A look at the rollercoaster year of Nuggets basketball
Hopes were high for the Nuggets at the end of the 2012 offseason, with some analysts predicting up to 59 wins and a top two playoff seed. Masai Ujiri had acquired Olympic gold medalist and star defender Andre Iguodala in a trade, and extended Ty Lawson and JaVale McGee with long-term contracts. He surrounded the team’s young core with veteran Andre Miller and cheap talent like Anthony Randolph and Evan Fournier.
But a difficult early schedule loomed. The Nuggets would play 22 of their first 32 games on the road, including 8 sets of back-to-back games. By the end of November, the team had a pair of four game winning streaks sandwiched in between three losing streaks of three games each, including worrying losses to the lowly Suns and Magic.
Leadership is getting players to believe in you. If you tell a teammate you’re ready to play as tough as you’re able to, you’d better go out there and do it… Leadership is diving for a loose ball, getting the crowd involved, getting other players involved. It’s being able to take it as well as dish it out. That’s the only way you’re going to get respect from the players.
So many games come down to who’s going to make plays. Who’s the guy who’s going to take that responsibility. So the leaders of this team are going to be the ones who take responsibility in winning. It’s not the responsibility of putting numbers on the board, it’s the responsibility of winning.
After the Denver Nuggets traded away Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington to land Andre Iguodala, the conventional wisdom dictated that while this move would bolster Denver’s perimeter defense, its 3-point shooting, and by extension its offense as a whole, would take a hit (an issue which Charlie deftly analyzes in his most recent post). Most of the buzz centered around whether, on the balance, this was an upgrade in basketball terms that would propel the Nuggets to the next level.
Less examined, however, is the fact that in trading Afflalo Denver lost its team captain, and in trading Harrington lost the player who by all appearances was the team’s true leader in the locker room. On the surface this might be considered an easily dismissible issue. Iguodala, after all, was not only team captain of the Philadelphia 76ers, most recently leading them to the Eastern Conference semifinals, but also boasting additional leadership credentials as an All-Star and Olympian. Leaders out, leader in, plug-and-play and they’re ready to roll. Simple enough.
Except that it’s not. (more…)
On March 19, 2008, then Denver Nuggets guard Allen Iverson finally got his first opportunity to return to the place of his NBA roots and face the 76ers in Philadelphia. After having been traded for Andre Miller, Joe Smith and two first round picks in December 2006 to join Carmelo Anthony in Denver, his dramatic homecoming stole the headlines.
The 76ers, however, got the win with the help of their two leading scorers in that game, who combined for 49 points, 18 assists and five steals. Nobody could have known at that time that the duo of Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala had just defeated a team they would find themselves reunited on over four years later. (more…)
|Nene, C 38 MIN | 8-15 FG | 4-4 FT | 14 REB | 3 AST | 20 PTS | +9
It wasn’t the prettiest game, but Nene stuck with it and finished. Yes, he still shoots way too many underhand line drives at the rim, but Nene was the lone reliable big in this game. He secured the rebound that led to the game-winner and played the best defense he has all year.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 33 MIN | 1-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 3 PTS | +14
It’s hard to give Gallo anything other an ‘F’. He was benched for the final play of regulation and the entire overtime. He did nothing but tentatively stand around and hoist threes on offense. Gallo couldn’t even hold his own defensively against the wiry Thad Young and he was absolutely torched on every switch. He folded and turned in a truly spineless performance. Let’s hope it was a one time thing.
|Kosta Koufos, C 7 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | -6
The slow-footed Koufos had a rough start against the rookie Vucevic who simply overpowered him. He shoots too many soft hooks and floaters and simply wasn’t physical enough for his presence to be useful in this game. He didn’t see any action after the first quarter as the small lineups delivered the win. I’ll give Koufos a break as he hasn’t played in a long time, but he needs to be tougher.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 44 MIN | 5-11 FG | 3-4 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 14 PTS | -1
Another frustrating performance by Arron, who was on track for his best game yet with a solid first half. He disappeared in the second half and reverted to forcing shots and generally being un-clutch and clumsy with the ball in his hands. Afflalo did make a big pull-up jumper late and hit two free throws to seal the win. Like Nene, he kept his cool and finished strong despite some poor stretches of play. That kind of guts and character goes a long way to winning games like these.
