That’s a Wrap – The Utah Jazz End the Denver Nuggets’ Season

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The season is over. A campaign that held such incredible promise ended in the first round against a division rival missing two starters. The Nuggets just had no answer for Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap. Despite the best efforts of players like Johan Petro, Malik Allen and Joey Graham Denver the Jazz controlled the paint in the second half.

Despite my dire predictions of a blowout by halftime the Nuggets stayed close thanks to a 19 point first half from Joey Graham and a 17 point third quarter performance by Chauncey Billups. While Graham and Chauncey carried Denver through three quarters, no Nugget was able to complete the job in the fourth.

Carmelo looked like he was going to answer the bell early in the final stanza as he tallied six points and an assist over the first five plus minutes of the quarter. Melo’s jumper at the 6:33 mark tied the game at 95. That would be the final important bucket by Denver because before Denver would score their next hoop over two minutes later they would fall behind by 11.

The game and the season were over.

While most fans will look at Carmelo’s 20 point performance on just 6-22 shooting, it does not tell the entire story. Melo Battled on the glass pulling down a team high 12 rebounds and handled double teams well as he racked up five assists. Still, he will receive a good deal of responsibility for the loss and rightfully so. His defense was spotty as always and great players are judged by not only putting points on the board, but doing so with some semblance of efficiency. Carmelo’s teammates did not all play well, but they gave him a shot to win in the fourth quarter and it did not happen.  I commented during the game Carmelo looked like he was going half speed as his usual killer first step was not there.  Typically Melo can fire off at his defender and pull up leaving the sorry sap covering fighting to stop his momentum in an attempt to contest the jumper.  Melo never did gain separation and the result was a hoard of contested midrange jumpers that did not fall.

It is not fair to hang this first round loss on Carmelo’s shoulders. However, as the best player on a quality team the successes and failures of his squad are laid at his feet. We will have plenty of time to explore this over the offseason, but for all the accolades Carmelo has received as a scorer, he is still a deeply flawed player. Converting six of 22 shots on a night where his team needed a star to close the deal is simply not good enough.

As I referred to above, Melo was not the only player to struggle. Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Chris Andersen barely contributed to the effort. Martin was the most effective of the three producing a couple of nice conversions in the lane. He also uncharacteristically passed up chances to score in the lane twice choosing instead of dish off to a teammate in a worse position to score.

Smith was back to his passive self. He only attempted four shots in 20 minutes. It was his lowest single game shot total of the season. He also produced no assists producing a mere three points for the team. It seems like J.R. is trying to find himself as a player over the previous three games. He succeeded in playing a quality game in the fifth contest while producing next to nothing in games four and six. I honestly have no idea what to make of it. No idea whatsoever.

Finally looking at Birdman, he was the Nuggets fifth worst big behind not only Kenyon and Petro, but also Malik Allen, who submitted an acceptable six minutes in the second quarter when foul trouble required his presence on the court, and Joey Graham. That is sobering.

Graham deserves all the credit in the world for stepping in ready to play and producing what would have been an all time performance from a forgotten player had Denver managed to win this game. Sadly, his exploits will largely be glossed over and forgotten.

Adrian Dantley provided a boost with a sudden outburst of activity in the second quarter as he drew his first technical as a head coach after a foul by Carmelo away from the ball. The result was a 15-3 surge to close out the half that made the game a contest again. The common joke is that Dantley blew any chance to be a head coach during this series, but he showed growth, made the right personnel decisions in game six and finally realized what you say to the referees is almost as important as what you say to your team.

After six games there is no question who the better team is. Utah absolutely deserved to win the series and they way they played was very impressive. On the other side of things the Nuggets now face a very difficult offseason where complicated questions must be answered. You can count on Roundball Mining Company to walk with you step by step as Denver must gear up for what will hopefully be a more successful season in 2010-11.

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2009-10 Game 1: Denver Nuggets 114 – Utah Jazz 105

Box Score | Highlights | ESPN360 Replay

The worst thing a coach can do to a team is play the wrong players. Heading into the regular season many Nuggets fans were worried that old George Karl favorite Anthony Carter and apparent new George Karl favorite Joey Graham would take minutes away from more deserving players.

I have to insert the typical opening night disclaimer of how I know we cannot jump to conclusions after one game, but if Karl trusts Ty Lawson enough to put him out there in the fourth quarter of a tight game against a division rival – in his first career NBA game – I think we can look forward to much more Lawson this season. As far as Graham, who I believe does deserve minutes as a solid player who avoids mistakes, even without J.R. Smith available he was only on the floor for seven minutes.

As good as Lawson was, I was most impressed with Carmelo Anthony. Melo did everything you could ask for, he displayed all his offensive talents and played solid defense and hit the glass. With the ball Melo certainly was aggressive attacking the rim, but still took advantage of the times he had space to fire off a jumper. On top of his scoring, he also dished out five assists, three of which resulted in dunks.

Defensively Carmelo did a fine job. He stayed with Andrei Kirilenko and did a decent job of fighting through picks and as mentioned above he did a good job on the defensive glass.

I think Melo is poised for a career year and that is a big reason why I like the Nuggets’ chances to improve this season.

