Breaking down ESPN’s #NBArank of the Denver Nuggets: Part 1

ESPN recently concluded an extremely arduous process of codifying the NBA’s best 500 players. Our fellow TrueHoop family was highly involved in the process, sending in ballots, backing up their claims in the 5-on-5 series and explaining how certain elements weighed more heavily in their decision-making via video interviews which aired on the front page of the four-letter network’s website this past week. From our perspective — being a proud member of the TrueHoop Network — we feel entitled to give a Carmelo Anthony-like tip-of-the-hat to ourselves for all of our efforts, as ranking 500 different players is not an easy task; however, we conversely feel that it is our job to specifically analyze those players we know best, and determine if their individual Top 500 rankings are accurate in order to further understand how we can get better for next year. Including current free agents, the Denver Nuggets saw a whopping 16 players make their way to the #NBArank list. Whether they managed to land in the right spot is up for debate. In Part 1 of this series we’ll take a look at the Nuggets who landed outside of the Top 100. (more…)

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

Box Score | Highlights | Watch Replay on ESPN3 | Daily Dime Live

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.

Featured Blogs: Salt City Hoops | TrueHoop | SLC Dunk | Denver Stiffs

2009-10 Game 53: Denver Nuggets 92 – San Antonio Spurs 111

Box Score | Lowlights

Give the San Antonio Spurs credit. They came into the Pepsi Center and flat out whooped the Denver Nuggets 111-92. I have mentioned the heart that this Nuggets team has, but the Spurs were so good that it looked like the Nuggets realized early in the fourth quarter that they had no chance to stage one of their comebacks and they basically taped out.

After defeating the Spurs twice in San Antonio this season the Nuggets seemed to take the Spurs lightly. San Antonio has not been playing their typical stout defense as they had in the past. However, tonight they looked as good as they have in a long time on that end of the floor and the Nuggets certainly did not appear to be prepared for the defensive effort the Spurs put forth.

Denver took the easy way out settling for jumpers and playing incredibly stationary on offense. Even on the possessions where Denver passed the ball, they were barely probing the membrane the Spurs set up at the three point line rarely making any threatening movements. To make things worse the shots the Nuggets repeatedly settled for were not falling and they were done in not so much by their inability to make a three, but their inability to keep themselves from jacking up the next one.

Chauncey forced several threes in the second half on his way to a 1-8 performance while J.R. attempted four, although none of his could be considered poor shots. Carmelo was the lone Nugget who shot well from behind the arc, finishing 2-3 from distance, but his shot selection was no better than Chauncey’s.

Melo started off the game probing the defense and making a couple of nice passes as he did against Dallas, but the way he played against the Spurs was wildly different from how he played against the Mavs. Instead of showing any kind of patience, he forced contested jumper after contested jumpers. The Spurs give Carmelo as much respect as any team in the league as the frequently send a player to double while the other three all have at least one foot in the lane ready to help at a moments notice.

While Melo forced a good number of bad shots that lead to his 6-17 performance we once again have to go through the chicken and the egg discourse questioning if Melo did not pass because no one would cut or if no one cut because Melo would not pass. Personnel certainly played a role with Denver’s immobility. Kenyon is Denver’s best slasher and he was wearing fancy clothes on the sideline. Neither Birdman nor Malik Allen like to cut both preferring to stand aside incase a pass comes their way off of penetration. Still it is frustrating to see Denver fall back into their no movement jumper chucking mode all the while watching and wondering if they have any idea how badly they are shooting themselves in the foot.

While I hate any loss, I have to wonder if Denver needed a wakeup call following their drubbing of the Mavericks to make sure they stay focused during the all-star break and do not enter the backside of the season overly confident.