|Ty Lawson, PG 45 MIN | 6-16 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 7 AST | 13 PTS | +13
Lawson was frustratingly inconsistent all night long and was thoroughly outplayed by Andre Miller. He is unable to get in a any sort of rhythm and is struggling mightily to finish layups. His turnovers are up and his scoring is down, but Lawson continued to play with confidence and kept attacking when the team looked ready to pack in it.
|Al Harrington, PF 26 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 12 PTS | -9
Harrington continues to do his job – stretch the floor and defend the post as best he can. Unfortunately he had to team with Birdman in the second half and with the Nuggets switching every screen after the first quarter he had trouble staying in front of the Sixers. I can’t fault Harrington’s performance and ultimately he stepped in for Gallo in overtime and played a huge part in gutting out the win.
|Andre Miller, PG 39 MIN | 12-20 FG | 1-2 FT | 8 REB | 10 AST | 28 PTS | +18
He was clearly motivated against his old team and flat out dominated. Make no mistake, the Nuggets were dead in the water after a second half defensive meltdown fueled by turnovers – and Andre decided to go out and win the game. This was the best performance of any Nugget this season and I’m still fairly shocked at what I saw the 35-year old Miller just do to his old team on a back-to-back.
|Chris Andersen, C 15 MIN | 2-4 FG | 4-6 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 8 PTS | -5
Andersen turned in another sub-par effort and the Nuggets won in spite of him. He played an acceptable first half and followed it up with his worst effort yet, which is saying a lot considering how up and down he has been. He mercifully fouled out early but otherwise played cowardly defense and contributed very little offensively after a first half in which he at least got to the line and scored some.
|Corey Brewer, SF 18 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 6 PTS | -13
Brewer knows how to play only one way and it’s all out chaos when he’s in the game. Things are either going great or god-awful terrible when he’s in and there’s no in between. Overall I liked Brewer’s energy a lot although the team defense was wildly inconsistent with him on the floor
With the Denver Nuggets heading into a huge matchup with the suddenly dominant Philadelphia 76ers Carey Smith from the TrueHoop Network 76ers blog Philadunkia hit me with a few questions. Follow this link to check out what I have to say regarding Denver’s historical road woes, Gallo and of course the Manimal!
The 2011-12 NBA schedules were released early Tuesday morning in the event that an NBA season does in fact transpire next year. The Nuggets, as usual, will open up on the road against a heated division rival (Portland) on national TV. Two weeks later, Carmelo Anthony will return to Denver in a non-Nuggets uniform on November 16. The crowd reaction that night will likely be the best gauge to date of how the Nuggets fan-base feels in regards to Anthony’s departure from Denver. Would you boo? Would you cheer? Would you — as I would — sit in silence, counterbalanced by an equal amount of appreciation and disappointment? Or would you simply, and nonchalantly, clap slowly just as you would any other player? (more…)
Carmelo Anthony is a very talented player, but no longer has any desire or passion to put on a Nuggets jersey. While both sides have “made the best” of a challenging situation, the long and trivial season the Nuggets are trudging through keeps reminding us they cannot run from their fate much longer. In yet another example of the common theme we’ve seen in games this season – a disinterested team led by Melo begrudgingly go through the motions, squandering their early advantage against Philly en route to a routine, but still frustrating road defeat.
