2010-2011 Game 43: Denver Nuggets 121 Indiana Pacers 107

Box score | Highlights

On November 9th, the Nuggets gave up 144 points in a loss to the Pacers after fumbling away a tough game in Chicago the night before. Regardless of fatigue, it was an embarrassing performance in which Indiana dominated throughout and made their first 20 shots in a 54 point third quarter. Tonight the Nuggets got their opportunity for revenge, with the Pacers on the second game of a back to back this time as their road trip comes to a close in Denver. After a slow start, the Nuggets pass the ball and shoot lights out behind Melo’s 36 points to pay back Indiana with a blowout of their own.

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Summarizing the Mark Warkentien Era

The Denver Nuggets have been to the playoffs seven straight seasons and have posted three straight 50 win campaigns for the first time as an NBA franchise. Despite the consistency they have displayed on the court, the front office is once again in a state of flux.

The Nuggets announced today Mark Warkentien and Rex Chapman will not have their contracts renewed and thus will cease to be employed by the club at the end of August (Denver Post article, Tomasson article on FanHouse). This is no surprise as Warkentien has been granted permission to speak with other teams about their front office vacancies. Over the previous four seasons the Nuggets have had quite a few cooks around the fire. Warkentien, Chapman, Bret Bearup and George Karl have all had a say in personnel matters and do not forget Stan Kroenke ultimately determines what he is willing to spend which plays a considerable role in player personnel decisions.

Despite the crowded kitchen Warkentien was the head chef and he made a significant mark on the franchise.

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The Denver Nuggets Trade for Arron Afflalo, Walter Sharpe

The Denver Nuggets front office has pulled off another spectacular trade as they have acquired Arron Afflalo and Walter Sharpe for a second round pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. That pick is slated to be the lower of the two second rounders the Nuggets currently own in 2011, their own and Portland’s. Unless both of those teams fall apart over the next two seasons that pick should be in the fifties.

When news broke that this trade was a possibility I figured Denver would have to give up the Clippers second round pick they own an option on in the 2010 draft. The fact they took on not only Afflalo’s salary, but Walter Sharpe’s salary too it lowered the price to what will likely be one of the final picks in the 2011 draft plus Detroit threw in $350,000 in cash. Denver was able to land a replacement for Dahntay Jones and a cheap end of the bench prospect in Sharpe for virtually nothing.

Over the previous three summers the Nuggets have acquired J.R. Smith, Renaldo Balkman and now Afflalo and Sharpe for nothing but second round picks, nonguaranteed contracts and/or trade exceptions. Obviously the Smith trade with Chicago was one of the best trades in recent NBA history. Balkman is a very intriguing player who will possibly fill a greater role in 2009-10 and now Afflalo is another rotation player that Denver has brought in at little to no cost. As much attention as the Chauncey Billups trade received it is smaller deals like these that can round out the roster of a contending team.

Afflalo is not a supremely talented player, but he is very solid. He is a very good defender and in his two seasons with the Pistons has adapted to the NBA three point line very well. His rookie season Afflalo only made 20.8% of his 48 attempts. Last season he more than doubled his three point attempts to 107 and despite taking more shots he nearly doubled his percentage as well to an impressive 40.2%.

The difference between the two seasons was Afflalo’s ability to hit the three from the left corner. In his rookie season of 2007-08 Afflalo was 0-9. In 2008-09 he shot 24-44 which equates to 54.5% (you will have to pick the criteria yourself to see his percentages as the URL does not update when you make your selection). Strangely, he only shot 9-31, 29.0%, from the right corner. The two shots are not exact duplicates of each other, but they are close and over time I suspect his percentage from the left corner will drop a bit while his percentage from the right corner will rise. Nevertheless, it is significant that he was able to show such strong improvement between his first and second seasons. If he can continue to improve, he will be a very good offensive weapon.

As we all know there is much more to offense than just shooting open jumpers. So far Afflalo has not shown much more than an ability to catch and shoot. He has not posted very good assist numbers, but I believe that is more due to his role as a catch and shoot player than an inability to pass. He does not have blazing speed, but is a decent drive a kick player. He can dribble with either hand and I believe can answer the call if asked to fill a more significant role on offense. The good news is with players like Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Billups and Nene, Denver does not need Afflalo to come in and light up the scoreboard.

Defensively Afflalo is not great, but can certainly fill the role of the defensive oriented shooting guard. In Detroit he guarded point guards, shooting guards and even small forwards from time to time. He works hard and is very focused. He fights over screens well and has shown the ability to chase players around screens. The one thing he needs to work on is his strength at the point of contact as he tends to give up too much space when the offensive player bumps him to get a shot off.

Afflalo will never be a star, but he is the kind of highly competent player that championship teams need. He may never drive Chris Paul as nuts as Dahntay Jones did, but he has the ability to be just as good a defender game after game while providing much more punch on the offensive end.

There has been some great discussion the past couple days as to whether or not J.R. Smith or Afflalo should start. The good news is we do not need to have an answer for that question yet. While there is no doubt the Nuggets were much worse with Jones on the floor than J.R., I do not think that is a fair argument for keeping Afflalo out of the starting lineup. Afflalo is a much better all around player than Jones and I do not think he would be as much of a drop off from J.R. as Jones was. Personally I would start J.R., but it would not surprise me, especially if Denver loses Linas Kleiza, if Karl decides he needs Smith’s offense off the bench and Afflalo takes the court to start each half.

One interesting tidbit that was pointed out by reader Ky Davis is according to John Hollinger the player Afflalo is most like is none other than former Nugget stalwart Bryant Stith.  I think most Nugget fans would gladly take a player of that caliber.

The one man who may be in trouble with the addition of Afflalo is Anthony Carter. Afflalo can provide that end of game defense that Karl craves, but until the Nuggets know they can count on Ty Lawson, Carter will probably still be in their plans.

In the next day or two look for some video of Afflalo to give you all a better idea of what he is capable of. Plus Afflalo is not the only player involved in the trade. Look for a post on Walter Sharpe, with rarely seen footage from the 2008 summer league, in the near future as well.

By the way thanks to those of you who emailed me news of the trade while I was fighting off rain and near hurricane force winds at Water World with my family.

Goodbye Dahntay Jones

The Denver Post is reporting the Indiana Pacers have come to a contract agreement with Dahntay Jones on a four year, $11 million deal.

All I can say to that is congratulations Dahntay.  There is no way I would have given him that much money or that many years.

With J.R. Smith and Sonny Weems Denver has plenty of offensive firepower at shooting guard, but neither one is a defensive specialist.  Smith has made tremendous improvement on defense over the previous two seasons, but he still has a way to go, primarily in the are of providing consistent focus from play to play.

What the Nuggets do from here depends on how confident they are that J.R. can continue to improve his defense and whether or not they trust Weems to contribute in his second season.

If Denver has doubts about one or both of those issues they will have to bring in a legit shooting guard who can defend.  Players like Keith Bogans, Ime Udoka and perhaps Marquis Daniels, who may be out of the picture in Indiana with Jones now on board, are decent possibilities.

One player I would love to see come to Denver is Aaron Afflalo from Detroit.  He is not a free agent, but with the addition of Ben Gordon there is not going to be many minutes available for him to get on the court.  Afflalo can defend very well and increased his three point shooting to 40.2% last season.