Additional Game 53 Nuggets

  • George Hill was fantastic for the Spurs and I cannot fathom Tony Parker helping San Antonio tonight as much as Hill did. Hill was a bullet in transition always getting to the rim when he had the ball no matter how many backpedaling Nuggets were in his way. He did a very good job of penetrating and getting into the lane and defensively he is a bulldog. Rumor had it the Spurs were dead set on drafting Nicolas Batum when he was snatched up right in front of them. With Batum gone they “settled” for Hill. Let me tell you, if San Antonio had Batum instead of Hill, I am not sure they would be one of the top eight teams in the west right now.
  • Not only were the Spurs on their game defensively, but they carved Denver’s defense up with relative ease. The Spurs took advantage of Denver on the pick and roll no matter how it was defended. On switches the guards patiently backed out and attacked the big man who was in front of them. If Denver trapped, the ball handler threaded a pass to his rolling teammate. When the guard tried to fight over the screen whichever Spur had the ball would dart directly into the lane. Regardless of what scheme Denver is going to use, they need to tighten up their positioning as they are once again too easy to pick apart with the pick and roll.
  • The play that summed up the night was when J.R. Smith missed a breakaway layup because he was afraid of 35 year old Antonio McDyess who was hustling back behind him. Instead of sprinting up the floor and throwing down a dunk, he slowed a bit to make sure his body was shielding the shot off from McDyess, who has had multiple knee surgeries and has yet to block a shot in the month of February, and missed the lay in. He recovered the miss and later in the possession had a chance to redeem himself with a wide open three from the left wing, but missed. San Antonio pushed the ball up the floor and Roger Mason splashed a three of his own for the five point swing putting the Spurs up 15 instead of ten.
  • Malik Allen has done fine on a couple of occasions, but I wonder what would have happened had Johan Petro started instead of Allen.  The way both teams played it probably would not have made a bit of difference although Allen seems to struggle when called upon too frequently.  Plus for a guy who lives for the 18 footer, he has passed up an open look in order to drive into traffic and toss up a hopeless shot in each of the past two games.  Allen did do a decent job defending Tim Duncan in the opening few minutes and I guess that is about all we can ask of him.

Featured Blogs: 48 Minutes of Hell | Pounding the Rock

2009-10 Game 52: Denver Nuggets 127 – Dallas Mavericks 91

Box Score | Highlights

If you were wondering what would have to happen tonight in order for the top story after the game to be something other than the return of Carmelo Anthony I think we found our answer. Carmelo played a very solid game, but the story of the night was the severity of the 127-91 drubbing the Nuggets laid down on the Mavericks.

I do not want to hear one word about how Dallas played in California last night and had to travel east to play at altitude on the second night of a back to back. The Nuggets were in a very similar position Saturday night as they played in Utah the night after winning in Los Angeles against the Lakers. While it is true the flight to Denver from the west coast is longer than the flight to Utah, the Nuggets had to play without their two all-stars. Denver did fall behind by 18, but fought back to get to within three. Dallas on the other hand folded like an origami swan.

The Nuggets did not do anything special on either end of the court. They ran their offense, moved the ball and made shots. Defensively, they switched the high screen with Dirk to ensure he did not get an open look on the pick and pop, but apart from that did a little less switching than normal. Afflalo and J.R. did a solid job of chasing Terry around the many screens that were laid in their path.

The bulk of the credit for the blowout I believe belongs to the Nuggets’ bigs who controlled the paint and dominated the Mavericks front line. The group of Nene, Chris Andersen, Johan Petro and Malik Allen out produced Dirk, Drew Gooden, Eduardo Najera and James Singleton by fifteen points, 54-39, and seven rebounds, 25-18. It was not a matter of floor time as both foursomes played a combined 96 minutes.

Of course, it was great to see Carmelo back on the court. I was worried about how patient he would be with his offense as there was the possibility that he would try to get himself going by taking many quick shots early on. Those fears proved to be unfounded as Melo looked to pass as often as he looked to shoot. Carmelo started off with a nice drop off to Chauncey who ran behind him to get room for a midrange jumper on the right side. He then fed Nene off a drive that earned the big man two free throws. He made another nice drop off to Chris Andersen that sent Birdman to the line for two free throws a few minutes later. Carmelo only attempted four shots in the first quarter, making two threes and missing two midrange jumpers, but he totaled three assists good for six points and that is not including the four points that were created by his passing that came from free throws by Nene and Birdman.