One of my concerns heading into the regular season was the relatively poor play by Chauncey Billups in the preseason. I had not seen how Billups typically performed in the preseason before so I knew it was possible that he might turn it on when the games started to count, but I was certainly concerned about his play. After a bit of a slow start he showed that there was no reason to be concerned. Chauncey was his typical self providing direction on the floor on offense, playing smart defense and hitting shots when the Nuggets needed him to.

The backcourt of Billups and Lawson was fun to watch. Chauncey is a deadly three point shooter and he received a few open looks thanks to Lawson’s ability to penetrate. Playing with Lawson also allows Billups to rest a bit on offense without carrying so much of a burden for making things run.

Surprisingly the backcourt pairing that triggered the Nuggets game clinching run in the fourth quarter was Lawson and Arron Afflalo. Anthony Carter struggled to guard Deron Williams because of Williams’ combination of size and speed and obviously Lawson did have issues trying to cover him. Afflalo was able to handle Deron’s size both in the paint and on the perimeter where Deron can use his strength to bump his defender off balance in order to drive to the rim. With Afflalo frustrating Williams and Boozer having a horrible shooting night the Jazz did not have enough offense to keep up with the scoring of Lawson, Billups and Anthony.

As a team, I thought Denver’s offense was a little too isolation heavy. Their movement away from the ball was inconsistent and easily defended. However, with players like Carmelo, Billups and Lawson able to drive and create offense for both themselves as well as their teammates the Nuggets offense was able to put up 91 points over the final three quarters.

Defensively the Nuggets had some tough assignments. Boozer is usually a handful in the paint and Okur is the kind of sweet shooting big the Nuggets can struggle with. Plus the Jazz run a grinding style of offense that will eat up disorganized defenses. Early on Denver struggled with covering the player who would set the cross screen for the big man on the weakside block. The Jazz were able to hit players with a quick pass while the defender stood with his back to the ball resulting in some easy baskets. Denver adjusted and the Jazz did not score on that play in the second half that I can recall. The Nuggets showed solid pick and roll defense, rotated relatively well (although they did give up a couple of wide open threes to Okur) and when the situation called for it, they scrambled very well after getting out of position.

Overall, you have to be pleased with the win. Afflalo definitely filled the role of Dahntay Jones, Lawson showed that the Nuggets have a tremendous new weapon. And I do not recall ever thinking to myself, the Nuggets could really use Linas Kleiza here. In the second quarter Denver had Lawson, Graham, Afflalo, Kenyon and Birdman on the floor at the same time and I was wondering where the offense would come from. They actually outscored the Jazz and erased a seven point first quarter deficit. The bench played very well and they look to be one of those groups whose production is greater than the sum of its parts.

Additional Game 1 Nuggets

  • Two of the Nuggets biggest issues heading into the season were rebounding and turnovers. The Nuggets outrebounded the bigger Jazz 42-39 and they only turned the ball over 13 times. Chauncey, AC, Lawson and Afflalo combined for only four turnovers in 99 minutes. That is incredible considering how turnover prone Carter is and the way Chauncey coughed the ball up in the preseason.
  • As the intensity picked up in the second half there were a handful of jump balls. I got a kick out of referee Bob Delaney struggling to clear space to throw the ball up. I do not remember seeing a ref get so physical in demanding his space like that before. On one occasion Kenyon backed out of the circle and just glared at Delaney.
  • My biggest concern for Lawson was his ability to get his shot off in the lane. I think he only had one shot blocked and he made a plethora of forays into the paint to score or get to the line. I could not be more impressed with his play, in once again, his first NBA game.
  • Sticking with Lawson, he had a very impressive drive in the second half where he started at the rim with his right hand from the left baseline. He picked up his dribble and made a crossover step without dribbling. The result was Lawson was able to get behind the defender, who was expecting him to continue to move into the middle of the floor, and he scored on an open layup at the rim. It was just a beautiful instinctive play. I do not remember ever seeing a player do that before.
  • The play of the night though was a steal and dunk by Carmelo. After nabbing a rebound Paul Milsap floated a pass, and I mean floated, to Deron Williams on the left side of the floor. Melo saw the sailing pass, jump in front of Williams and drove at Milsap. When he got to the lane Melo elevated and absolutely threw down on top of Milsap for the basket and the foul. Melo then let out a scream as he pounded his chest just to make sure the Jazz knew whose house they were in.
  • Any concern that the Nuggets would enter the season fat and happy after their conference finals appearance can be laid to rest. Melo, Kenyon, Nene and J.R. all look to be in very good shape. Kenyon rammed home a couple of impressive dunks of his own on the night.

Game Stats

Pace Factor: 96.6
Offensive Efficiency: 118.0
Defensive Efficiency: 108.7

Take this with you: The Nuggets have only started 2-0 once since 1987-88. Portland is very good, but they looked beatable at home against the Rockets Tuesday night. A win in Portland tomorrow would be a great start for Denver.

2009-10 Denver Nuggets Preview – TrueHoop Network Style

Every TrueHoop Network member site will be posting their season preview today so make sure you check out as many as humanly possible either via the the drop down menu up above or the blogroll along the right sidebar.

Last Year’s Record: 54-28

Crystal Ball
The consensus prediction of the TrueHoop Network bloggers … and the best hopes of Roundball Mining Company.

Crowd Says: 53-29
RMC Says: 58-24

Yes We Can!
The sun is out. The seas have parted. The basketball gods are shining upon us!

