Breaking down ESPN’s #NBArank of the Denver Nuggets: Part 1

ESPN recently concluded an extremely arduous process of codifying the NBA’s best 500 players. Our fellow TrueHoop family was highly involved in the process, sending in ballots, backing up their claims in the 5-on-5 series and explaining how certain elements weighed more heavily in their decision-making via video interviews which aired on the front page of the four-letter network’s website this past week. From our perspective — being a proud member of the TrueHoop Network — we feel entitled to give a Carmelo Anthony-like tip-of-the-hat to ourselves for all of our efforts, as ranking 500 different players is not an easy task; however, we conversely feel that it is our job to specifically analyze those players we know best, and determine if their individual Top 500 rankings are accurate in order to further understand how we can get better for next year. Including current free agents, the Denver Nuggets saw a whopping 16 players make their way to the #NBArank list. Whether they managed to land in the right spot is up for debate. In Part 1 of this series we’ll take a look at the Nuggets who landed outside of the Top 100.

No. 439: Melvin Ely

This far down the list, I think most people would be lying if they said, “Bingo, that’s the perfect spot for that guy,” because let’s be honest, whether you’d take the recently China-bound Melvin Ely, or former Nugget, Malik Allen (No. 465), at this point in time is really a toss up. Neither of these guys are going to see consistent minutes on any NBA roster, so it’s hard to evaluate who’s the better player at the moment. What we can do, however, is is look at former Roundball Big Board members, Josh Selby (No. 411), Charles Jenkins (No. 448), Jeremy Tyler (No. 441) and Iman Shumpert (No. 440) and say, “I’d definitely rather have those guys on my team than Melvin Ely or Malik Allen.” This is no slight on either Allen nor Ely, but the fact of the matter is, those two players have each already met the zenith of their respective careers while the rookies mentioned above have their entire NBA lives ahead of them. This doesn’t however take away from the fact that I found it strange that rookies were able to qualify for the #NBArank to begin with, being that none of them have played a minute in the NBA thus far.

Conclusion: N/A

No. 380: Jordan Hamilton

There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Hamilton deserves, not only to be on this list — since rookies were deemed eligible — but to be ranked fairly high based on his production at Texas and in various competitions this summer. Hamilton finds himself ahead of anonymous NBA players like Antonio Daniels (No. 400), Samardo Samuels (No. 398) and Solomon Jones (No. 389), but behind marginally serviceable guys like Wayne Ellington (No. 364) and Pooh Jeter (No. 366). To me, this is perfectly fine. It’s subjective whether he should be ranked higher, or lower, but in the end I don’t think you can quibble too much with his position considering he beat out many other talented rookies along the way to No. 380.

Conclusion: Just right

No. 348: Kosta Koufos

To be quite honest, I was pleasantly surprised with Koufos’ ranking. It’s so easy, as an NBA fan, to hop on the bandwagon to lambaste the big, white “stiff,” without acknowledging the actual skill set it takes to make it in the NBA. I felt Koufos was undoubtedly primed for this consideration by our TrueHoop peers, but at No. 348, it appears he managed to avoided this label for the most part. As Nuggets fans, we got to see up close and personal what Koufos was capable of when he saw even the most marginal increase in playing time. Put simply: He wasn’t bad… at all. In fact, Koufos was quite impressive the last half of the season when he received extended minutes, which resulted in career highs in nearly every relevant statistical category imaginable on the offensive side of the ball. During the last three contests of the regular season when he saw around 20 minutes per game, Koufos averaged 14 points and seven rebounds per game on 72 percent shooting from the floor. Unfortunately this small sample size likely wont’ persuade #NBArank voters that Koufos deserves to be placed higher, and that’s probably how it should be. Though his on-court production might see an upswing in the future, right now Koufos is still largely unproven.

Conclusion: Just right (for the national audience), too low (for Nuggets fans)

No. 332: Gary Forbes

Each individual player — for the most part — has a random Twitter comment next to their ranking, exemplifying — for the most part — the general consensus the outside world has of that specific player. Gary Forbes Twitter attachment comes from @TheAkronHammer, who says, “Obviously this doesn’t take into account his 78-point game in the Hartford Pro-Am.” I would tend to agree, but I’d also add that it doesn’t take into account his excellent performance at the FIBA Americas Championship in which he outperformed many players listed higher on the #NBArank list, along the way to scoring a tournament-high 39 points against Canada. No, Forbes hasn’t seen a heavy dose of minutes while donning a Nuggets jersey, but on the rare occasion he does, Forbes displays a fairly well-rounded and solid overall game. With J.R. Smith now gone, many Nuggets fans, including myself, have been extremely boisterous in their desire to see Forbes re-signed. That alone says a lot about the un-drafted shooting guard from Panama. Just glancing at some of the names ahead of him, such as Keyon Dooling (No. 328), Fabricio Oberto, (No. 327) and Luke Walton (No. 318), it’s obvious he’s ranked a tad too low for my liking, as I’d take him over all three of those guys any day of the week. But again, I can’t complain too much, and for the most part the TrueHoop Network did a solid job of figuring out about where Forbes belongs.

