In Part 1 of this short series we examined the Denver Nuggets who landed outside the Top 100 of ESPN’s #NBArank list, which attempted to tabulate the best 500 players in the entire league. To conclude our analytical process of determining just how accurate these rankings are, we’re going to inspect the remaining Denver Nuggets — those who are perceived by our fellow TrueHoop family members, as some of the best 100 players in the entire NBA.
I think I speak for most Nuggets fans when I say we’re thrilled to see Dre back in Denver. As a backup who will assume the role of a mentor to the emerging Ty Lawson — just as Chauncey Billups did until his departure (minus the backup part) — Miller’s numbers will almost undoubtedly plummet due to this diminishing role (and age); however, his impact on the young Lawson will be immeasurable. Admittedly, I haven’t seen much of Miller since he left Denver in the Allen Iverson trade roughly five years ago, therefore I feel a little guilty in attempting to determine how accurate his ranking is, but judging by his recent playoff performances as well as his position alongside aging, former All-Stars, such as Chris Kaman (N0. 88), Andrei Kirilenko (No. 90) and Caron Butler (No. 87), he seems to be doing just fine.
Conclusion: Just right
This, this is a tough call. I love AAA just as much as the next Nugget fan and am entirely on board to overpay him simply so that he remains a Nugget — but that’s the totally biased Nugget fan in me speaking. As for my other half, the objective NBA mega-fan side, that part of me is a bit skeptical about Afflalo being ranked ahead of guys like Raymond Felton (No. 80) and Andrea Bargnani (No. 81), while being just one spot behind multi-single season 20 points per game scorer, Stephen Jackson (No. 77). Look, I value Afflalo’s shooting percentages, defense and intelligence tremendously, and place the utmost amount of importance on those characteristics, as I understand just how valuable they are to any NBA team; however, I’d have a real hard time honestly telling you that the Nugget are a better team with Afflalo, rather than Bargnani or Jackson. I guess what people miss, who don’t regularly watch the Nuggets, is the fact that Afflalo is largely a systematic type of player, in that almost all of his points come off spot up 3-pointers and the occasional free throw attempt. When driving to the basket — though he is improving — Afflalo is still incredibly novice, in large part due to the fact that his ball-handeling skills and athleticism simply aren’t his best attributes. And though his defense is probably Top 5 in terms of shooting guards in the NBA, it’s not the type of defense that drives Kobe Bryant crazy and forces him to miss easy shots, a la Ron Artest (No. 97) or Tony Allen (No. 72); it’s actually more of a blue-collar, mirror-your-man type of defense. Now it may sound like I’m being nitpicky, but that’s the type of attitude you must possess when considering these rankings. So I guess the question we have to ask is, “How much value should be placed on solid defense, great 3-point shooting and a high basketball IQ, and should these elements outweigh the ability to go out and drop 20 on a nightly basis?” Let’s do keep in mind here, that Afflalo has been in the league for four years now, and though he has gotten better each year, he’s never averaged over 13 points per game in his career. All this said, should Afflalo come out guns-a-blazin’ next season, average 15 points per game on the same great shooting percentages and show the ability to score the rock by creating his own offense, we could be potentially be looking at a Top 50 player in the NBA. For now, his ranking is somewhere in the neighborhood of where it probably should be.
Conclusion: About right, though maybe a bit too high
At 75, Chandler finds himself in about the perfect position. I do think he’s a tad bit better than Afflalo at this point in his career, and yet, still has a lot of room for improvement. I really only saw Chandler for about three months up close and personal, but that was more than enough time for me to gauge just how talented this guy is. In fact, at times Chandler impressed me way more than Danilo Gallinari, because while “Gallo” was off firing countless ill-advised 3-pointers and turning the ball over as he drove to the hole with a reckless abandon, Chandler was cool, calm and collected, often times doing the dirty work behind the scenes. But more than anything, I just love Chandler’s game. He’s never going to blow you away with one specific skill, but he’s as solid as solid gets when it comes to being a complete NBA talent. On many occasions Chandler would finish off a game with the most blocks on the entire Nuggets squad all en route to notching 15 points, seven rebounds and a few steals as well. Still, if there’s one thing that puzzles me about Chandler, it’s his ghost-like ability to appear and disappear at any given moment in time, but more frustratingly, his ability to regress throughout an entire season. For example, this past year Chandler was averaging about 18 points and two blocks per game for the first three months of the regular season; after joining the Nuggets in late February, Chandler saw averages of 12.5 points per game in March, 10.2 in April and a whopping 4.8 in the Playoffs. My question: What the HELL happened from December to May?!? Anyways, Chandler clearly has some growing to do in the Consistency Department, but overall I think he’s the type of player that helps you win games way more than he loses them for you by not showing up.