I’ll have to admit, I’ve missed the last three games, and thanks to new contributor GoldenNugget I’ve discovered they’ve been able to bring their balanced offensive attack on the road to the tune of some rare wins. We all know the Nuggets haven’t won with defense in quite a while, but with such a poor road record they need to be what they are and take wins however they come away from home. Unfortunately, what they are is incredibly inconsistent and it showed after this game opened up like a typical road contest this season. When both teams are content to take quick shots, Denver’s offense can carry them all the way through when the ball is moving and finding open shooters. Chauncey Billups provided the early spark in this one, making his first three shots from deep and kicking out to others for open shots off his dribble penetration. He vaulted Denver to an early nine point lead and it seemed the Nuggets merely needed to take care of the ball while once again the offense could settle in and do all of the work on this one.
First of all I’d like to wish a Merry Christmas to RMC’s founder and main man Jeremy Wagner for bringing me on board and running THE best Nuggets blog out there-it’s been a great couple of months and I’m looking forward to many more in the future.
I’d also like to say thank you and Happy Holidays to all of our devoted readers here on Roundball Mining Company. Without you guys all this is just words on a page-here’s to a great 2011 for the Nuggets!
But now for the juicy stuff. A week ago today I had the good fortune of attending the Nuggets-T-Wolves game at the Pepsi Center, and for the first time in my 22 years I got to sit courtside at an NBA game (big shout out to John and Liz Fitzgerald for the seats), right next to Mrs. Chauncey Billups nonetheless! I’ve seen hundreds (probably thousands) of games on TV and many up in the nosebleeds, but let me tell you, if you’ve never seen a game from that up close, you get a chance to appreciate professional basketball like never before.
My girlfriend asked me who she should watch out for on the other team, and I said number 42, aka mister Kevin Love. After dropping a 30-30 game earlier this season, I was hoping for another masterful performance on this night (and a Nuggets victory of course), and he (and the game) did not disappoint. K-Love scored a career-high 43 points to go with 17 boards, but the Wolves rally late fell short and the Nuggets won 115-113, a margin that should have been much larger. No Chauncey, Bird, or K-Mart was disappointing but J.R. had a decent offensive game, Afflalo added 17 and Ty, “The Law”-son was the player of the game, dropping 23 points to go along with 9 dimes and 3 steals. As quick as the guy looks on television, triple it from up close. He had his way with first Luke Ridnour, then Johnny Flynn, getting to the hoop with ease.
But alas, not all was merry on this night, as the Nuggets bigs (especially Nene) were in foul trouble the whole game and were dominated down low by Love and Kosta Koufos. Yes, Kosta Koufos.
Yet the Nuggets did just enough to win, and I will again emphasize a point I made in my last post- this can be an above average NBA team without Carmelo Anthony. If they can get a solid return for Melo, a trade should be the way to go. I know you may want to hold onto those number 15 jerseys for as long as possible, but we have to face the reality that Melo will sign with the Knicks this summer (lockout pending) and that getting nothing in return is not an acceptable end result.
Who Should Denver trade Melo to?
Here’s the rub Nuggets fans. Melo wants to go to New York. New Jersey has the pieces to trade for him but doesn’t want a three-month rental. And the contenders that might (Dallas, Orlando) either don’t have the pieces or won’t part with them. So let’s analyze the possible scenarios:
Melo and Renaldo Balkman to Dallas for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and Dallas’ 2011 1st-round pick
Looking at this trade on paper it might be as good as the Nuggets could do. Yes it may require another draft pick from Dallas, and yes Denver would probably have to trade either K-Mart or Birdman in a separate trade to free up the frontcourt logjam, but it could work. Dallas adds Melo to an already solid core of Kidd, Nowitzki, Chandler, Terry and Marion and gets rid of Haywood’s contract and uninspired play (and allows youngsters Ian Mahinmi and Alexis Ajinca to see time at backup center). Denver gets a solid starting three to replace Melo (which keeps J.R. as the super-sixth man), and can move Nene to power forward (where he truly belongs) alongside Haywood in the starting lineup.
