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.

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.

Denver Nuggets Summer League Report

I finally was able to finish watching the last three summer league games for the Denver Nuggets and I think Nuggets fans should be very pleased. The one player on the summer league team who will be in the 2009-10 rotation played very well.

Even though Ty Lawson did not shoot the ball well in his first two games, highlighted by the numerous rejections he suffered near the rim, I thought he did everything else well. Little did I know that it would only take him two games to adjust to the increased size and athleticism of the summer league.

Lawson continued to control the tempo, make great decisions and play solid defense. He also greatly reduced the number of shots he had blocked by using his body to create contact with a potential shot blocker to get his shot off, using a little floater in the lane and he also became more creative as evidenced by a beautiful reverse layup he made after jumping from the left side of the rim and scoring on the right side. In addition to that he started taking, and making, more jumpers. The result was a combined shooting percentage of 57.1% on two point attempts and 60.0% on threes.

The one thing you hate to see is a quick player who can shoot. If you lay off he will kill you with the jumper, however, if you come out on him, it is even easier for him to drive past you. Lawson accentuated that defensive conundrum by showing off a great pump fake to get his man in the air. He used it several times and it worked every time. The only person who even had a chance to keep Lawson out of the lane was Jerryd Bayless of Portland who did a pretty good job on Lawson in game three. Still Ty posted 26 points on 11-16 from the floor and tallied five assists.

I also loved seeing the accuracy on his passes up the floor. Nuggets players love to launch a three quarter court pass about five feet too high, but Lawson connected perfectly on nearly all of his attempts to get the ball ahead to a teammate.

He also reduced his turnovers from four in the first game to two or fewer over the next four contests.

As I mentioned in my review of games one and two, we cannot draw hard and fast conclusions from five summer league games, but if you combine what we knew about him during his three seasons at Chapel Hill and now in summer league, I think we can be assured that Lawson will be a very good efficient backup point guard. You can see his intelligence and experience in the ways he does little things such as drift to one side of the floor or the other based on where he expects the rebound to come off the rim in order to be in position to receive the outlet pass. His intelligence is off the charts and I love how he was able to adapt to the talent and athleticism of the competition after only two games.

Sonny Weems showed just enough to entice us for what may come in the future. His best shooting performance was a 10-23 (43.4%) night in game five that brought his overall shooting percentage up to 32.6%. He also shot poorly from the three point line dropping onto three of his fifteen attempts (20.0%).

Sonny never made the adjustment to use his talents to set up his teammates when his shot was not falling and he continued to force his offense throughout the five games never attempting fewer than 15 shots. He averaged slightly more than one shot for every two minutes he was on the floor. That is a little too aggressive and as George Karl said when he was interviewed during game five, Weems does not recognize the difference between a good shot and a bad one. He can get his own shot whenever he wants, but settled for a contested midrange jumper far too often.

His defense was very up and down. You could see how good he could be on occasion when he would come out of a time out or a quarter break and really play strong focused defense. Unfortunately that focus came and went. His biggest weakness is getting around picks. Instead of fighting over them he tries to slide around them as if attempting to avoid contact. By the time he would clear a screen and be ready to recover his man was usually already in the lane if not at the rim.

I had hopes that Weems could play the role of providing scoring off the bench, but he is clearly not ready to fill that role. If he is the third option on the floor and the defense is not keying on him, he could be effective and he showed he was much more accurate on catch and shoot opportunities than shooting off the dribble, as most players are.

Even with his shortcomings, he is an intriguing talent and I think he is just a year or two away from being a good NBA player.

The other player I really enjoyed watching was Coby Karl. He is a player who can do everything. He is a very good passer, can handle the ball, knows where to be and when he needs to be there and he can shoot. Karl converted on 61.5% of his shots and made half of his 16 three point attempts. His points per shot is off the charts. He scored 19 points on seven shots in game one, ten points on four shots in game two, 16 points on six shots in game three, 11 points on nine shots in game four and 19 points on 13 shots in game five. Do the math and the result is an astounding 1.92 points per shot. Put him on the floor with players like Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Nene and he will drain open shots all day long.

Defensively he is a little slow laterally, but his understanding of how to play defense somewhat compensates for his lack of speed. Add in the fact that he does not fall asleep on his man or his help responsibilities and he will not kill you defensively.

He plays hard every second he is on the floor and always provides some positive benefit. I do not care what it looks like to have his dad as coach. I want him on the regular season roster.

Looking at the other players, I mentioned C.J. Giles previously as an active shot blocker and athletic defender. I do not think he has NBA talent, but he is right on the borderline. I could see him getting a chance to show what he can do in camp. Ronald Dupree did his best Dahntay Jones impersonation. He is an aggressive defender and showed he can score at the rim. His jumper is creaky and he would provide little help on offense. Still, he plays hard and can play defense. I would not be surprised if the Nuggets brought him into camp. Derrick Byars passes the eyeball test, he is a solid athlete and has good size for a long range sniper. However, he is pretty one dimensional and does not offer much more than long range shooting although he is a decent defender for a shooter. I doubt he will be invited to camp.