It is easy to be down on the Denver Nuggets’ chances heading into the 2009-10 season. Their response to this summer’s Western Conference arms race was to continue to slash their payroll.

Some of you may think the Nuggets were disappointed that Linas Kleiza will play in Greece next season, but I suspect the front office was sending Linas bro­chures from the Greek department of tourism. Then again maybe it was the fact they never offered him more than the $2.7 million qualifying offer. Whatever they did, the ploy worked, as Kleiza signed with Olympiacos and will not be on the Nuggets’ payroll this season.

The Nuggets also were thrilled for Dahntay Jones when he signed his four year, $11 million contract with the Pacers. I think Mark Warkentien showed up the next day and personally carried Dahntay’s piano into the moving truck.

It might be difficult to be impressed with a team whose primary goal is to save money, but the Denver Nuggets are becoming quite adept at bolstering the roster while cutting costs. Last season they rummaged through the bargain bin and came up with Chris “Birdzilla” Andersen and Dahntay Jones. This year they brought in more cheap talent in Aaron Afflalo and Joey Graham. They are both cheaper options and better fits than Jones and Kleiza were. Plus the addition of Ty Lawson to backup Chaunc­ey Billups will pay dividends as soon as George Karl chooses to give him the job over Anthony Carter.  Above and beyond the players currently on the roster and even though it appears the Nuggets have passed him over, until he signs with another team I continue to think that Wally Szczerbiak might find his way to Denver.

If the upgrade to the bench is not enough to sway you, here is an interesting little fact to keep in mind. The only players still on the roster who exceeded expecta­tions in 2008-09 were Nene and Birdman. It is reasonable to expect every mem­ber of the Nuggets, other than thirtysomething Chauncey Billups, to improve on their performance next season. Carmelo struggled with injuries, Nene was still feeling the effects of his chemo treatments in the fall of 2008, Birdman had not played regular minutes in over two years before last season and J.R. Smith is still learning how to exploit opposing defenses with his array of diverse talents.

For those who still doubt me, hear this. The number one reason why Denver will be better next season is they have learned how to win. The team made a commitment to play better defense heading into last season, but they were still a work in progress. They now have a year of playing a more balanced style of basketball under their belts and they experienced how far it can take them.

This Nugget team is hungry and ready to prove their Western Conference Finals appearance was not a fluke like Utah’s was in 2008. Common NBA knowledge dismissed the Nuggets prior to last season. Do so at your own peril this season.

No You Can’t
A rousing dissent from a rival blogger.

Fun fact: No team has ever won a championship while featuring a power forward with a woman’s lips tattooed on his neck. Yes, I’m looking at you, Kenyon Martin.

– Matt McHale, By the Horns

All-A-Twitter
A 140-character insight into the soul of the team.

Here are two tweets from @BirdmanAndersen:

Spent some of my signing bonus. Got a boat. If I was on drugs? A flamethrower. A purple one…with an Ipod dock.

Porn gets a bad rap. It’s essentially Discovery Channel for humans. I know I’VE learned stuff from it.

On the Record
Single best quote concerning the team during the last 12 months.

For me averaging 28 points or something like that against the Lakers in this series, that’s tough to do. I do not know if you wanted me to average 30 or 35, I really don’t know. I am thinking there is nothing else that I can do.

– Carmelo Anthony following the Nuggets’ Game 6 defeat to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals

The 2008-09 Almanac
Some key stats from last season.

Offense: 7th
Defense: 8th
Pace: 6th

Team Factor Strength(s): Free Throws (1st), Shooting Allowed (5th)
Team Factor Weakness(es): Turnovers (25th), Free Throws Allowed (25th), De­fensive Rebounding (23rd)

The Play
Down a single point with 9.2 seconds to play in a must-win game. What’s the play?

Even with players like Mr. Big Shot Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith, who can make any shot at any time, you give the ball to Carmelo Anthony and clear out. I might even run seven more seconds off the clock and call a timeout just to increase the level of difficulty. Carmelo has developed a well-earned reputation in the NBA as a Defiler of Dreams. He broke hearts in Oklahoma City twice last season and I am sure you all remember the 3-pointer in the playoffs to beat Dal­las in Game 3 of the conference semifinals. Having Melo means you never have to run a play, just get the ball inbounds.

The People’s Choice
The fan favorite the crowd will be chanting for to see some action.

Karl has said he does not trust Renaldo Balkman because he cannot hit a jumper — although Karl does not seem to mind playing Kenyon Martin. The truth is Balkman brings energy and makes plays that do not show up in the box score. He helps Denver win games and fans cannot get enough of him.

If You’re Watching the Bottom Line, You’re Watching This
The single biggest spreadsheet issue hanging over the team.

The Denver Nuggets have done a great job of cutting payroll while still improv­ing the team the past two seasons. The real trouble is going to come in 2010-11 when the Nuggets’ current starting five will make about $65 million. As John Hollinger has pointed out, those five players may put Denver over the luxury tax line by themselves with at least eight more players to pay. There could be a fire sale in Denver next summer.

Denver Nuggets Wake Up in Beijing

After watching the Indiana Pacers roll over the Denver Nuggets in Taipei, I said I had some growing concerns about the mental state of this team. After one quarter against the Pacers in Beijing, I was not feeling any better. The Nuggets gave up their fourth 30 point quarter in 60 minutes against the Pacers and were down 33-29. The defense was not quite as porous as it had been in the first contest against the Pacers, but it was still lacking.

