ND: First and foremost, Chris, I would like to thank you for being available for interview. The readers of The Nugg Doctor also thank you in advance. The Denver Nuggets are a very misunderstood team right now, and I think that with your inside perspective some light can be shed on what this team is all about. Let’s talk about what is working. What is your opinion about the progression of Nene and how that is going to pan out for the Nuggets in the playoffs, assuming that the Nuggets do make the postseason?
CM: I think Nene, if you’re looking at the Nuggets overall, has been the brightest spot of anyone on the team. I think that his progression in the last month has been astounding. He has gone from a 15 minute a game bench player averaging eight points and four rebounds to a prime-time, Carlos Boozer, big-time power forward putting up 18 and nine. So, I think the emergence of Nene has given the Nuggets what they have been lacking for the last four or five years in that solid inside guy that they can go to in the post with a big beefy body. So, I am really pleased with what Nene has been doing. As for the other Nuggets, it is a matter of getting everybody back; getting everybody healthy, and making sure everybody is on the same page. I don’t think that offense is going to be a problem. I think that offensively the Nuggets are going to be just fine. I do, however, think that defense and rebounding are going to be the biggest concerns. Can they make stops, can they play solid defense? If they can improve their defense 25% then I think that they can be a real threat in the playoffs.
ND: Following up on that, do you think it is wise for George Karl to start both Camby and Nene?
CM: You know, I do. I think that you should always start your five best players and you want to play them the most minutes. Now that Nene is healthy, or healthier, he is playing 30-35 five minutes, which I think is really good. I think the Nuggets interior defense is much better when Nene can take the big inside guy and Marcus Camby can come over and block shots. When Nene is not in there, Camby has to do it by himself and when he comes over to block shots someone gets an offensive rebound. But that doesn’t happen when Nene is in there. So, I like playing Camby and Nene together.
ND: Sticking with that theme for a second, I have been calling for what I call the best five for the job to start. My opinion is that AI, J.R., Melo, Nene and Camby should round out the starting five for the Nuggets. If you are the coach of the Nuggets, do you start that five or would you insert Blake into the line-up?
CM: I tell you what, that is a tough call for me. I like what J.R. brings to the table in terms of his scoring. The question is do you need that scoring in the starting five or are you better off having him come off the bench and provide some firepower when he does come into the game? I think that the offense seems to run better when you have Carmelo, Iverson, and Camby, those kinds of players, in when you have a facilitator like Blake mixing it up a little bit better. Iverson is going to play 43 minutes a game when he comes back, so that’s not really a big problem in terms of when to take him out. But I think that the offense seems to run better and more smoothly when Blake is in there. So, I’m ok with starting Blake now, I think you could bring him off the bench, but I like the idea of having a guy come off the bench that can give you 25 points, which Blake usually can’t do.
ND: Ok, switching topics, Carmelo has been playing phenomenal dating back to the FIBA games and his maturation process has been so evident. Do you think that’s going to continue or do you think that this spat has been a just a good period in his career up to this point?
CM: I think that Carmelo is having great season. He’s upped his scoring average, assists, steals and is at a near career-high in rebounds and I think because he is so talented a lot is expected of him. People expect him to be superior in every category, and he’s working on it, and he’s getting a lot better. Where I would like to see him improve, and he has, is rebounding and defense. I think that those two areas are where he can really help the Nuggets. I also think that his passing is really the key to the offense. When he passes the ball it gets everyone involved and it really makes the offense hum. They can’t double-team him, and he seems to score more easily when he is passing the rock around and getting seven to ten assists. So, I look for Carmelo to improve, I see him getting better all the time, I think the sky is the limit and I think that we’re going to continue to see one of the great players in the history of the NBA mature.
ND: Well you’ve touched on it a couple times, and defensively is where the majority of the questions surrounding this team are rooted. With that said, how can the Nuggets toughen up on D with the players that they currently have?
CM: I think that they have to commit to defending the pick and roll. I think that is where, if you’re a basketball purist, the Nuggets have to defend better. And I think that they are starting to get the hang of it. In the last few games they’re committed to a more aggressive style of defending the pick and roll. The guard dribbles around the screen, usually it’s Blake out in front or Iverson, they fight through and the big man comes up and stops the dribble. He hedges or stops the dribble or traps, rather than just soft switch. And I think the Nuggets can do that at the point of attack because once the other team brings the ball across there is only about 16 seconds really to run your play. If you can stop the point of attack at the pick and roll, then they’ve got like eight or nine seconds to get off a good shot and then I think the defense has the advantage. So, I think the Nuggets have to get that pick and roll defense solidified, get their rotations down with everybody healthy, and that’s been one of the concerns with not everybody in the line-up, because not everybody is sure where to go. So, once they get that solidified they will be much better on defense.
ND: Some consistency, I like that.
