on 27 occasions although Petro only played more than eight minutes on 12 occasions and those situations were comprised of either blowouts or a handful of games where Petro filled in due to injury or suspension.

Petro was as advertised on offense. He has little post game to speak of, he likes to take jumpers and it is difficult to discern why when you see the result and he is not what you would call a great finisher as the roll man off of ball screens. Most Nugget players would not even think about passing him the ball except for Carmelo Anthony. For some reason Melo fed Petro all the time. It may have been simply because he was open or it may have been because Melo just liked seeing how Petro would fumble the pass away. It could be through his hands, between his legs off his chest, the possibilities were numerous.

Fortunately for Petro offense is only half the game. Petro did prove to be a very good rebounder and he had his moments on defense as well. The highlight of Petro’s season as a Nugget had to be in Orlando when he did a solid job guarding Dwight Howard due to the Birdman sitting out with a bum wrist. Petro only played 15 minutes, but without him Denver would have had to go small and Howard would have just demolished them on the boards.

There may not be many true centers in the NBA anymore, especially ones that can dominate games on the block, but at some point you are going to need a seven footer like Petro to come in and prevent you from getting abused in the lane.

It may seem like Petro is expendable, but I believe the Nuggets have to have a player like him on the roster.

Denver seemed to get better at defensive rebounding as the season wore on, but there were nights where they were dominated on the boards. If you just look at total rebounds Denver appears right in the middle of the pack. However, if you judge them by their defensive rebound percentage, which adjusts for the number of shots that are hoisted up, the Nuggets were tied for 23rd in the league in defensive rebounding percentage.

Petro had the second best rebound rate on the team at 16.3, just behind Birdman’s 17.6 rate. For comparison Nene had a rebound rate of only 13.8 and Kenyon was even worse with a rate of 13.7. The Nuggets are going to need someone who can come off the bench or fill in when needed who can rebound and not kill them on defense. They also need that player to be relatively cheap. Petro is a restricted free agent and in order to maintain the right to match any offer he receives Denver will have to offer him a one year qualifying offer that is reportedly $2,849,703.

Petro is not worth nearly $3 million for a team who will surely be looking to cut corners where possible, but with the Nuggets desperate for a big man insurance policy it would be difficult to let Petro walk. Denver would love to sign a competent big man for the minimum, but there are no Chris Andersen’s out there in the free agent market this summer. There are a couple of intriguing free agent big men that can be had, but I am not sure they will be in Denver’s price range (we will get into that another day).

The Nuggets do have the option of playing a dangerous game with Johan. They can decline to present a qualifying offer, making Petro an unrestricted free agent, and try to sign him for much less than the $2.8 million he would be guaranteed under the qualifying offer. There is no way anyone offers Petro $2.8 million for next season and one of the ways teams get into salary cap hell is paying players above their market value (see the New York Knicks or Los Angeles Clippers).

The question then becomes would Petro as an unrestricted free agent sign with someone else just to spite Denver for not making the qualifying offer? Also, by making Petro an unrestricted free agent Denver would have to either sign him to a minimum deal or dip into their mid level exception money if they need to go above the minimum.

It is difficult to say this with Denver being so hard up for big man depth, but I think the Nuggets need to roll the dice and not extend the qualifying offer to Petro. There is still a chance they can retain Petro as Nene/Birdman insurance at a much lower price and it will also free them up to bring in a better big man that could fit into their budget. If Petro were to sign the qualifying offer it would further crimp the Nuggets cap and tax situation.

If the plan fails and Petro walks away for nothing at least the Nuggets have a $3.24 million trade exception left over from sending Atkins to Oklahoma City which would be a valuable tool to find someone else to fill Petro’s emergency role. After all, the Pistons just traded away Amir Johnson for cap relief. There will be more deals like that out there.

Jason Hart – Making Denver Nuggets History

Jason Hart will always hold a special place in my heart as the report that the Denver Nuggets were going to sign him was shared with the world by Nuggets bloggers. Due to the closing of the Rocky Mountain News Chris Tomasson had no place to report the story so he turned to Andrew at Denver Stiffs and myself to get the news out. It was the first, but hopefully not the last time Nuggets news broke over the blogosphere.

As exciting as his arrival was Hart made very little impact on the Nuggets. He only more than four minutes on two occasions and never played more than eight minutes.

I was a fan of Hart’s when he came out of Syracuse. I thought he could be a serviceable backup point guard in the NBA and he was a solid contributor for a couple of teams earlier in his career. When we found out he was going to be a Nugget I wondered if the plan was to have him take over as the backup point guard for Anthony Carter in the 2009-10 season.

At this point I think the chances of that are unlikely. The only area Hart would provide an upgrade over Carter would be with his shooting ability, but that would be like trading your walkie-talkie for a vintage 1985 25 pound cell phone. Sure the cell phone is better, but not nearly as well as you need it to and good luck keeping up with the folks using BlackBerries and iPhones.

As with Sonny Weems, Hart has value simply due to his ability to fill a roster spot at a cheap price, but I do not expect to see him back with Denver next season.

Hart is a part of Nuggets history, but I bet he was hoping for being remembered for his play on the court instead of how the news of his signing broke.

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