On Friday the Denver Nuggets kicked of the 2011-12 season with a free-to-the-public team exhibition. The crowd was lively, the players were energetic and at the sound of the final buzzer only one point separated the two squads. Here are some first impressions from a fun-filled night.
First, I’d like to thank the Nuggets organization for allowing anybody and everybody from across the Denver region to attend this game free of charge. Around this time of year far too many people in the world are unable to afford gifts for their beloved family members — especially in the current economy — so I tip my hat to everyone involved in the handling of this event, as it was truly a blast and definitely one of the better experiences I’ve ever had at the Pepsi Center.
Now for some notes/observations:
- Nene received a standing ovation from the crowd upon entering the arena. It was awesome and I was glad to be a part of the first group of Nuggets fans to welcome the “Big Fella” back to the Mile High City.
- Mozgov is freakin’ huge. Standing next to Nene, he towers over him by at least three inches.
- Sadly, I confused Rudy Fernandez for a ball-boy for about ten minutes before finally realizing who he was. This has happened only one other time and that was with with Chris Quinn, who I still can’t believe actually played in the NBA.
- When you see how deep this team is in real life, it’s even more impressive than on paper. While most rosters possess only a few stars, followed by role players then guys you’ve never heard of, the Nuggets have an entire roster full of dudes with star potential followed by great role players. It truly is a sight to see and also makes you wonder why we haven’t amnestied Al Harrington yet. OK, that was mean. I take it back. (Much to my delight, he would later make me eat my words by sinking four 3-pointers in a row.)
- Danilo Gallinari is also much taller in person. From my angle he and Nene were the same height.
- Hamilton looked good in warm ups. He’s got a smooth stroke and glides around the court with finesse. Love the potential here.
- One thing I noticed during pre-game: Mozgov just doesn’t jump real high, at all. He does what he needs to in order to dunk, and that’s about it. But I guess if I only had to jump six inches to dunk I’d probably do the same thing too.
- Blue team: Miller, Rudy, Carroll, Al and Nene with Stone, Hamilton, Koufos and Ruffin coming off the bench. (By the end of the night, Ruffin still hadn’t moved.)
- White team: Ty, Brewer, Gallo, Moz and Bird with Higgins and Faried coming off the bench. (Those teams seem lopsided. There’s a reason I’m not a math major. Maybe I’m missing someone here…)
- Bird still gets the loudest cheers of anyone and rightfully so. He feeds off the crowd just as much as it feeds off him. It’s still one of the better symbiotic relationships in sports if you ask me.
- Karl actually had a great pre-game speech, and yes, I almost passed out upon hearing it as I didn’t believe my ears. Karl’s not exactly Maya Angelou when it comes to words, but tonight he did well. Everything came from the heart and he seemed genuine about wanting to prove people wrong this year, just as they did after trading Melo last season. To this point he said, “I think that was more real than fake… the NBA is overlooking a really good team in the Mile High City.”
- Al started off the game on fire, making it splash from nearly every spot behind the arc. He finished the game 5-9 from 3-point range, and I have to admit, I was extremely impressed with his performance overall. There were a few guys who had solid games tonight, but Al probably played his game the best of anyone.
- Because there weren’t that many people compared to what the Pepsi Center usually harbors, it got a little quiet at times, and a little bit awkward too. Of course, the one hammered-drunk moron of the entire 4,000-person crowd thought it would be a great idea to yell random, unrecognizable words in his best Oscar the Grouch voice, which unfortunately didn’t do anything to increase the decibel level. But hey, at least he tried.
- Mozgov has really long legs. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this, but his legs make up about three-quarters of his frame, which should help him maneuver in the post.
- Right off the bat Rudy was impressive. He’s got a great handle for a two-guard and was dishing out crafty assists all night long. He finished with 10 but also sank numerous 3-pointers and came up with some great steals as well. In my first game seeing Fernandez live I was incredibly intrigued. I know this is blasphemous to say around Nuggets Nation, but skill-wise, Rudy is probably a better player right now than Afflalo. He’s got an array of nifty little tear-drops, can dribble with the best of them, pass like a point guard and shoot nearly lights-out from behind the arc. Plus, he’s athletic and utilizes his motor to his advantage. Granted I’ve only seen Rudy play for a limited amount of time, but I feel pretty comfortable in saying he belongs in the NBA and should see a heavy dose of minutes this year if Karl wants to win.
