In the second article of our three-part series evaluating how the Denver Nuggets have performed through roughly half the season, we take a look at the bench. The same format from the previous installment applies here. Keep in mind however that rookies are not evaluated in this episode of the series as they did not play a role on the bench until recently. Rookies will be analyzed separately in the final section of our midterm report card series. So without further ado, here is the Denver Nuggets midterm report card for the bench.
Miller // GPA: 2.2 // Actual Grade: C- // Roundball Grade: C-
Assessment: No player on the entire Nuggets roster has been as frustrating and at the same time inconsistent as Andre Miller. His fluctuation in production is rivaled only by Nene while his neglect for the defensive side of the ball is rivaled by none. While Miller continues to show he still has a lot of fuel left in the tank by posting 20-plus point outbursts on the regular, he’ll usually follow these performances up by going M.I.A. in his next game. Though the inconsistency is understandable, or at least tolerable, it’s his inability to even remotely guard his opponent that’s maddening. On any given night you’ll be able to catch Miller flat footed, arms at his side, at no distance to even challenge his opponent’s shot which often leads to an uncontested 3-pointer. Though his assists and scoring ability are certainly helpful, his lack of defense usually erases any positive progress made on the offensive side of the ball.
Areas of Improvement: As you might guess, defense is at the top of the list for Miller. If he just played with half the desire he’s currently exhibiting, his nightly grades and as a result, midterm grades, would be vastly more attractive. It would also be nice to see a bit more pride and leadership when it comes to Miller’s on-court demeanor. Instead of barking at the refs like he’s become accustomed to, pulling aside the young and modifiable Ty Lawson to point out an area of his game he could improve on would be greatly appreciated.
Harrington // GPA: 2.8 // Actual Grade: C+ // Roundball Grade: B
Assessment: Outside of Ty Lawson, Al Harrington has been the most consistent Nuggets player throughout the first half of the season. It’s a remarkable story considering Harrington went though one his worst seasons as a pro after signing with Denver in 2010. This past summer Harrington was widely viewed as a possible amnesty candidate, even being forced to answer questions from the media about why the Nuggets would want him on the team moving forward. Harrington did not shy away from the criticism and rededicated himself to the court, getting healthy and proving he could not only be a voice of leadership, but also an extremely productive player. When his minutes were limited to start the season, Harrington thrived, shooting well over 50 percent from the field in a seemingly perfect role as a utility scorer off the bench. For a brief time he even led the league in 2-point shooting percentage despite the fact that most of his baskets were jump shots. This outstanding stretch saw Harrington receive straight A’s in our Rapid Reaction recaps for roughly two weeks to start the season and earned him early praise as a possible Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Harrington has since come back to Earth, shooting .384 percent from the field in the month of February en route to a number of underwhelming performances. Nevertheless, the sum of his entire body of work through the first half of the 2011-12 campaign has been superb, all things considered.
Areas of Improvement: Similar to Gallinari, Harrington had such a promising stint through the initial part of the season that suggesting where to improve almost feels nitpicky. Still, there are several aspects of his game that could use some fine tuning. First, even though he is one of the few Nuggets who can create his own shot on a consistent basis, Harrington must focus on moving the ball the way Karl implores his team to do. Sometimes Harrington gets “sticky fingers” and totally kills any momentum the Nuggets had built through altruistic ball movement. This would lead to less forced shots and more open looks for his teammates. Harrington would also greatly benefit from more time spent in the yoga room as his flexibility and lateral quickness appear to have seized up entirely. It’s not so much that Harrington is a bad defender or that he doesn’t care for that side of the ball, but more so, he’s just not quick enough to counter his opponent’s moves. If Harrington improved in this regard, it’s easy to imagine his one-on-one defense taking a giant step forward.
Andersen // GPA: 2.3 // Actual Grade: C- // Roundball Grade: D+
Assessment: After a breakout year in 2008-09 “Birdman” was rewarded with a hefty contract that at the time seemed apt. Now, only two years later most Nuggets fans are begging for him to either be traded or amnestied. (Oh how quickly one’s allegiance to a once wildly popular, fan-favorite athlete can be severed in the NBA…) Without question, the most unfortunate aspect of Andersen’s downfall is that he created the catastrophe himself. After becoming the underdog-feelgood-comeback story in all of sports a few years ago, he quickly let his ego run rampant and lost sight of the fact that fans loved him first for his basketball skills, and second for his on-court antics. This season, more than any other, has been a court-side seat to the show that is the Birdman’s deteriorating connection with even the most fundamental aspects of basketball. Though he still brings energy to the court, his inability to stay grounded on defense and instead go for the spectacular blocked shot has fully run its course. Karl no longer has faith in him as a rotational player and has since inserted Faried or Koufos in his place.