The only player I have not mentioned yet that I thought played well was Dontaye Draper. He is small, but plays hounding defense. He also pushed the pace well and shot the ball well (50.0% overall and 40.0% on threes), although he did so on a very small number of attempts. I thought he ran the team well and took his shots in the flow of the offense. His stature will probably keep him out of the NBA, but if the Nuggets do not bring Anthony Carter back, I could see them bringing Draper into camp to provide depth for practices.

With the early progress Lawson displayed, the potential of Weems and the gritty efficiency of Karl I think the Nuggets could have three solid players who are on the regular season roster off this summer league squad. For a team with a solid veteran core, it is important to find players to fill out the roster and I think there is a good chance they have accomplished that in Las Vegas.

Update: Interview with Lawson following the final summer league game on NBA.com.

Sonny Weems to Milwaukee?

There are rumors floating around that the Denver Nuggets are in discussions with the Milwaukee Bucks on a deal that would send Sonny Weems to Milwaukee for Malik Allen.

From Brew Hoop:

Nova Fantasy Sports is reporting that the Bucks are on the verge of trading Malik Allen and his $1.3 million expiring contract to Denver for second-year guard Sonny Weems, who would be owed just $175k if waived immediately.

I hadn’t heard of this site before but a) there’s no reason a sane person would fabricate a Malik Allen trade rumor and b) some reputable posters at RealGM are corroborating that this could very well go down. If it does it would be a no-brainer for the Bucks, as Allen doesn’t provide anything of value at this point and the Bucks would be able to save a little over $1.1 million by converting Allen’s contract into a smaller, partially guaranteed deal.

I’d probably do this deal regardless of the Sessions situation, but it’s worth noting that this move alone would clear enough room to re-sign Sessions for the MLE without going over the 09/10 tax. That begs the question of whether the Bucks really are preparing themselves financially so they can match an MLE deal for Sessions, or whether they’re simply trying to scare other teams off by showing they’ve got the cash to do a deal.  In an ideal world other teams wouldn’t even bother trying to go after Sessions because they figured the Bucks would match anything, but it doesn’t look like that’s the case.

That does not seem like a very good deal for Denver.  If they are providing financial flexibility for Milwaukee they should get at least a second rounder back.  I guess if the Bucks waive Weems the Nuggets cold bring him back, but I do not know how bringing in Allen makes sense.  He only played 11.8 minutes a game on a team that featured such talented bigs as Dan Gadzurich and Francisco Elson (Andrew Bogut was on the roster, but only played 36 games). Allen was not having to compete with players like Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris “Birdman” Andersen for playing time and he still did not even play a quarter of the game.

Regardless, from what I have read this trade is a possibility.  Should the deal, or one like it be agreed to, check back here first for in depth analysis.

Denver Nuggets Summer League Observations After Two Games

The Denver Nuggets summer league team has played in two games and by the time most of you read this that number will be up to three. Even so I want to post some summer league thoughts before I get too far behind. I have been impressed with a few of the players on the team. You can see the up to date stats here.

Ty Lawson – Lawson has not posted overly impressive numbers, but I think he has played very well. He is has been the quickest player on the floor both games and has shown his ability to get into the lane at will. When he penetrates and looks to pass he always makes the right decision and has a unique ability to fit the ball wherever he needs to. So far he has taken very few jumpers so it is difficult to tell how he has adjusted to the NBA three point line, we cannot base anything off his 0-2 performance from behind the arc at this point. He does have a sense for when his team needs a basket, such as early in game one against the Spurs when they only had two points a few minutes into the game. In those situations he has attacked the lane and earned free throws. He has struggled to score and is shooting a microscopic 6.7% from the floor. His primary issue in that area is learning to get his shot off in the lane. It would not surprise me if at least half of his 14 misses have been blocked at the rim. Most importantly his on the ball defense has been very good. Against the Spurs he was matched up against second year point guard George Hill who had a nice rookie season for San Antonio and Hill could not get around him without the help of a screen.

Sonny Weems – Based on the stats it looks like Weems is playing horribly, but he has shown flashes of very goodness. He is doing a great job of rebounding, averaging eight defensive rebounds a game, and pushing the ball back up the floor. In fact, he is doing a little too good of a job as he has pushed the bounds of being out of control. The result has been 4.5 turnovers a game. His athleticism and speed is off the charts and he is absolutely capable of getting his own shot. He has the ability to create space whether it is through contact or his footwork. So far his shot has not been falling, however, it is clear that the Nuggets want to see if he can carry the scoring load. If he proves he can it will make it easier for George Karl to start J.R. Smith knowing he has Weems ability to score available off the bench. Weems really reminds me a lot of a young(er) J.R. He is the best athlete on the floor and it is clear he can make exceptional plays. He does not have the passing ability of J.R., especially on the pick and roll, but he can use his talents to get his teammates easy shots. He also reminds me of J.R. on the defensive end. When he focuses on defense he shows an ability to be disruptive he just lacks consistency.