The frustration multiplied as the Pacers pushed their lead up to double digits a few minutes into the second quarter. The Nuggets finally found a spark with the group of Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony, Renaldo Balkman and Nene. The intensity on both ends of the floor increased with that group on the floor and the Nuggets surged from down 11 to up one at halftime and beat the Pacers by 16, 128-112.

The Pacers still managed to score quite a few points, but Denver looked much better and it appeared that when faced with the prospect of falling to 0-3 against NBA competition in the preseason, they decided enough was enough.

The real story of the game however, was Carmelo. He triggered the Nuggets second quarter run with some incredible offense and very good defensive rebounding. Offensively, Carmelo posted a performance that nearly rivaled his 33 point third quarter last season. Melo used a combination of pull up jumpers and piercing drives to the rim to accumulate a spectacular 45 points. The efficiency with which he scored was staggering. He produced his 45 points on only 19 shot attempts and in a mere 24 minutes of floor time. Unlike in the first game the Pacers started doubling Melo on the block, but just like shooting Mongo in Blazing Saddles, it only made him angry. Melo responded by scoring over the double team and he also made a couple of nice passes that resulted in either layups or free throws.

We all know Melo can score as well as anyone when he has it going and as much fun as I had watching hi score, I was equally as thrilled to see Melo make a significant impact on the game on the defensive end too. Carmelo was very intense on defense and the proof came with his eight defensive rebounds. He worked hard to box out and even bodied up Roy Hibbert after a switch and ended up corralling the missed shot. The most spectacular play Melo made came early in the third quarter when he deflected a running layup attempt by Dahntay Jones complete with a, “Get that (expletive deleted) out of here!” Melo also helped off his man and blocked a shot by Troy Murphy at the rim a couple of minutes later.

If Carmelo can play with the level of intensity on offense and defense he displayed in Beijing, there would be a lot of nights where he would only need to play 24 minutes as the Nuggets cruise to victory.

Other promising signs that the Nuggets awoke in this game was that they rebounded as a team. After getting outrebounded 52-40 in the first matchup, Denver won the battle on the boards 50-45. Chris Andersen and Melo tied with a team high nine boards and Arron Afflalo added seven of his own. The one area that they could still improve in though is the guards do need to do a better job of getting to the free throw line when a shot goes up as the Pacers were able to nab a few long rebounds that would have gone to Denver had a guard moved to the free throw line.

Denver also finally appeared to tire of seeing Hibbert dominate the paint. Nene led the effort to slow the second year big man by playing him physically in the second quarter and Denver did a good job of keeping him out of the lane and off the glass.

This was the first time I saw Ty Lawson against legitimate NBA competition and I was pleased with his play. He did make a couple of poor decisions, but did a good job of taking care of the ball, setting up teammates and getting in the lane. His defense is solid, especially for a rookie, as he does a good job of keeping track of his man away from the ball and, that is half the battle.

Afflalo is not great at creating his own shot, but he did drive with his left along the baseline twice and finished one of those drives with a nice lay in on the opposite side of the rim. He also showed some defensive chemistry with Renaldo Balkman as they applied some full court pressure on a couple of occasions that caused the Pacers some problems.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Melo’s offensive performance was to see him completely abuse Dahntay Jones. Jones fouled out in only 23 minutes thanks to his inability to cover Anthony. Seeing as how the Pacers will probably not play the Hornets in the playoffs, I am not sure they are going to get their money’s worth out of Dahntay.

Joey Graham would appear to be leading the competition for the thirteenth roster spot with James White as White only played three minutes in the two games against Indiana. Graham has been solid, but unspectacular. I have voiced my support for White as he adds more of a three point threat and has far greater upside than Graham. I value upside in players that fill out the end of the bench.

Denver now gets a week off to return from China and get over their jet lag before they head off to Portland for their next preseason game.

Denver Nuggets Drop a Stink Bomb on Taipei

There were two things I could not wait to end tonight. One was the 31-6 beating my less than stellar coed softball team endured and the second was the replay of the Denver Nuggets third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers.

After watching the Nuggets’ 22 point loss I am reconsidering my stance on demanding all of their preseason games available for consumption.

Denver dumped one of the most disjointed (or would it be least jointed) efforts I have seen from this team in a long time. Aside from some early offense from Carmelo Anthony they were basically run off the floor by the Pacers.

Offensively the Nuggets looked like they did two seasons ago. A lot of one on one play complete with wild forays into the lane with a healthy dose of take the first open jumper you see. There was not much passing, very little movement and no discernable purpose to anything the Nuggets did.

As insipid as the offense was, the defense was worse. The Pacers killed the Nuggets on open threes and open layups. The rotations were nonexistent on the perimeter, no help came on drives and the Pacers were regularly able to get open looks in transition. In the second half George Karl tried to invigorate his players by having them trap on the pick and roll, but it only served to further expose their lack of help and defensive rotations.

In all honestly, it is difficult to come up with anything positive from that game.

To make things worse the two players I was most looking forward to seeing, James White and Ty Lawson, did not see one minute of playing time. The Nuggets also held Nene out of action.

