Last Year's Record: 45-37
Key Losses: Steve Blake and Reggie Evans
Key Additions: Von Wafer, Chucky Atkins, Steven Hunter, and the return of Kenyon Martin
1. What significant moves were made during the off-season? The Nuggets decided to not resign Steve Blake in a move that I agreed 100% with. He was not the kind of point guard that could take this team any further in the post season than he did and he was looking to make way more than the Nuggets should have considered paying him. Denver needed a shooter and speedier fast break general and I think that Chucky gives them that.
Denver also traded Reggie Evans to the Philadelphia 76ers and in return received center Steven Hunter and guard Bobby Jones. The Nuggets had a log jam at the four spot with Nene, the return of Kenyon Martin, and Eduardo Najera, so it was good for both Reggie and the Nuggets to make the move. Steven Hunter serves as a good, inexpensive back up for Marcus Camby in the middle and Bobby Jones is definitely competing for a roster spot.
But the best move the Nuggets made this off-season was signing Von Wafer from the NBDL Colorado 14ers. Von is a shooting guard that I believe is going to really surprise some people this year because he has proven to be an offensive force at every stop on his way to the NBA. Don’t know much about Wafer? Here’s a crash course! “Nilla”, as he likes to be called, averaged 32 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists his junior season while in Lisbon, La playing for Pineview High School. His senior year, he transferred to Heritage Christian Academy in Cleveland, Texas where he averaged 26 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, and 4 blocks per game. And for his achievements on the basketball court, Wafer earned All-America third-team honors from USA Today Newspaper following his senior season. Von also was named a McDonalds All-American and scored 29 points on 13 of 20 shooting from the field while clearing 8 rebounds. He matched up well with King James for much of the game and finished second to James in the slam dunk contest.
He then played two years of college hoop at Florida State University before becoming an early entry in the 2005 NBA Draft. His freshman year at FSU Wafer averaged 7.9 points in 17.5 minutes a game. He ranked third among all ACC freshmen with 43 three-point field goals made and scored in double figures 12 times. As a sophomore, he led the team in scoring with an average of 12.5 points per game and made 65 bombs from long range. He made more than one three-point field goal in 14 games and surpassed the 20-point mark on six occasions.
Many people at this point in Wafer’s career thought it was a mistake for him to enter the draft early and some experts didn’t expect him to be drafted at all. In fact, during one of the only pre-draft workouts he could arrange with the Phoenix Suns, Wafer reportedly was frustrated by the physical play from Jan Jagla and responded by swinging an intentional elbow to Jagla’s nose, walked off the court, and ended the workout at that point. Things at this point were not looking good for Wafer’s NBA chances.
However, Von proved all the pessimists wrong by becoming the 39th overall pick of the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2005 NBA Draft. He was later waived, but then did some serious work in the NBDL while playing for the Colorado 14ers. Wafer finished last season as the D-League’s second highest overall scorer at a pitch of 21 points a game while grabbing 2.9 rebounds and dishing 3.3 assists.
Fast forward to this summer’s Las Vegas NBA Summer League.
Von “Nilla” Wafer led the Nuggets in scoring with an average of 24.2 points, plus three assists, and 1.9 rebounds while coming in third overall in the mid-summer classic's scoring race. Not to mention he capped off his summer showcase with a record-tying 42 points against the New York Knicks in only a mere 26 minutes of playing time.
There, now you have no excuse for not knowing about Von Wafer!
2. What are the team's biggest strengths? Obviously, the Nuggets are an offensive juggernaut. ‘Melo, AI, and the rest of the fast-breaking Nuggets are going to put up major numbers on most teams. I’m also looking for ’Melo to once again be among the league’s leading scorers.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses? Defense and chemistry are going to be equally challenging for the Nuggets. Even with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Marcus Camby, the Nuggets biggest area to improve is defense. They gave up way too many points to teams that struggled offensively last year and lost too many games because of it. Chemistry is also going to be an obstacle to overcome in Denver. AI and Carmelo need to learn how to bring out the best in each other. Plus, the return of Kenyon Martin is going to provide another wrinkle in the roster that George Karl is going to have to manage. Who plays well with who is going to be just as important as who steps up and plays well this year for the Nuggets, and George Karl is going to have his hands full shuffling the full deck of talented players the Nuggets have on their roster.
4. What are the goals for this team? The Nuggets first goal should be to finish in the top four seeds in the Western Conference Playoff picture. This is going to take at least 50 wins in the regular season and would prevent them from running into a buzz saw like San Antonio in the first round. This should also help them in accomplishing what I feel is their second goal of getting out of the first round of the playoffs. From there I feel like the sky is the limit for this year’s Denver Nuggets.
5. Any wild predictions for this upcoming season? Actually, I’m glad you asked that! I think that Kenyon Martin is going to have a big year and win Comeback Player of the Year. He is attempting to be one of the only players ever to come back from microfracture surgery on both knees and he is really refocused on returning to the level formerly expected out of him.
Predicted Record: 53-29 and the Nuggets will march all the way to the Western Conference Finals!