Coby Karl – If there is a player other than Lawson or Weems who is on an NBA roster in November my money is on Karl. It is easy to look at how hard Karl plays and how intense he is and not notice how skilled he is. He is great with the ball in his hands. He takes care of it, is a very good passer and he can really shoot. It may look bad if Karl gets a shot with the Nuggets, I even made a joke about his presence on the Nuggets summer league team, but he is definitely an NBA caliber player and deserves a spot in the league. It may look bad if he earns that spot in Denver, but you cannot let a good player get away just because of appearances.

Ronald Dupree – I mentioned that Dupree was the most likely player on the roster to be the Dahntay Jones of 2009. He is certainly doing his best. He is playing hard on defense and has been determined to shoot from as close to the rim as possible on offense. He is clearly a limited offensive player, but he has the athleticism and build to be a very good defensive player. I do not think he is going to pull off the same trick Jones did last season, but he is certainly giving it his all.

C.J. Giles – The Nuggets are seemingly always in the market for a big to round out the roster. I was surprised in the past that they did not hang on to a guy like Jelani McCoy. This year it looks like Giles is the big man who will catch my eye only to drift off into the night. He plays with a lot of energy and has done a great job defending the rim. As with Dupree he is not an offensive player, however, his defense is enough to get him noticed. Plus he looks like he has good hands and I like bigs who can block shots, bring energy and catch the ball when it is coming at them.

Richard Hendrix – I really like Hendrix’s ability to score in the paint. He is crafty around the rim and despite being a little undersized he almost always gets a good shot off. I do not think he is going to be in the NBA next season, but he is a very nice player.

Bret Bearup was interviewed during the Nuggets contest with the Wizards and he did not provide much insight to any moves the Nuggets might be working on, but he did say that they want to avoid paying the luxury tax. He also acknowledged that such a feat is probably impossible this season.

Staying with financial I mentioned that it would be interesting to see which trade exception the Nuggets would use to acquire Arron Afflalo. Reader Frontrange pointed out that according to the ESPN Trade Machine the Nuggets used a portion of the Chucky Atkins trade exception on Afflalo and Walter Sharpe, which means they are preserving the exception that was originally created in the Camby trade. I find that intriguing even though it is probably unlikely that they use a big chunk of it before it expires in early November.

There has also been some coaching news over the past couple of days. Chris Tomasson, who is writing for the Rocky Mountain Independent (make sure you check out his Nuggets coverage there) reported first that Jeff Bzdelik was interviewed for the opening in Minnesota. Bzdelik is a perfect coach for a young squad like Minnesota as he will make sure they play hard, play defense and fight from the opening tip to the final buzzer.

Mac Stein is reporting the Los Angeles Clippers are trying to pry Tim Grgurich from Denver. I have a difficult time seeing him leave an organization like the Nuggets for one like the Clippers. Hopefully he will remain in Denver to continue to develop the many young players on the roster.

Goodbye Dahntay Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denver Nuggets Announce their Summer League Roster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sonny Weems – 2009-10 Rotation Player?

The Colorado 14ers are no more, but they did defeat the Utah Flash 2-0 in the D-League finals and I was there.

I will be honest, as cool as it was to watch the 14ers put the cap on a great season and to mill around on the court during the celebration afterwards I was there for one reason, to see Sonny Weems and assess his progress. I observed Weems when he played his first home game as a 14er (complete with a brief postgame interview) and I saw a very raw player. It was his first game action in almost eight months as he recovered from a groin injury and at the time he said his number one goal was simply to build stamina.

Weems posted some very solid stats since that appearance, including leading the team with an average of 22.0 points per game in the playoffs despite the fact the he played only the fifth most minutes per game. Needless to say I was excited to see how he had developed during that short time.

The Flash was a good team to observe Weems against. They had two wing players in J.R. Giddens (Boston) and Morris Almond (Utah) who had been assigned to the Flash by the NBA team who was holding their rights. Giddens is a good athlete who could possibly prove a solid foil as a defender and Almond was a scorer who could test Weems as a defender.

Before we get to Weems’ on the court performance, I have to comment about some of his off the court behavior. In pregame warm-ups he was content to stand under the basket and collect rebounds. With each catch he would fire off a strong and accurate chest passes to teammates. I thought that was interesting because he was the one player on the roster who had an NBA contract. If anyone on the team could big time anyone else it was Weems. What I saw before the game was also verified in my brief conversation with him following the game. He is very humble and the kind of guy everyone would like to have on their team.

Shifting to the action on the court Weems came off the bench as he had been doing for most of his time with the 14ers. When he entered the game for the first time with 5:01 left in the first quarter and the 14ers up 17-14. It did not take him long to adjust to the speed of the game as drives down the middle off a high screen and dropped in a nice left handed layup.

It was a good start and I was pleasantly surprised with the versatility Weems displayed on offense. He was much more than the player who relied on dunks to score his points earlier in the season. He showed the ability to drive with both hands into the lane from anywhere on the floor. He is very comfortable driving to his left, which is great to see in a young player.

