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NBA Basketball Column: Free Throws

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December 17, 2012
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Mining for Gold(en Nuggets)

Andrew Damelin
Writer, Fantrax
The Dwight Howard/Andrew Bynumtrade was the most significant transaction of the offseason. The concensus was the Orlando Magic got shafted, the Los Angeles Lakers turned into instant contenders with Howard, and the Philadelphia 76ers would challenge the best in the East with Bynum.

Lost in the discussion, though, was the fact that the Denver Nuggets - who acquired all star Andre Iguodala in the trade - had become a threat in the West. The Nuggets also picked up the wildly athletic, and erratic, JaVale McGee at the trade deadline last year. It's a bit early to conclude whether they're legit, but based on the first quarter of the season, the Nuggets' weaknesses outweigh their strengths.

Strengths

Depth

Denver boasts a strong starting lineup and bench at all five positions. Starting and backing up respectively:

Point guard - Ty Lawson and Andre Miller. Both score and pass effectively, the former with speed, the latter with methodical veteran savvy.
Shooting guard - Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer. Iggy is explosive and can knock down the open jumper. Brewer is a lockdown defender that can finish on the break.
Small forward - Danillo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. Both can score in bunches
Mix and match power forward and centre with Kosta Koufos, Kenneth Faried, Javale McGee and Timofey Mozgov. Faried and McGee can fly, while Koufos and Mozgov can score, just with half the vertical leap of their fellow front court cohorts. 

Unlike the other elite teams, the Nuggets will not be in crisis if one of their best players goes down. 

Speed

Ty Lawson is a 5'11 bolt of lightning. His speed is the catalyst for the NBA's fifth ranked fast break. Running the break alongside is Igoudala, who can take off from anywhere inside the key to dunk. Other fast break contributors include McGee and Faried; having two big men who can finish in transition takes so much pressure off the offense, as Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan show for the Clippers. Add the rest of their wings, and you have 15-20 easy points a night.

Size and Athleticism

Faried and McGee are freaks of nature who can jump out of the gym. Faried grabs 10 rebounds a game, and scores 12 points per off 57% shooting. 65% of his baskets come off dunks or close-range shots.

When his head's in the game, McGee can change any shot on defense, and dunk any lob on offense. He also worked on his game with Hakeem Olaujuwon last summer, so there's some added finesse and skill to bolster his scoring.

Home Court Advantage

Denver has started the season a tepid 13-12, but 17 of those 25 games have been away from the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets' record will take a big tick up once they make use of the mile high altitude. Not only is the team naturally more acclimated to the altitude, but the roster is built to run, making it doubly tough for visiting teams to keep up. 

Matching up Defensively

With their mix of size, shot blocking, and perimeter defensive standouts in Iguodala and Brewer, Denver can contain anyone in the West. On Friday, at times, they couldn't buy a basket against the Memphis Grizzlies, but pulled out a 99-94 win because of their D. Javale McGee had four blocks, two of which turned into fast break buckets, and the Nuggets held Memphis to just 42% from the field.


Weaknesses

Lack of Three Point Shooting

While Iguodala and Lawson can create scoring opportunities off the dribble, they have no one to pass out to for a reliable three point shot. As a team Denver shoots 33% from three point range, sixth worst in the league, and have no one who shoots above 36%. Denver's size advantage inside is severely negated as teams can pack the paint, and risk leaving shooters open. It's hard to win when the defense doesn't have to guard the three point line. Not only can the opposition take more risks, but they don't have to cover as much ground, making fatigue in the Pepsi Center less of a factor. 

No superstar

Depth is nice, but a superstar is a necessity. Other than the 2006 Detroit Pistons, there isn't a single team since the merger to win a championship without a bona fide star. Gallinari and Iguodala have all star potential, but will never be considered among the NBA's elite. Overall the team is well above average, but in crunch time they don't have that dependable scorer capable of taking over (Gallo and Iggy average 16 and 14 PPG respectively). 

JaVale McGee's Brain

The guy is more athletic than Dwight Howard, protects the rim like no othe, and gallops like a gazelle, and yet coach George Karl doesn't start him. Why - because of his decision making. He swats balls out of bounds, when he should be tipping them to teammates to retain possession. He attempts dunk contest-like slams during games, often missing badly and costing his team free points. And at times he just lacks the focus necessary for winning. Karl has gotten through to McGee in some ways, as he's accepted a limited role off the bench. But McGee has the potential to be the league's best interior defender, and give you tons of layups and dunks, so he's not squeezing the most out of his talent. Perhaps as the year goes on and the playoffs draw near, McGee will understand how good he can be, and be that catalyst to take Denver deep into the post season.  

Verdict

The weaknesses preclude the Nuggets from being legit title threats. But they are immensely talented, and have superstar-level defenders. They can stop the front courts of the Los Angeles Lakers, Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers, but do they have the late-game scoring and collective focus to beat the best of the West?

So many question marks, but so much intrigue. It'll be fun watching how the team evolves throughout the season, and how far it goes in the playoffs.
Andrew Damelin was a finalist in The Score's Drafted competition and is a sportscaster and sports writer. You can see him regularly on The York Report at NSSradiotv.com. Email: andrewdamelin@gmail.com.

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