Conclusion: Just right
I’ve been a pretty harsh critic of Gallinari ever since he joined the Nuggets, and I’ll tell you exactly why: My expectations were never met. After being taken sixth overall in the 2008 NBA Draft, sandwiched between Kevin Love (No. 16) and Eric Gordon (No. 39) along with all the hype in the world as one of the best European players since Dirk Nowitzki (No. 5), Gallo was primed to be a total stud four years down the road. Well, here we are, it’s 2011, and Gallo has yet to average over 15 points per game for a single season in his entire career. Many Gallo supporters point to the fact that “He’s only 23!!!” and to that, I say, “So…???” Do you know what Derrick Rose (No. 8), Kevin Durant (No. 6), Blake Griffin (No. 10), Stephen Curry (No. 38), Russell Westbrook (No. 14), Kevin Love (No. 16), Eric Gordon (No. 39), Tyreke Evans (No. 47), Brook Loopez (No. 51), Serge Ibaka (No. 56), James Harden (No. 58), Brandon Jennings (No. 60), Mike Conley (No. 65) and a fellow teammate of Gallinari’s all have in common? Well, as you may have guessed by their ranking number, they’re all higher than Gallo; but did you know, they’re also all the same age, or even younger? Oh, and one more thing, only Durant and Conley have played more seasons in the NBA than Gallo: one. My point is that this is the NBA; once you get here, age is irrelevant. Everyone in the league is a man. This isn’t organized youth sports where age limits are enforced. This is the best of the best, regardless of how old you are. Obviously Gallo has a ton of potential, but similar to J.R., I fear we could end up proclaiming each new season THE year for Gallo to finally break out of his shell, and before you know it, seven years of his career have passed without any significant increase in production. Just look at his numbers. For three straight years now he’s hovered around 15 points per game. That, ladies and gentlemen, is called a plateau, which is unusual for a guy teeming with “potential.” You see, to me, potential is a lot like like fishing. You can wait, and wait, and wait, but after a certain amount of time, you simply have to acknowledge the fact that they just aren’t biting. I feel Gallo is approaching this point in his career. If I had to bet, this upcoming season is his make-or-break year. Should he finally start scoring in the upper teens on a nightly basis, I’ll be willing to acknowledge that he still has room to grow, but should we see another 15 points per game year, I might consider giving Jordan Hamilton a chance to start just to see what happens. All this said, I truly do like Gallo, both as a player and a person and truly do hope that he finally breaks out and remains a Nugget for the foreseeable future. He’s shown a lot, and I mean a lot, of heart on both sides of the ball and has been more than willing to incorporate himself into the team as a Nugget ever since his arrival in Denver. Surrounded by players like Devin Harris (No. 69), Kyle Lowry (No. 66) and Mike Conley (No. 65), I feel Gallo is probably right where he belongs — amongst guys who are still young and full of potential, but not that young and full of potential.
Conclusion: Just right
Readers of this blog are well aware of my feelings regarding Ty Lawson. I’ve proclaimed on multiple occasions (nearly every time I write), how Ty Lawson — to me — represents the future of this franchise. I say this for two reasons really: First, he’s still young; and second, unlike Gallo, I’ve seen huge steps in his game even though the numbers don’t necessarily display this notion. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I think the rest of the league is in for quite the shock once this season finally gets underway, and much like Faried, this is the part of the process where trying to rank over 500 players gets a little tricky. If you haven’t watched Ty Lawson play, and simply glanced at his numbers, you’d probably wonder why he’s even close to the Top 50, but if you’ve watched on a number of occasions, specifically during the last two months of the 2011 season, you’ll know exactly why he’s ranked so high. Speed, athleticism, ball-handeling, even shooting at times — these are all aspects of Ty Lawson’s game that he’s more than exceptional at. I watch a lot of basketball, and I can’t say that I’ve seen a quicker player with the ball in his hands than Ty Lawson. Standing at a diminutive 5-11, he’s able to remain relatively low to the ground, thus allowing himself to complete two dribbles in the time than a normal NBA player usually completes one. He’s fantastic at using this unique skill to manuever in and out of traffic at will, often times ending his frantic scurry with a pinpoint pass to one of his fellow teammates. And this is perhaps where I see Lawsons’ greatest strength: assists. His skills, and overall potential as a ball player were on full display on April 9, 2011, when he tied J.R. Smith’s record for the most 3-point field goals made in a single game in Denver Nuggets history, with 11 (second all time in NBA history, by the way) — a feat astounding in it’s own right, and one that nobody saw coming. That, is the type of potential you must witness out of a young, promising prospect that allows you to see “the light” that we just haven’t quite seen yet out of Gallinari. His 14.6 points on .509 percent from the field, 6.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game as a starter this past season are a solid indicator of just how much progress he made in one year, and keep in mind, this was even with Raymond Felton in the lineup. With the unquestioned full reign as the starting point guard of the Denver Nuggets, which should see him average at least 35 minutes per game, I expect Lawson to make a strong push for a stat line around 18 points, eight assists and two steals per game this upcoming season, which should be enough to land him a spot in the Top 50 of ESPN’s #NBArank in 2012. Until then, No. 64 overall will have to do.