Individually Carmelo had some nice moments on the block as the Pacers chose not to double him in the post and he tallied 17 points, but it took him 15 shots to do so and he was credited with five turnovers. J.R. was second on the team in scoring with 16 points, but it took him 16 shots to get there. On one hand I liked J.R.’s aggressiveness as he drove into the lane repeatedly and tried to attack the basket. On the other hand, he was driving to score too often and the result was a hoard of misses and blocked shots. He only dished off a couple of times that I remember and as a result the Pacers knew they could collapse on him and force a miss.

Joey Graham was one of the few Nuggets with an efficient offensive night. He showed he is capable of dropping in mid-range jumpers and if he is on the court with players like J.R., Chauncey and Nene he should get plenty of open looks. Other than that Graham is not very adept at creating his own shot and he does not provide much assistance other than his scoring, which is dependent on being set up by other players. Still, he does not force shots and is a smart player. If the Nuggets keep 14 players, he is a lock to stay with the team and due to the fact both he and James White have non-guaranteed deals, it is possible the Nuggets keep both of them for the first month or two of the season until their contracts become fully guaranteed.

Kenyon Martin displayed what was advertised as a new and improved jumper. His stroke is still far from textbook, but he certainly seems to have moved his left hand further back on the ball and as a result his release is not dependent on the same awkward twisting motion by his left hand and wrist that has plagued it in the past. The good news is he should make a few more jumpers than he did last season. The bad news is that may motivate him to take even more of those types of shots.

In the box score Anthony Carter was only assigned two of the Nuggets 21 turnovers, but it sure seemed like he was responsible for at least four. If it were not for a couple of nice plays in the fourth quarter, a clean pick and lay up going back the other way and a drive and kick out to J.R, for a three, his night would have been a complete disaster.

If one player was a bright spot for Denver it was Renaldo Balkman. He just makes things happen. Although he only shot 1-4 he was very active garnering two steals and collecting five boards, which is another stat along with AC’s turnovers that I have to question the veracity of. It appeared Balkman had that many boards in the first half alone. ‘Naldo was the only Nugget to depart the game with a positive plus/minus with a +3.

Malik Allen continues to move well, but he is so limited on offense. He did squeak in a follow dunk that barely slid over the rim, other than that he too is dependent on teammates to set him up with an open look in order to score.

Arron Afflalo forced his offense a couple of times with poor results. He too needs to work on spacing the floor and only attacking the basket when he can exploit a crack in the defense.

Chris Andersen was fine, but clearly struggled with the size of Roy Hibbert who had a dominant showing.

The only other things worth noting are Karl seemed pretty disinterested in the proceedings as well. I would have hoped that regardless of whether it was a preseason game or not that he would get on the Nuggets for playing with such a lack of focus and purpose.

It is easy to dismiss the Pacers’ hot shooting as just one of those nights as Troy Murphy was 4-8, Brandon Rush was 6-12 and A.J. Price was 4-6. I could buy into that if almost every single one of those makes was off a wide open attempt. If you are rotating and closing out shooters and they do that, I am not going to get too upset, but when known shooters like Murphy are consistently left alone I am not going to be very sympathetic.

I get a kick out of watching games where the announcers are not at the arena, but they are clearly not supposed to admit it. The team of Scott Hastings and Chris Marlowe did a good job although there were a few too many comments along the lines of, “Another three by the Pacers” instead of “A.J. Price hits another three for the Pacers.” At one point Hastings slipped up and commented on how the Nuggets were “there” instead of “here” which of course I found wildly entertaining.

The replacement referees did a very respectable job. There were not nearly as many fouls called as there have been in other games and at no point did I think they were having a negative impact on the proceedings. There were no calls where I had to wonder how they missed it. If anything, there were a couple of occasions where the whistle came a second or two late as they reacted more to the aftermath of a play instead of officiating the initial contact. All in all, they were not a story and that is what you want.

In conclusion I want to thank Mike Dunleavy, Jr. for wearing a hideous yellow jacket at the end of the bench. The combination of where he was sitting and the angle of the camera put the yellow monstrosity directly in line with the net on that side of the floor. It took me a little bit to figure out why the net had a pea green hue to it, then once I realized it was Dunleavy’s attire it was difficult to ignore.

I realize it was just a preseason game, but there are little bits of evidence here and there that are causing me to be concerned about the mental state of this team. We can delve into that as the preseason rolls along, but for now it bears watching. With the difficult opening schedule the Nuggets face and with J.R. suspended the first seven games Denver is not going to simply flip the switch once the games start counting. We need to see something from this team soon.

The Nuggets will play the Pacers one more time, this time in Beijing, on Saturday and it will be broadcast on NBATV and Altitude at 10:00 PM Mountain time. It will give us a nice potentially divorce inducing double header with the Rockies and Nuggets.

Denver Nuggets PER Projections

John Hollinger might be the most decisive NBA analyst in the business. I assume most NBA fans either think he is a stat geek who does not actually know anything about basketball, or he is one of the most astute observers out there.

I fall under the latter camp. I think Hollinger really knows his stuff and is the only member of the national media who is really attuned to the Nuggets. Sometimes I think he is in my head as I read his commentary on Denver. It almost makes me wonder if he reads my posts although if he were to ever stumble upon RMC, I imagine he would think in some situations I was copying his work. The truth is he watches a lot of basketball with unbiased eyes and that is why he can draw the same conclusions as someone like me who attempts to do the same thing.