Conclusion: Just right (for the national audience), way too low (for Nuggets fans)

No. 331: Kenneth Faried

Holy Moses, for the sake of all things… well… holy, where in the hell do I start? I’m not sure when Faried was ranked (was it right after the 2011 Draft that ballots were sent in, or what?), because clearly, and I mean CLEARLY, if you’ve been paying ANY attention whatsoever to the countless number of exhibition games played this summer during the lockout, you’d know for a fact that Kenneth Faried was the biggest steal in the Draft, and is without a doubt going to be a stud in the NBA! Sure, that might sound like a total homer proclamation from a fan who’s loved Faried since Day 1 and almost passed out when the Nuggets drafted him, but the facts simply don’t lie. We’ve chronicled Faried’s 2011 Summer Beastmode Tour since he first debuted at the Drew League in L.A., and it’s been nothing short of the most spectacular rookie display of all 60 players taken in the 2011 Draft. Faried has continuously blown away the Twitter Universe with each outing, garnering a myriad of new fans every time he’s stepped onto the court. He’s wowed experts, analysts and even division rival TrueHoop bloggers of the Denver Nuggets, who’ve given him way more credit than they should (joking, joking). He’s, to my knowledge, been the only rookie to make SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays reel, not once, but TWICE, during a summer in which no professionally organized, NBA-sanctioned basketball is being played. So I wonder, how in the world can a guy who’s been this explosive, this relentless, this flat-out impressive, be ranked behind such players as Maurice Evans (No. 320), Kyrylo Fesenko (No. 310) and for God’s sake, Vladimir Radmanovic (No. 315)?!?! I would lend some breathing room to my fellow TrueHoop brotherhood had they ranked all rookies, in general, much lower, but somehow Tristan Thompson (No. 319) and Bismack Biyombo (No. 301) — both of whom have accomplished nothing this summer — are ranked directly ahead of Faried. To summarize: Faried’s ranking is the epitome of the flaws that lie nearly everywhere when trying to rank such a copious amount of NBA talent. There’s simply no way this position justifies just how good Faried already is, and will be in the NBA.

Conclusion: Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too low

No. 306: Timofey Mozgov

How Mozgov finds himself ranked above Faried is almost criminal, yet at the same time, justifiable, considering the other players surrounding him. Guys like Kwame Brown (N0. 304) and Mike Bibby (No. 307) are basically in the same category as “The Moz”; the difference, however, between him and many of the players in his realm, is age. Mozgov is young, tall and fairly talented, kind of like the more generic version, and tag-line, of Amare Stoudemire (Standing Tall and Talented). Mozgov still has tons of room for improvement, but has shown flashes of high basketball IQ on a number of occasions. Should Nene flee in free agency after hell freezes over and the NBA lockout concludes, Mozgov will almost certainly move into the starting center role for the Nuggets, unless of course they sign a more established NBA center such as Samuel Dalembert (No. 112). If he can hold his own as a starter, Mozgov will most likely vault to much higher position in next year’s #NBArank, as occupying the starting center position on any NBA team is a position most would deem impressive, and credible.

Conclusion: Just right

No. 168: Al Harrington

Unlike Kosta Koufos and Gary Forbes, I feel the rest of the NBA community has a firm grasp on who Al Harrington is as a player. Surrounded by guys like Boris Diaw (No. 161), Mike Miller (No. 169) and Corey Maggette (No. 162), Al Harrington seems to be right where he belongs: among guys who, at one point in their careers have been unquestionable starters, but now are crossing the void into a more role-player oriented disposition. Big Al can still go out and get you 15 points on any given night, and would even be a solid starter on many NBA teams, but the fact that he has no chance whatsoever of beating out Danilo Gallinari — a career 14 points per game scorer — for the starting small forward gig of the Denver Nuggets says a lot about where he stands at this point in time in his career. At 31, Harrington could go on to have a couple more big years before his career fizzles out, but the odometer is certainly increasing in digits, especially considering how many miles he’s already put on.

Conclusion: Nearly perfect

No. 159: Chris Andersen

At first, No. 159 seemed a bit high for “The Birdman.” Averaging just about five points and five rebounds per game isn’t much; but numbers were never the reason Birdman made it in the NBA to begin with. This guy’s passion for the game, his energy, his explosiveness — are remarkable. I’ve seen Birdman single-handedly win games for the Nuggets (yes, you heard that correctly) and change the entire landscape of the Nuggets in-game mentality with a mighty block. He has the ability to redefine the paradigm of any individual game with his energy alone, especially at home. Though injuries and age have placed a steady draft in front of the Birdman’s path of flight, his wings haven’t been clipped just yet, and I stand by my claim that the Birdman is one of the very best, and most important role players in all of basketball.