He used a variety of finishing shots including straight pull up jumpers, layups with both hands, a spin to a fade away and of course a couple of nice dunks. He even finished a drive into the lane in the first quarter with a little right handed jump hook type effort.

When he collected a defensive rebound he looked to push the pace. If he had room he would race the ball up the floor himself. He did not always make the right decision, but did succeed in putting pressure on the defense, which of course the Nuggets love to do.

The one area of his offensive game that was not up to par was his three point shot. His inconsistent spin that I witnessed several times the first time I watched him play was gone. His spin was pure and consistent. Weems actually spent to terms with the 14ers. In first stint he shot only 7-39, 17.9% from behind the arc. In his second tour heading into the playoffs he was a much better 11-31, good for 35.5%. However, on this night he was a dismal 0-6 and the primary problem I saw was his shot was flat. In the four playoff games he appeared in he only made one of 13 three point attempts. He shows some promise as a solid three point shooter, but he clearly has a lot of work to do in that area. Thanks to his other talents he does not have to rely on the three in order to be effective.

From a passing standpoint Weems is solid. He ended the game with seven assists, and a couple of them were noteworthy. He made a nice entry pass into the post from well behind the three point line resulting in a bucket, he made a nice dump off pass to a big in traffic off a drive and converted a long outlet pass for one of the many dunks the 14ers converted. He even tossed a pretty alley oop that was converted for a crowd pleasing dunk.

It was rare that he received the ball in the post, but it warrants mentioning that he did display a very smooth turnaround jumper that he converted over Giddens. I even thought he could have gone to the line for getting bumped on the way up.

He had a few other offensive plays of note. He apparently picked up the quick jumper on the reach in from Chauncey Billups as he was awarded two free throws by swinging his arms up to shoot through the defender’s arms. He showed the ability to catch and shoot off an inaccurate pass. He runs the floor hard and clearly likes to dunk. In one instance he made a layup running off a make which was good to see.

Defensively Weems made some significant progress from earlier in the season although his defense is far behind his offense at this point. Weems did not get much of a challenge from Giddens as he was not a significant part of the Flash’s offense. There were a few occasions where he was matched up against Almond and he did a good job of staying in front of him.

At this point Weems simply is not a focused defender. He was caught ball watching as many players, young and old alike, are wont to do. The best example was on one occasion when the 14ers were switching screens Weems switched onto the big who set the screen and did not make a move to follow him rolling into the lane. He did realize his mistake and on the shot hustled into the lane and pushed the guy far enough under the hoop that he could not make an attempt at the offensive rebound. It was probably a foul, but showed strength and the desire to make up for his mistake.

Overall Weems does remind me quite a bit of a “young” J.R. Smith although it is strange to think J.R. is only ten months older than Weems is. He does not have the long range shooting ability that Smith does, but he has a very good midrange game and is a willing defender if not a highly competent one. I also have to stress once again how polite and humble he is. Based on the strides he has made he appears to be very coachable.

Weems will probably never be a star, but he absolutely has the talent and physical ability to be a number three scorer at some point in the next two or three years. The key will be whether or not he can raise his defense to the level where he can earn significant minutes.

At this point I can certainly see Weems in the Nuggets rotation as early as next season. There is reported some interest in Dahntay Jones around the league (Zach from Celtics Hub informed me there are reports the Boston might be looking at adding Jones) and if he is offered a contract much larger than the minimum I do not foresee Denver bidding to retain him. Weems is clearly not the defender that Jones is, but should Jones sign elsewhere I expect to see Weems backing up J.R. Smith.

The one thing Weems has going for him is his tiny contract. With the Nuggets are guaranteed to be over the tax level next season Denver will love to keep him on the roster simply to avoid having to play another player more whether he is in the rotation or not.

On the other hand, I would think with the solid play Weems exhibited in the D-League there may be other teams interested in him. It is possible Denver uses him in a trade with the logic that they already have a similar and more polished player on the roster in J.R.

One way or another, whether it is for Denver or another team, I think Weems will play in the NBA next season.

Click here to listen to my postgame one-on-one interview with Sonny. Sadly it was cut short by the call to head to the locker room. And he took my stat sheet (he seemed excited to see he ended up with seven assists). I did not even get to autograph it for him. Other than that it went pretty well.

Prepping for the Trade Deadline

The trade deadline is less than three weeks away and the rumors surrounding the Denver Nuggets have seemed to die down a little since the revelation that Denver scuttled a Linas Kleiza for David Lee deal with the Knickerbockers.  While it may be a waste of time to make up trades and debate nonexistent deals it sure is fun. 

There are two questions the front office will have to determine the answer to over the next seventeen days.  What areas of the roster need to be upgraded?  Is it worth paying the price for that upgrade?

Let’s start off looking at the roster.  The Nuggets have two point guards (Chauncey Billups and Anthony Carter), three shooting guards (J.R. Smith, Dahntay Jones and Sonny Weems), three small forwards (Carmelo Anthony, Linas Kleiza and Renaldo Balkman), one true power forward (Kenyon Martin) and four centers (Nene, Chris Andersen, Johan Petro and Steven Hunter).  Obviously there are players that can play multiple positions, but that is the general breakdown.