Carmelo ended the game with six assists and 19 points on 8-16 shooting. Carmelo mixed in some drives and post ups and he dealt adequately with the double teaming scheme the Mavs threw at him. Overall it was a very smooth return to action and with one game remaining before the All-Star break I expect we will see Carmelo hitting on all cylinders heading into the last two months of the season.  Any concern about the ankle problem lingering ended in the closing seconds of the third quarter.  Carmelo caught the ball just right of the top of the circle and blew past Josh Howard with a nice move where he stepped across Howards’ body with his left foot as he ripped the ball across to his right triggering a right handed drive that terminated at the rim with an uncontested layup.

If Melo wanted to wait until his explosiveness was back before he returned, it looks like he waited long enough.

Additional Game 52 Nuggets

  • My favorite sequence of the game came with 3:03 left in the third quarter. J.R. Smith had just hit a three in transition to put Denver up 90-60. Coming out of a Mavericks’ timeout J.R. was hounding Jason Terry 40 feet from the basket, Johan Petro was all over Drew Gooden, who had the ball outside the three point line, and Carmelo stayed with Josh Howard tight enough when he tried cutting towards Gooden to get the ball that Gooden chose to call another timeout just ten seconds after the previous break. Of course after the second time out J.R. fouled Jason Terry shooting a three, which was not quite as high on my list of favorite moments, but I loved seeing the Nuggets playing that hard on defense with a 30 point lead.
  • Did Dirk know that Kenyon Martin did not play tonight and that he was being guarded by Malik Allen for the first seven minutes of the game? Usually Dirk is a very smart and aggressive player. Against the Nuggets tonight he was overly content to toss up contested jumpers. Dirk is no jitterbug, but he sure as heck has a quickness advantage on Allen and I was shocked that Nowitzki never attacked Allen off the dribble.
  • Anyone who watches the Nuggets on Altitude knows all about the four tacos for a dollar with the purchase of a drink promo when Denver scores over 100 points from Taco Bell. There needs to be a filet minion for a dollar with the purchase of a drink promo for when Johan Petro scores in double figures.
  • When Petro gets important minutes he usually does not disappoint. Last season he was more than adequate covering Dwight Howard in the Nuggets big win in Orlando. Petro’s biggest problem is that his hands have a negative reaction to leather that causes the ball to repel from them when he tries to catch it. Tonight, he displayed very good hands latching on to passes and rebounds alike.
  • Denver has had three incredible shooting performances from behind the arc over the past six games. In San Antonio on the final day of January they were 9-12. Five days later in Los Angeles they converted 15-22 against the Lakers and tonight versus Dallas they drained 11-18 three point attempts. Over their previous six games Denver has converted 45.6% of their threes. I do not recall a stretch like that ever although I am sure some of those great shooting teams of the 80’s had similar streaks.
  • These two teams play one more time this season on March 29 in Dallas with the winner earning the tie breaker. The bad news is that game is the fifth game in seven nights, all of them on the road, for Denver while Dallas has a day off at home before the game.
  • The Nuggets had possibly their best shooting night in years as they posted a true shooting percentage, which accounts for free throws and three pointers, of 71.3%. The closest they have been to 70% in the year and a half I have charted their game by game performances was last season when they posted a 69.6% true shooting percentage when they blew out the Raptors in the game that finally ended the Sam Mitchell era in Toronto.
  • The Nuggets used to struggle mightily with zone defenses, but they seem to have overcome their inability to deal with them.  The Mavs themselves have been able to frustrate Denver with their 2-3 zone, but ever since Chauncey arrived he has opened up the floor thanks to his shooting ability.  As long as the Nuggets move without the ball and refrain from holding the ball for too long, they can tear any zone up quickly.
  • By the way, Kenyon sat out with knee tendinitis while Dallas played without Shawn Marion, back tightness, and Erick Dampier who is suffering from a sore knee.  Ty Lawson and Birdman deserve a mention for how well they played.  Birdman is playing some of his best ball of his career over the past few games and Lawson followed up his stellar performance in Utah as a spot starter with a tremendous game tonight.  He ran the one man fast break on a couple of occasions and did a very good job of setting up open teammates.