Melo and Shelden Williams to Chicago for Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver and 2011 1st-round pick
Korver has to be thrown in to make the salaries work, but also gives Denver a three-point shooter off the bench (Korver is much more efficient from downtown than J.R.) that they could throw into another possible trade with K-Mart or Bird. Obviously Nuggets fans would like to see Joakim Noah wear the powder blue and gold but it’s evident that the Bulls will not part with their young center. In this deal the Nugs would get stuck with Deng’s extremely bloated contract, but also get a decent small forward who can score along with another solid player in Gibson who can play at either the 3 or 4 (and is an upgrade over Forbes off the bench). I’d prefer the Dallas trade over this one, but if Chicago offers this before the deadline, Denver might have to take it (if there are no better offers).
Melo to Philadelphia for Andre Iguodala, Darius Songalia and two first-round picks
Melo to New Jersey for Derrick Favors, Troy Murphy and three first-round picks
This is when things get interesting. If you’re Masai Ujiri, would you rather have Igoudala (who becomes the small forward and team headliner for the foreseeable future), Songalia’s $5 million expiring contract (to go along with Smith [$6 million], Martin [$16 million] and possibly Billups [$13 million team option]) and picks, or the young big man in Favors, Murphy’s $11 million expiring deal, and possibly a third first-rounder? I predict New Jersey (who now has five first-round picks in the next two drafts) will throw a third first-rounder in to sweeten their offer, which may end up being as good as Denver will get. It’s either one of these two options, or take 50¢ on the dollar from the Knicks. Which brings us to this:
Melo and Renaldo Balkman to New York for Wilson Chandler, Eddy Curry, Anthony Randolph and Knicks’ 2011 1st-round pick
As each day passes, Nuggets fans get closer and close to this becoming a reality. The Nuggets just don’t have a lot of leverage here (the impending lockout and Melo leaving $65 million on the table being the only reason for Melo to sign an extension) and knowing there’s a 99.9% chance he will bolt to New York this summer, Denver may as well take what they can get from the Knickerbockers. Now, if the Nets can convince Melo to sign an extension with them or the Sixers, Mavs, et al, are interested in a short-term lease then Denver may be able to get a better haul. I just don’t see it happening. Chandler is playing some great ball right now and I see him as a better fit with Denver than Gallinari (who wants to stay in New York); Randolph is getting absolutely no playing time with D’Antoni (surprisingly) and could fill in for Harrington and/or J.R. at the backup forward positions; and Curry’s 500 pound corpse (an exaggeration, but not by much) is clearly a salary dump.
But back to Randolph for a second. If the kid is given a chance, he could pan out to something. Those glimpses of explosiveness he showed at Golden State were not a fluke, and if his mid-range game can stay consistent, he could be a heck of a player. Could be the steal of this trade if given the chance by Coach Karl.
Anyways, hope you all have a great holiday weekend and hopefully the Nugs can pull out a tough road win tonight at the Thunder. Westbrook has been MVP-caliber at the point so far, Durant is on pace to win another scoring title and their role guys (like Collison, Ibaka, Green) do their jobs really well. These two squads always play each other tough and the outcome usually comes down to the wire (who can forget Melo’s game winner in Oklahoma City two years ago). Again, this one could come down to the play of Nene in the post, whose erratic play ranges from All-Star one game to fouling out with a 5 point, 5-rebound line the next (which he did against Minnesota). No Melo tonight, but J.R. should fill the scoring void nicely, and with K-Mart and Chauncey back in the starting lineup, I predict a Nuggets victory with a defensive stop at the finish-here’s hoping that’s not the eggnog talking!
On Saturday before the Denver Nuggets played the Utah Jazz I called for a “herculean” effort that would allow for Denver to pull off an unsuspected, but overdue, road win without Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. They managed to do exactly that thanks to tremendous team play on both offense and defense that actually had the Jazz faithful booing their team in the second half.
Every Nugget player provided a boost. The bigs finally started playing the pick and roll as if they had to share in the responsibility to defend it and offensively the passing was tremendous which lead to a hoard of easy baskets.
Tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers they started out in the same fashion. The defense was moving with purpose and intensity while the offense was full of movement and pin point passing. Sadly, things fell apart in the second quarter and did not get any better in the third when the Nuggets looked to be out of gas.
I thought J.R. Smith eschewed the beautiful passing game the Nuggets were playing and tried going one on one far too much. I mentioned he was focusing too much on his own offense lately instead of using his ability to penetrate to earn easy looks for his teammates. In Utah and again tonight he did a very good job of driving and dishing. However, J.R.’s spirit of giving disappeared as the game wore on and J.R. took a few misguided shots and single handedly shifted the offense into neutral.
J.R. entered the game with 3:15 remaining in the first quarter and within five minutes of floor time had already collected three assists. J.R. played another 30 minutes and tallied not even one assist after that.
The other major issue was fatigue. It really looked like the Nuggets were worn out in the third quarter as they stopped playing the pick and roll aggressively on defense and the movement was nowhere near as crisp on offense.
I expected the Nuggets to build up the strength for one more run, the only question was would it come in time to make a difference in the outcome. Denver saw a return to their aggressive defense over the final eight minutes of the night, but Elton Brand hit a couple of really tough turnaround jumpers with the shot clock running down and Samuel Dalembert threw in a terrible banking perimeter shot on a third occasion. Shots like those were enough to keep Denver from clawing back for the win.
As happy as I was with the effort and execution in Utah I was equally disappointed in the loss to Philly. The Nuggets battled and were oh so close to what would have been a very nice win and I understand how deflating the loss of Birdman must have been, but this is a game they really still should have won.
After tonight’s games the Nuggets are only two games behind Dallas for the second spot in the West and I am sure the return of Carmelo and Chauncey will provide a big boost, but the Nuggets continue to give away games that they need in order to give themselves the best chance at repeating last season’s postseason exploits. The good news is Lawson is proving he is capable of picking up the slack when he has to and hopefully Denver is learning that passing and movement makes scoring much easier and that is something I hope Melo is noticing from the sidelines.
In their first game coming out of the All-Star break the Denver Nuggets failed to show up for the first seven minutes of the game, then once they decided to start playing they still appeared to sleep walk through the rest of the first half. Lucky for them the way they played in the second half made it pretty easy to forgive them for their sorry play in the first half.
The Nuggets also owe the Sixers some thanks as well because there is no way Philly should have only been up by ten at the half. As bad as the Nuggets were the Sixers were not much better exhibiting some truly hideous offense over the first 24 minutes. Philly dominated the paint, but missed numerous shots from close in. By my count in the play by play they missed eight layups in the first half alone and I think Philly had several more tip attempts that rimmed out as well.
Do not get me wrong, Denver was terrible offensively in the first half. They did not score their sixth point until Melo made a layup with only 3:35 left in the first quarter. The Nuggets’ putrid play was due to their perimeter mindset, not an inability to make layups.
I think we all hoped to see the Nuggets crank up their effort and they clearly were not out of the game down only ten, but to see the ferocity they took the floor with was shocking to everyone. It was especially shocking to the 76ers and their stunned fans. The Nuggets began attacking the rim starting off the half with three consecutive layups off of the high pick and roll by Chauncey and Nene. In fact the Nuggets went on to make nine layups in the third quarter and were awarded free throws on a couple of occasions when they were fouled to prevent an easy lay in. For some reason those shots that rattle out when you are playing one pass and shoot perimeter ball seem to find the net when they are a result of a more free flowing unselfish offense. Thanks to their renewed sense of purpose on offense Denver was able to take the lead just two and a half minutes into the third quarter and produced a 24-4 run to start the second half.
Chauncey was clearly the catalyst and it was one of the first times this season where he triggered a second half spurt from largely getting to the rim instead of catching fire from the perimeter. After Chauncey scored 13 of the Nuggets’ 24 points to start the half Philly began to focus on him almost exclusively on defense. They assigned Willie Green to shadow Chauncey wherever he went. Green denied Billups the inbounds pass and when Chauncey would get the ball and drive off a screen the 76ers were trapping him relentlessly.