Before we start looking at what holes need to be plugged it is important to figure out what the Nuggets have to work with.  The answer is, not much.  As far as expiring contracts they possess a few small ones, but nothing of any size that could bring back a high quality player.  Carter, Birdman and Jones all have expiring contracts while Kleiza and Petro will be restricted free agents, which could be used as expiring contracts should the team they are traded to decline to make a qualifying offer. 

I think we can be pretty confident that the Nuggets will not trade Carter, Jones or Birdman as they are all key players and beloved by George Karl.  Steven Hunter does not have an expiring contract, but it does expire after next season and it could be attractive to teams looking to unload a longer term contract. 

From a draft pick standpoint Denver already traded their 2009 pick to Oklahoma City in the Petro deal, but they do have the future pick from Charlotte.  The Bobcats are one of seven teams who are in the mix for the final playoff spot in the east.  If they somehow make it (John Hollinger’s playoff odd rater has them at roughly a one in four chance to make it) that pick will go to Denver this season.  Such an event would be disappointing as the Nuggets definitely made that trade expecting to get a top ten or higher pick out of the deal.  Even so, that is a nice chip to be able to throw into a trade.  In fact, Chris Sheridan ranked that pick the ninth best trade asset in the NBA this trading deadline.  Would the Nuggets throw that pick into a deal?  Maybe so, but I believe they would rather hold onto it.

Another thing to remember is the Nuggets have a couple of nice trade exceptions to play with as well.  They have a big one with the nearly $10 million left from the Camby trade that was “refreshed” in the Billups deal and the $3 million plus exception from the Atkins trade.  They could land a nice player with either of those and the Bobcats pick, but I doubt that would happen because it would push them back over the luxury tax limit they worked so hard to get under.

In my mind if the Nuggets do any shopping it will be for Hunter’s almost expiring contract and maybe with Sonny Weems tiny contract or Petro’s larger one thrown in for good measure.  Those three amount to roughly $6.25 million and if Denver is willing to part with all three players they might be able to bring back something of use.  However, for the purpose of this article we are going with the presumption that Denver will only be willing to trade Hunter and maybe Weems.  That severely limits what is available to them.

 So now that we know what we are shopping with where are the weaknesses on this team and what solutions may be out there? 

Denver is set at the starting point guard spot with Chauncey.  The backup point spot has been a source of consternation for many Denver fans.  Anthony Carter is a solid backup point guard he is a willing and determined defender, but he is a terrible shooter and his turnover ratio has jumped by roughly a third from last year to this year going from a 12.1 to a 16.1.  He can be effective running the break, but if Denver could acquire a decent defender with a better shot it would help.  Maybe a player like Golden State Warriors rookie C.J. Miles would be a good fit.  Miles is a solid shooter and a good ball handler, but is not the defender Denver would be looking for.  He is also a little on the small side, but he is pretty much the opposite of Anthony Carter and that has appeal for Nugget fans who begin daydreaming about electrocution or their parachute not opening at 10,000 feet when Carter enters the game. 

At shooting guard they have an explosive scorer and budding playmaker, J.R. Smith, the “defensive stopper” and offensive liability in Dahntay Jones and the young prospect in Sonny Weems.  A player who combines the defensive abilities of Dahntay Jones and the offensive abilities of someone not quite as talented as J.R. Smith would be Deshawn Stevenson of the Washington Wizards.  Stevenson has horrible shooting percentages this season, but from 2004-05 through 2007-08 Stevenson shot 38.2%.  I am not scared off by his 27.1% this season because he is only 27 and is playing for a terrible team.  I think the added motivation of playing for a solid team would be exactly what he needs.  Stevenson is no slouch on the defensive end as he actually did a good enough job, at least in his own mind, of defending LeBron James that he decided to call LeBron overrated.  Of course, that ended up backfiring, but he is a capable defender.

Moving on to small forward the Nuggets are pretty well set.  Carmelo Anthony accounts for 35 minutes a night at the small forward spot and is backed up by Linas Kleiza who can be a scoring machine (stress the can).  Denver also has the defensive oriented Renaldo Balkman.  As with shooting guard they have the issue where none of the players are truly two way players.  Ideally Melo becomes a defensive beast and the Nuggets could merge the talents of Kleiza and Balkman and play Renalas Balza, but that is probably not going to happen and even if they could somehow pull it off, I bet it is against the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  It is difficult to find a player who would come cheap enough for the Nuggets to acquire that I would prefer to play ahead of either Kleiza or Balkman. 

