2009/10 Review:

The Denver Nuggets were 2 games away from being in the NBA Finals two seasons ago and their high expectations were pretty legit going for the last season.

Admittedly they wanted to win it all last season, but in doing so they would have to enjoy another lucky injury-free season. Unfortunately that didn’t happen and the Nuggets simply didn’t have the proper depth to endure in such a long season. Carmelo Anthony missed 11 games; Chauncey Billups missed 9 games and Kenyon Martin missed 24 games. Curiously it was Nene Hilario who started all the 82 games during the regular season. Heck, even head coach George Karl went down, as he was diagnosed with neck and throat cancer and missed the later stage of the season.

Once again they were a super team at home with the second best home record in the league: 34-7, but they were the only Western Conference team that went to the playoffs with a losing record on the road: 19-22!

Without Karl to coach and with several players completely out of form, the Nuggets ended the regular season playing an inconsistent basketball and in the playoffs, they couldn’t keep up the pace against the Jazz and were defeated in their own game: high octane offensive games.

From the last season, there aren’t many positive things to tell about the Nuggets. Nene remained healthy, Billups and Kenyon Martin are one year older, but Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith failed to deliver a consistent season and that ultimately haunted the Nuggets.

2009/10 Advanced Stats:

Pace 5th 98.3
Offense 4th 108.3
Defense 15th 104.2
Rebounds 23rd -0.93

2010/11 Outlook:

Projected Depth Chart:

PG: Chauncey Billups, Ty Lawson, Anthony Carter
SG: Arron Afflalo, J.R. Smith
SF: Carmelo Anthony, Renaldo Balkman
PF: Al Harrington, Kenyon Martin, Shelden Williams
C: Nene Hilario, Chris Andersen

Admittedly, the Denver Nuggets season preview is the most difficult one for me to write due to the Carmelo Anthony situation.

Will he stay and sign a new contract with the Nuggets? Unlikely! He has been involved in several trade rumors with the most noticeably a four-team deal involving Denver, New Jersey, Utah and Charlotte. He has already made some comments about his desire to go to Chicago or New York, but neither team has (or is wiling to give up) the pieces that it would take to get Denver to bite, so will Carmelo stay in Denver only for this season just to leave in the free agency period?

Despite all the controversy, Carmelo is still one of the best scorers of his generation in this league, however we are still waiting for him to take the next step. Last season he averaged 28.2 points per game, while shooting 45.8% from the field and hitting 83% from the charity stripe, but for the third consecutive season his rebounds and assists numbers have decreased and this has prevented him of being an all around player. Instead, Carmelo is an offensive lethal weapon that doesn’t have much more to offer other than his ability to score. Bottom line: Denver has only made it out of the first round of the Playoffs once in Anthony’s seven years in the NBA, so is he a real cornerstone for an organization?

The Nuggets didn’t make any substantial movements in this offseason other than signing Al Harrington from the New York Knicks. Harrington is supposed to provide some additional firepower on the offensive end as he has some offensive skills and a nice mid range jump shot with him, however his decision making has been questionable at best. In the last 3 seasons he failed to hit the 45% mark from the field, while he has attempted almost six 3pointers per game! With Carmelo on the court, Harrington is suited to play at the Power Forward (he will start at PF due to Kenyon Martin’s injury), but he is a poor rebounder and a bad overall defensive player. After playing some seasons for perennial losing franchises, this is a good opportunity for him to establish in the NBA.

With or without Carmelo, the truly leader of this team is Chauncey Billups. He’s coming off of a career-high 19.5 points per game because he took on a bigger role as a scorer to help compensating the Nuggets lack of offensive firepower, but on the other side, he shot only 41.8% from the field and his assists numbers decreased for a below mark of 6apg. Basically Billups did everything that the organization asked him to do and that’s something characteristic of a true leader. However, let’s not forget that he is 34-years old and last season he failed 9 games in which the Nuggets went 3-6 in those games.

The Nuggets must monitor Billups minutes during the regular season and they have a good reason to do so in Ty Lawson. This kid has tremendous speed and a good court vision that turned him into an instant game changer when he entered the court. Because Billups got injured, he was a starter in 8 games and averaged 17 points, 5.9 assists and 1.13 steals per game, while shooting 56.6% from the field! We can say that Lawson was one of the “steals” of the draft last season and the Nuggets took advantage of it.

Georgle Karl is using his starting Shooting Guard as being mostly a defensive minded player and after Dahntay Jones, Aaron Afflalo was a nice surprise last season. Despite having a merely residual role on the offense end, Afflalo took his chances and averaged career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, field-goal percentage and three-point percentage! Plus he is a good defensive wing player like Jones was with a Nugget uniform, so the organization did a nice job in dealing this issue last season.

J.R. Smith was the 6th man coming off the bench and his role will be exactly the same for this season. He posted nearly identical numbers in back-to-back seasons for the Nuggets even though his FG%, 3pts% and FT% numbers decreased and these aren’t good news when we are talking about a player that is good in only one facet of the game: shooting. Smith is yet to get rid of his notably inconsistency that is torching him through his career. Do you want one example? Last season against the Hawks at home, Smith shot 15-25 from the field scoring 41 points in just 30 minutes. In the following 3 games Smith shot 13-44 from the field – a 29.5% mark!

Last season while Kenyon Martin was healthy, the Nuggets were a terrific and powerful team that plays with aggressiveness in both ends of the floor. When he got injured in March, the Nuggets never looked the same team and in my opinion this was the biggest reason of the Nuggets debacle late in the season and in the playoffs. He is entering the last year of his contract and with the Nuggets signing Al Harrington, maybe the organization is not counting with him for the future. Nevertheless, Martin has been as instrumental in the successes and (his absences) failures of the Nuggets in the last years. When healthy, he can guard four positions on the court, he’s a strong rebounder and a good shot blocker. His durability is questionable, but the Nuggets need badly him to have a successful season.

By speaking in durability, Nenê Hilario had a hell of season, as he played all 82 games during the regular season. Note that between 04-05 and 07-08 (3 seasons) he played…81 games for the Nuggets, so this mark is truly remarkable. He rarely takes bad shots as in the last 2 seasons he shot 60 and 59% from the field and his steals per game numbers are pretty good for a center. With 28 years old, Nenê is on his prime and the Nuggets have in him a valuable piece for the present and eventually for a potential trade opportunity. Birdman Chris Andersen had another solid season coming off the bench and we can expect him to carry his energetic play to the court once again this season.

The potential outcome of this team for this season will depend of the Carmelo Anthony destination. With him in Denver and focused exclusively in playing, the Nuggets are an almost lock to win 50 games or more like they did since Billups is there, however without him the doubts persists because there is no guarantee that the Nuggets will receive a fair trade assets.