There are so many storylines going into this NBA season. The lockout has condensed the season down to 66 games instead of 82. The Knicks added another key player to their superstar lineup. The Heat added another piece to their even bigger superstar lineup. The Clippers trade for Chris Paul made them even more relevant team in LA. Dallas still has Dirk, and the Thunder still have Durant. Then there are the Denver Nuggets without a superstar. But this may be the only team in the NBA that doesn’t need a star to win.
Last season started with a whirlwind of trade rumors regarding Carmelo Anthony that lasted till the trade deadline. I personally wanted the Nuggets to resign Melo. Not so much because I liked him as a player, but because I wanted a big name player to actually want to be in Denver. When Melo demanded to be traded it was like a slap in the face to this city. A few weeks after the trade was over however, it appeared Denver was the one slapping Melo in the face. While his new Knicks team was struggling, the new Denver Nuggets were winning. Not only were they winning, but they were winning with a core of talented young players that the franchise could build around.
While the Nuggets had a remarkable run at the end of last season, they went into the playoffs banged up and were eliminated in the first round. Even without the lockout the nuggets faced some tough personnel decisions this offseason. Kenyon Martin, JR Smith, and Nene were free agents and Wilson Chandler and Arron Afflalo were restricted free agents. Who were the Nuggets going to bring back and what direction was this franchise going to go? Many thought that they might just scrap the team, save money, and start rebuilding. Instead the Nuggets resigned their top two free agents in Nene and Afflalo. They traded Felton for former Nugget point guard Andre Miller. The Nuggets then got two quality players in Corey Brewer and Rudy Fernandez from Dallas for next to nothing. They also drafted two quality players in Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton. All these moves make for a very deep talented team playing in a shortened season.
This season is going to be very difficult for a lot of teams. 66 games will be played in a very short time span. There will be a lot of traveling and back to back games. Teams will all have back to back to back games at some point in the season. At times teams will be playing 8 games in 11 days. One sprained ankle to a key player can hurt teams for several games. Games that no one can afford to lose. Teams will have to be deep in order to get through the regular season. This poses a problem for all those “super” teams. They have to give so much money to the superstars that they don’t have enough to sign quality players to go around them. The Denver Nuggets however have a ton of depth. Their depth worked well for them last year and they have only improved their roster.
Let’s compare each position from this year to last. Ty Lawson will again start at point guard. He spent the lockout playing overseas where he was able to gain confidence and became more aggressive. He will be better this year. Backing him up will be Andre Miller instead of Felton. While Felton played very well with Lawson last year, he disappeared in the playoffs. Many people did not like Miller when he played here a few years ago. However I noticed every time the Nuggets played Portland Miller tore us up and was one of their best players. He will add a veteran presence coming off the bench. The Nuggets also have been impressed with undrafted rookie PG Julyan Stone. He won’t get much, if any playing time unless there is an injury, but it’s always nice to have some promising young players on the roster. Afflalo will start again at SG. If he continues to improve like he has the last couple of seasons then we are in good shape. Look for Afflalo to be more of a leader this year. Coming off the bench at SG will be Rudy Fernandez. He will take over the JR Smith role, without the inconsistency and immaturity. Rudy is more than capable of scoring like JR did. He can shoot the three and get to the rim, plus his defense is better. Another upgrade from last year. Danilo Gallinari will be starting at SF. He is the biggest key to the Nuggets this season. The Nuggets need Gallo to take the next step and become that 20 point a night scored they know he is capable of. Scoring wise no one is an upgrade over Carmelo, but he is an upgrade defensively for this team. Nene will start at PF this season, his true position. Nene was never meant to be a center in this league. He played well at center and is big enough, but he likes to move around and with his size and quickness he will be a better power forward. I think he is an upgrade over Kenyon Martin at PF. Let’s just hope he can live up to that big contract he signed. Coming off the bench at the forward positions we have Al Harrington, and Corey Brewer. Corey Brewer is a very good defensive player who can also shoot the ball. Many though the Nuggets would use their amnesty clause to waive Harrington, but they decided to keep him. I think Harrington will be improved this year because he is healthy and in shape. Plus there is a lot of competition on this team so if he wants playing time he has to produce. At center Timofey Mozgov will start. This is where most people are misjudging the Nuggets. Although Mozgov played limited minutes last year and then got hurt. I saw a lot of potential from him and I feel that he is going to have a breakout year. He is tall and can rebound, block shots, and score the ball. He is an upgrade over Nene at the center position. Coming off the bench at center will be Chris Anderson and Kosta Koufos. Anderson is healthy and should be able to get back to his old birdman self this year. Koufos is another big man capable of coming in and playing well. The nuggets also have two other rookies in Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton. They probably won’t get much playing time this year though. However Faried is a beast on the glass and played well during the preseason. Hamilton is another rookie with a lot of potential who knows how to score the ball. The Nuggets will also have first dibs on Wilson Chandler when his time in China is over.
The Nuggets are improved at all positions this year. They are in terrific shape heading into this season. Even without a star the Nuggets have a chance to do something special this year. Most people don’t believe in the Nuggets, but they are going to prove everyone wrong.