On the other hand, if Denver is happy with their shooting guard duo of Smith and Weems, look for them to stand pat and spend their limited amount of money elsewhere.

Denver Nuggets Announce their Summer League Roster

The two big names on the Denver Nuggets’ summer league roster are Sonny Weems and Ty Lawson.  It will be fun to see what Weems can do after lighting up the D-League and of course it will be a lot of fun to check out Lawson’s first taste of quasi NBA ball too.

Apart from those two there are a couple of intriguing names on the list.

Derrick Byars is a sweet shooting swingman from Vanderbilt who, if memory serves, was a second round draft pick by Dallas last season.  Richard Hendrix is a big boy who specializes in scoring in the lane.  He is a poor man’s Zach Randolph and I think he belongs in the league somehwere.

There are a couple of players who were on NBA rosters last season.  From that category we have Kareem Rush who is an unrestricted free agent after playing with Philadelphia last season.  Cedric Simmons was a mamber of the Chicago Bulls before getting shipped off to the Sacramento Kings in the trade that saw the Bulls acquire Brad Miller and John Salmons.

The big name we should have all seen coming from a mile away is none other than Coby Karl.  Karl did a very good job last summer in Las Vegas so I expect him to look good again.  He probably does belong in the NBA at the end of someone’s bench.

A couple of interesting things to take note of is Lawson is the only true point guard on the roster.  Look for him to play almost every second he possibly can as he gets a crash course on how to play NBA defense.  Karl would probably be considered the backup point guard  (showcasing his versatility to the rest of the NBA?).

They also have three shooters on the roster on a list of nine guys, because shooting is an important skill to have.

No. Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Birthdate School/Country Exp.
8 Derrick Byars G/F 6-7 220 4/25/84 Vanderbilt R
7 Ronald Dupree F 6-7 209 1/26/81 LSU 5
12 C.J. Giles F/C 6-11 240 9/25/85 Oregon State R
6 Richard Hendrix F 6-9 255 11/15/86 Alabama R
22 Coby Karl G 6-5 215 3/6/83 Boise State 1
3 Ty Lawson G 5-11 195 11/3/87 North Carolina R
10 Kareem Rush G 6-6 215 10/30/80 Missouri 6
5 Cedric Simmons F 6-9 235 1/3/86 North Carolina State 3
13 Sonny Weems G/F 6-6 203 7/8/86 Arkansas 1

Keep in mind that these rosters are fluid and they may add a player or two.

I do not expect any of these guys to make the regular season roster for Denver unless they are not abel to sign anyone in free agency and lose Dahntay Jones and Linas Kleiza. Perhaps hte best opportunity would be if Ronald Dupree can prove to replace Jones as the defensive swingman.

Click here to see the schedule.  No news on TV or Internet coverage as of yet.

Update: Dupree and Hendrix are also playing for the Orlando Magic in the Orlando Summer League. If Orlando signs one or both to a contract they will not be playing for Denver.

Denver Nuggets Free Agency News – July 2, 2009

We are a day and a half into the free agency negotiating period and so far only two players have been locked up as Detroit has verbal agreements with Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva (didn’t Detroit win their title largely due to their stellar team defense?).

At this point the only news out of Denver is Mark Warkentien was in Los Angeles to talk contract with Chris Andersen. I do not think there is any doubt at this point that Birdman returns to Denver.

That leads up to a big question. Denver can sign Andersen for up to six seasons. Do you give Chris Andersen a five or six year deal? I say no. The primary reason is Andersen turns 31 in five days although he is certainly not your typical 31 year old big man.

Birdman set a career high for playing time this season having logged 1,460 minutes on the court. For his career he has accumulated 5,692 minutes. That may sound like a lot of minutes, but consider that over the previous two seasons LeBron James has played the fewest minutes of his career. However, LeBron has still totaled 6,081 minutes over those two seasons. LeBron has played almost 400 more minutes since November of 2007 than Andersen has played over his seven year career.

Even with Andersen’s low mileage you have to be wary of signing a player so dependent on his athleticism into his mid thirties. I think the perfect contract for Andersen would be a three year deal with a team option or non guaranteed fourth season.

As a sidebar, team options/non guaranteed seasons can be used as a de facto expiring contract and I think they give teams a great deal of flexibility. If I were a GM I would tack on an extra season to every contract that starts at $4 million a year or higher where only $250,000 is guaranteed. The player then gets an additional $250,000 and I get a potentially high value trading chip. Of course, you open yourself up to having some dead money on your cap so it would be important to make sure you only have two or three non-guaranteed seasons coming up at the same time, but that would be easily manageable. The benefit would far outweigh the cost in my mind.

Apart from meeting with Birdman the Nuggets have been very quiet. The only player I have seen them linked to consistently in published reports is Grant Hill. There is no mention of Denver being involved with Rasheed Wallace. San Antonio, Orlando and Cleveland are all hot for Sheed, but Boston has been the most aggressive suitor. It will be interesting to see what Wallace does. Boston is the only team for which he would not start, unless they decided to bench Kendrick Perkins, but they are probably the best fit as Wallace can do many of the same things Garnett does. Wallace would make Orlando much more traditional with Rashard Lewis moving back to small forward, but he would still give them the three point threat from the power forward spot. Should he go to San Antonio it would allow the Spurs to bring DeJuan Blair along more slowly and he and Duncan would be possibly the best interior defensive tandem in the league.

From a Nuggets perspective I think it would be most interesting if Wallace signed with Cleveland because it would put Anderson Varejao in play. Cleveland would probably want to bring him back, but I doubt he would want to back up Rasheed. Varejao is the kind of team defender Denver needs. He is always amongst the league leaders in charges drawn (2006-07 stats were the most recent I could find) and he is a great pick and roll defender. I am not sure if Denver would pursue Varejao, but the Nuggets have fellow Brazilian Nene on the roster and Varejao could probably be had at mid level exception money. Of course, Varejao would not be a full time starter in Denver either with Nene and Kenyon on the roster, but I think if Rasheed is in Cleveland he would want out.

I did stumble across a sentence in this article that says the Nuggets are interested in Channing Frye. Frye is not a great individual defender, but I do believe he can be effective as part of a solid team defensive scheme. The Nuggets are missing a big man who can consistently shoot from the outside and Frye would fill that role as the fourth big. He is also an underrated rebounder. Should the Nuggets swap Kleiza for Hill and Petro for Frye there will not be dancing in the streets, but I think those two players would be positive upgrades and both would come relatively cheap. Add in Ty Lawson and that is a pretty good boost in talent from last season.

Shifting to the Nuggets’ free agents, I think the silence surrounding Dahntay Jones, Linas Kleiza and, to a lesser extent, Anthony Carter is deafening. At this point I would be very surprised if Kleiza or Jones are back in Denver next season. If the Nuggets miss out on Hill I think LK is their fallback option, but I think they would probably still rather sign and trade him than keep him around.

I have read that Cleveland is interested in Kleiza and this morning I saw Indiana has made a call to his agent as well. The report that links Kleiza to Indy was same report also claimed the Pacers are looking at Jones and Carter too. If you are Anthony Carter how much more would the Pacers have to offer in order for you to move from Denver to Indianapolis?

