Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Mid Season Check-up

(Boulder-CO) The Denver Nuggets are officially at the mid point of their season and it is time for the Doctor to give everybody a much needed check-up. I am not going to bore you with a bulleted description of how everybody is playing individually because if you have been keeping up with my articles you already know that much. What I would rather do is evaluate how everyone is playing together as a unit up to this point, and how they need to improve their games if this team is going to make any noise in the playoffs.

First let me say that this team is going to be mired in mediocrity as long as they refuse to honestly commit to the defensive end of the floor. That is the obvious fault that this team has to overcome if they are going to compete in the stacked Western Conference. Too often they enter games with the notion their offensive explosiveness is going to be enough to beat any team, but as we all saw last night against the Nets, such notion is not the case. Not against a decent New Jersey team, and certainly not powerhouses like San Antonio, Phoenix, or Dallas. With that said, Marcus Camby and Yakhouba Diawara are the only Nuggets that I can honestly say play tough defense every night and such a trend has been the determining factor in the Nuggets 22-19 record so far.

Now on to things that seem great on paper, but really illustrate just how middle of the road this team truly is at this point. For starters they are the number one team in the NBA in rebounds per game. Such an achievement is great, but often times not all that glitters is gold. And in this case the Nuggets’ other half of the story is that they are also one of the worst teams in opposing team’s rebounds. The same contradictions are evident in the column of points scored and points surrendered, assists, steals, and turnovers. It is as if they Nuggets understand what they have to do to win on one end of the floor, but do not have the discipline to apply the same concepts to themselves. It is frustrating to watch because the art of taking care of business should occur in all areas of the game, but is only being implemented part-time.

Another area that the Nuggets need some consistency in is the line-up. While the suspensions made it tough to find groups that could put Denver in a position to win, all that is behind us and Coach Karl has a tough task to find chemistry with the new personnel. My opinion is that the Nuggets have specialist on both sides of the ball and a healthy mix of these specialists is going to be the best thing for their overall success. I would like to see the starting five of Steve Blake at point, AI playing the two, with Carmelo, Najera, and Camby forming the frontcourt. Earlier I know that I called for Reggie Evans to start, but such an experiment has disrupted the chemistry and I have to admit that I was wrong to want Evans in with the starters. Najera and Camby work better together on defensive rotations and Eduardo’s willingness to take a limited role in the offense better suits Iverson and Anthony playing together with Blake distributing the ball.

With that starting group, Karl would be wise to sub Smith for Blake around the five minute mark as if it was clockwork. AI then moves over to the point and the Nuggets not only bring in one of the league’s best three-point shooters, but they also add size. When this line-up is on the floor Allen Iverson needs to look to kick the ball out on penetration and Denver’s primary objective should be to attack the basket. All the switching and rotating should give the Nuggets driving lanes and open looks will then develop around the arch when those lanes get shut down. From there Karl should substitute accordingly, but never should the Nuggets be without two of the trio of J.R. Smith, Allen Iverson, and Carmelo Anthony on the floor. We all know that AI and ‘Melo play near 40 minutes a game so such a rotation shouldn’t be hard, but from what I have watched the Nuggets go to pieces when Blake and Smith are in the backcourt together without one of the aforementioned also on the floor. From there you have guys like Nene, Evans, Yakhouba, and Kleiza who all give Karl something different and should be used as needed according to what they bring, or should I say what they aren‘t bringing that particular night.

So with all that said, it is now time for some praise for this team. They have endured long suspensions, huge roster shake-ups, and the ever-glaring eye of the national media since day one. With a record of 22-19, it is hard to say that this team, with all things considered, should be disappointed with the results thus far. I strongly believe that if the Nuggets can make the same commitment to defense as they do offense, start to apply some of the concepts that they are so good at on one end of the floor to both ends, and find some consistency that works in the line-up that they can still finish this year at the magic mark of 50 wins and 32 losses and be rewarded with a top six seed in the west. They have two of the top three scorers in the league, the NBA’s second best rebounder and one of the best shot blockers, plus a top ten guy in assists and steals. Do not be surprised that if, and when, the Nuggets get some of the kinks worked out they go on a couple of more five game winning streaks before the season’s end. And with any luck they can start off the second half of the season on the right foot with their match-up with the 15 and 28 Charlotte Bobcats on Monday night. Go Nuggets!

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