Monday, September 10, 2007

The Power Forward Conundrum

(Boulder-CO) The Denver Nuggets are in quite a familiar spot entering this upcoming season’s training camp. In fact, this will be the third straight year that at least one of their potential starting power forwards will be returning from injury or is injured as camp begins. And this year the Nuggets have a double whammy to contend with as Kenyon Martin once again missed essentially all of last season with a knee injury and with Nene presumably not going to be full-speed due to a calf strain. Which, in my opinion, is partly due to his lack of off-season conditioning before the FIBA games and, hopefully is not going to become a trend for the promising Brazilian.

So, by no means is this unfortunate state of affairs uncharted territory for the Nuggets, but please allow me to further illustrate how both men should be looking at the seemingly up-for-grabs starting position and what it ultimately means for the Nuggets as a team.

First off, and regardless of who actually lands the starting role, I think both players need to understand that early in the season both of them are going to receive about the same amount of playing time. A smart coach, (and George Karl is a smart coach), is going to give his returning players an equal opportunity to display what they can do for the team and I can only imagine that Karl will do so by giving each man 20-25 minutes a game. Furthermore, a genius coach, (and maybe George Karl is one of these), would probably start a guy like Eduardo Najera or Reggie Evans to relieve some of the pressure off of the aforementioned duo just to see who is more adept to coming off of the bench. And by doing so, George Karl will know which player has the kind of work-horse mentality that the Denver Nuggets sixth man needs to have.

Once a clear-cut starter is revealed then it is going to be up to the other man to understand his role as the first reserve off the bench. Former Celtics Coach and President Red Auerbach (R.I.P) understood this role better than anyone as he used John Havlicek as his, “sixth starter”, on many of the 16 NBA championships he designed, and it was with the critical unselfishness that Hondo displayed that the Celtics were able to win a lot of those championships.
With that being said, the role that needs to be understood for whoever doesn’t end up starting is simple; once put in the game the sixth man needs to be able to do whatever the team needs at that very juncture of the game regardless of preconceived ideas of how they want to play. If the Nuggets need rebounding - come in and rebound. If the Nuggets need scoring - come in and put the ball in the basket. And if they Nuggets need defense - come in a play defense like a man possessed. Because if the way that I see things is clear, the Nuggets are going to need this type of Yeoman mentality so Marcus Camby and whoever starts alongside he and Carmelo can play relentless basketball with the knowledge that they have an unselfish and unrelenting “sixth starter” ready to go at the precise minute they need him.

And that precise minute could be one of many for the Nuggets. We all know that Marcus Camby blocks most of his shots by swooping in from the weak side and it is by doing so that he also picks up the majority of his fouls. So, if Camby doesn’t have to constantly worry about his foul count. He can do more of that vulture-esque swooping and even more swatting of opponent's shots knowing that he has capable replacement itching to get in the game.

It is also a likewise situation for whoever does end up starting for the Nuggets frontline. If it ends up being Big Brazil, then we all know that Nene has a bad habit of coming over the defender’s back to try and grab offensive rebounds and it is this facet of his game where he picks up most of his personal fouls. This doesn’t mean that Nene should stop being aggressive on the offensive glass. In fact, it means the opposite (within reason of course). Nene should always be able to be super aggressive on the offensive glass because he should know that Kenyon is coming in right behind him when he needs a blow or picks up a substitution necessitating foul.

And the same hypothetical situation is true if Kenyon Martin emerges as the starter. Kenyon’s defensive folly is being too physical with his man in the low blocks. So, just like Nene, this doesn’t mean that he should stop playing with the physicality that has made him an All-Star in years past, but rather the opposite. Kenyon and Nene should be able to play with almost a reckless abandon knowing that each other have the others’ back as they form what could be one of the most formidable two-headed monsters at power forward in the entire NBA.

This in turn leads me right into my final point: Nene and Kenyon Martin need to look at this positional conundrum as a chance not to prove who is the better man for the starting job, but rather by understanding the role that each player falls into they are really allowing themselves and their counterpart to play the way the Nuggets need them to play in as many winning efforts as possible. Thus is unselfish, and therefore is fundamentally a cornerstone to what it takes to be great teammate and ultimately a great team. For too many years now the Nuggets have been more about individual accomplishments rather than what they could accomplish as a cohesive unit where each man plays for his teammate, and ultimately for the team. So, in the 2007-08 season here is to hoping that big egos can take smaller roles in lieu of more regular season wins and a deeper playoff run. And ultimately I believe much of this is dependant on Kenyon Martin and Nene.


Geerten said...

Hey Doc,

Please make sure coach Karl (or his staff) get hold of a copy of this post...

...I mean... what if u're right... They'd better reckon this... Keep up the good work. I appreciate it A LOT!

Nugg Doctor said...

I'm glad my sentiments ring true for you, geerten. I just don't see any reason to stray from this train of thought.

Thanks for reading,

The Nugg Doctor

Anonymous said...

I really like Eddie starting actually. The team always seems to run well while he's in the game, and he's always good for a few nice hustle plays. The thing that I like about Eddie the most is that he always seems to finish his layups and offensive boards -- even Melo seems to miss a lot of putbacks and layups, and Nene had more than a few missed putback dunks. It just seems like Eddie has a knack for finishing those plays when he hustles to get the rebound.

But yeah, losing Nene's low post scoring for the beignning of the season isn't good, and it also robs the team of a true training camp, which really sucks. I wish he would've been in better shape or just not played for Brazil this Summer. I just hope he gets well enough to practice with the team soon so that they're not totally out of sync to start the season.

And I still don't know what to do with Reggie. I love that guy off the bench when we need boards and defense, but that free-throw shooting is atrocious. Seriously, if he managed to get up to 70% or so, he'd be super valuable to this team (and a bunch of other teams would probably be banging at our door for a trade, considering our logjam at the 4.

Does anyone else want to see Melo run at the 4? I just want to see if he can do it -- it'd be a nice preseason experiment. I don't think it's actually a good idea, I just want to see if he can snag boards at the rate that he did in the FIBA tourney... He's bigger than some guys playing PF right now, so I don't think size is an issue. I'd like to see an AI, JR, Kleiza, Melo, Camby lineup and see how it does. Not a good idea against teams with a good low-post scorer, but it'd be fun against a team like Golden State (one of those crazy-ass 140 point games we always get with them).

Damn, I hate September! I never watch baseball, but even football has lost its appeal to me. I watched LT finish off the Bears yesterday, but other than that, all I can think about is the BNa season starting back up. Well, that and the new episodes of The Office and The Wire.

Haig said...

I guess I see Camby as more of a PF than a C. On offense, Nene is much more of a low post "true" center option for the team than Camby who likes to float around the perimeter. With today's trade, one less PF is in mix which IMHO, equals out our players by position a bit more.

I'd start Nene at C, backed up by Hunter. I'd start Camby at PF backed up by Martin and Najera. Inevitably, health issues will dictate minutes and starter roles but ideally, I'd rather count on Nene in the post instead of Camby. And if Nene is either limited due to fouls or his new calf injury, then we'll see more of Camby at C but that's really not his natural position.

What's interesting is that Hunter and Camby are both shot blockers (defensive focused) which implies that they probably won't be on court together too much. But I still see Hunter as a C and Camby as PF. Either way, its nice to have another 7 footer on the roster to step in if either nene or camby get hurt.