As I pointed out above, the Nuggets really only have one true power forward on the roster, Kenyon, but there are a handful of players who can fill time there.  Many people consider Nene a power forward, including Nene himself, but in today’s NBA he is a center who can play power forward.  The bottom line is the Nuggets certainly could use another power forward.  We already mentioned the David Lee for Linas Kleiza deal, but we can put that one to bed as George Karl has shot down any deal involving Kleiza such as the Ron Artest deal from last season.  Surely the Knicks will need more than Hunter to do the deal and it is questionable if Denver would throw in the Charlotte pick to close the deal (personally I would).  The only players I can think of that would come cheap would be Joe Smith from the Oklahoma City Thunder, Hakim Warrick from Memphis or Minnesota Timberwolf Craig Smith.  Even someone like Joe Smith, who has an expiring contract, may be out of the Nuggets price range though.

The Nuggets are pretty well set at center with Nene and Birdman soaking up most of the minutes and Kenyon able to play in the pivot against small centers (he even played some center against Yao Ming to predictable results).  Denver already brought in their insurance policy with Johan Petro and Hunter himself sounds like he may be able to play in March.  I do not see the need or motivation to make a move to bring in another center.

Going through position by position it certainly seems like the Nuggets have a pretty solid roster.  In my mind apart from worrying about strengthening a specific position one thing which would make the Nuggets a better team would be to add another scorer they could bring off the bench.  That may sound silly with LK and J.R. on the team, but the reason J.R. Smith does not start is because George Karl does not want to have the entire bench scoring load fall on Kleiza.  If LK is having an off night, Denver will have to rely completely on the starters for offense.  If Denver could add another scorer to come off the bench Karl could comfortably move Smith into the starting lineup. 

Who could fill that role?  Honestly, there was no one that I think was cheap, available and capable that I did not already mention so I will throw it to you all.  Who do you think Denver could acquire for very little, is available, makes less (probably much less) than $6.25 million and could provide some punch off the bench?  I did come up with Lenardo Barbosa, but his defense is just too poor for my taste.

In conclusion, I believe that this is a pretty solid roster and the proof is in the fact that many pundits think the Nuggets have a great shot at earning the second seed in the west.  On the other hand this team is clearly not on the level of the Lakers and I would not like my chances against the Hornets or Spurs in a playoff series either.  They do need an upgrade at some point to be a true contender. 

Building a championship team is a process.   Even in Boston, where Danny Ainge seemed to concoct a championship team out of thin air, it took a few years to coddle together the assets that he used to acquire Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen all while keeping a competent enough cast around them to win. 

That is what makes the 2009 trading deadline so difficult for the Nuggets’ front office.  Denver is closer to being a title contender than they have been in over 20 years, but if you pull the trigger on the wrong deal in an attempt to push them over the top you might have disrupted the building process that may have resulted in putting together a championship roster in another season or two. 

All salary information was from Storyteller’s NBA Contracts

2008-09 Game 43: Denver Nuggets 118 – Sacramento Kings 99

Box Score | Highlights

Tell me you weren’t freaked out when the Kings were up 34-24 early in the second quarter.  Denver was coming off of a very frustrating loss the day before and they looked flat and disinterested.  I kept thinking to myself that they could not let Houston beat them twice.  I wish I could say all of a sudden they cranked up the defensive intensity and just blew the Sacramento Kings out of the building, but I cannot.  While they did blow the Kings away finishing the second quarter on a 33-13 run, but it was not because of their defense.

The Nuggets chose to switch almost every perimeter screen all night long and the result was mismatches and a fast start for the Kings.  I realize there may be some readers who are new to my blogging after the introduction of the ESPN/TrueHoop Network so I will make sure everyone understands from the get go that I hate switching screens for the sake of switching screens.  Why a team would ever intentionally create two defensive mismatches for themselves makes no sense to me.  It makes even less sense than my wife buying a bunch of clothes for my daughter and then getting upset that we do not have any money.  It also fosters a lazy attitude and I think it was a big reason why the Nuggets came out lacking energy.

Getting back to our 34-24 conundrum the key to the Nuggets rally was that the Kings flat out went ice cold from the floor.  After earning their ten point lead the Kings missed eight of their next nine shots.  Almost all of those nine shots were open jumpers.  I cannot credit the defense with that change in events, but the flurry of misses by the Kings was all it took to get the running game going.  As the offense began to put the pressure on Sacramento the defense slowly came to life.  Denver began playing with more enthusiasm on defense and by the end of the quarter they began clicking on both ends of the floor.

The key to Denver’s ability to switch screens and overcome the self imposed mismatches was the guards did a great job of fronting the Kings big men and the Nuggets’ weak side big was always ready to help on the lob pass.  On the rare occasions when Sacramento did get the ball inside the Birdman was ready to swoop in and challenge the shot.  A dominant shot blocker will always alter many more shots than he actually blocks and that was true tonight for Andersen.  He was credited with three blocks, but continually forced the Kings into taking shots at awkward angles and having to release the ball when they were not comfortable (either too quickly or too late when they were on the way back down to the floor).

As nice as it was to finally see a game where the Nuggets pretty much clinched a win well before the end of the third quarter I am afraid that all they did was what they were supposed to do.  However, Denver once again took care of business against a non-playoff team and hopefully built some confidence up for their showdown with the Hated Utah Jazz on Sunday.