Other big news includes David Lee losing almost all of his leverage now that Memphis has acquired Zach Randolph, which brings a possible sign and trade back into play. The Knicks probably do not want to add his contract to their summer of 2010 payroll, but they have offered him a four year, $32 million contract. Now Toronto is tossing their name in the hat although they are also looking at using their limited resources on a small forward such as Hedo Turkoglu or Trevor Ariza.

Speaking of Turkoglu, it appears Portland is going to add him to their stacked roster, but I am not sure how much of an upgrade that will be for them. Turkoglu does a lot of the same things that Brandon Roy does, especially at the end of games. I think Hedo definitely makes them better, how much I do not know. Dave at Blazer’s Edge looks at what Hedo might do or not do for Portland What would scare me is if Portland adds Turkoglu and then pulls off a sign and trade for Andre Miller.

Ariza’s agent apparently is saying that the Lakers need to reward Ariza with a contract over the mid level exception. If they do not he claims Ariza will take someone else’s mid level offer out of spite. So far the Cavs have joined the Raptors as potential destinations.

Finally, we are getting some good comments from readers. One name that keeps popping up is Hakim Warrick. I believe the Nuggets are going to continue to bring in players who can play great team defense and Warrick does not fit that mold. Plus his qualifying offer is for just over $3 million and that is too much for what he would bring to the table.

Finally I will leave you with some big time breaking news from the Denver Post. Chauncey Billups is switching his uniform number from 7 to 1. J.R. Smith was number one last season, but will wear an as of yet undetermined number. Apparently J.R. just surrendered the number 1 to Billups without so much as a dinner at Sizzler.

The Denver Nuggets, NBA Free Agency and You

With the 2009 NBA meat market known as free agency kicking off tonight at midnight eastern time we need to once again interrupt our individual player evaluations to look at what kind of options are out there for the Nuggets.

Before we get started, familiarize yourself with who is available with this team by team list of free agents.

A quick look at the Nuggets’ finances shows that they are already over the projected luxury tax limit of $70-71 million with the contracts of Kenyon Martin, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Nene, J.R. Smith, Steven Hunter, Linas Kleiza, Renaldo Balkman, Sonny Weems, Ty Lawson and the $3.0 million they owe Antonio McDyess based on the buyout they agreed to last season (all totaling roughly $73 million). That is ten players and you must carry a minimum of 13 players on your roster.

Now add to that at least $4-5 million to resign Chris Andersen and another million plus for Anthony Carter and/or Dahntay Jones. Suddenly they only have one or two spots with which to upgrade the roster and probably not too much financial wiggle room to play with.

Priority number one has to be to resign Chris Andersen. The question is how much will it cost? If Denver has to come up with $7 or $8 million a year to bring Andersen back it will be very difficult for them to afford to beef up their roster. However, in order for Andersen to get a big offer like that a team who wants him would have to be far enough below the salary cap to offer that kind of cash. So are there any teams who fit that mold?

Atlanta, Detroit, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Portland and Sacramento are the only teams capable of making a significant offer to any free agent above the midlevel exception. I think we can scratch teams like Atlanta, Memphis, Portland and Sacramento off the list because of either a lack of interest from the team in question or from Birdman in playing there.

That leaves Detroit and Oklahoma City. I think Detroit has quite a few players on their list before they get down to Andersen and most likely they will spend their money elsewhere. To me the only team to really worry about is Oklahoma City. They need a shot blocker and rebounder as evidenced by the fact they acquired Tyson Chandler from New Orleans at the trade deadline before their doctor nixed the deal. The one thing Sam Presti has to worry about is the money he is going to have to shell out for Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook in two or three seasons.

Ultimately, I believe the Thunder will not offer Andersen a big contract and that will allow Denver to only have to deal with midlevel offers from other teams. In fact as we saw with J.R. Smith last season teams usually do not bother even offering the mid level exception when the know it will be matched. J.R. did not receive any offer sheets last season and I suspect Birdman should not expect any this summer either. Why waste your time signing a player to an offer sheet when you know the team will match it as soon as the offer sheet showed up on the fax machine.

I expect Denver will be able to resign Andersen with a three year $15 million deal with a starting salary in the $4.0 million range. Maybe Andersen leaves some money on the table, but he would still receive over a 400% raise and keeps him in Denver, where he wants to be. Not all athletes feel a sense of loyalty to a franchise, but Denver not only gave Birdman his first chance to play in the NBA, they also gave him his second chance at real playing time following his suspension.

Birdman deserves a lot of attention, but Andersen is only one of six free agents the Nuggets have to worry about. Do not expect Jason Hart to return. Johan Petro has been allowed to become an unrestricted free agent which does not bode well for his return, although there is a chance Denver could bring him back. As we discussed yesterday look for Anthony Carter to return for one more season in Denver.

The two great unknowns are Linas Kleiza and Dahntay Jones.

Denver is expected to extend the one year, $2,705,724 qualifying offer to Kleiza although as of yet there has been no official word that they have. Kleiza quickly became a favorite of George Karl as he improved quickly in his second and third seasons. I was of the opinion that he was overvalued by the Nuggets, as well as other teams around the league, because his rapid improvement convinced them that his ceiling was much higher than it actually is. In his fourth NBA season he appeared to have plateaued. His three point percentage dropped, his defense is still lacking, he passes only begrudgingly and still rarely goes to his left. The one thing Kleiza does well is rebound. His rebound rate was comparable to Kenyon Martin’s (10.4 to 10.9). Kleiza can run the floor very well, but he does not do it consistently game to game and Denver’s slightly slower pace impacted his ability to provide an impact on that area of the game.

When looking at Kleiza’s roster spot one of the players that the Nuggets have been rumored to be interested in is Grant Hill. Hill played for less than $2.0 million last season and I think he would be a very good fit in Denver. Hill is just as good of a shooter as Kleiza, if not better, but offers a creative playmaking ability that Kleiza will never be able to match.

Apart from Hill there are not many options who would be as cheap and as effective as Kleiza. Trevor Ariza is an intriguing option, but I doubt the Nuggets would be able to pry him away from the Lakers. Some people have mentioned Ron Artest as a potential option for the Nuggets. It would be a bold move, but a risky one too. He displayed his combustability again in the playoffs against the Lakers and he would not come cheap. If Denver wants to bring him in, they would most likely have to offer their full midlevel exception in August or September when all of Artest’s other options have been extinguished. With the health of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming in question, Houston may cling to Artest as their best healthy player or they may let him walk in order to restructure the team after the season.

It is certainly possible that Kleiza will not get any good offers and have to sign the qualifying offer. If that is the case, I would not be overly upset. However, if the Nuggets manage to sign Hill, I imagine they will pull the qualifying offer and Kleiza might be forced to play overseas in order to make any money.

The final question mark for Denver is Dahntay Jones. Jones is the player who is likely to increase his salary the most from 2008-09. Everyone saw him give Chris Paul fits in the playoffs. With his atrocious offensive game his price will not get too high, but if he makes much more than he did last season his salary will quickly exceed his usefulness. Rumors are that Boston is interested and I do not think the Nuggets will go too deep in the pocketbook to bring Jones back.

