There has been no shortage of recommendations for players the fans think the Denver Nuggets should sign. We know the Nuggets will have to sign (or trade for) at least three more players. I am working under the assumption that Anthony Carter is going to return to his regular one year, veteran minimum contract. To fill the other two spots the Nuggets will likely sign an offensive minded swingman and another big. Today we will poke and prod two shooters that the Nuggets are undoubtedly interested in and tomorrow we will investigate a couple of bigs that may be on the radar.
At small forward there are two players that have received quite a bit of attention, and they are Steve Novak and Wally Szczerbiak. Novak is the people’s choice, but it is unclear if the Nuggets have made contact with him or his agent. Szczerbiak, who was featured in an article by the wild and wooly Woody Paige in the Denver Post, probably has the inside track with the team and in the aforementioned article claims they had shown interest in him more than a month ago. Which player should Denver choose? I am glad I asked.
Both players can shoot, but does one have an edge over the other in that department? Szczerbiak has converted over 40% of his three point attempts in seven of his previous eight campaigns (trust me, I did the math for the seasons he played for more than one team). Novak does not have quite the track record that Wally does, but he did hit 47.9% of his threes in 2007-08 while playing for the Houston Rockets, but he only attempted 71 three pointers that season. Last year with the Clippers he drilled 41.6% of his three point attempts on a much greater number of attempts. Plus due to the fact he was playing with the Clippers, they were not all open looks.
At this point in their careers, I think Novak is the better marksman. On a team like the Nuggets where open looks will abound thanks to the talent around him I suspect he would have a chance at hitting 45% of his threes. Wally would capitalize on his chances in Denver as well, but I do not believe he would convert quite as high of a percentage as Novak would although the difference would not be significant.
However, there is more to basketball than catching a pass and shooting an open three pointer. When it comes to the other facets of the game I believe Wally has Novak beat. Szczerbiak has carried the offensive load in the past and has a more diverse arsenal to call on. That is not to say Novak is not capable of adding a midrange game, or a post game or a pull up jumper to his quiver, but Wally already has those in the bag. Neither player is asked to do much more than shoot, but you want to be able to trust someone to do more than dribble away from the defense and pass the ball to the point guard to reinitiate the offense, Wally is your man. As soon as Novak dribbles he is looking for someone to pass off to.
Defensively both players are underrated. If you ask most fans to rank them both on a scale of one to 100 you would probably get a lot of zeros. Actually they are probably both twenty-fives, thus the underrated tag.
Novak is very attentive and does a good job of being in the right place on the floor and ready to help. Szczerbiak is also attentive, but as on offense, he has just a bit more to offer. Despite being six years older than Novak, Szczerbiak is still a slightly better athlete. Plus he has some craftiness on defense that Novak is lacking. For example when the Cavaliers played the Nuggets in Denver this season Wally drew two charges and a third offensive foul when he was boxing out Chris Andersen. Believe it or not, the Cavs played Wally at power forward for a few minutes in that game and Szczerbiak actually guarded Andersen. Novak has three inches on Wally, but Szczerbiak plays bigger and he moves slightly better too.
Even though Szczerbiak would appear to be the better player right now I still have a difficult time endorsing him over Novak. Maybe it is the thought of having to type his last name over and over again. The tipping point in my mind is their respective contract statuses. Szczerbiak is an unrestricted free agent while Novak is restricted.
The most the Nuggets can offer Novak would be the $2.1 million they have left over from their mid level exception although they could also use their biannual exception that starts at $1.99 million. The question is would either one of those be too much for the Clippers to match? Los Angeles is over the salary cap by around $3 million, but they are nowhere near the luxury tax line. Of course Donald Sterling has the reputation of being cheap, but he has proven he will spend money when he wants to. The kicker is the Clippers have about $21 million coming off their books next season from players they are unlikely to bring back. Adding around $2 million a year for Novak is not nearly as costly for the Clippers as it would be for Denver.
I have no idea how much Szczerbiak is expecting to sign for, but I bet Denver could sign him for the veteran minimum. That would clearly not be possible with Novak.
I believe when all is said and done the Nuggets will sign Szczerbiak to be their shooter off the pine, but before I offer the deal to him, and despite the fact my head tells me he is the better player, I would like to see Denver make a play for Novak.
I say sign Novak to an offer sheet using their biannual exception and dare the Clippers to match it. I think it would probably be a futile gesture because I do think the Clippers would match that offer. The good news is at this point Denver will get one or the other. If Los Angeles does not match the offer sheet, Denver would get the shooter they need to replace Kleiza. On the other hand if the Clippers do match, Wally will still be available. Szczerbiak has waited this long, and as I pointed out previously, there are no other contending teams with playing time available to be had. Wally waited Kleiza’s contract situation out, he would have no choice but to wait Novak’s out as well.
The bottom line is in Denver the bottom line is the bottom line (think it over, it makes sense, in fact, that should be the Nuggets marketing slogan this season) and I doubt the Nuggets are interested in offering anyone more than a minimum salary. That means no Novak, but do not fret. Szczerbiak will be just fine playing a handful of minutes off the bench. It is not a signing to jump for joy over, but I would take Szczerbiak’s savvy and shooting any day over Kleiza’s one track mind. You can complain and grouse all you want, but Szczerbiak would provide another small upgrade for the Nuggets heading into 2009-10.