Holy crap, what am I going to blog about until Sunday?

Additional Game 43 Nuggets

  • Dahntay Jones managed to separate his shoulder in pregame warm-ups (Chris Tomasson of the Rocky Mountain News shares that he “banged into someone”), but the silver lining to that cloud was that the Mythical Hustle Creature of Denver known as Renaldo Balkman was inserted into the starting lineup.  I like the swapping of Balkman for Jones (even though the circumstances surrounding the change are unfortunate) as he gives the starting lineup some more size as opposed to when Jones and Smith were starting together.  Plus we do not need to worry about watching Jones take 20 foot jumpers.  Earlier this season I wrote that it seemed like Balkman was able to be productive no matter how few minutes he played or how many consecutive games he had recorded the DND-CD in the box score.  I think I will have to retract that statement as he did not do anything of note in his time against the Magic the other night apart from his three point play immediately after checking into the game.  Tonight I thought he posted a similarly vacant performance in the first half.  However, he brought all the things Nugget fans have already grown to love about him in the third quarter.  He recorded a couple of steals, grabbed some rebounds and once again showed his ability to stalk the rim along the baseline after receiving a great behind the back pass from Chauncey for a nice lay in.  Needless to say I am excited about the prospect of seeing Balkman get some consistent minutes at least for a few games.
  • J.R. Smith may have turned the ball over six times, but he had a great game.  He showed that he can dominate without making a single three pointer.  He took good shots, attacked the rim, was unselfish when he was in the lane and was an all around offensive force.  The downside was I thought his defense was absolutely atrocious early on and it was a factor leading up to the Kings ten point second quarter lead.  Fortunately as the game wore on he was able to raise his performance from despicable to tolerable.  Defense aside when J.R. plays offense like he did tonight he is nearly impossible to contain.  The turnovers are a problem though and if he can eliminate the silly ones, like the behind the back pass to Kenyon in the first half that sailed out of bounds when Smith had a layup of his own, he will be even more deadly.
  • Linas Kleiza continued his savvy offensive play and after throwing up a couple of stink bombs from long range he deserves credit for changing his approach on offense.  Tonight he scored a season high 27 points and every single point he scored was either at or near the rim or from the free throw line.   The flip side of that coin is he did not make a single jumper all night, but his 11-11 performance on shots in the paint more than make up for it. 
  • I have been getting more and more frustrated with the play of Chauncey Billups lately, but tonight he seemed to break out of his funk.  He was much more aggressive going to the rim and as a result earned eleven free throws.  He was credited with only ten shots and it was nice to see compared to the recent games where he was forcing perimeter shots and his attempts were in the high teens.
  • Anthony Carter played a very good game tonight.  I have always been a supporter of his, but his high turnover rate this season made his play difficult to tolerate.  He has turned that trend around as over the previous 12 games he has only turned the ball over more than twice one time.  Tonight he was finding open teammates all over the floor and at difficult angles.  His line of three attempted shots, ten assists and only two turnovers is as good a game as you could hope to get out of your back-up point guard. 
  • In the seven games Denver has played without Melo J.R. has been either first or second on the team in plus/minus six times.  In fact, he has lead the Nuggets in plus/minus in four of the last five games.  Oddly enough in the game he did not lead the team, he was dead last with a ghastly -22 against Orlando.  Tonight he was a superlative +32.  Even in the Dallas game where he shot 1-14 he was tops on the team with a +7.
  • Johan Petro was able to display his wares for us in his first shot at playing in extended minutes as a Nugget.  As a result I now withdraw my question as to why he did not see some spot minutes against Yao Ming yesterday.  He looked to be physically overmatched against rookie Jason Thompson as he was forced to reach from behind and foul Thompson after getting pinned under the basket on a couple of occasions.  He has decent hands and moves well.  What else do you want from the last big on the pine?
  • Sonny Weems did not show us anything we did not know about him from my little scouting trip to Broomfield, CO to view his home debut with the Colorado 14ers.  He showed his ability to get in the lane and his inconsistent jumper.  He certainly did not look out of place during garbage time even though he did not score despite getting five shots up in just six minutes of game time.
  • Rocky made his half court backwards granny shot tonight.  I have always wondered why a mascot intended to entertain kids can get away with such graphic pelvic thrusts every time after he makes that shot.  Does anyone else find it disturbing?  Do mountain lions have sex in public?

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor:  99.8 – Pretty fast even for a Denver home game.

Defensive Efficiency:  Wait for it…here is comes…99.2! – That is right it is the first time the Nuggets have posted a single game defensive efficiency of below 100 since 1846.  Just kidding, it only seems like it has been that long.  They actually did it last at Dallas on December 15th.  Keep in mind it would have been even better if not for the buzzer beating four point play to end the first quarter and Sacramento scored 11 points in the last minute and a half of the game.

Offensive Efficiency:  118.2 – Very good, even considering the competition.