Conclusion: Just right

No. 110: J.R. Smith

What is there to say about J.R. that hasn’t already been said 1,000 times before? He’s an enigma, anomaly, prodigy, disappointment, always-has-been, never-will-be, knucklehead and reliable asset all rolled into one. He’s what I love about the NBA, and conversely, what I hate about it. Yet for all the grief J.R. gets, I personally don’t believe he gets enough credit either. You see, in the NBA maybe more than any sport, we’re always waiting, salivating, for some guy to “break out.” Though nearly eight years have passed since J.R. joined the Nuggets, we’re still waiting on him to become that All-Star caliber guy we all know he is. It’s fascinating to be honest with you — the way each and every year Nuggets fans from across the globe predict how this year will be different, how this year J.R. will finally break out of his shell and morph into a consistent scoring machine. But it never happened, and it never will. J.R. is who he is. He’ll always be inconsistent, he’ll always be a knucklehead and he’ll always do things that drive coaches crazy. But this is the NBA, and the year is 2011 — that type of behavior is almost protocol nowadays. So let’s forget about what J.R. isn’t for a moment, and acknowledge what he is: a bench player, and maybe even a starting shooting guard on the right team (remember, J.R. Smith, for all intensive purposes was the starting shooting guard on the 2009 Nuggets squad that made it to the Western Conference Finals) who can go out and put up 20-plus points on any given night… easily. Glancing at the other guards surrounding J.R. in the #NBArank is actually quite interesting. Guys like Aaron Brooks (No. 118), D.J. Augustin (No. 119), Baron Davis (No. 106) and Trevor Ariza (No. 113, not a guard by the way) all have worse field goal percentages than he does, yet none of them obtain the bad wrap for being a “chucker” that J.R. gets, and absolutely none of them are as lethal on the offensive side of the ball either. Even moving into the Top 100 for example, O.J. Mayo (No. 93) averaged not only a worse field goal percentage than J.R. last season, but less points, steals and rebounds, not to mention more turnovers — all in more minutes time. I’m not necessarily saying that J.R. is a better player than Mayo, rather, just pointing out the facts. In summary: J.R. lives under a double-standard because of his character. He’s wild, he’s irresponsible, he’s had his fair share of run-ins with the law off the court, but the fact is, he’s just as talented and gifted as almost anybody on it.

Conclusion: Just about right, but can vary depending on the day

No. 102: Kenyon Martin

Again, just as is the case with J.R., I feel K-Mart is a guy who’s value takes a hit due to his image. I really don’t think people understand the kind of impact this guy has on the court when fully healthy. He’s as mean, and intimidating of a players as you will ever find in the NBA, and can transform any given team’s fortitude simply with his presence alone. I don’t care what anybody says, Kenyon Martin’s one-on-one defense is some of the best in the entire NBA, and quite possibly the best of any power forward — Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett included. I mentioned the role J.R. played on that 2009 Western Conference Finals team, but if you want to know the real reason the Nuggets were so tough to beat, look no further than Kenyon Martin. It’s really too bad K-Mart decided to sign in China this past month, as he would have made an excellent addition to a title-contending team this season, and still could in time for the Playoffs, I guess. The bottom line: There are a lot of players around K-Mart in the #NBArank that you could place on a title contender such as the Heat, and none would have the impact K-Mart would. I’m sorry, but there’s no way I’d take J.J. Barea (No. 92) or Roy Hibbert (No. 96) over K-Mart, even at this point in his career. No way.

Conclusion: Too low

Stay tuned, as we’ll reveal our analysis for the Denver Nuggets who managed to crack the Top 100 of ESPN’s #NBArank in Part 2 of this series.

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Kalen Deremo

Kalen was born in Durango, CO, in 1988 and graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2013 with a degree in journalism. He's now an itinerant hoping to travel as much as possible before eventually succumbing to the "real world." Aside from writing Kalen likes movies, music, spicy food and the great outdoors. Edward Abbey is his current idol.

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  • Alex

    Great article. I enjoyed seeing the ESPN rankings and countdown. It was certainly a difficult task, especially with all of the rookies. Some of them could be top 50 or 100 players next year, and some of them could be out of the league in a couple of years. It’s tough to judge until we see real games played against real coached defenses (the main problem with all of these exhibition games). Having said that I disagree on K-Mart. At his age and with his poor shot selection, not only would I much rather have Hibbert, but also several other forwards or centers below him on the list: Gibson, Haslem, Prince, Beasley, DeAndre Jordan, Monroe to name a few.

    • Kalen

      Yeah, see a lot of this whole ranking system — if not the entire thing — is subjective. Though I like K-Mart’s presence on the floor, that’s not to say DeAndre Jordan’s youth, height and athleticism don’t make just as much of an impact on a team’s overall effectiveness. But that’s really the beauty of this entire process — there’s no right answer… unless of course were talking about Faried and his ranking. :)

  • Andrew

    Nice work, Kalen. I agree with most, though I think Harrington is too high. Also, I don’t understand why you say “Should Nene flee in free agency after hell freezes over and the NBA lockout concludes, Mozgov will almost certainly move into the starting center role for the Nuggets…” Why shouldn’t he start alongside Nene and have Nene move to his more natural, power forward position (where Nene would have the opportunity to dominate for a change)????? This is the whole reason Nene wants to leave, and he’s right! C’mon, Karl, pull your head out and start the Moz, with Nene at power forward and Koufos/Bird/KMart/Faried coming off of the bench in the Center/PF positions. This team would look great with those lineups!