Areas of Improvement: Analyzing his game from a pure evaluation standpoint, Andersen desperately has to improve in many basic categories such as one-on-one defense, boxing out and of course, not going for every pump fake someone throws his direction. If he had made strides in these categories this off-season, he probably wouldn’t have lost his job in the first place. That said, it appears Birdman’s time in Denver could be up soon. It’s clear the Nuggets are moving in a more youthful direction and this includes giving Kenneth Faried and Kosta Koufos more minutes which virtually eliminates Andersen from the equation all together. Realistically, a divorce from the Nuggets would probably be the best scenario for both parties at this point. A fresh start for Andersen could revitalize his career as he still has the ability to be one of the more impactful game-changers off the bench in the entire league when focused.
Fernandez // GPA: 2.5 // Actual Grade: C // Roundball Grade: C-
Assessment: To say Fernandez has been mildly disappointing in the eyes of most Nuggets fans certainly wouldn’t be going out on a limb. After seeing him torch the Nuggets on numerous occasions in a Blazers uniform and even light it up during pre-season action, a lot was expected from the Spanish swingman. Unfortunately Fernandez just hasn’t quite delivered like most thought he would. His shot selection has been perplexing and is exacerbated by the fact that his feet are almost never set when he shoots a 3-pointer. His overall form is an eccentric and entirely too quirky for him to be hoisting up as many long-distance shots as he is. But worst of all, his defense is suspect. It’s not that Fernandez doesn’t try, he’s just not that good at defending. Most of his good grades come from hustle plays and a knack for playing team basketball, but otherwise, Fernandez doesn’t score many points in other categories. Though he hasn’t exactly produced the way Nuggets fans expected, at least he’s trying.
Areas of Improvement: Say what you want about his defense — which is by no means pretty — but Fernandez’s biggest problem through the first half of the season has undoubtedly been his shot selection. It’s just plain awful most of the time. Though some of his attempts appear to be clean, they’re usually taken without regard to whether one of his teammates might have a better look. Essentially he has a quick trigger that all too often goes unchecked. If Fernandez can either knock down more shots or simply take less of them, he’ll be in great shape the second half of the season.
Brewer // GPA: 3.1 // Actual Grade: B- // Roundball Grade: B
Assessment: The pleasant surprise of the year, hands down, goes to Corey Brewer. When the Nuggets received him via trade nobody knew anything about him other than fact he was a lottery pick who had yet to live up to his draft position. Though it’s clear now that Brewer will never be the player Minnesota drafted him to be, the Nuggets could care less. Brewer is without a doubt one of the best rotational players on the Nuggets roster and quite possibly, in the entire NBA. His defense is top of the line (especially for coming off the bench), his energy is unrivaled and his passion for the game, nearly palpable. Furthermore, Brewer has a “Swiss Army Knife” type of game, in that he’s capable of doing basically everything you could ever imagine on the floor. From steals, to blocks, to boards, to 3-pointers — there’s not one thing Brewer can’t at least do an admirable job of on the basketball floor. Luckily for the Nuggets, he’ll be sticking around for yet another season after this one too.
Areas of Improvement: This is tough. Even with Gallinari, Harrington and Lawson, there was at least something to point to as an area of relative weakness, but with Brewer, that’s much more difficult to locate as his game is so eclectic and his effort, sublime. Brewer is perhaps the only current Nugget that you can possibly say is playing the best basketball they’re capable of playing. And sure, there’s all kinds of theories you can delve into with that statement but the bottom line is that Brewer hardly ever makes costly mistakes and when he does, he learns from them. However, if there was in fact one aspect of his game that you could improve, it would be his shooting. Brewer doesn’t take bad shots, but even when he’s open he doesn’t shoot at a very efficient clip. Taking a few less shots per game might help cut down on the amount of shots the team ultimately misses in the end.
Koufos // GPA: 2.7 // Actual Grade: C+ // Roundball Grade: B-
Assessment: It’s only fitting that Koufos has European ties as he’s currently experiencing quite the renaissance of his own career. Through the first half of the 2011-12 season Koufos is netting career highs in minutes played (15.7), field goal percentage (.579), rebounds (5.3), blocks (.8), steals (.6) and points per game (5.3). While these numbers may appear somewhat underwhelming, keep in mind that 15 minutes per night does not allow much room to adjust to the pace of the game, yet Koufos is finding a way to make an impact on multiple different levels. His defense against some of the league’s better offensive big men has been nothing to scoff at and while he still needs polish in certain aspects of his game there’s no denying how much he’s already improved this season alone. Koufos brings a toughness to the floor that has been sorely lacking since Kenyon Martin departed and his serious approach to getting better is winning over the hearts of fans everywhere. The Nuggets recently signed Koufos to a 3-year extension and it seems we’re now beginning to see why.
Areas of Improvement: Koufos is the most efficient scorer on the entire Nuggets roster and has an array of different post moves many backup big men only dream about possessing; although, he doesn’t utilize this talent as often as he should. Koufos will continue to develop confidence with more playing time but he shouldn’t hesitate to demand the ball in post-up situations more frequently. He has an intimidating frame and attitude to pair with it, while his soft finishing touch remains icing on the cake. If he can figure out more ways to exploit his opponent, Koufos could very well emerge as one of the best backup centers in all of basketball.
Stay tuned, as Roundball Mining Company’s Denver Nuggets midterm report card: rookies is up next!