Last season, the Denver Nuggets (53-29) took the Northwest Division and earned fourth seed in the Western Conference. But despite their solid division showing, they were out of the NBA playoffs after the first round, losing to Utah in six games. Chances are the Nuggets will be playoff bound again, but how high will they finish and how good of a postseason team will they be?
For the first time since the 2002-2003 season, his first in the NBA, center Nene Hilario (.587 FG%, .000 3PT%, .704 FT%, 7.6 RPG, 2.5 APG, 13.8 PPG) played a full season. Nene has an excellent shot and is solid from the charity stripe, but he continues to have problems with fouls. Although he runs the floor well and has good hands, he is a below average leaper, which diminishes his ability to block shots and rebound. Still, he is amazingly quick with his hands and amongst all NBA centers is one of the best ball stealers.
The aging Al Harrington (.435 FG%, .342 3PT%, .757 FT%, 5.6 RPG, 1.5 APG. 17.7 PPG) comes to the Nuggets from the Knicks. Harrington likes to shoot whenever he can, which is not really an attribute. His best weapon is his ability to drive to the basket and draw the foul. Still, the power forward will continue to toss up ill-advised shots. Harrington, who was recently injured, is a fairly weak rebounder.
Backing up Harrington, is Kenyon Martin (.456 FG%, .276 3PT%, .557 FT%, 9.4 RPG, 11.5 PPG). Martin, who has had health problems just about every season, is a fine defender and decent rebounder. His best shot is from the inside. The problem with Martin is he will be rehabbing his knee for at least part of this season. That means that power forward Chris Anderson (.566 FG%, .000 3PT%, .695 FT%, 6.3 RPG, 5.9 PPG), an eight-year vet, may be used at forward. This is a problematic position for Denver.
Now in his eighth year, small forward Carmelo Anthony (.458 FG%, .316 3PT%, .830 FT%, 6.6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 28.2 PPG) is a creative player and a prolific point scorer. He’s able to take it to the basket and is a solid rebound man. Although his defense has improved, it is still his weakness. He is a franchise player. The question is can the franchise keep him onboard in this contract year?
Shooting guard Chauncey Billups (.418 FG%, .386 3PT%, .910 FT%, 2.8 RPG, 5.6 APG, 19.5 PPG) is one of the best big guards in the game. He possesses a fine outside shot and can also drive to the basket. His defensive skills are overall good. It helps that he is an extremely smart player. Billups has been extremely durable in most of his 13 NBA seasons.
Now in his fourth NBA season, shooting guard Arron Afflalo (.465 FG%, .434 3PT%, .735 FT%, 3.1 RPG, 1.7 APG. 8.8 PPG) has become an accurate outside threat. It’s important that he turns up his scoring, especially from downtown. The upside with Afflalo is his ability to defend. He’s very tough when policing opponents.
On offense, Anthony led the Nuggets with a PER of 22.29. The team was ranked fifth in the league in terms of Pace Factor, which stood at 97.3. The club’s Offensive Efficiency stood at 108.7 (5th). The defense left something to be desired with a rating of 104.7, which was 16th in the NBA.
It was a rough season for head coach George Karl (986-671). Last year, he had to leave the bench and battle cancer. When he did, the fortunes of the team diminished greatly. Karl has been a NBA head coach for 22 years, with the last seven being with Denver. If he stays healthy and is able to guide the Nuggets, they should prosper under his intellect and leadership.
The Nuggets aren’t great but they do have a trio of premium players in Anthony, Billups and Nene. With a new front office that is being run by the owner’s eldest son and a head coach whose health is tenuous, this can be a tough year for this franchise. If Denver can keep it together, they do have enough talent and experience to be a playoff team. A finish of fourth in the Northwest Division and 7th or 8th in the Western Conference is likely with Anthony sticking around to the trade deadline or beyond.
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