Featured Blogs: The Two Man Game | Mavs Moneyball

2009-10 Game 44: Denver Nuggets 104 – Charlotte Bobcats 93

Box Score | Highlights

I was very pleased with the Denver Nuggets 104-93 victory tonight against the once red hot Charlotte Bobcats. I admit I was a little worried heading into the game after finding out that Charlotte had actually moved ahead of Boston for the top spot in the defensive efficiency rankings as well as in points allowed per game. I had no idea the Bobcats were doing so well defensively and knowing the Nuggets would be without Carmelo Anthony due to a sprained ankle seemed like a dangerous combination.

Fortunately for Denver they still had a red hot Arron Afflalo and Western Conference Player of the Week Chauncey Billups who both continued their stellar play. Afflalo nailed shot after shot as the Bobcats vaunted defense struggled to rotate in time to slow him down.

Defensively the effort reminded me quite a bit of the previous game against the Hornets. Denver did a very good impersonation of a sieve for the first five or six minutes before getting their act together in time to put the clamps down. The Nuggets combined a switch and help scheme with a trap and recover style that kept the Bobcats off balance and succeeded in keeping them mostly on the perimeter.

After building up a double digit lead the Nuggets drove any thoughts of a Charlotte comeback out the window during a stretch of over five minutes spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth where they held the Bobcats to a mere two points.

Offensively the Nuggets racked up the assists thanks to the hot shooting of Afflalo and a running game that tallied 18 points against the team with the fourth slowest pace factor in the league.

The victory is made even more impressive by the ejection of Kenyon Martin in the second quarter. You can argue whether or not it was a good idea for Kenyon to clap vociferously in front of Ken Mauer immediately after Stephen Jackson missed a free throw following the first technical Mauer called on Martin. You can also argue the old adage that no one shows up to watch the refs officiate the game and Mauer surely could have let Kenyon’s enthusiastic response to the miss go.

It only served to add to the quality of the victory as the bench was forced to play an even bigger role. When Kenyon was ejected the Nuggets were up 49-42 and just over 90 seconds later the Bobcats had clawed back to within one. The fact that the Nuggets pulled out an easy win over a decent team down two starters is a very good sign.

To me the biggest storyline from the game was the decision not to suspend J.R. Smith after his antics against the Hornets Saturday night. Smith came out focused and he drained two threes, both within the flow of the offense after entering the game late in the first quarter. George Karl had talked about how the goal of whatever decision the team would make was to help J.R. play better and stop being such a three point chucker. After those first two shots it appeared the staff made the correct decision as J.R. seemed to have derived confidence from the team’s choice to play him.

However, as the game wore on J.R. continued to shoot three after three and he finished the game having missed his final seven three point attempts. He did play hard on defense and did a nice job on the glass pulling down six boards and that is to his credit. However, the nine three point attempts were not a good sign. Karl mentioned that they needed to get J.R. less focused on threes and more focused on getting to the rim, drawing fouls and setting up his teammates, all things he can do. As long as J.R. plays as hard as he did tonight he will help the Nuggets. On the other hand if he keeps shooting threes at this rate he clearly did not learn much from the threat of being suspended.

Additional Game 44 Nuggets

  • As we all know Denver has given away a number of games they should have won, but since the calendar flipped to 2010 the Nuggets have done a much better job of taking control of games they had been losing in 2009. Denver is now only three games behind the suddenly struggling Lakers who are only 5-5 over their previous ten games. I am not ready to call the Nuggets legit contenders for the top seed just yet, but if they can do well on their brief three game road trip against playoff caliber competition (Houston, Oklahoma City and San Antonio) we might have to start talking about giving the Lakers a serious run for their money.
  • In order to build a winning roster you have to win trades.  In 2008 the Denver Nuggets sent their first round pick to the Bobcats who drafted Alexis Ajinca, who to be fair just posted a triple double in the D-League, but has not done anything in the NBA.  The Nuggets were able to trade that pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009 for the rights to Ty Lawson.  Who knows what Charlotte’s pick turns into for Minnesota, but as of now I think it is safe to say the Nuggets won that trade with Charlotte.
  • I think we set a record for most plays in a game where players were left rubbing their face after a play. A lot of incidental contact between limbs and grills none worse than when Gerald Wallace caught J.R. Smith’s cheekbone with an elbow as he brought his arms up to shoot. Smith was left with a bump that would have made Tom and Jerry proud.
  • After Kenyon was ejected it was clear that Malik Allen was going to have to play some significant minutes. You may all know I am not a big fan of Allen’s. Then Chris Andersen sprained his ankle early in the fourth quarter and suddenly Allen was the Nuggets number two big man. Allen played a solid game though and did more good things than bad. Somehow the Bobcats failed to take advantage of the fact he was covering Gerald Wallace for much of the fourth quarter. I will never feel comfortable having to rely on Allen to play many minutes, but it is good to know he is capable of filling in from time to time.
  • Tonight was the last game Jerry Schemmel would call as the voice of the Nuggets. Schemmel is a multitalented man who even coached baseball at Metro State last year. He has ridden his bike across the country to raise money for charity and he also has an amazing story to tell. He was onboard United Airlines Flight 232 that crashed in Iowa in 1989.
  • I have been fortunate enough to hear him recount the horrific events of that day firsthand and it lead him to a relationship with Jesus Christ. I encourage everyone to read the book he penned called “Chosen to Live” that follows the bouts of depression and guilt that were spawned by the weight of dealing with such a tragedy.

