The Denver Nuggets had anything but an uneventful summer. Starting with trade talks involving Carmelo Anthony, and a shocking trade that would send Marcus Camby to the Clippers for a second round draft pick, the offseason was full of surprises. Obviously, the loss of Camby, a former Defensive Player of The Year, will hurt, no matter how you look at it. The Nuggets seem to feel, though, that they made the right decision, as it was a cost cutting move, and are now putting their full support behind Nene and Kenyon Martin to hold the fort down low. The addition of both Chris Andersen and Renaldo Balkman should help up front, if only a little bit. This team, though, will go wherever Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony take them. 2008-09 might be Iverson's final year in Denver, so considering the investment the Nuggets put into acquiring him, he has a lot to prove. Coming off an impressive showing in Beijing, Carmelo Anthony's expectations have never been higher. If Anthony fails to get Denver to the second round, much less the playoffs, the fans may want his head, along with coach George Karl's. The Nuggets don't seem to be going in the right direction, but assuming they make things work, they should be a playoff team again this year. The second round, though, seems to be a laughable stretch at this point.
Offense: Last season, the Denver Nuggets were the second highest scoring team in the NBA, averaging 110.7 points per game. They would run their opponents ragged, and make it look easy. The Nuggets didn’t lose any integral offensive pieces this past offseason, and inked super sixth-man J.R. Smith to a new deal, hoping he can contribute even more effectively this coming season. Though J.R. Smith and forward Linas Kleiza hold key roles in Denver’s offensive schemes, the offense almost completely runs through Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony. Denver shouldn’t lose a beat this season, and expect both Carmelo and A.I. to be near the top of the league in scoring once again.
The Denver Nuggets were third in the league in assists last season, but still have troubles passing the ball. Their one weakness offensively last season was the fact that they were missing a true point guard in the lineup. Denver did not address that issue this offseason, and could struggle yet again. Anthony Carter will begin the season as starter, but his game is perfectly tailored for a backup position. The Nuggets could still make a move to get a point guard, but for now, Anthony Carter has the reigns once again.
Defense: Marcus Camby is the heart and soul of this…..oh wait, he’s gone. Well, um, damn. The Nuggets gave up a mind-numbing 107 points per game last year, second worst to only the Golden State Warriors. This year, that number could sickeningly rise. Marcus Camby was the core to the Nuggets’ defense, and now Nene, with a helping of Chris “Birdman” Andersen, will have to fill his shoes. They may be able to provide some solid defense for Denver, but don’t expect much at first. Kenyon Martin, despite his bloated contract, is a great post defender, and gives the opposition fits under the basket, due to his great mixture of strength and speed. K-Mart, however, played most of last year as if he was afraid his leg would fall off. If Martin can get over his past injuries, and play with the intensity he used to harbor, he can be a true anchor to Denver’s interior defense. Also, the addition of Renaldo Balkman was very underrated. He is just as good defensively as the departed Eduardo Najera, and should fill in nicely off the bench when Denver needs some key stops.
Funny how a team who led the league in both steals and blocked shots could be so horrible defensively. In the past, Allen Iverson would use his speed and quickness on both ends of the floor, and was a fairly good defensive stopper. Today, he uses his speed to get into passing lanes anticipating an easy steal. There is nothing wrong with that, there are few better at accomplishing such a feat. The problem, though, is that seems to be all he does anymore. What he does on the offensive end takes a ton out of him, but being lazy on defense is no excuse. Talking about lazy, Carmelo Anthony seemed to be the epitome of that word last year on the defensive side of the floor. This summer, playing for Team USA, Anthony showed a defensive side to his game that I have never seen. He was putting hands in guy’s faces, contesting shots, and actually staying in front of his man! He was actually working. Where the hell is that guy? If he put half the amount of energy on the defensive end for the Nuggets that he did for Team USA, this guy would be a perennial MVP candidate. Whether his attitude changes, however, is a question waiting to be answered.
Strengths: Obviously, almost every strength for the Denver Nuggets comes on the offensive end. It is a rare privilege for any team to have two scorers as explosive as Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson. If one of these superstars falls, the other one can pick things right up. Put these two guys into the Nuggets up-tempo style, and Denver can beat anyone on any given night.
Weaknesses: Defense, defense, and, of course, defense. The loss of Camby will hurt this team the first moment they step on the floor. Defense was their weak spot, and losing both Camby and Eduardo Najera will not help. If Kenyon Martin, Renaldo Balkman, and the rest of the Denver role players can pick up the slack, the Nuggets might be ok, and may be an even better team. This, however, is a tall task for the Mile High Club, and the Nuggets will more likely than not be at the bottom of the league in defense.
Five Players to Watch:
Allen Iverson – Iverson has always been one of the most gifted scorers the league has ever seen, and this season should be no different. Expect him to get his usual 25 points or more every night. At 33 years of age, the sun may be setting on Iverson’s spectacular career, but a few more stellar years seem to be on the horizon, especially considering that this year is a contract year for The Answer. A.I. led Denver in points, assists, and steals per game last year, and Denver needs him to keep that up if they want to contend for the playoffs this year.
Carmelo Anthony – Melo is one of the most outstanding offensive players in the NBA. He has so many different ways he can beat you. His ability to score in the post on bigger players is a truly valuable trait, if he would do it more often. If Anthony continues to work on his post game, and can successfully tie it in with his solid mid-range game, he will be nearly unstoppable when looking to score. Also, remember when Anthony was nailing game winners seemingly every week? He still has that ability, but hopefully for the Nuggets, he shows it more often this next year. Now, if he would just put a little effort into his defense…
Kenyon Martin – The Denver Nuggets need Kenyon Martin to stay healthy, and most importantly, show some signs that he was not just a by-product of Jason Kidd’s playmaking abilities. Martin can be an absolute beast in the post, on both sides of the floor, when he’s not holding back. If K-Mart can get his mind back on his game, Denver fans may not need to worry about the loss of Camby.
Nene – When watching Nene play his few games, you can just imagine the potential this guy has. He has speed, he has size, he can play defense, and he’s a pretty nice guy on the side. It hurts to think that his potential, and possible superstar future, has dissipated due to his constant injuries. If Nene proves that he can stay healthy, and his potential is not lost, the Nuggets may have the most improved player in the NBA this season.
J.R. Smith – This kid scores in bunches off the bench. In limited time, J.R. Smith can get the Nuggets up to 30 points without breaking a sweat. His immaturity is still a problem, though. If Smith can just grow up, and if George Karl begins to trust him, he could be another 20 point per game scorer in Denver, and easy Sixth Man of the Year candidate. The sky is the limit for this prodigy, let’s hope he doesn’t squander it away.
Also, watch out for Renaldo Balkman. He has a ton of confidence, and defensively brings back a lot of memories of a young Dennis Rodman. Also, unlike Eddie Najera, Balkman doesn't jack up shots when he thinks he's "on fire."
Title Hopes: Not much of a chance for the boys in (light) blue. If they can find some way to mix in some solid defense with their high-powered offense, they have a shot. However, in a stacked Western Conference, with a tough division, the Nuggets may get lost in the shuffle. They probably wont have much effect on the title picture, but they should be in constant contention for the 7th or 8th seed in the West.
Prediction: 3rd Place, Northwest Division