With J.R. and possibly Sonny Weems playing much of the minutes at shooting guard I am not sure Denver needs to spend much money on a third shooting guard. Plus a player like Hill could spend some time filling in at shooting guard as well. There are some other price efficient players that I think might be good additions to the Nuggets. Flip Murray was very good for Atlanta last season and he played for only $1.5 million. Plus he helped Denver by missing a game winning shot at the Pepsi Center last season so he clearly is pro Nuggets. Fred Jones had his moments with the Clippers at a bargain basement price and I think he is worth a look. My favorite option would be Shannon Brown. He is a restricted free agent and I doubt the Lakers would let him get away, but if they sign all their big salary free agents, it may decrease their motivation to pay him what it takes to bring him back.

If the Nuggets are not able to bring in Hill and/or Brown and they bring back Jones and Kleiza for bottom dollar, it will not be the worst thing in the world. What would be the worst thing in the world is if they combine to play 40 minutes a game again.

Whether Denver boosts their talent level at the swing positions or not, the one thing they must accomplish before next season is to add a quality fourth big man.

There are a couple of nice options available to the Nuggets. First and foremost in my mind is Rasheed Wallace who is an unrestricted free agent. Sheed saw most of his numbers fall off this past season, but I think a good portion of that was due to the fact he did not buy into the Pistons and their chances to succeed. Maybe the most startling thing about Wallace’s game was 89% of his shots were jumpers. However, Denver needs a big man who can shoot and Wallace is still a good post defender. I think pairing him back up with Chauncey on what I think would be a championship caliber team could squeeze another good season or two out of him.

The good news is Sheed might not cost an arm and a leg and Denver may be in a position where they do not necessarily need to be the high bidder to earn a player’s services. When the Nuggets made it to the Western Conference Finals I wrote that it would make Denver a legitimate destination for players who want to win a championship. With teams like San Antonio and Cleveland reportedly interested in Wallace, if the Nuggets want to go after him it will prove a good test of that theory.

Wallace is not the only free agent that would fit well in Denver. Wallace’s former teammate, Antonio McDyess (unrestricted) would be a good option, if he could be convinced not to hate the Nuggets so much. It would be interesting to have a player who Denver is paying twice. They owe him $3 million as part of the buyout they agreed to with him last season and then if they sign him he would have a current contract on the books as well. What is the old science fiction rule, two instances of the same matter cannot occupy the same space? Perhaps if Denver signs McDyess the universe would collapse upon itself.

I have heard some Nuggets fans hot for Paul Millsap (restricted) and with Carlos Boozer deciding not to opt out of his contract today Utah will be in a tough spot should someone give Millsap a big offer. However, he is not coming to Denver. The only way the Nuggets could bring him on board would be via sign and trade and Utah will put a hit on Millsap before they send him to the Nuggets.

David Lee (restricted) is another player who has been linked to the Nuggets and rumor has it they had worked out a deal for him with the Knicks at the trade deadline but Karl did not want to give up Kleiza. Again, Denver would have to pull off a sign and trade, but with the Knicks looking to create as much cap space as possible for next summer they are not going to want to give Lee a big contract. Would a trade exception and a couple of first round picks get Lee to Denver?

Should the Nuggets fail to nab one of the high profile guys there are a couple of cheap options who could provide some assistance. You may laugh when you read this, but if Denver needs an emergency fill in on the cheap I believe Shelden Williams (unrestricted) would be a good option. He cannot shoot, but he is a big boy who can rebound and block shots. Channing Frye (unrestricted) is a big man who seems to play well with consistent minutes. He is a great midrange shooter and can rebound when he is asked to. One final player who may be of interest is Drew Gooden (unrestricted). He has become a very good rebounder even if he is still a bit rough around the edges.

If Denver does not bring in an exciting free agent all is not lost. They still have two big trade exceptions, $9.8 million (expires November 3, 2009) and $3.24 million (expires January 5, 2010), that they can use to basically buy a player or players from another team. If they cannot sign a free agent they want, they would certainly be able to acquire a player to help via trade.

The big question is will Denver spend what it takes to add to the roster? There has been some consternation that because they are already over the luxury tax limit and with the reduction in spending last summer that Stan Kroenke would not allow the front office to spend any additional money to augment the roster. Kroenke has paid the luxury tax before and I do not think he will say no now as long as doing so makes sense.

For anyone wondering how the world financial crisis is affecting Kroenke I think it is safe to assume he can spend as much money as he wants on the Nuggets. He seems to be taking advantage of the economic recession instead of hoarding his cash in mattresses. He spent over $60 million to increase his ownership in Arsenal of the English Premier League just three months ago. Does that sound like he is freaking out over his Walmart stock?

I think you can count on Denver boosting their talent level and spending the money necessary to do it. Sports Illustrated’s Scott Howard-Cooper seems to be convinced that the Nuggets are going to be aggressive in the free agent market. I expect the same thing. I am convinced Denver wants to make their playoff run a launching point for something better instead of a onetime high point.

Denver did a good job of targeting high energy, athletic and cheap free agents to build a team that can run and play solid team defense.  Hopefully the Nuggets will continue to build a roster of players who can play great team defense, can shoot and play to win and not just for themselves.

Other free agents who I like (are either really good or would be cheaper than they are worth), but are either not going to change teams or Denver would have no interest in:

  • Josh Childress (Restricted – Atlanta Hawks/Greece) – Multi talented
  • Andersen Varejao (Unrestricted – Cleveland Cavaliers) – Scrappy big, great team defender
  • Ersan Ilyasova (Restricted – Milwaukee Bucks/Turkey) – good rebounder and shooter
  • Chris Wilcox (Unrestricted – New York Knickerbockers) – Athletic and possibly cheap
  • Steve Novak (Unrestricted – Los Angeles Clippers) – Deadly shooter
  • C.J. Watson (Restricted – Golden State Warriors) – I like the way he plays
  • Lamar Odom (Unrestricted – Los Angeles Lakers) – No duh
  • Matt Barnes (Restricted – Phoenix Suns) – A more athletic version of LK
  • Hedo Turkoglu (Unrestricted – Orlando Magic) – Versatile, big shot maker
  • Ramon Sessions (Restricted – Milwaukee Bucks) – Can score and distribute

Dahntay Jones – Is it Enough to Be Chris Paul’s Least Favorite Person?

He was the only player in the NBA to start more than 35 games and average less than 18.4 minutes a game. There were eight Denver Nugget players who averaged more minutes per game than he did (nine if you include short timer Allen Iverson). On the other hand no Nuggets player seemed to frustrate opposing coaches than he did in the playoffs.

Well, if you read the title to this post you already know I am talking about Dahntay Jones.

When I found out the Nuggets had added Jones to their summer league roster last year I thought it was a big waste of everyone’s time. Jones was clearly a poor offensive player and had never been worth much on defense either. That is not a good combination. Jones took advantage of his time in Vegas and earned an invite to training camp thanks to his ability to play solid defense. He even scored a few points on offense thanks to his ability to get to the free throw line.

It seemed clear that Jones would not have such an easy time putting points on the board facing off against the increased talent level of the NBA. Fortunately for Jones the Nuggets had plenty of scorers, including explosive shooting guard J.R. Smith who played the same position as Jones. With the Nuggets looking to become more of a defensive squad there was a clear opening for a shooting guard who was dedicated to being a stopper.

George Karl knew the Nuggets needed a player like that too and Jones was one of only two players in camp who could fill that role with the other being self proclaimed Kobe stopper and former Nugget Ruben Patterson. I honestly do not know what the deciding factor was, perhaps Patterson at the age of 33 had lost a step or possibly Karl and Patterson still did not quite see eye to eye on some things, but the player with the defensive reputation was let go and Jones made the team.