Despite his impressive anecdotal insights he is best known for his statistical analysis, which brings us to today. It is a day that is widely anticipated by many NBA fans as Professor Hollinger has released his PER (Player Efficiency Rating) projections for the upcoming season. If you do not know what PER is, here is an explanation. The short definition is PER is a statistical per minute measurement of a player’s effect on a game and the average performance is set at 15.00. Anything higher than 15.00 is solid and anything lower is suspect.

You can see the list from of projections from one through 333 or check out a summary of the Nuggets as a team.

Some quick observations are that Chauncey is slated to play at the same level this season as last season, 18.85, which is promising. Hollinger projects a slight bump up for Carmelo Anthony, although if you read his scouting report (insider subscription required) it sounds like he expects his computed projection to be low as he expects a big season from Melo.

The player who Hollinger expects to make the largest leap forward is J.R. Smith who is projected to climb from 16.84 in 2008-09 to 18.15. Hollinger’s system has always been kind to a player like Smith who can get his own shot whenever he wants (usage rate) and score in bunches. However, reading the details it is clear the Professor has a very good read on what J.R. is capable of, primarily his playmaking abilities that most members of the national media have yet to fully recognize.

It is not all sunshine, lollypops and rainbows for Denver. Arron Afflalo has a disappointing projected PER of 9.40. Also, remember how there are 333 player projections? Malik Allen is number 331 with a microscopic projected PER of 6.52.

However, more concerning than that is the play of the Nuggets three key big men is expected to drop off a bit as Chris Andersen, Nene and Kenyon Martin are slated for dips in their statistical production with Andersen slated for the most precipitous drop from 18.16 to 16.58.

Most fans look at these projections and complain that their favorite player or players are not ranked higher. Keep in mind this is all automated based on almost every imaginable statistic and a detailed comparison of similar players performances at similar ages. Because it is stats based I will point out for players like Carmelo (who by the way is ranked 21 overall), Birdman and Nene is that all three are dealing with either an injury related drop last year, Melo, or very poor supporting statistics from previous seasons (Birdman and Nene) that all work to pull down the current statistical projection. This does not mean Birdman and Nene are not capable of playing up to the level they established last season.

Most of Hollinger’s player summaries are only available through ESPN Insider. I strongly recommend signing up for Insider so that you can access Hollinger’s data. It is amazingly thorough and intriguing to read. You also get a great deal more than just Hollinger’s work. Nevertheless, I understand not everyone can though so here are some of the more interesting quotes pertaining to the Nuggets.

Arron Afflalo (Projected PER 9.40): He’ll take over Dahntay Jones’ role as the top perimeter defender, and considering he costs less and is a far better shooter, he should be an upgrade for the Nuggets — provided that Afflalo sticks to his knitting as a shooting specialist and takes half his shots behind the arc.”

Malik Allen (6.52): Allen’s primary skill is his midrange jump shot, and he did that well enough by making 42.0 percent of his long 2s. Unfortunately, he was terrible at everything else.

Chris Andersen (16.58): “[Signing the new contract with Denver was the right move because] the support network he has in place was more important than the money. Even if he can’t replicate the ridiculous block rate of last season, it should be good deal for the Nuggets as well.

Carmelo Anthony (19.36): “While he hit a career-best 37.1 percent on 3-pointers and attempted more than ever, he had trouble when there was more company around. Anthony slumped to 48.2 percent on inside shots after hitting in the mid-50s the three previous seasons. From the right side of the floor, where he prefers to operate on isolations, he hit just 33.8 percent of his 2-pointers — the fifth-worst mark of any player with more than 100 attempts.”

“Anthony appears poised to have his best season. The improved 3-point stroke and strong finish last season both point in that direction as well, as do two other factors: He’s now 25 and should be hitting his prime, and he didn’t suit up for Team USA for the fourth straight summer.

Renaldo Balkman (15.83): Balkman attained a career-best 16.85 PER by playing with his usual boundless energy, ranking fifth among power forwards in offensive rebound rate and leading his position in steals per 40 minutes with 2.4. Only five players in the league had a better rate of steals, and none were frontcourt players.”

Chauncey Billups (18.85): Last season, Billups was once again the only member of the league’s “40-40″ club — 40 percent of his shots originated from beyond the 3-point line, but he still averaged more than 0.40 free-throw attempts per field goal attempt. Usually players who draw lots of fouls rarely shoot 3s and vice versa, but Billups is the exception: He was the only non-center in the league to finish in the top dozen at his position in both categories.

Anthony Carter (9.61): Carter finished 67th out of 69 point guards in turnover rate, and it made him marginal, at best, as a role player. Surprisingly, he still played over 22 minutes a game, as he became something of a security blanket for George Karl. But combine a miniscule 9.2 points per 40 minutes with a penchant for costly miscues, it’s tough to see why.”

Joey Graham (11.21): No player comment, which may be a comment in and of itself.

Ty Lawson (-): “Concerns about Lawson’s size (6-0) undoubtedly hurt, as did some worries about his practice habits and a tendency to sprain his ankles. Nonetheless, he was the top-rated player in my Draft Rater – even edging out Blake Griffin – and the Nuggets absolutely stole him by nabbing him at No. 18 in a trade with Minnesota.