    Fortunately for Colorado sports fans Jerry is not going far as he will be calling Colorado Rockies games. I want to wish him good luck with the Rockies, but I hope he will know how much he will be missed.

    Jason Kosmicki was already calling the road games on the radio for the Nuggets and I am sure he will continue to do a great job as he steps in for Jerry on a full time basis.

Featured Blogs: Queen City Hoops | Rufus on Fire

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 – 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.

Denver Nuggets Resign Johan Petro

The Denver Nuggets have made another smart signing as it was announced today that they have resigned Johan Petro. There has been no word of what the contract terms are, but I would guess that it is a one or two year deal starting at the five year veteran’s minimum salary of $959,111.

The Nuggets have done a very good job of managing their payroll this offseason. No one is going to write a book about Denver’s 2009 offseason although I cannot fault them for anything they have done. Today’s signing of Petro is the perfect example of developing a plan and then executing it.

Early in the summer the Nuggets had to decide whether or not they would extend a qualifying offer (QO) of just under $2.85 million to Petro. All of us knew at the time he was not worth that much, but the Nuggets really needed to have a player like Petro, a legit seven footer who can bang in the paint, on the roster. Denver could have done the safe thing and given Petro the QO. No team was going to top it and it would have guaranteed that Petro would return to Denver although at an overinflated price tag.

Instead of wasting money and as recommended here they made the calculated decision to allow Petro to become a free agent and take the risk that someone would offer him a little more money. I thought it seemed like the right thing to do and the gamble has paid off. Denver will retain Petro’s services at nearly only a third of the cost of his QO.

In addition to the savings they earned with Petro they have also resigned Chris Andersen at a very reasonable first year salary, replaced Dahntay Jones with the cheaper and more talented Arron Afflalo and instead of meeting Linas Kleiza’s salary wishes they are likely to replace him with the cheaper and more sound Wally Szczerbiak.

That is good business and that is how you build a sustainable salary structure. The transactions Denver has made are not front page news, but they are crafty and full of basketball wisdom.

Looking ahead the signing now opens up two questions, will Malik Allen be relegated to the bench and will Coby Karl be in training camp?

Last season the Nuggets had primarily a three man rotation between power forward and center with Nene, Kenyon Martin and Birdman. Linas Kleiza and Renaldo Balkman received the bulk of the remaining minutes at power forward. Before Petro was retained it appeared the Nuggets may have been planning on playing Allen as much as ten minutes a night. Petro is fully capable of filling that role and all three of the Nuggets other front court players can play power forward both offensively and defensively should they be on the floor with Petro. I suspect Petro will make Allen superfluous in the rotation, which I believe is a good thing.

From a roster standpoint Petro’s return may reduce Summer League Fan Favorite Coby Karl’s chances of coming to Denver. The Nuggets are only one player away from hitting the 13 player minimum roster requirement and as mentioned above that spot seems destined to go to Szczerbiak. I assume Karl the Elder will know if Stan Kroenke is willing to foot the bill for a fourteenth player or not. The answer to that question will determine if Coby is in Denver this fall.