Not only did Jones make the team, he found himself a regular starter as Karl was still not ready to hand the reins over to J.R. Smith who was not quite as interested in defense as Denver needed him to be.

As is the case with every mediocre player Jones had a few good moments and a few bad ones mixed in with a bunch of forgettable performances. Even as a player whose sole purpose on the floor was to play defense Jones was pretty inconsistent with his focus night in and night out. Plus he seemed a little too interested in shooting early in games as he forced shots on several occasions, probably because he knew after the first few minutes he would not see much more playing time.

Despite his special purpose there were only a handful of games where his defense was exceptional and those efforts largely came against point guards. There were two players in particular that he hounded above and beyond any others and they were Jose Calderon and Chris Paul.

Fortunately for Jones the Nuggets drew the New Orleans Hornets in the first round of the playoffs which gave him a chance to take on a marquee player under the national spotlight. Jones did a tremendous job defending Paul. He did such a good job that Byron Scott called him a dirty player, which I hope Jones took as a compliment. Jones did not do anything dirty to Chris Paul, he simply played him physically. He bodied him up and did not play intimidated. He also received plenty of help defending the pick and roll as Paul’s teammates pretty much made a bunch of nests around the court and started laying eggs. In a series where the Nuggets advanced out of the first round for the first time in 15 seasons and with Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony playing very well Dahntay’s play was one of the top storylines in the series.

Jones was much less important in the second round series against Dallas as Anthony Carter was a much better matchup against Jason Terry than Jones was. Jones went from playing 20.6 minutes a game against New Orleans (a number that was reduced by the wide margin of victory for Denver in four of the five games) down to 16.6 minutes per game against Dallas.

With Denver facing off against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals it appeared Jones’ talents would once again be of great value to Denver as they needed someone to slow down Kobe Bryant. Instead of playing a bigger role as expected Jones saw his playing time decrease yet again, this time down to only 15.5 minutes a gam,e as he was largely ineffective against Kobe.

Instead of proving how indispensible he was Jones may have proven that the Nuggets can get along without him just fine.

Jones deserves credit for remaking himself into a capable defensive player. He certainly did not display much competency in that area during his first couple of go rounds in the league. He possesses the quickness and strength to be a good on the ball defender, but he is not great at chasing players off of screens, which is pretty important when defending shooting guards.

Offensively he is still almost completely helpless unless he has an unimpeded track to the rim. Surprisingly, Jones shot 64.7% from the three point line during the regular season, but he only attempted 17 three point shots. That percentage definitely carried the stench of flukiness especially after he shot 3-12 from behind the arc in the post season. Still he showed the discipline to only attempt corner threes, which is a sign he was not trying to do too much. His lack of scoring is only made worse by his below average passing ability and ball handling.

One thing that deserves to be mentioned is Jones certainly seemed to be a good teammate. He was always up and applauding when he was on the bench and even though he took a few more shots than necessary on multiple occasions he was mostly content to play defense and let others shoot.

As of July 1 Jones is an unrestricted free agent. Thanks to his defense against Chris Paul there is bound to be interest in him (Boston has already been tied to Jones in the media) and it may be his one and only chance to cash in on a long term contract.

I am not opposed to having Jones come back to Denver next season, but there is no way Denver should pay him much more than minimum money. He will undoubtedly want a multiyear deal and I have no problem with that as long as the annual salaries are low.

Karl has already made references to the fact that J.R. should probably be starting at shooting guard for Denver from here on out and as I have already written I think Sonny Weems is deserving of some regular playing time next season. Denver may not need a defensive oriented shooting guard as J.R. has significantly improved his defense each of the previous two seasons. By the end of the season I do not think there is a significant difference between he and Jones when it comes to guarding shooting guards. In fact when Denver played the Lakers it was Smith, not Jones, who did the best job between the two on Kobe.

Denver can afford to play a waiting game with Jones. Even though he is unrestricted I think they can let the market fall into place and see if he is affordable or not. They definitely should not be knocking on his door at 12:01 AM on July 1 offering three years and $9.0 million and I doubt anyone else will be either. However, if some comes forward and offers three years at $4.5 million (or less) I have no problem if Denver matches it to keep Dahntay in the Mile High City.

It is not fun to have to watch every dime that is paid to free agents, but one of the good things about being pressed up against the luxury tax level is it makes it impossible to overspend for average or below average players. We do not need to worry about Jones getting a Tariq Abdul-Wahad contract. That may not be good news for Dahntay, but it is good news for Nuggets fans.

Denver Nuggets Summer League Schedule

The NBA has announced the schedule for the summer league games held in Los Vegas and the Nuggets will be playing six games.  Games are played at either the Cox Pavilion or the Thomas & Mack Center.  Games begin on Friday July 10, but Denver does not see the court until July 14.  I am guessing the start times are Pacific.

Denver vs. San Antonio – 7:00 PM Tuesday,  July 14 – Cox Pavilion

Denver vs. Washington – 7:30 PM Wednesday, July 15 – Thomas & Mack

Denver vs. Portland – 7:30 PM Friday, July 17 – Thomas & Mack

NBA D-League Select vs. Denver – 7:00 PM Saturday, July 18 – Cox Pavilion

Denver vs. New Orleans – 5:30 PM Sunday, July 19 – Thomas & Mack

The Nuggets have had some good talent on their summer league roster in the past, but it is difficult for even a good player to make the jump from summer league standout to earning a spot on the regular season roster.  Last season Dahntay Jones was able to do just that and depending on what Denver does with players like Linas Kleiza, Anthony Carter, Johan Petro, Renaldo Balkman and Jones there could be a chance for someone to follow in Dahntay’s footsteps.

Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Dahntay Jones – Not Destined to Be Carnival Weight Guessers

Jimmy Kimmel apparently has a segment called the Team Mating Game as a spoof of the Dating Game.   Chris Andersen and Dahntay Jones go up against Amare Stoudemire and Grant Hill.  Find out what Dahntay Jones’ favorite television show really is and how good of a teammate Steve Nash really is and what celebrity Grant Hill would love to get in the sack.

Hat tip to Fox 31 News which just so happens to be on before Seinfeld.

2009 Western Conference Finals Game 5: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers Live Blog/Game Thread

NBA Shootaround on ESPN360

Nuggets at Lakers on ESPN360

With so much on the line tonight we are going all out to document the action.  Kurt Helin from Forum Blue and Gold and yours truly will be running a tag team live blog right here on Roundball Mining Company for game five of the Western Conference Finals.

Will Carmelo bounce back from two disappointing performances in Denver?  Can Denver continue to overcome the Lakers’ size in the lane or will the Lakers repeat their dominance from game one?  Is J.R. Smith about to catch fire and go on one of his incredible hot streaks?  Can Kobe keep carrying the Lakers game after game?  Will L.A. get Pau the ball?  Will Andrew Bynum start playing like he is the biggest dude on the court like he did in the fourth quarter of game four?  What will Dahntay Jones do for his next flagrant foul?  Will we see a game with over 100 free throws attempted?  Will any member of the Lakers’ supporting cast have a big game?  Which team will put a strangle hold on this series?

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Featurd Blogs: Forum Blue and Gold | Lakers Blog | Silver Screen and Roll

By the way, I was on the NBA Today podcast with Jason Smith today. We talk about getting in Kobe’s head and whether or not the Nuggets can win a game seven in Los Angeles.