Conclusion: Just right (for the national audience), too low (for Nuggets fans)
Much to my surprise, Nene comes in as the highest ranked member of the Denver Nuggets, at No. 31 overall. Here’s the thing: Not only do I know that there’s at least 30 players who are better than Nene in the NBA, but I’m entirely convinced there’s at least 40 as well. Look, both Jeremy and I have made it no secret that we feel the Nuggets future hinges on whether Nene re-signs or leaves via free agency, and his importance to this Nuggets squad cannot be overstated, but have to ask, does pure importance automatically translate into pure skill? Hell, I felt Kenyon Martin was about as important to the Nuggets 2009 Western Conference Finals run as anybody, but that doesn’t mean in any way, shape or form that I’d be willing to rank him in the Top 30 amongst all NBA players that season. Obviously because Nene plays the center position, which is clearly the most sought-after position on the floor, he’s going to be looked at differently, as there are only a handful of really solid NBA centers in the entire league. But to me, when you’re ranking players individually (i.e. by skill level, abilities, etc.), this whole “importance of position” factor flies out the window. Quite honestly, I’m baffled at how it even factored into the consideration of many of the participants. If you look at the NBA right now, the center position is extremely depleted. Other than Dwight Howard, there really isn’t a dominant center in the game today; therefore, what ends up happening is guys like Tyson Chandler (No. 37), Marc Gasol (No. 26) and Andrew Bynum (No. 30) are being overcompensated for. You tell me, how would these three players be perceived in the ’90s, or virtually any other decade for that matter? I mean, just because we’re going through a golden age of points guards, does that mean they should be penalized because there’s an overabundance? That’s certainly the message I’m receiving from the TrueHoop voters. Anyways, much like J.R. and K-Mart, the national perception of Nene is, without question, entirely skewed, because there is just no way on Earth that I’d take Nene over Joe Johnson (No. 32), Danny Granger (No. 36), Stephen Curry (No. 38), John Wall (No. 40), Monta Ellis (No. 41) or Josh Smith (N0. 43). But again, his role and level of importance to this specific Nuggets squad is crucial.
So what did we learn throughout this entire process of ranking the NBA’s best 500 players? I think that for the most part, guys were about where they belonged, but I also got the sense that, at times, this felt all too similar to the fan-style of voting for All-Star games. I think too often guys got placed higher on this list because they were on winning teams (see: Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler and for crying out loud, Jose Juan Barea, who never should have cracked the Top 100), when the fact of the matter is, one year ago all three of the Mavericks mentioned above were viewed in a almost scrub-like fashion. Let’s be clear: This was a ranking of individual talent, not how well certain players fit into certain teams. Monta Ellis, for example, has never played with an overwhelming amount of talent, yet is penalized for it and then on top of that, is somehow viewed as a “chucker,” never mind the fact that he has a higher career field goal percentage than Kobe Bryant. So the concept of ranking players individually, based on talent instead of the type of situation they were in, was probably the greatest flaw of this entire system. Also, as I pointed out in the Faried section of this series, there’s a lot of bench players and rookies, that get such a small amount of playing time, that only those team’s writers can really evaluate them. In my opinion, the bottom 200 players don’t deserve to be ranked, because for the most part their position was arbitrary. As I said before, who’s to say that Malik Allen is a better player than Melvin Ely right now? And how does Bismack Biyombo find his way ahead of Kenneth Faried? Bottom line: If the TrueHoop Network has a desire to continue expanding it’s level of credibility, it might be wise to not bite of more than it can chew. Similar to a dining experience, when you have 100-plus items on the menu, it can take away from the quality of the product. Maybe next time, just ranking the top 250 would be a better decision. But again, overall, not bad.