Carmelo and J.R. Smith were able to handle the ball and the Sixers’ strategy did not derail the Nuggets right away, but they did hold Denver to only two points over the final two minutes of the third quarter to get back to within three.
Despite the Nuggets’ offensive explosion in the second half you could make a strong argument that they won this game on defense. Even early in the game they were playing solidly and it was only after the first few minutes of offensive futility that their defense took a corresponding turn for the worse. In the second half the Sixers were hurt by the injury suffered by Andre Miller, but Denver really closed off the driving lanes, packed the lane, fought for rebounds and dared the Sixers to be them from the perimeter. Philly knew that they could not win the game by shooting jumpers and so they tried to stick the ball inside, which played directly into the strength of the Nuggets defense. The result was a lot of contested shots being taken from tough angles and with little space to operate.
The Nuggets now have two very winnable games in Chicago and Milwaukee to close out the eight road games they have had in February. At this point they are in second place in the Western Conference a full game ahead of the Spurs, which is actually two games due to the fact the Nuggets own the tie breaker against San Antonio, and with off days between both remaining games a 7-1 elongated road trip is a necessity.
Additional Game 54 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 96.8
Defensive Efficiency: 92.0 – The third straight sub 100 game for the Nuggets. They also held Philly to 32.6% shooting. They are starting to resemble the team that was winning with defense earlier in the season. The Nuggets now once again have a better defensive efficiency with Billups than during the four games they played without him. It has been a month and a half or so since we could say that.
Offensive Efficiency: 104.4 – Considering they only had five points more than eight minutes into the game that is pretty good.
Sorry for going dark over the All-Star break, I fully intended to post one or two videos highlighting the Nuggets’ defense against the Magic and Heat and throwing at least something up about All-Star Weekend, but I found myself crawling around in a large warehouse in Liberty, MO for many hours between Thursday and Tuesday. The good news is I am back and ready to get back in the saddle.
Denver has a brief three game road trip to kick off the last eight weeks of the regular season starting tonight in Philadelphia. The Sixers had high hopes heading into the season with their hot finish and the addition of Elton Brand. Well, Brand is not out for the season, but apparently that is OK as they are 14-9 when Brand does not play. They are getting better without him too as they are 11-2 in the last 13 games he has missed.
Andre Igoudala is a big reason why Philly has turned things around as he is putting up big numbers since the calendar flipped past November 2008. Behind Igoudala comes Andre Miller who has given the Sixers a steady hand on both ends of the court. They also have a stable of young scorers in Thaddeus Young, Louis Williams and rookie big man Mareese Speights.
The real key to the Sixers’ winning ways has been their defense. It will be interesting to see how Philly defends Carmelo. The first meeting this season was the third of three games Melo skipped to try to rest his sore elbow so we have not seen how the Sixers will try to defend both Melo and Chauncey. In that meeting the Sixers had a 17 point third quarter lead and Denver gnawed away at it with a small ball lineup. Hopefully the Nuggets will not need to resort to such shenanigans again tonight.
Denver and Philly have split the season series each of the previous four seasons so the Nuggets will be going for their first series sweep of the 76ers since Melo’s rookie season of 2003-04. Denver has had some success in the City of Brotherly Love and Burning Dumpsters winning three of their last five there, but if you do not include games where one of their star players kissed the 76er logo before the game they have won three of their previous four games there.
Denver has had six days off, except for J.R. Smith who participated in the dunk contest and Chauncey Billups who played in the All-Star game itself. The rest has done Chris Andersen, who bruised his wrist and hip against the Heat last week, some good as he is listed as probable to play tonight. On the flip side Philadelphia played, and lost, in Indiana last night 100-91.
The Nuggets entered the break having won four out of five road games and with the rest they have enjoyed should be confident and determined to carry that momentum forward.
Previous Matchup: Game 30 – Den 105 Phi 101