Western Conference Finals Game 4 Additional Nuggets

The day is coming to an end and I am once again tardy in posting my additional nuggets so I am just going to toss out what I have.

  • One concern we had about the Nuggets heading into the 2009 playoffs was their propensity to turn the ball over.  Not only have the Nuggets successfully negated that disadvantage, hanging onto the ball has become a major strength for this team.  Denver had four single digit turnover games in the regular season.  After last night’s six turnover effort against the Lakers, their fourteenth postseason game, they have already matched that total.  Denver was in the middle of the pack with a +.01 turnover differential in the regular season.  In the playoffs they have a +3.9 turnover differential, which is by far the best out of the 16 playoff teams.  Atlanta is a distant second with a +1.5. 
  • In the first half J.R. did a great job setting up his teammates with easy shots.  Smith totaled four assists, all in the second quarter and all four resulted in dunks.  J.R. Smith has had 16 assists in the four games of the Western Conference Finals and 12 of those 16 assists have resulted in either layups or dunks.  That is efficient offense.  Before the series I said Smith was capable of playing the role of Aaron Brooks for the Nuggets and he has certainly been able to breakdown the Lakers’ defense and create havoc in the lane.
  • Nene clearly did not want to be in foul trouble yet again and he repeatedly allowed Gasol and Bynum to back him down without so much as a retaliatory bump or swipe at the ball.  I guess it worked as Nene did end his string of six straight games with at least four fouls including five out of six games with at least five fouls, although I do not think the Nuggets can win in Los Angeles with Nene playing so passively on the defensive end. 
  • The Lakers shot 15-50 on threes in the two games in Denver.  Maybe if Fisher and Vujacic stopped popping threes and started feeding Gasol the ball in the post L.A. would be in better shape after four games.
  • Jeff Van Gundy remarked how surprised he was at J.R.’s vision and passing ability.  I think it is great that J.R. is being discovered by many basketball fans.  J.R. deserve credit for playing hard enough on defense to earn the minutes he receives on the court and George Karl deserves credit for allowing J.R. the freedom to make mistakes.  He will turn the ball over from time to time, but no Nugget can get his teammates easy shots like J.R. can.
  • I think one of the signs of a good team is the ability to hang around even when you are being outplayed.  The Nuggets seem to have been the better team in games one, three and four only to have a very difficult time shaking free of L.A.  There have been many instances where I have looked at the score and thought to myself, “Denver should be up by at least X, but they are only up Y” with ‘X’ being ten to 20 points and ‘Y’ four to eight points.
  • I like how early in the game Kenyon Martin missed a jumper so badly that it banked in.  Then a couple of possessions later takes the same shot undoubtedly thinking how he just made that shot so he has to shoot it again.  Needless to say the second one missed badly as well, just not badly enough to be as successful as the first one. 
  • We have talked about how the Nuggets dominated the rebounding battle, but the next few statistics will show how completely they dominated the paint.  The Lakers were 3-3 on dunks, but only 5-14 on layups.  Denver on the other hand went 10-10 on dunks and 11-24 on layups.  Denver attempted twice as many layups and dunks as the Lakers did, 34-17.
  • It seems to me that every game the Nuggets best defender against Kobe is someone different.  In game one it was Carmelo.  Game two it was either Carmelo or J.R. Smith.  In game three Dahntay Jones did a very good job of hounding Bryant in his limited minutes.  Last night it was Chauncey who did the best.  He forced Kobe into 0-7 shooting while he was on him and even forced Kobe to pass the ball once.  Not only did Chauncey force Kobe into some poor shooting, he did not foul him once. 
  • Carmelo did miss his first nine shots, but it was good that they were mostly good shots.  Out of his first nine shots five were jumpers and four were at the rim.  There was another shot that did not count because he was fouled.  Melo’s first made shot was a dunk so out of his first 11 scoring opportunities six were at the rim, the result of trying to go to the rim.  I can live with that, especially now that we know he was experiencing a queasy stomach that was bad enough he was reportedly throwing up just before game time and he required a halftime IV.
  • The postgame press conferences were fun as Phil Jackson got a little testy at a reporter who pestered him about his displeasure at his team’s effort.  Sadly, the segment is not included in the NBA’s slimmed down version of his Q and A, but you can read the article by T.J. Simmers here.  George Karl’s was equally as fun, though not as testy.  The last question was if Karl appreciated the irony of Chauncey stealing an inbounds pass from Lamar Odom to pretty much seal the game as it put Denver up 107-94 with 2:47 left.  Karl talked about the play and then asked why the reported thought there was irony with the play.  The reporter reminded him of the Nuggets’ issues inbounding the ball in games one and three.  I am not sure if Karl was messing with him or if he actually did not catch what the reporter was getting at, his response seemed legitimate, but when the reporter mentioned the two botched inbounds plays by Denver Karl chuckled and stood up announcing the end of the press conference.  Unfortunately NBA.com’s edit does not include that exchange either.
  • Back in the day MTV used to run a Beavis and Butthead special during halftime of the Super Bowl.  I flipped over to WWE Monday Night Raw thinking Vince McMahon, the king of marketing, would put on something connected to the game during the break with the hopes of sucking in some of game four viewers.  I was highly disappointed that all I got was some big dunce wrestling in a Baron Davis Clippers jersey.
  • The NBA has ruled Dahntay’s trip of Kobe Bryant a Flagrant 1.  I do not a problem with the league’s decision.  Some Nuggets fans I am sure will complain that it is unfair to call a play a flagrant when it was not called a foul during the game, but I find little conviction there.  Just because the referees missed it, watching live it was difficult to tell if the trip was deliberate, does not mean there are no repercussions for such a play. 
  • Tripping is not on the list of wildly dangerous plays, but if it is treated as just another foul, or no call, you could see that play becoming a more frequent tactic and it would be only a matter of time before someone hurt an ankle, foot or broke their wrist on the landing.

    That flagrant foul point raises Jones’ total to three so he will be suspended for one game after his next flagrant foul.

  • In other flagrant foul news the NBA has rescinded the Flagrant 1 that Andrew Bynum received after his hard foul on Chris Andersen (see link above).  I agree with that call as well.  Bynum made some contact with Birdman’s head, but he was clearly (forcefully) swiping down at the ball.  I did not think it should have been a flagrant in the first place.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  93.8

Defensive Efficiency:  107.7 – Best rating since game one against Dallas.

Offensive Efficiency:  127.9 – Very good, but not even one of their top three performances of the playoffs.

Featured Blogs:  Forum Blue and Gold | Lakers Blog | Silver Screen and Roll

I was going to leave you with embedded video footage of McMahon vs Kroenke I from last night’s Monday Night Raw, but it was just too lame.  Sorry Vince, but you are slipping.

2009 Western Conference Finals Game 3: Denver Nuggets 97 – Los Angeles Lakers 103

 

Box Score | Highlights

How frustrating was the Denver Nuggets’ performance against the Los Angeles Lakers in game three of the Western Conference Finals?  I think the couple next to me may have broken up during the game.  Their initial excitement wasted away into some bickering, then some silence, then he got off the, “Who are you texting?”  That was pretty much it.  I think she spent most of the second half hitting on some guy at the Blue Sky Grill.

