Thursday, February 28, 2013

Denver Nuggets and the Search for Respect

While watching the entertaining Denver Nuggets vs Portland Trailblazers game on Wednesday night, it continues to shock me how little respect the Nuggets franchise gets from the national media.  Despite making 9 consecutive playoff appearances (third longest streak in the league behind San Antonio – 15 and Dallas – 12), there is a strange coverage of the Nuggets that seems to be nonchalance about them.  I can’t seem to figure out why, no matter how consistent they are, they get so little respect.

The main argument always made about them is that they don’t have a “true superstar” to take over games.  After a recent game against the Celtics, even future Hall of Fame star Kevin Garnett wondered how this team doesn’t have an All-Star.  There are three players on the roster who have a solid claim at being considered a superstar:

Ty Lawson
- Ty Lawson is one of the top point guards in the NBA.  While young players like Ricky Rubio, Deron Williams and Damian Lillard get all the headlines, Lawson continues to be one of the most underappreciated players in the league.  Lawson-led teams have never missed the playoffs, and have not won less than 50 games once…but that was in a lockout shortened season.

- Kenneth Faried is a stand out player.  Recently winning MVP at All-Star weekend and could have been Rookie of the Year had he been starting from day one.  His fantastic play while NenĂ© was hurt, allowed the Nuggets to shed the big man’s contract and put Faried in as a starter.  His style of play and energy is infectious and I have yet to meet someone who does not love to watch him play.  Additionally, he seems to be a good guy off the court.  His affiliation with the group Athlete Ally shows the depth of character and quality of the type of person that should be promoted in this league.

Iguodala scoring in the paint;
a regular thing in Denver
- Andre Iguodala is such an interesting case, as he was considered a star while playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, but somehow lost that reputation since coming to Denver.  I’m not sure why a player who was considered a star, an All-Star, All Defensive team selection and Olympian shed that “title” the second he was sent packing to the Nuggets.  He’s an elite defender and fills up the stat sheet every night.  He’s Josh Smith with more skills and a better attitude, yet Smith is considered a star and Iggy is not.  It just boggles the mind!

There’s also the emerging talent of Danilo Gallinari, who I believe can be as good as Dirk Nowitzki.  He has a great inside, outside game.  He handles the ball and attacks the basket better than Dirk, but hasn’t developed the go-to move yet.  Within the next three seasons, I am predicting Gallinari develops into a top level talent in this league.

The Nuggets seem to be the only team in the playoff picture that deals with the “no superstar” analysis.  I have to ask you, who are the superstars in Memphis?  In Milwaukee?  How about Utah or Portland?  I’d even argue that Denver has more on-court stars than the Brooklyn Nets.  There’s hype around Deron Williams, but he’s shown little since leaving Utah.  Just because Joe Johnson is paid like an elite player, it doesn’t mean he is an elite player.  Denver gets more from players with comparable (and oftentimes better) skills at a much better price than most of the teams mentioned.

Iverson and Carmelo
in Denver

Another part of the argument that piggybacks on the superstar comment is that the Nuggets don’t have anyone to take over in the fourth quarter.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the question, “Who will take that crucial last shot for them?”  I’ve always laughed at this concept.  The fact that you have a “big name”, it doesn’t mean you have a closer for the game.  Just a few short years ago, Denver had Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson and they still had this question hanging around.  This may go against the prevalent superstar logic, but why not draw up a play for the hot hand?  To me, it only makes sense to get the ball in the hands of a player who is shooting well.

Additionally, if the Nuggets don’t know who is going to take the final shot, how does the defense prepare for that?  Last night, Denver’s final offensive possession was a post-up for Andre Miller.  Earlier in the season it was in Gallo’s hands.  I’ve watched Lawson take games over.  I could go on and on.  It’s hard to defend a team when you don’t know where the ball is going to end up.

For a team that doesn’t have a true superstar, which we all know is usually based on offensive stats, here are a few statistics to digest:

- 3rd in points per game
Kenneth Faried

- 4th in FG%

- 3rd in assist per game

- 2nd in steals per game

- 4th in blocks per game

- 1st in offensive rebounds per game

- 2nd in overall rebounds per game

- 1st in fast break points per game

- 1st in points in the paint per game

There may be something to this team concept after all.

Coach Karl teaching his young team
The knock against Denver is that the basic thought process is that a fast-paced team can’t win in the playoffs.  I strongly disagree with this.  The Steve Nash-led Suns were within some questionable officiating and tough moments from winning.  The same can be said for Chris Webber’s Kings teams.  While those teams did not win a title, the Showtime Lakers sure did.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying the Nuggets are the second coming of Showtime, but the fast-paced offense can work.  The Lakers weren’t known as a defensive team, giving up over 100 points per game in those title years, but they could run you out of the gym.  Believe me no one wants to deal with this Denver tempo that Coach Karl has utilized over the last few years.  They thrive off turnovers and energy.  They aren’t afraid of any team and it shows when they step on the court.

Are they a title contender this season?  It’s doubtful.  They’re one of the five youngest teams in the league and need time to grow, but they have the talent.  They have the coaching.  If they get the ball to bounce their way or get the benefit of a whistle like a Kobe or Durant gets, they’re a scary team going into the next few years.

It’s time to click over and watch this team.  They are an exciting and fun team to watch.  Stars are emerging.  Those that can’t see them must be looking up in the sky at the wrong constellations.


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