Karl the Younger is undoubtedly an NBA player and will go to a team’s camp where he has a great chance to make the team. If Karl the Elder knows the Nuggets will not sign a fourteenth player Karl the Younger will go elsewhere, but if Karl the Younger is brought into Nuggets camp then I think that is a good sign that the Nuggets will carry a fourteenth player, at least to start the season, and Coby will be that fourteenth warm body.

The 2009-10 roster and rotation are taking shape and even though the Nuggets have not done anything dramatic, I think they are executing their offseason plans beautifully.

I love it when a plan comes together.

More Media Reports of Weems and Sharpe Heading to Milwaukee

Gery Woelfel from The Journal Times of Racine, WI is reporting what we thought we already knew up until yesterday.  Sonny Weems and Walter Sharpe will be sent to the Milwaukee Bucks for Malik Allen.  Apparently Denver was unable to acquire Bruce Bowen’s non guaranteed contract as part of the deal.

Update: The Nuggets have officially confirmed the trade.  Until Bowen is waived by the Bucks I guess anything can happen, but the fact the trade has been officially announced leads me to believe Denver will not be able to work anything out that would allow them to acquire Bowen and his non guaranteed deal (although again their interest in doing so was only speculation on my part).

When is a Buck a Nugget?

Last night I decided to get more involved in Twitter (click on the blue ‘t’ under subscribe on the right sidebar to follow me, or I guess just click here).  For the most part I purposely lag behind the latest trends and that has generally served me well.  For example, I have never worn my jeans rolled up and folded tight to my leg for even a single second of my life.

However, my avoidance of what is hip can be detrimental, especially when it comes to new technology.  My college friends still mock me for purchasing tapes long after compact discs were all the rage.  (In my defense I did not have my own CD player so why buy something I could only enjoy when I was at college?  As a result I still have well over 100 tapes jammed into the corner of my closet.  Anyone looking for a copy of Belinda Carlisle’s greatest hits?  OK, this parenthetical section has gone on long enough.)

Little did I know my new found enthusiasm for Twitter would drop a potential story in my lap in less than a day.  When asked in a tweet by reader barchy why a week after being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks he still has not changed his background photo depicting him in a Nuggets uniform Weems tweeted back that he is “Not traded.” Needless to say, that came as a surprise to me.  The trade had been widely reported as a done deal.  After all, I have already put together a film room segment on Malik Allen for heaven’s sake.

Looking for answers I emailed Chris Tomasson, former Rocky Mountain News Nuggets beat writer, to see if he was aware of any snag in the trade.  He checked a source and apparently the trade is still a go, just not official.  It is possible that the transaction has been delayed until the Milwaukee Bucks decide what to do with Bruce Bowen.  His $4 million salary is not fully guaranteed until August 1, which is over 23 hours away.

If that is the case, (caution: pure speculation ahead) perhaps it is possible the two teams are working on an expanded trade that would include Bowen.  If Denver could get Milwaukee to take Steven Hunter for Bowen they could waive Bowen and save nearly $8 million in salary and tax payments.  Of course, with the trade exceptions Denver has, they can work out more complicated deals that would save less money too.  Regardless of what might be in the works, a deal for Bowen that saves money would be a major coup although Denver would certainly have to sacrifice a future first rounder to close the deal.

One way or another we should know in the next couple of days if Sonny Weems can keep his Twitter background photo.

Video Scouting Report Malik Allen

In the aftermath of the Denver Nuggets acquisition of Malik Allen there was widespread disinterest. I decided to take advantage of that disinterest and throw together some actual footage of Allen playing NBA basketball. We are fortunate that Allen played the eighteenth most minutes of the season (for him at least) when Milwaukee came to the Pepsi Center so we have plenty of material to choose from. I have pieced together some of the most relevant clips I could find. If you find them boring, do not blame me, blame Allen.