Kenyon Martin (13.36): “More than a third of his shots came outside the immediate basket area, and he was abysmal at them. Historically, he’s converted from these distances in the high 30s or low 40s, but last season he made only 32.1 percent, the worst percentage in the league of anyone with more than 200 attempts.”

Nene (17.89): Nene is still raw enough to envision him improving in coming years. That said, there were elements of last season’s performance that look a bit fluky, so we might expect some regression to the mean in his immediate future. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll shoot 60 percent from the floor again.”

Johan Petro (8.65): “He ranked 65th out of 67 centers in true shooting percentage and 66th in field goal percentage. For a 7-foot center to shoot 41.9 percent and 41.5 percent in consecutive seasons is remarkably awful, and a troubling sign that his offensive development has not only ground to a halt but actually been thrown into reverse.

J.R. Smith (18.15): “Smith lobbed nearly half his shots from behind the 3-point line and made 39.7 percent — many of them from well beyond the arc — but still finished in the top third of shooting guards in free-throw rate. Unfortunately, his concentration lapses at the stripe hurt him. He made only 75.1 percent of his free throws, good for 51st among shooting guards, and that’s inexcusable given how well he strokes it from outside.”

James White (-): He’s a spectacular finisher on the break and he’s slowly but surely figured out how to use his athleticism at the offensive end. He turns 27 in October, so it’s taken a while, but he’s an NBA-caliber athlete and, at 6-7 with a decent jump shot, a prototypical small forward.

Denver Nuggets Drop Preseason Opener to Utah Jazz

The Denver Nuggets dropped their preseason opener to the Utah Jazz 103-87 (box score).

The number one thing I have to say about this game is why on earth could I not watch or listen to it? I can watch every Denver Broncos preseason game, but there is not even a radio feed of a game being played in an NBA arena. Stan Kroenke owns his own television network. I realize the Colorado Avalanche are playing and Altitude showed the Joe Sakic retirement ceremony, and rightfully so, but do you know what was on Altitude after the Sakic ceremony? The Miss Colorado pageant.

I am not asking Altitude to not show the Sakic ceremony or bypass an Avalanche game (which by the way was on Vs. not Altitude) for a Nuggets preseason game. I realize that football games are fewer and more precious, but I can watch a bunch of Colorado Rockies spring training games too. The NFL and MLB do not act like their preseason games are meaningless, why does the NBA?

I realize we get some nationally televised games as the regular season draws closer, but why does the NBA act like these games are truly meaningless? Give us some preseason coverage. I am not saying it has to be a live full production. I would be happy, nay, thrilled with a tape delayed telecast set up the 2008 Summer League with one camera and no announcers.

We need to see these games. I want to see the battle between Joey Graham and James White for what could be the final roster spot. I want to see how Johan Petro does against Kyrylo Fesenko. I want to see if the Nuggets starters were as bad as the stats make it look. I want to see how Arron Afflalo does…at both ends of the floor. I want to see how Chauncey looks one year older against an elite point guard. I want to see if Carmelo has worked on his left hand.

Having a preseason game at an NBA arena completely unavailable for consumption by anyone other than those in the stands is ridiculous.

All we have to look at from this game is the box score. I hate analyzing box scores, but that is all we have to go off of unless you want to draw conclusions from this generic AP story.

Looking at the box score the Nuggets starters were outscored by the Jazz. Were they that badly outplayed? Melo attempted three three pointers, maybe one was at the buzzer. Chauncey had four turnovers, was he picked clean or did he make a pass to a teammate who cut right as Chauncey threw him the pass? Did C.J. Miles light up Arron Afflalo? I have no idea, I did not get to see the game.

Looking at who played and who did not, Kenyon Martin was out resting a thigh bruise. J.R. Smith was not with the team and I have no idea why. (Update:  Chris Tomasson has reported J.R.’s absence was cleared in advance.) Ty Lawson played more than half as many minutes as Anthony Carter. James White played almost four times as many minutes as Joey Graham.

Looking at the actual stats, Renaldo Balkman, who George Karl has said may get to play some small forward, which in my opinion is his natural position, had an impressive line scoring ten points, 11 rebounds and compiling four assists. White was only credited with two shots, both threes of which he made one, but he took 14 free throws. I think one assumption we can safely draw from these numbers is that White was attacking the rim and running the floor. I seriously doubt he made it to the line that frequently by shooting jumpers.

Chauncey shot well, but as mentioned above turned the ball over four times and had a team worst -20.

Nene, who struggled with foul trouble last season, was whistled for five fouls in his 16:45 of playing time.

Carmelo was 4-8 on two point shots and attempted six free throws in his 20:27, but he shot and missed three threes.

Afflalo hit his only three point attempt and had the best plus/minus amongst starters with a -4, but he fouled out in just over 22 minutes.

The last point I will make is this was the first of what could possibly be many games officiated by replacement referees and there were 69 fouls called and 88 free throws attempted in the game. The average number of free throws attempted during the 2008-09 regular season in games the Nuggets played in was 57.5 and the season high was 86. Draw your own conclusions from those numbers.

By the way, did anyone see who won Miss Colorado? It was on Altitude.

Update: NBA.com has video highlights.  There were cameras there.  Is it too much to ask that someone send the tape to Altitude and they put it on TV?  It does not even have to be next day air, just toss it in the mail so Altitude can air it.  I will even offer to pay the postage.