ND: Let’s assume for a second that things continue to go as they have and the Nuggets limp in with the seventh or eighth seed in the playoffs. Who would you rather see the Nuggets match-up with, Phoenix or Dallas and why?
CM: I’d rather play Dallas. I think the Nuggets match-up better against Dallas and the free wheeling style of Phoenix is just too much. I think they do what we do just a little bit better and it’s hard to beat a running team that’s got better shooters and better scorers. They just have too many weapons. Dallas can be beaten and we have always played well against Dallas. We’ve got two or three guys that can guard Dirk Nowitzki that know his game. You know, our match-ups are good and I think in a first round match-up we give them a lot of trouble. The key point being we got to be playing our A game when we get to the playoffs. I think that is the goal for the Nuggets now. You know, don’t worry so much about playing Dallas or Phoenix or whoever we get. The Nuggets just need to make sure they are playing at peak basketball when they get to the playoffs. Then I think an upset is realistic.
ND: Control what you can control, I like that.
CM: Yea, you can’t do anything about who you are going to play.
ND: Well, do you feel that the Nuggets are capable of moving up here in the last 31 games to maybe that fifth seed at the highest?
CM: I don’t think they can get to five. They might be able to get to six and six would be a great seed because I think the Nuggets match-up against San Antonio even better than they do against Dallas. I think that of the four teams in the top four the Nuggets best chance would be to play San Antonio. I know they have the experience, I know they have Tim Duncan, but I just don’t feel they have the athleticism and the overall talent they have had in the past. We have been pretty successful against them in the last couple of years. We have had some nice wins, Carmelo has seemed to have figured out Bruce Bowen and now is lighting him up, and I would not mind a 6-3 match-up in San Antonio.
ND: Well, we will certainly get a preview of that tonight. Regardless of how the Nuggets fare this postseason, once again assuming that they do get there, what are some of the moves, especially concerning the log jam at the four spot with Nene, Kenyon Martin, Najera, and Reggie Evans, that you think should be made this off-season?
CM: Well that’s a tough one. I think that we would like to have another center. We need another big man with some beef, and this is my wish list, I don’t know exactly what they want. My wish list would be another big man, another guard that can play the point, and maybe one more shooter. I think that the three needs there would compliment the players that we have now. Another guy that can hit from the perimeter, you know and have a mid-range game, a Raja Bell type guy. We need another two guard that can come off and play well. And I like having more size. We have a lot of players that are 6’8”. We have four or five guys that seem to be 6’8” 235lbs. What we need is a seven footer. We wouldn’t mind having another seven footer at 270lbs. It might not be the most athletic guy, but one who can rebound and play defense.
CM: Yea exactly, a guy who can team with Camby and Nene and give those guys a break.
ND: Fair enough, last couple of questions, Chris. Any predictions for this year? Do we make it out of the first round? Second round? Where do you see this team finishing?
CM: You know, I don’t want to make any predictions now because I want to see how they blend together in the next ten games.
CM: Ask me that question in our next interview ten games from now because Carmelo Anthony and Iverson really haven’t had a chance to blend together and show their skills. They have only played six games together, I believe, and so in the next ten games we will get an idea of where this team can go. I think we have seen glimpses of it, we’ve seen quarters of it, but we have never had all the guys, and I keep saying this, we have never had all the guys with all hands on deck, for this thing. Once we do, we will have a better idea as to how far we can go and what kind of potential this team has. But I still think it’s going to come down to defense. I think we can score enough points to beat any team in the league, but we have to play better defensively if we’re going to upset in the first round and go on in the playoffs. I really think that we can make a deep run in the playoffs, IF, we can get the defense figured out.
ND: Alright, Chris, last one. Do you think that the Nuggets can be a championship caliber team in the next four years?
CM: I think they have a chance. I think management has done a great job of fitting together some of the pieces. Do they need some tweaking? Maybe, but bringing in Iverson has really showed that the Nuggets management and ownership is serious about bringing a championship to Denver and they are not content with being just a .500 team that sneaks into the playoffs. And I think really the sky is the limit, but you know, this has been a crazy year. A lot of turmoil, a lot of drama, and a lot of crazy things going on and hopefully that part of the season is over and the next 30 games the Nuggets really show what they can do.
ND: All shake ups considered I think that things are looking pretty good in the city of Denver. Chris I’d like thank you again for being available and my readers thank you in advance. I’m sure they are going to enjoy our chat and may the Nuggets move on to the second round this year.
CM: We’ll keep our fingers crossed.
ND: Thanks, Chris.
We walked out of lunch together sharing a couple of laughs about some of the finer points regarding this team as we found our cars in the parking lot of the Park Meadows Mall. If you have enjoyed this interview, I encourage you to head over to http://www.altitude.tv/ and read more of Chris Marlowe’s insight on his own personal blog. In the future, I look forward to more opportunities to interview the candid Chris “Hollywood” Marlowe.