The Denver Nuggets toiled in relative obscurity this preseason. Unless you attended one of the two home games or had NBATV to check out the lone televised contest with the Los Angeles Lakers you did not see a second of Nuggets basketball.
One man saw it all and he is Jason Kosmicki the radio voice of the Nuggets. Koz was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for us and inform Nuggets fans of what they might have missed leading up to the season.
Jeremy: You are a busy man who wears a lot of hats with Altitude. What are all your responsibilities you currently have to fulfill for Altitude?
Koz: My title is Executive Producer of Altitude Radio and Play by Play for the Nuggets. Basically, I run the radio department. At the end of the day whatever happens on the radio side is my responsibility, good or bad. But that sounds a little more impressive than it actually is. Mark Bertagnolli produces and studio hosts both the Nuggets and Avs broadcasts, even when they play at the same time. That’s unheard of in our business. He has been with me forever and he should get way more credit than what he does in our department. There is a bunch of other things that we do behind the scenes but I won’t bore you with details.
Jeremy: Obviously it is great to have Coach Karl back. I remember Nene commenting last season about how long after his treatments he felt the effects of chemotherapy. With Karl only a few months removed from the end of his treatment how is his energy level? His spirits seem to be very high, but can his body handle the physical and emotional toll of coaching?
Koz: On the contrary, I think coaching helps his recovery. I have never met a person in my life that loves the game of basketball more than coach. You hear players and coaches say it all the time, “I love to play the game of basketball.” Sometimes that’s just lip service. But coach actually, really, loves the game, a true ambassador. Being around passionate people is a true pleasure in life, no matter what your profession is.
Jeremy: Aaron Afflalo has put up some impressive numbers in the preseason. What is the reason for his increased production? Is he simply being more aggressive or has he significantly improved his game over the summer?
Koz: Thanks for this question! This has been my favorite topic so far this year. Man listen, this guy is going to blow up this year. I have been telling people for months now that this has “breakout season” written all over it. I really mean it. If any of your readers out there have children that are interested in sports, have them watch this kid play. Especially when the ball is not around him, watch how he never gives up on the play. He does everything the right way. Like a Ryan Bowen with talent LOL. Every morning during the summer he was at the Pepsi Center at 7 AM. He has the desire, the heart, the skill set and the want to be better. On top of that he is a true gentleman off the court. Just an all around great guy, a guy coaches would kill to have on their team. This is going to sound crazy right now as I sit here and type this in October but I predict that he will be getting a lot of votes at the end of the year for the NBA’s most improved player.
Jeremy: J.R.Smith is entering a contract year. He has not progressed on the court the way the Nuggets had hoped. J.R.’s shot seems to be falling at a higher rate than last season and George Karl praised his play after the game against the Clippers. Does J.R. look like he is ready to take a step forward this season as far as becoming the complete player he is capable of being?
Koz: At the beginning of every year, I always think that, but then it never happens. All I can say is that I hope so. Smitty is a good, good guy that has had a lot of tough things happen to him.
Jeremy: You have seen all of the other Northwest Division teams except for Utah in the preseason. Has any team impressed you? Which team posses the greatest threat to unseating the Nuggets and why?
Koz: If this Nuggets team stays intact, they will win the Northwest Division. I thought the biggest threat was Utah, but I am changing my mind. I am going to have to go with Minnesota. Just kidding, making sure you are still paying attention. It has to be the Thunder. I know its everyone’s “sexy” pick of the year but there is a good reason behind that. They were the youngest team in the NBA last year and won what, 50 games? They have another year under their belts and they have a bunch of guys that just want to win. On top of that, I am a big Scott Brooks fan.
Jeremy: Chauncey Billups has seemed to wear down the past couple of seasons. In 2008-09 it happened in the conference finals, but last season he seemed to have hit a wall midway through March. Now after having played in the World Championships how has he looked from a physical standpoint in the preseason? How many minutes should he play every game in order to play at a high level all season?
Koz: I’m not sure I would use the term wear down. Last year he averaged over 19 points per game. That was a career high. It was the first time in NBA history that a player had his best season in his 13th year. Plus, Chauncey is not an athletic player, he doesn’t run fast, fly high and dunk. He uses strength, body and mind strength…that’s his game. I will agree though that they do need to watch his minutes this year. Good thing the Nuggets have Ty Lawson to help out in that situation. I also think you will see Ty and Chauncey on the court together a little more this year. Billups played primarily the off guard this summer in the FIBA World Championships, there is no reason he can’t do it with the nuggets.
Jeremy: I believe Shelden Williams was a shrewd signing by Denver. I actually mentioned him as a player they should have pursued in the summer of 2009. Talk about what he brings to the team and is he going to be effective playing significant minutes to start the season due to the injuries that have hit the Nuggets bigs?
Koz: He has been great, an extremely quiet guy off the court. His entire NBA career all anyone has asked him to do was rebound and set screens. George Karl changed that, he has actually semi-yelled at Shelden in practice for passing up open shots. I think he finds this refreshing that a coach would give him this type of freedom. So I think he is going to be solid holding down the fort until the other guys get back.
Jeremy: After playing their best half court defense in years during 2008-09 the Nuggets took a step backwards in that department last season. Has the team defense looked more stout during the preseason or are we in for a repeat of their performance of 2009-10?
Koz: I sense the defense will be better this season because of individual commitment to that. Melo is going to be a better all around player this year. Look for his rebounding numbers to go up as well as his defense. Melo might not do it for 48 minutes but his stretches of good defense will increase. Afflalo is an awesome defender and Ty is underrated in that department. Then you have guys like Shelden Williams and Nene that are good team defenders. Plus J.R. Smith says every year that defense is a key for him to stay on the floor, even coach Karl says J.R.’s defense has improved basically every year since he has been here. So the talent is there, now can they put it together is the question.
Jeremy: What are you most excited about heading into a brand new season?
Koz: Like a million things, I hear there is a new Irish Pub in Cleveland; I’m pretty stoked about that. No but seriously as I sit here and think about it I am most excited about the young guys. I am really looking forward to watching Ty Lawson and Aaron Afflalo develop as NBA players.
After seeing Afflalo play in game one, I think Koz could be right on about a potential breakout season brewing for Afflalo. He looks like a different player and putting in that kind of work breeds confidence.
Koz posts podcasts after every game with highlights and interviews which you can catch here.
I would like to give a big thank you to Koz for taking time out of his busy schedule to enlighten us.