Denver Nuggets – Real Training Camp

The Denver Nuggets are a staple on the annual series Real Training Camp on NBATV and they already made their appearance for 2009 today.

I love watching the footage, but before I get into what I saw I have to lambaste NBATV for the production. Nuggets fans get to watch a practice once a year. What we do not want to watch during the two hours of televised practice is two guys talking into the camera when there is a five on five drill going on directly behind them. We do not need to see shots of a player leaning against a wall while the team is working on defense. We do need to see as much actual footage of what is going on as possible.

Every year I get excited for real training camp and every year I am left to stew as I miss action on the court that I desperately want to be viewing. Please NBATV, quit broadcasting from a practice without showing us the practice. I promise I will still listen to what Rick Kamela and Bill Hanzlik are saying even if you show the action on the floor.

OK, I got that off my chest, now on to the actual practice. We can finally stop speculating and provide some commentary on real life footage of the Nuggets on the court.

  • For the third or fourth straight year we heard George Karl give his speech about not holding the ball. This time he added in that there are a couple of guys who he allows to hold the ball, but singled out Renaldo Balkman and new guys Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo and Joey Graham as players who he does not want to see catch the ball and hold it.
  • Afflalo looked good. He ran out and scored fast break baskets on a couple of occasions and displayed his baseline jumper that he has become very adept at. He looks like he has added a little bulk as well.
  • J.R. Smith is traditionally a slow starter, and in past Real Training Camps he has not had good shooting performances. Today he was on fire. In fact, I do not remember seeing him miss a shot. J.R. will be out the first seven games of the season, but hopefully when he comes back for game eight he will be shooting like he did today.
  • Ty Lawson looks very good. He is always very comfortable playing basketball and the fact that he is in his first training camp in the NBA did not faze him whatsoever. The best exchange involving Lawson was during some half court offensive work Lawson caught a swing pass and nailed a three from the left wing. George Karl immediately told the “Rook” that when he has a wide open lane to the rim to pass on the three and go “make a basketball play.” Lawson took the advice in stride, but we will see what the undersized guard who had a problem with getting his shot blocked in summer league does in similar situations during games. I am guessing that the open three looks pretty good to a six foot guard.
  • There remain some disturbing fashion trends on the Nuggets practice court as Carmelo Anthony still likes the dumbo look with the pocket linings hanging out of the pockets of his pants and Kenyon is still partial to the southern girl washing her car look with his practice jersey cinched tight around his chest.
  • I was impressed with how well Malik Allen was moving, but he once again displayed his lack of a post game as he shot turnaround jumpers over guards on two separate occasions on the block and was unable to back Melo down on another.
  • There was little to see in the battle between James White and Joey Graham. White nailed an open three off a kick out pass and Graham scored on a breakaway dunk. I will have to go back and watch the drills closer, but neither player really stood out. Graham did play a couple of uneventful minutes at power forward during one full court drill. He probably has the strength to play in the paint, but does not have the length to pull it off for prolonged stretches.
  • Keith Brumbaugh was mostly a spectator during the five on five full court work. He did make a tough running floater in the half court drills, but during the full court segment only managed to stand out for taking a bad shot on the baseline and for a couple of awkward moments dribbling the ball. He is definitely long and did spend his time playing small forward.
  • The most disturbing scene of the practice was the Nuggets working on switching screens. A lot. Melo, who was wearing a wire, said that he was going to switch every screen no matter who it was he was switching with. Those of you who are longtime readers know of my disdain of switching screens and I was hoping to see more hedging and trapping on pick and rolls.
  • The players were working hard, but there was a lot of levity on display. I saw more smiles today than when I saw Observe and Report. This team is clearly comfortable and confident, but we will not know how mentally prepared they are to meet the challenges of the season until the regular season tips off.
  • I am hopeful that Chris Andersen has improved his jumper to the point where I am comfortable with him taking it when left open. I only saw one jumper from Birdman and the result was not one that inspired confidence.
  • Kenyon did not appear to be any better at shooting 20 footers either.

Look for some intriguing video from the practice to show up here sometime over the next couple of days.

Joey Graham to Sign With the Denver Nuggets

Chris Tomasson is reporting that the Denver Nuggets have agreed to a one year non-guaranteed $884,881 contract with Joey Graham, not to be confused with Stephen Graham.  Graham has played with the Toronto Raptors for all four of his NBA seasons.  He is a solid player and has played in at least 16 minutes a game in three of his four professional seasons.

Graham is a solid player who will not try to do too much.  Graham is not a three point shooter having only attempted 50 over the past three seasons making only 14 and he does not appear to offer a specific NBA skill that will be useful to Denver.

With James White and now Graham on board Denver may be done shopping and as Tomasson writes the two “can fight it out in training camp for a possible roster spot.”  Both are listed at 6′ 7″ and can play shooting guard or small forward, but Graham is considerably more bulky and the two are completely different types of players.

I may be barking up the wrong tree, but the fact that both of these guys have non-guaranteed contracts leads me to believe that if Wally Szczerbiak is still interested the Nuggets will have room for him.  However, as of now it appears either White or Graham could be the backup small forward while the other will be looking for work.

Update: Tomasson is kicking butt today as he is also reporting that Coby Karl is heading to Cleveland despite George Karl pushing for the Nuggets to bring him in to Denver.  All I will say is Cleveland is crazy if Coby does not break camp with the team.