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2008-09 Game 41: Denver Nuggets 88 Orlando Magic 106

Box Score | Highlights

There were a lot of people who were discounting Orlando earlier in the season because they believed the Magic’s incredible record was based solely on an easy early schedule.  There is no way you can make that case anymore.  Having watched most of their victory in Los Angeles Friday and their relatively easy dismissal of the Nugget last night I believe these guys are contenders.

They receive a great deal of credit for their three point shooting and offensive explosiveness, but it is their defense that really amazed me.  It is easy to say that Denver played a lazy offensive game and did not try hard enough to get into the lane.  From what I saw the Nuggets were trying to get to the rim, but Orlando just would not let them.  Whether it was J.R. or Chauncey they always ran into a wall of defenders as soon as they hit the free throw line. 

The Nuggets inside presence was completely negated thanks to Dwight Howard, foul trouble and poor shooting.  When Nene was in the game he had a very difficult time scoring over Howard.  You could tell he was not comfortable shooting over someone with such incredible physical gifts.  Nene also suffered from foul trouble, but I think all of the fouls that were called on him were fouls.  I did like seeing Nene get in Howard’s face a couple of times, but his game did not back up his bravado.

I remember wondering to myself how the Nuggets were managing to score at all even as early in the game as three minutes into the second quarter when they were ahead 31-29.  When Orlando built up a nine point lead with a buzzer beating heave at the end of the third quarter by Hedo Turkoglu it seemed that it was an insurmountable lead. 

I can handle the Nuggets’ lack of offense by the Nuggets because Orlando simply played stellar defense.  What was frustrating was the way they completely dissolved in the second half defensively.  The collapse was highlighted by Denver’s complete lack of understanding and/or desire to defend the pick and roll.  The guards seemed disinterested in fighting through the screen and the bigs were more worried about not giving up a dunk to Howard than they were about stopping the ball.  Nene was especially guilty as on most instances he never even went near the ball handler. 

The other issue was simply Jameer Nelson’s ability to blow past whoever was guarding him at will.  I have never thought of Nelson as a fast player and expected Billups or Anthony Carter to be able to keep him out of the lane, but he blew by them even without the benefit of a screen.  

There was some discussion in the game thread as to whether or not the Nuggets were on the Magic’s level.  Some thought with Melo we were better, but I have to disagree.  I think you have to put Orlando in the same class as the Cavs, Celtics and Lakers.  They are a very formidable squad.

Even with the loss last night you have to consider this to have been a successful homestand.  To finish 5-2 against mostly playoff caliber teams was impressive, especially considering that they lost Melo for the final five games.  As I wrote earlier the Phoenix win was what made the homestand for me.  That was a good win against a very hot team.  And the fact that Denver was able to hang with Orlando for the first 35 minutes last night was even somewhat impressive. 

Tomorrow Denver faces another tough game, this time on the road against the Rockets.  Houston is even more banged up than Denver as I do not believe Tracy McGrady or Ron Artest are going to play.   Make note of the special Martin Luther King, Jr. Day start time of noon Mountain time.

Other Game 41 Nuggets

  • Halfway through the season Denver is on pace for a franchise record tying 54 win pace and they have a 2 ½ game lead over Portland and a three game lead over Utah.  I also think the second half of their schedule is a little easier than the first half.  Of course, Portland’s might be even easier though.
  • I railed on the big men for their poor defense, but Chris Andersen did a pretty good job hedging on screens and defending Dwight Howard.  He really worked to keep him from getting too close to the rim and he also has the length to bother Howard’s little running hooks he likes to throw up.
  • I would never front Howard.  I would force him to make a move from the post to score every time he gets the ball.
  • One key to the game was Kenyon Martin’s inability to score on the block against Rashard Lewis.  Lewis is a natural small forward, but I have seen him do a good job defending players like Kenyon Martin and LaMarcus Aldridge.  His ability to guard power forwards in the is a huge key to Orlando’s ability to play they style they love.
  • Chauncey Billups scored nine points in the first five minutes of the second half and it looked like he might catch fire and keep the Nuggets in the game, but he did not score again for another ten minutes and he only scored four more points after that.
  • Linas Kleiza continued his strong offensive effort as he was the most successful Nugget at attacking the rim and he appears to have broken out of his dreadful shooting slump draining three of the five long bombs he attempted.
  • Sonny Weems and Johan Petro saw their first action in the closing minutes.  Weems made his first two shots as an NBA player and is posting a team best 35.65 PER.  If he does not end up on the All-Star team it will be a dire miscarriage of justice.
  • Renaldo Balkman saw some minutes last night and announced his presence with authority as he threw down a big dunk complete with a barrel roll as he did a little acrobatic summersault off the rim.  Unfortunately that was the highlight of his night.  He did little to differentiate himself on either end of the floor and even contributed to the jumper happy offense by missing a couple of 17 footers.

Mindboggling Game Stats

Pace Factor – 95.0

Defensive Efficiency – 111.6 – Not atrocious, but not good.

Offensive Efficiency – 92.6 – Yep, the lowest single game rating of the season surpassing the 93.2 they vomited up in the game against Cleveland in Denver.

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