It is pretty clear that Allen is not exceptionally fleet of foot. Sadly it is a matter of the spirit being willing and the flesh being weak. He certainly knows how to play and you can tell that he cares and tries to do his job. His physical limitations prevent him from getting to spots or rebounding out of his area. He is a sound player and certainly belongs on an NBA roster. However, at this stage of his career I would much rather see the Nuggets bring back Johan Petro over Allen for a cheap emergency big. At worst he is an expiring contract that could be paired with Steven Hunter and perhaps Renaldo Balkman whose rights could be renounced following the season making his contract a de facto expiring deal.

Looking at Allen’s advanced stats, he is an inefficient scorer due to his perimeter based game and his rebound rate is not what you would expect from a power forward/center. After his rookie season when he only played 161 minutes and he posted a somewhat respectable rebound rate of 13.8, he has never produced a rebound rate over 11.5 and he has not cracked 10.7 over the previous three seasons. As a point of reference Carmelo Anthony had rebound rates of 11.0 in 2007-08 and 11.5 in 2008-09.

To wrap things up according to John Hollinger’s player comparison model Allen is most like Peja Drobnjak (no longer appearing in this league).

Sonny Weems Traded to the Milwaukee Bucks

The Denver Post has confirmed the Denver Nuggets have agreed to send Sonny Weems and the recently acquired Walter Sharpe to the Milwaukee Bucks for Malik Allen. My initial reaction is…why? Allen clearly does not have the upside of Weems, or even Sharpe for that matter. The only real skill Allen has is his ability to hit the open jumper.

Financially this deal will save the Nuggets $172,840 in salary and an equal amount in luxury tax. $345,680 is nothing to sneeze at, trust me I wish I had that much in my bank account right now, but it also is not an amount of money that you would give up a talented player like Sonny Weems for.

Weems has shown that he still has a long ways to go before he fulfills his potential. During the Nuggets fifth summer league game George Karl listed off a bevy of concerns about Weems’ game, plays out of control, does not know a good shot from a bad one, does not commit to defense, but then he also said that Weems and Arron Afflalo would be fighting for the minutes that Dahntay Jones played last season in camp. As a side note, Afflalo is clearly the backup to J.R. Smith now although he always had a big advantage over Weems thanks to his ability to play defense.

Weems did not shoot the ball well in Las Vegas, but he rebounded like a big man and showed some growth on defense even from just a couple of months ago when he played in the D-League finals with the team formerly known as the Colorado 14ers.

Many of us have watched Weems and seen a comparison between him and J.R. Smith. Weems does not have Smith’s range, but he is an explosive athlete, capable of playing good defense and contributing to a good team. So I keep asking myself why.

As I said in my post discussing the original rumor, I do not see Allen getting very many minutes with Denver.  Even if Weems and Sharpe did not appear to be contributors for next season, neither does Allen.

One thing we know is that the Nuggets front office has been highly competent over the previous couple of seasons.  I think we can conclude that this trade is not as much about the personnel as it is building towards something else. What that is I have no idea.

The Nuggets now have 11 players under contract with Linas Kleiza and Anthony Carter still floating around out there. Assuming they resigned Carter and still have their eye on one more player that would put them at the league minimum of 13 players on the roster. Perhaps the Nuggets wanted to be at 13 players instead of 14. However, that makes little sense because as noted above if players 13 and 14 are Weems and Sharpe, they only cost $345,680 more in salary and tax payments than having Allen as your thirteenth man on the roster.

The only rational explanation I can come up with is the Nuggets are working on something that will bring in more than one player. What that is I have no idea, but this trade is certainly a move with the intention of setting up something else. It has to be, because if it isn’t it makes no sense to me at all.

From the Bucks point of view, I think they did this deal to acquire Weems, not to dump salary as the original rumor postulated.  The inclusion of Sharpe in the transaction prevents the Bucks from saving much money by waiving Weems.

In conclusion, for those of you who love reading the Collective Bargaining Agreement you will wonder how Sharpe can be traded with Weems so soon after the Nuggets acquired him. The rule is a player cannot be traded with another player for two months after he is initially acquired via trade or signed off of waivers. The Nuggets and Bucks can get around this by using trade exceptions. Milwaukee apparently has a trade exception of $1.853 million and we all know about the Nuggets trade exceptions. Denver c an easily fit Allen in what remains of the Atkins exception and in return will receive two trade exceptions back from Milwaukee for $736,420, which will both be practically useless.