As bad as things were for that couple, things were worse for the Nuggets.

When I plopped down in my seat the energy and atmosphere was incredible.  Knowing how close the games in Los Angeles were it seemed like the Lakers had no shot at winning in the Pepsi Center.  Sadly, as the game wore on the Nuggets hit every branch as they fell from the top of the how to lose at home tree.

Horrible shot selection combined with terrible shooting?  Allowing the opponent to stay close all night long?  Giving up open shots and layups?  Bad technicals?  Denver did about everything possible to keep L.A. in the game.

Add in foul trouble and some more late game incompetence and just like in game one the Nuggets gave away what should have been a certain win.

What frustrated me all night long was the ridiculous number of three point attempts.  Carmelo took six in the first half.  Chauncey took seven and J.R. took ten.  Not all of them were bad shots, but when it is clear you are not hitting them, try something else. 

Chauncey took seven threes, only making two, and I think it would have been nice if he would have passed on a couple of them.  One he took in the fourth quarter was especially bad when he had a one on four and forced a contested three.  Chauncey has earned the right to take some of those, but it does not mean he has to.

The player that really frustrated me with his shot selection was Carmelo.  Melo shot four threes in the first quarter, although one was a buzzer beater and took two others in the second quarter.  Melo jacked up six three point attempts in the first 17:22 he was on the court.  When Carmelo was being aggressive, he was getting to the line.  Melo also made it to the line ten times during the 17 plus minutes he attempted six threes.  Maybe if Carmelo had kept being aggressive some of the Lakers’ players would have had to deal with foul trouble.

Overall, the Nuggets were never able to build up a lead bigger than eight because they were constantly shooting themselves in the foot.  Denver should have been up by ten at the half and 15 at the end of the third.  It was another wasted night and I was certainly off when I projected that Denver would play better at home than they did in Los Angeles.  Not only did Denver not play better, they submitted their worst game of the postseason. 

Additional WCF Game 3 Nuggets:

  • J.R. had completely abandoned his midrange game up until the fourth quarter when he finally pulled up from 15 on two occasions and made both attempts.  J.R. has also stopped shooting that one handed floater he broke out against the Hornets. 
  • Even though J.R. shot more threes than necessary, he probably played the best all around game of any Nugget.  He did a very good job driving and dishing.  Five of his six assists resulted in layups or dunks.  J.R. also did a pretty good job defending Kobe.  Smith was very good at fighting over screens and worked hard to cover Bryant. 
  • I thought Dahntay Jones played his best defense of the season on Kobe in game three.  Maybe he is starting to figure out some of Kobe’s tendencies.  We will see tonight in game four.
  • The Lakers did a good job of collapsing on penetration, but instead of cutting off all attempts to go inside altogether, Denver should have done a better job of moving the ball around to get the defense shifting around before attacking it.
  • I think it is time to inbound the ball to someone other than Chauncey or Melo and let one of those two go get the ball from that player.  I think L.A. has figured out the set some screens send Chauncey or Melo towards center court. 

Mindboggling Game Stats:

Pace Factor:  90.2 – Slow for a game in Denver and with only a few offensive rebounds to extend possessions.

Defensive Efficiency:  114.2 – allowing your opponent to get to the line 45 times will hurt your defensive efficiency.

Featured Blogs:  Forum Blue and Gold | Lakers Blog | Silver Screen and Roll

2009 Western Conference Finals Game 3: Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers Game Thread

How long can the Denver Nuggets continue their home court dominance?  They have won 16 straight games in the Pepsi Center and so far in the 2009 NBA Playoffs the Nuggets have won each of their six home games by at least 12 points.

Of course the Los Angeles Lakers are not the New Orleans Hornets nor are they the Dallas Mavericks.  As Kobe Brant has enjoyed pointing out after game two the Lakers had the best road record in the NBA at 29-12.  To put that in perspective there were 20 teams who failed to win as many as 29 games at home.

To expect another home blowout might be presumptuous.  Of course, after the four conference finals games that have been played the Nuggets three point win in game two has proven to be the largest margin of victory.  One of these games has to be over before the final possession, right?  If not health care facilities in Denver, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Orlando better stock up on defibrillators. 

After two games I do not know that any of us have a better grip on what to expect.  Was the resurgence of Linas Kleiza for real or was it a one night only special event?  Are Anthony Carter and Dahntay Jones both going to be restricted to spot duty?  Will George Karl trot out the big lineup again?  Will either of these teams run?  Can the Nuggets keep the battle on the boards even or will the Lakers size slowly wear them down?  Is this all we can expect out of J.R. Smith?  Is this all we can expect from Lamar Odom?  Is this all we can expect from Andrew Bynum?  Will Nene be the guy who scored 14 points in the first half of game one or will he be the guy who scored six points in the three halves since then?  How long can Kobe carry this team on both ends of the floor?  Will Phil Jackson demote Derek Fisher from potential game two hero to watching Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown from the padded folding chairs?  Who will blink first Kobe or Carmelo?

Pretty much all we do know at this point is both of these teams seem to be very evenly matched and you do not want to build up a double digit first half lead and end up scoring 103 points.  That has not worked yet.

I believe at this point in the series both teams feel just as confident as they did when the series began.  They are both laying in their beds right now thinking to themselves that they should be up 2-0.  Neither team has landed a blow that has rattled the other.  The only way I see that happening is if one team wins both of the games in Denver. 

As good as the Lakers are on the road, they do not play better there than they do at Staples Center.  On the other hand we can expect the Nuggets to play better than they did in those first two games when they were on the road.  While both teams are confident it is clear that the Nuggets have the advantage until the Lakers knock them off in Denver.  That might happen tomorrow or it may not happen at all. Plus if there was any doubt in the Nuggets’ heads before game one, they have been obliterated.

I am pumped because tomorrow I will be attending my first playoff game since the 2005 series against the Spurs.  If you want to say, “hi” or “you suck, quit blogging” or “go Nuggets” I will be planted in section 342, row 4, seat 1 and I will have my baby blue Nuggets shirt on.  I would love to get a chance to meet some of my loyal readers so if you have a minute stop on by.  I have a good bladder and no desire to pay what it costs for a hotdog and a Sprite Pepsi so I will be there all game long.

Denver Nuggets Game Notes

Featured Nuggets Blogs:  Pickaxe and Roll | Denver Stiffs | Nugg Doctor | Nuggets Nuggetz | Nugg Love check out the Kobe Stop Crying sign pictures and Chauncey’s inbound pass off the back of a defender from his George Washington days

Featured Lakers Blogs:  Forum Blue and Gold | Lakers Blog | Silver Screen and Roll

Take this with you:  Some numbers for your consideration:

  • Denver is 5-0 in the 2009 playoffs when Chauncey scores 25 or more points and they are 3-4 when he scores 24 or less. 
  • After only averaging three fouls a game over the Nuggets first seven playoff games, Nene is averaging five over his last five games. 
  • Carmelo has five straight 30 point playoff games setting a new Nuggets record.  Over the past 25 years only three players have had longer streaks and they are Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan all with streaks of six. 
  • Kobe has five technical fouls in the 2009 postseason and if he hits seven he has to sit a game.