- Stone is tall y’all. I knew he was big for a guard, but I had no idea he was that big.
- Call me crazy but I still think, at this point in his career, Birdman is a better basketball player than Koufos or Mozgov. He just plays more experienced and knows when to do certain things at the right time. If he had two more inches he’d be the unquestioned starting center for the Nuggets.
- Now for Stone: This kid was REALLY impressive. His handles are just flat-out sick and the way he utilizes his lanky frame to penetrate then dish to open teammates is NBA-ready without a doubt. Throughout the night I just kept thinking, “Shades of Rondo, shades of Rondo,” as he made one pinpoint-precise pass after another. His court vision is phenomenal, almost as if he’s got an expanded field of peripheral vision. I’m not even kidding when I say he might be the best passer on our team already. Otherwise, his shot is a work in progress. He did hit a three but his mechanics are definitely funky as the ball seems to come out almost spinning sideways. He seems committed to fixing this aspect of his game though, and if he ever gets to the point where he can consistently knock down a 15-footer, he’ll be something else. More than anything though, I loved his aggressiveness. While training camp invitees Cory Higgins and DeMarre Carroll blended in like blue and yellow camouflage, Stone was out there trying to prove something to his coaching staff. From the very second he entered the game to the last whistle, he was showcasing what type of player he was and certainly didn’t disappoint. In his Nuggets debut, Stone finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
- Carroll looked tentative throughout much of the game. Though he got more comfortable as time passed, his lack of assertiveness was hindering. It’s pretty clear Carroll will be nothing more than a practice player this year, but it would still be nice to see him try and step outside of his element and really challenge himself in the coming games.
- As for Faried, what is there to say that probably hasn’t already been said? From the get-go he was active on the glass, throwing down dunks, blocking shots and running the floor like the Manimal we all know he is. Faried was probably the most impressive player out there in terms of pure physical ability and hands down was the most imposing defensive force on the floor. But the crazy thing is: Faried was clearly not going 100 percent, in fact, I don’t even know if he was going 50 percent! All I have to say is that if Faried doesn’t contribute big time minutes this year, we’ll know Karl has officially gone crazy with his vendetta against rookies.
- I thought Koufos looked great tonight. For whatever reason Mozgov gets all the hype, but Koufos is just as good, if not better. Mozgov is more flashy but Koufos does the dirty work. He’s more active on the glass, follows up shots and seems to be moving at a faster pace than Mozgov most of the time. Either way, both guys exceeded my expectation and after seeing the game tonight I definitely feel more comfortable with them moving forward.
- Hamilton, meanwhile, looked like a rookie — I don’t know how else to put it. He turned the ball over frequently and didn’t seem ready to handle the speed of the NBA game. His jump shot is right up there with Gallo’s and his ability to penetrate is a plus but he needs to take care of the ball more before I see Karl giving him extended minutes. The great thing about J-Ham is that he’s got loads of potential and is still very young. I think he’ll continues to grow, and with that we’ll see giant strides in his game.
- All throughout the night autographed merchandise was being launched into the crowed. This was an extremely family-friendly atmosphere and there were tons of kids around seeming to have a great time. If you come next year, be sure to get a front-row seat however, as that’s where most of the shwag was going.
- Karl should make it mandatory to bring Rudy and Bird off the bench together. These guys are human spark plugs who provide all kinds of intangibles and energy-boosting plays that inject life throughout the arena. If there was one thing I learned tonight, it was that these two make an excellent duo.
- Corey Brewer was so-so. He had some steals, a few dunks and a couple layups here and there but he didn’t necessarily stand out. If he’s willing to become a the Nuggets go-to lock-down defender, then I think he’ll find a roll on this team. If not, he might find himself waived again.
- Final score: 49-48 in favor of the Blue team.
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