Bullets Fever

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Analyzing the Competition


The Denver Nuggets entered the 2005/06 season with very high expectations. They closed the previous season on an absolute tear, and with a budding star in Carmelo Anthony and a solid cast of surrounding parts, many expected them to be a dark horse challenger for the NBA title. In the end, they became yet another example of a team over-hyped in the preseason because of a hot finish in the previous year. The Nuggets suffered many injuries and were forced to rely on Carmelo Anthony to save them time after time. Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin each missed 26 games, but surprisingly, the Nuggets didn't seem to miss them much, posting winning records in their absences. Ultimately, the weakness of the Northwest Division allowed the Nuggets to get a division title and the 3 seed, but they were clobbered by the Clippers in 5 games in the first round of the playoffs.

Additions: JR Smith (Trade-Chicago), Joe Smith (Trade-Milwaukee), Yakhouba Diawara (International)
Subtractions: Greg Buckner (FA-Dallas), Ruben Patterson (Trade-Milwaukee), Francisco Elson (FA-San Antonio)

This team could go in a ton of different directions, which makes them so hard to predict. On the one hand, if Carmelo continues to mature, if Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby, and Nene stay healthy, if J.R. Smith becomes a star, and if the Nuggets find a way to find a shooter at the deadline, they could be as good as the San Antonio-Phoenix-Dallas trio. However, if Carmelo fails to develop defensively, if Camby misses 26 games again, if Martin continues his feud with George Karl, if Andre Miller goes down, and if J.R. Smith can't step in at the shooting guard, they could find themselves deep in the lottery.

Tired of those run-on sentences. It gets better. Denver's record was ultimately tied to the weakness of the Northwest Division. If Utah can stay healthy, if Seattle's bigs improve, and if Mike James and Randy Foye can complement Kevin Garnett, the Nuggets' road will be even tougher. They could legitimately be first in the division, or they could slip to fourth if everything goes wrong. Anything is possible with this club.

Most experts seem to think that Denver will have a similar year to last year. However, I actually think they will be worse. Denver has the worst front office this side of New York City. It feels like whoever is in charge right now is building the team more like a fantasy club than a real NBA team. The Nuggets have a lot of big names with Melo, K-Mart, Miller, Camby, Nene, and J.R. Smith, but they just don't fit together. Martin and Nene play the same position, Camby keeps getting hurt, and Miller can't shoot, meaning Carmelo has to do it all alone. Those contracts they gave to Nene and Reggie Evans were outrageously stupid. How many teams were really lining up for Nene? Did he really deserve 60 million over 6 years coming off his knee surgery.

The problem, of course, boils down to a lack of shooters. Opponents will just slow down the break, pack it in inside, and make Denver beat them with jumpers. If anything, Denver is an even worse outside shooting team this year. They replaced their best shooter, Greg Buckner, with Smith, a slashing, athletic guard. Getting Smith for nothing was a no-brainer, but they could really have used a shooter along the lines of Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, or Matt Harpring (who would have been a great fit). Right now, all they have is DerMarr Johnson, and they only brought him back reluctantly.

Considering how strange last year was, you never know with this team. But with the bottom of the Western Conference improving, I think it's more likely Denver misses the playoffs than makes it.

Projected Record: 39-43

The Nugg Doctor, the premier Denver Nuggets blogger on the net, previewed Denver's season for the NBA Blog Previews a while back. He predicts a 51-31 record and a second-round playoff appearance.
When you talk about the potential depth of the Nuggets playoff run this season you have to keep a few things in mind. First, The Nuggets are a team that is searching for an identity. They have the talent, the coach, the superstar, and the city of Denver behind them. They know what it takes to make the playoffs from the last three years, but it will be what they have learned from the first round disappointments in those three years that gets them to second round this season. The additions Nuggets management has made should make this team improve, and I think that and the maturation process of Carmelo Anthony should be able to get this team to the second round at least.
I love the Nugg Doctor's blog and his historical glimpses on Hoops Addict, but I have to respectfully disagree with him here. I think this sounds too much like preseason optimism talk. If anything, I think they took a step back this offseason. While they may have improved from a talent perspective, I don't think the pieces fit together. They need shooters and instead locked up two power forwards, traded for another, and brought in an unproven slasher to start on the wing. I don't think those moves improve the team at all.

In the end, our very disagreement proves that Denver is the toughest team to predict in the Association. They could be really good, really bad, or anywhere in between.


Think I screwed this one up? Let me know. How many wins do you see Denver getting this season?

Also see the last "Analyzing the Competition," Chicago.

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