2009 Western Conference Finals Game 2 Additional Nuggets

And now your additional nuggets from game two of the 2009 Western Conference Finals:

 

  • The one thing I kept thinking in the second quarter when the Lakers were pushing their lead up to 14 was where is Chauncey?  Even after Melo got it going to keep the Lakers from blowing the game open the Nuggets were still down 13 late in the second quarter.  Aside from Kleiza, no one else was stepping up to help Carmelo.  After scoring the Nuggets’ first bucket of the game Chauncey only tallied one more point over the next 17:52 he was on the floor. 

    Just like that, Billups exploded.  Chauncey scored seven points over the final 1:11 of the second quarter, including his brilliant self inbounds pass off Kobe’s back.  Even with Melo and Kleiza hitting shots Denver did not get all the way back in the game until Billups went off.

  • The most impressive aspect of Billups self inbounds play to me was not the pass off Kobe’s back but finishing at the rim with Gasol hovering over his shoulder. 
  • A good friend of mine, who happens to be a big Cincinnati Bearcat fan and I think has a picture of Bob Huggins hanging above his bed, mentioned how I was a little too hard on Kenon after the first game.  He did lead the team in rebounding and I thought when he was guarding either Pau or Bynum that he did a good job of holding his ground and not allowing them to get deep in the post, especially when they had the ball and were trying to back him down. 

    Game two was another matter.  Kenyon did provide the bulk of the Nuggets’ offense early on, but defensively he was just watching the game.  At 8:28 of the first quarter Carmelo missed a fast break three point attempt and Dahntay missed a tip attempt.  The Lakers grabbed the rebound and started down the floor.  Both Kenyon and Nene stayed back never crossing half court on the quasi fast break by Denver.  Fisher brought the ball up and Kenyon met him at the three point line on the right wing.  Chauncey came over to help, but never was able to get in position.  Kenyon slid off of Fisher anyway opening up a lane to the rim. Even though he left Fisher he had inside position on Gasol.  Fisher drove on to the rim where Nene challenged his shot and caused a miss.  For some reason as Fisher drove by Kenyon actually drifted away from the lane sacrificing his position on Gasol and as the shot came off the rim Pau was there to tip the ball in.

    Time and again in the early part of the game Kenyon was just watching the action.  Martin played every second of the first 14:41 and did not have a single rebound to show for it.  Kenyon would play another 2:29 after returning in the second quarter before collecting his first, and only defensive rebound of the game. 

  • One of the segments that was cut from my season preview film room post was how the Lakers usually do a great job of taking advantage of mismatches.  So far this series when Pau has Melo or someone even smaller on him Los Angeles has not done a very good job of getting him the ball.  It is not like them to not go into the post in situations like that.  Look for L.A. to try to take better advantage of the Nuggets switching in the games in Denver.
  • Dahntay Jones almost singlehandedly allowed the Lakers into the bonus committing four fouls in 1:24 early in the game.  Jones defense on Kobe has been less than inspiring and I think Karl has to at least toy with the idea of starting J.R. and bringing Jones in for spot duty on players like Farmar and Shannon Brown.  Brown scares me a little and I think Jones could make things hard on him.
  • Chris Andersen has played decently, but we have not yet seen Birdzilla in this series.  No matter how pumped up he gets at the Pepsi Center for games three and four he is going to have to play better post defense on Pau Gasol in order to earn more minutes.  He can do so by putting his entire forearm in Gasol’s back when he is in the post instead of just a hand.  When you use your hand it is almost impossible to stop a decent spin move (see the 1:41 mark of the first quarter for evidence). 

    Try it with a friend, family member or coworker right now.  Get behind them, put your hand on their back while you are both pushing on each other.  Then have them spin one way or the other.  Next do the same thing with your forearm.  Which one do you think is more effective as a defender?  If you still doubt that I know what I am talking about I can put you in contact with people who can vouch for me in this area.

  • Sandy Clough on 104.3 the Fan in Denver asserted that Anthony Carter was the Nuggets best bench player in game one.  I really respect Sandy and he is typically the most well reasoned and informed Nuggets analyst in the entire world.  If I had been drinking something when I heard him say that, it would have ended up outside the boundaries of my mouth very quickly.  On the other end of the spectrum Nate at Pickaxe and Roll in his game two preview called for Carter to play only the minutes that Chauncey needs to rest. I thought that was a little too far to the other side of the Anthony Carter argument, but George Karl sided with Nate over Sandy. 

    Carter played only six minutes.  It was the fewest minutes he was on the floor all season behind a nine minute outing against Toronto on December 2, 2008 (fondly remembered in Canada as the game that ended Sam Mitchell’s coaching career).  Kleiza definitely ate into Carter’s minutes, but if LK can keep hitting his threes, do not forget he was 7-14 from behind the arc against the Hornets in round one, Carter will not have much of a role in this series.  Plus with Denver possibly going big with Melo and Kleiza as the swingmen instead of AC and J.R. as we have seen in the small lineup that had success against Dallas it will relegate AC to strictly the few minutes of backing up Chauncey he received in game two.

  • There has been some discussion in the comments of the game two recap regarding how biased Jeff Van Gundy has been in favor of the Lakers.  My two cents is that I try to come up with insights that were not discussed during the game because anyone who watched the game, which is most of you, already knows it.  During game two I lost track of how many times I thought I need to write X only to have Mark Jackson or Jeff Van Gundy go on to mention that very X I wanted to comment on seconds later.  I think they are doing a very good job. 

    While I appreciate Scott Hastings, I think he gets a little too consumed with the officiating.  I wish we had the option of watching the game on Altitude, but as far as national commentators go Van Gundy and Jackson are doing a good job of pointing out important details during the game. 

    I did not realize that Van Gundy had picked the Lakers in five, but in his defense, when you come out and say something, and you know a lot of people are going to hear/read it, you want to be right.  If you follow fantasy football and read the work of Matthew Berry on ESPN.com you will know that he would rather be right on a prediction than be wrong and as a result have one of his fantasy teams win that week.  There is a high premium on accuracy whether it be in post game analysis or in making future projections.  Of course, everyone who prognosticates in public will be proven wrong at some point, but we do not have to like it.

  • It is not always the announcers that point out aspects of the game I intended to mention, sometimes readers do it too.  Jakester pointed out that the Lakers had three shot clock violations in the third quarter so I guess now I do not have to.
  • I have heard quite a bit of consternation about how the game was called last night.  Of course, fans on both sides felt their team was treated unfairly.  All I will say is I thought there was a lot of inconsistency.  The game would be called tightly for a few minutes, and then they would let them go at it for a while and I thought it was like that all night long.  However, I do not think the officials played a role in the outcome of the game whatsoever.
  • It is obvious that most fans are not pleased with how games are officiated so let’s make a change.  The NBA added a third referee in the 1988-89 season why not add a fourth and try to cut down on the responsibilities that each man or woman has?  Could it hurt?  It would at least show that the league is trying to address the issue.  What do they have to lose?  The extra money they spend in salaries and travel expenses would be well worth it if it could improve the quality of officiating.
  • By the way, I did a search for the term NBA switches to three referees and the second link that came up was my recap for game three against Dallas.  That was not what I intended that post to be about.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  91.3 – Not much running with 15 combined fast break points.

Defensive Efficiency:  112.8 – Getting a little high, but not too bad.

Offensive Efficiency:  116.1 – Very solid performance.

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Make sure to check out the firsthand account posted by Jezru at Pickaxe and Roll!  Good stuff.

 

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