The worst thing a coach can do to a team is play the wrong players. Heading into the regular season many Nuggets fans were worried that old George Karl favorite Anthony Carter and apparent new George Karl favorite Joey Graham would take minutes away from more deserving players.
I have to insert the typical opening night disclaimer of how I know we cannot jump to conclusions after one game, but if Karl trusts Ty Lawson enough to put him out there in the fourth quarter of a tight game against a division rival – in his first career NBA game – I think we can look forward to much more Lawson this season. As far as Graham, who I believe does deserve minutes as a solid player who avoids mistakes, even without J.R. Smith available he was only on the floor for seven minutes.
As good as Lawson was, I was most impressed with Carmelo Anthony. Melo did everything you could ask for, he displayed all his offensive talents and played solid defense and hit the glass. With the ball Melo certainly was aggressive attacking the rim, but still took advantage of the times he had space to fire off a jumper. On top of his scoring, he also dished out five assists, three of which resulted in dunks.
Defensively Carmelo did a fine job. He stayed with Andrei Kirilenko and did a decent job of fighting through picks and as mentioned above he did a good job on the defensive glass.
I think Melo is poised for a career year and that is a big reason why I like the Nuggets’ chances to improve this season.
One of my concerns heading into the regular season was the relatively poor play by Chauncey Billups in the preseason. I had not seen how Billups typically performed in the preseason before so I knew it was possible that he might turn it on when the games started to count, but I was certainly concerned about his play. After a bit of a slow start he showed that there was no reason to be concerned. Chauncey was his typical self providing direction on the floor on offense, playing smart defense and hitting shots when the Nuggets needed him to.
The backcourt of Billups and Lawson was fun to watch. Chauncey is a deadly three point shooter and he received a few open looks thanks to Lawson’s ability to penetrate. Playing with Lawson also allows Billups to rest a bit on offense without carrying so much of a burden for making things run.
Surprisingly the backcourt pairing that triggered the Nuggets game clinching run in the fourth quarter was Lawson and Arron Afflalo. Anthony Carter struggled to guard Deron Williams because of Williams’ combination of size and speed and obviously Lawson did have issues trying to cover him. Afflalo was able to handle Deron’s size both in the paint and on the perimeter where Deron can use his strength to bump his defender off balance in order to drive to the rim. With Afflalo frustrating Williams and Boozer having a horrible shooting night the Jazz did not have enough offense to keep up with the scoring of Lawson, Billups and Anthony.
As a team, I thought Denver’s offense was a little too isolation heavy. Their movement away from the ball was inconsistent and easily defended. However, with players like Carmelo, Billups and Lawson able to drive and create offense for both themselves as well as their teammates the Nuggets offense was able to put up 91 points over the final three quarters.
Defensively the Nuggets had some tough assignments. Boozer is usually a handful in the paint and Okur is the kind of sweet shooting big the Nuggets can struggle with. Plus the Jazz run a grinding style of offense that will eat up disorganized defenses. Early on Denver struggled with covering the player who would set the cross screen for the big man on the weakside block. The Jazz were able to hit players with a quick pass while the defender stood with his back to the ball resulting in some easy baskets. Denver adjusted and the Jazz did not score on that play in the second half that I can recall. The Nuggets showed solid pick and roll defense, rotated relatively well (although they did give up a couple of wide open threes to Okur) and when the situation called for it, they scrambled very well after getting out of position.
Overall, you have to be pleased with the win. Afflalo definitely filled the role of Dahntay Jones, Lawson showed that the Nuggets have a tremendous new weapon. And I do not recall ever thinking to myself, the Nuggets could really use Linas Kleiza here. In the second quarter Denver had Lawson, Graham, Afflalo, Kenyon and Birdman on the floor at the same time and I was wondering where the offense would come from. They actually outscored the Jazz and erased a seven point first quarter deficit. The bench played very well and they look to be one of those groups whose production is greater than the sum of its parts.
Additional Game 1 Nuggets
Pace Factor: 96.6
Offensive Efficiency: 118.0
Defensive Efficiency: 108.7
Take this with you: The Nuggets have only started 2-0 once since 1987-88. Portland is very good, but they looked beatable at home against the Rockets Tuesday night. A win in Portland tomorrow would be a great start for Denver.