At this juncture in the season it’s not hard to find yourself wondering which aspects of the Nuggets team are real and which are nothing more than a fleeting trend. In our latest 3-on-3 we’ve decided to tackle some of the most prominent “buy or sell” candidates through the first 17 games of the 2011-12 campaign in order to better gauge Nuggets Nation’s perception and expectations of these issues. As always, we invite you to weigh in on the questions we pose by leaving your answers in the comments section below.
1. Buy or Sell: Al Harrington will maintain his fast start to the season
Charlie: Buy. I have been wrong about Harrington too many times to keep convincing myself he’s a bad player. Is 53 percent shooting a bit much to ask for all season? Absolutely, but the Nuggets won’t need that from him once Harrington’s teammates pick up their share of the scoring load more consistently. Fifteen points, over five rebounds and around two 3-pointers per game is not unreasonable to expect from a motivated Al Buckets. More importantly, he’s embraced a leadership role and seems to be demanding more out of himself despite not being the greatest defender or post player on the team. As long as Karl keeps Harrington in this low-minute, high-usage role I see him continuing to thrive as an important part of the team. Al needs to be careful about derailing himself with his shot selection. The past few games he was asked to do too much and he needs to resist creating for himself except as a last resort. I was wrong about Harrington — and if he keeps working off teammates for great shots those opportunities will continue to be there for him all season.
Jeremy: Sell. I know I am going to get hammered for being pessimistic, but he is playing at such a high level it boggles my mind how he could continue. I am not saying Harrington will cease to be effective, I just have to wonder if at his age he can maintain this kind of performance. Only twice in his now 14-year career has he posted a PER above 16. So far this season his PER is 20.49! He is setting career highs in field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, points per minute and rebound rate. His percentages are as out of whack from the rest of his career as his PER. The chances of Al maintaining that level of play are extremely remote. He does have a few things going in his favor: He is in great shape and does not need to play 30 or 35 minutes a night. If he can make it to the All-Star break without falling off much the Nuggets have only two back-to-backs after that point to close out the season, which should help his legs stay fresh. If Harrington maintains this pace all season long, it should be one of the biggest individual stories in the NBA.
Kalen: Buy. I was amazed at how well Harrington started off the season but figured at some point he’d cool down. Well, here we are with the completion of about one-third of the 66-game schedule right around the corner and “Medium Sized Al” has yet to show any signs of regression. His shooting percentage continues to remain the model of efficiency for a small forward in today’s NBA, while his pride, “clutchness” and perpetually optimistic attitude are the exact remedy the doctor ordered for the Nuggets post-Carmelo Anthony. Will his production likely take a hit as exhaustion from such a tumultuous schedule sets in? I think so, but I don’t see it wavering as much as some might like to suggest. At the end of the year, I still fully expect Al Buckets to be shooting above 50 percent from the field all while contending for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
2. Buy or Sell: By the end of the year, Timofey Mozgov will have cemented himself as the Nuggets’ starting center moving forward
Charlie: Buy. Mozgov is not only the best center on the roster (by a nice margin), he is also the best big man prospect Denver has seen in a long time. The job of starting center on this team is for a role player. Similar to Dahntay Jones, Mozgov comes in to set the tone defensively, be a fourth option on offense and keep the game under control while a high powered second unit gets ready to blow the doors off. Mozgov and Nene have started games slowly this year, but both are coming along and a little patience has already gone a long way. It’s no coincidence the two biggest games of the season have featured breakout performances from the young Russian center. Mozgov moves his feet very well for a 7-footer and he can step out and guard the perimeter without being a complete liability. He stays on his feet against jump shooting bigs who routinely bait Birdman out of the middle with ease. His touch around the rim is improving as is his willingness to mix it up with more physical players down low. Nuggets fans have never valued perimeter defense and below-the-rim play over high-flying athletes and box score numbers. The Nuggets will not find a better center outside of a major move via trade or free agency and I just don’t see that happening.
Jeremy: Buy. I do not think Mozgov will be a force deserving of 30 minutes a game, but he has shown that he can raise his game in big match-ups (i.e. against Miami and New York as well as L.A. last season). I do not anticipate Denver being in the position to acquire anyone better than he is. I have been pleasantly surprised with Mozgov’s play this season although I would like to see a higher rebound rate and a lower turnover rate. He has made strides this season and there is no reason not to expect more.
Kalen: Sell. Although Mozgov has recently impressed me, I’m still not sold on him even being a legitimate starting center in the NBA. While he has steadily improved and occasionally shown flashes of athleticism and an ability to score, these moments are heavily outweighed by long stretches of wondering aimlessly about, committing terrible fouls and missing elementary shot attempts. I honestly think Nuggets Nation is fascinated with the idea of having a legitimate, young 7-footer on the roster for the first time in years which leads to an overwhelming leniency with his play on the court. The fact is: Mozgov and the center position in general is by far the weakest link on the team. The Nuggets are sound at every other position on the floor except center and if Denver truly wants to contend for a title this is something that must be upgraded sooner rather than later.
3. Buy or Sell: The Nuggets will finish the year above .500 on the road
Charlie: Buy. The Nuggets have played their most competitive basketball on the road thus far. They haven’t been blown out and have literally been in position to win every one of these games deep into the fourth quarter. This is the year to have a deep, unselfish team playing at a faster pace than everyone else. It’s not like the Nuggets have been playing a cakewalk road schedule either. They haven’t given me a reason to doubt their resolve or their confidence playing on the road. I’ve always thought Karl’s coaching style and methodology wasn’t compatible with success outside of Denver, but I’ll gladly trade some of the usual home dominance for better effort and more consistency on the road. After all, that’s much closer to how “normal” good teams operate.
Jeremy: Buy, but it is going to be very, very close. As we have discussed, this team is built perfectly for this regular season. Denver has done a reasonably good job of enforcing their pace in games on the road, which is a big key for them as they cannot consistently win games with their defense. Looking at their record and the schedule, they need 11 more road wins to get to 17-16 for the season. They have anywhere from four to six easy wins depending on how difficult you think it is to play at Golden State, at New Orleans (they cannot be a .100 home team all season can they?) and at Phoenix. Then Denver will have to win half of their other road games against teams like Memphis, the Clippers, Oklahoma City and so on. I believe they can do it and if they take care of home court advantage, it should earn them a top two or three seed at the worst.
Kalen: Although I really, really want to say “buy,” history tells me otherwise, therefore I’m going to have to sell. Yes, the Nuggets have played extremely well on the road this season, and yes, their depth along with a condensed schedule should greatly benefit Denver away from Pepsi Center, but keep in mind, the recent four-game road winning streak was the first one in franchise history! For whatever reason, the Nuggets simply do not play well away from home and it’s too hard for me to believe that trend will cease to continue this year when Denver has had some extremely talented teams in years past that couldn’t get it done before. Plus, Karl just doesn’t value winning on the road like other coaches do. He’s often preached that as long as the Nuggets go .500 away from Denver, that’s acceptable basketball. Until he proves otherwise and until this team takes a monumental step forward in this category, I will continue to remain a skeptic.