Denver Nuggets Kick Off the Preseason

Before we get to the meat and potatoes that is the Denver Nuggets first preseason game I want to dish out a couple of hors d’oeuvres.

First of all, the 2010-11 Basketball Prospectus has been published.  Once again I had the honor of playing a small role, OK, a very small role, in the chapter on the Nuggets.  This is an incredible publication and if you are a fan of basketball, advanced stats, or would like to understand advanced stats a little better, you will love this book.  You can order it in PDF format, or in old school paperback.  I recommend buying both.

Secondly, ESPN.com is running a Daily Dime featuring every division and Tuesday, October 12 is the Northwest Division’s turn.  I would love for you guys to join me from 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM Mountain time, because a chat without questions from readers is like a bris without a scalpel.  I will toss up a link when I have one and I look forward to chatting with you all.  Update: The Northwest Division Daily Dime Live page has been posted.  Gird your loins for a great day of chatting.

Those were tasty, now on to the main course.

The Denver Nuggets kicked off the 2010-11 preseason in style by thrashing the Portland Trail Blazers 109-99.  The real news was that it was basically business as usual at the Pepsi Center.

Despite all the rumors and conjecture Carmelo Anthony is a Nugget.  As usual he received a huge cheer when he was introduced and lead the Nuggets in scoring.  George Karl was back to his familiar place on the bench, as a two time victor over cancer.  And as we have all come accustomed to a Denver big man went down with an injury.

Al Harrington had been struggling with plantar fasciitis for weeks and before a point was scored in the contest Harrington was on the floor holding his left foot.  The diagnosis is a partial tear to his plantar fascia, a strip of tissue that runs underneath your foot from the heel to the toes, and he is expected back in two or three weeks.   Harrington is taking the glass half full approach citing the injury as good luck because now he has no choice to stay off of it and let it heal, hopefully leaving him pain free.  Whether Harrington will be pain free or not, but he should be available for the season opener.

Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith both saw their three point shooting percentages fall off a cliff in 2009-10.  J.R. Smith had shot between 39.0% and 40.3% the previous three seasons before cashing in on only 33.8% of his threes last season.  Carmelo had seen his three point shooting climb for four straight seasons peaking during 2008-09 at 37.1%.  That trend met a dramatic end with Melo only converting 31.6% of his threes in 2009-10.

While it would be nice to have Carmelo make a few more threes, I am not sure the Nuggets are best served with him taking 2.7 a game.  J.R. on the other hand, despite all his talents, is a liability on the court if he is not making his threes.  Not only did J.R. struggle all season from distance, he tried his darndest to shoot his way out of his slump so his low percentage was exacerbated by a career high 6.2 attempts a game.

Why does all that matter?  Considering neither Carmelo nor J.R. are going to stop shooting threes, Denver needs them to shoot much better on the frequent occasions where they let them fly.  In an attempt to grasp at straws after one meaningless preseason game, it was good to see Melo and J.R. combine to make seven of their ten three point attempts.

The real star of the game turned out to be Shelden Williams.  Williams is a big body who has struggled with dealing with artificially high expectations thanks to the Atlanta Hawks drafting him fifth overall ahead of also-rans like Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay.  Williams is a tough player who rebounds well and is a powerful post defender.  If he receives the kind of minutes he did against Portland, you can expect double digit rebounds just like Friday night when he pulled down 12 defensive rebounds and 14 overall.

You can also expect some serious turnovers and Williams delivered four on Friday night.  Williams is known for having jackhammer like hands and he is responsible for far more turnovers than an offensively limited player such as himself should.  You might recall his performance at the end of the first half of game two of the NBA finals in Los Angeles where he pulled down a rebound with two seconds left and sloppily threw the ball to Kobe Bryant, who drained a three.  Williams then inbounded the ball to Kobe who barely missed another three.

Williams did produce 21 points, but before you get too excited he did convert on four of six midrange jumpers, which is certainly out of the ordinary.  Last season was the first season of his career where Shelden was able to make over 50% of his shots and it was only the second season he shot over 44.5%.  I do not need to tell you all that big men who shoot that low of a percentage do not see the floor much without their warm-ups on.  However, if we are going to jump to the conclusion that Carmelo and J.R. are going to have bounce back seasons from long range, we might as well be consistent and declare Williams is going to consistently knock down the midrange J.  Whether Williams is an offensive force or not, Denver will certainly use his energy and lunch pail type work ethic in the paint.

The Nuggets will be in Minnesota Tuesday night and with Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen and now Al Harrington out Williams is going to get plenty of time to validate his opening performance as a Nugget.

Andrew over at Denver Stiffs was in attendance at the game and has several keen observations from his view close to the court.

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