Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hardwood Paroxysm Playoff Preview: Denver Nuggets

It's hard to keep track of everything you need to know about all the teams in the playoffs. So we thought we'd do a quick and dirty playoff preview with our favorite bloggers. We asked a simple 20 Question survey to bloggers from all of the playoff teams, and got responses back from most of them. We continue our previews with the Denver Nuggets. Filling us in on the Mile High Club is Jeremy from Pickaxe and Roll. Enjoy.

1. Team Name: The Denver Freakin' Nuggets!
2. Biggest Star: Carmallen Iverthy
3. Playoff Seed: 8th.
4. Mascot's Name: Rocky the mountain lion, which apparently was such a great idea that it was ripped off by Portland.
5. Best player: Almelo Anverson. I will not cop out again like I did for the biggest star. It is tough to choose between Carmelo and AI as the Nuggets best player. AI is a former MVP who has won playoff series and lead a rag tag band of mediocre talents to the NBA finals. Melo has really accomplished nothing of significance as an NBA player (other than being an All-Star), but today if both of them are playing at their peak I would have to give Melo the nod. He is a more complete player as far as being able to score in a multitude of different ways, he has improved his effort on the glass, he has shown the ability to defend even though he rarely capitalizes on that ability and he is a tremendous passer. I think even on his best day AI is not much of a defender when it comes to staying between his man and the basket and he tends to try to do too much on his own.
6. Most important player: There has been an argument over the past two or three years that Marcus Camby is the most important player on the Nuggets roster and I admit to having been seduced by it in the past, but it is a lie. In my opinion Allen Iverson is the most important player for the Nuggets. He has the ability to determine how they play because he has the ball in his hands so much of the time. He can bring the offense to a grinding halt by over dribbling or help make it a thing of beauty by driving and dishing or passing and moving without the ball.
7. Better at zone or man: We have seen the Nuggets half court offense get completely shut down by zone defenses, and not even particularly good zone defenses. I have no idea why teams do not zone up on the Nuggets 75% of the time. Defensively they used a zone to stymie Golden State in their big win last week, but a team like Utah was able to carve it up a couple of nights later. Defensively, I believe the Nuggets are at their best when they are playing focused man to man defense.
8. Grade your offense going into the playoffs: Grading the Nuggets is nearly impossible. They play at an 'A' level for a quarter then devolve into a 'D' for the next eight minutes before recovering to play at a 'B' for the rest of the half. For the most part they have played pretty well on offense over the past month so I will give them a 'B' right now. There is still not enough movement in the half court to go any higher than that.
9. Grade your defense going into the playoffs: Again, the Nuggets look good on defense here and there, but they do not maintain their focus long enough to really be a good defensive team. As I wrote above, they can be a great defensive team when they are playing with focus, unfortunately, there is no reason to believe they can do that from minute to minute let alone game to game. Right now I would have to give them a 'C+'.
10. Worst player: I could say Taurean Green, but sticking with guys who will actually be on the court without their warmups on in the playoffs I would have to select Anthony Carter. He is a below average shooter, he is small considering he usually has to defend the other team's shooting guard, he does not do a particularly good job of running a half court offense, but mostly because he never has the ball in the half court. His minutes have decreased over the past couple of months due to the emergence of J.R. Smith. Out of the Nuggets eight man rotation he is by far the weakest link.
11. Glue guy: Eduardo Najera, he is the one Nugget you can count on to get on the floor for a loose ball and he has become quite a three point bomber. His play as the middle man in the Nuggets 2-3 zone against Golden State was a big reason why Denver won that game and is a playoff team.
12. Five words to describe the team heading into the playoffs: To cool to give 100%. I know 100% is two words, but in written form it fits together like one word so I am going to try to get away with it.
13. Best-case scenario: Lose in six games instead of five this time? The Nuggets are a talented team and the only thing keeping them from being a great team is they way they play mindless basketball and appear to be five guys on the court instead of a team. There have been several times during the season where it looks like the light switch has gone on for them, but they can never sustain it. Should they decide to lock down on defense, run the floor and share the ball in the half court the Nuggets could defeat any team over a seven game series. The chances that they will do that are roughly equal to my chances of being named Nuggets GM for life (not that either of those things shouldn't happen, but they are both highly unlikely).
14. Worst case scenario: Somehow manage to lose a seven game series in three games. We have seen four consecutive first round playoff flameouts by the count of four games to one. You better believe most Nugget fans are simply awaiting flameout number five. The problem is this team is being paid like a championship team. If they get bounced early there is no way that this group is returning intact. (Bear in mind that may be a good thing because it appears that this roster will never get its act together.) As I wrote before the Golden State game this team is playing for its future as a unit. That makes the worst case scenario one where the Nuggets get swept and then get dismantled.
15. First player that comes to mind, "Thunder": Kenyon Martin (he makes a lot of noise, but never really hurts anyone)
16. First player that comes to mind, "Twinkie": The first player that comes to mind is Allen Iverson, but that is only because of his stature, but a more accurate answer would probably be Marcus Camby. He is built very similarly to AI, but avoids contact as much as possible. Watch how many times he rips a rebound away from a competitor, or should I say how many times he does not rip a rebound away from a competitor.
17. Current emotion you feel about this team: Constipated, is constipated an emotion? I sure feel constipated when I watch them blow big games to Sacramento and Seattle.
18. Team you don't want to see in the next two months: The Los Angeles Lakers (oh look who the Nuggets are most likely matched up with in the first round) with the Jazz a close second.
19. Team you want to see in the next two months: The Minnesota Timberwolves, but I just looked up the standings and they did not make the playoffs. So believe it or not the answer is probably the Spurs. Denver split the season series with San Antonio. Denver always plays the Spurs tough. San Antonio has no answer for Carmelo (he abuses Bowen so badly now the Spurs double him in the post almost constantly), AI can get in the paint on them and with the Emergence of J.R. Smith that is three players who can have big offensive games against the Spurs. Martin does a surprisingly good job on Duncan and the Nuggets have shown some promise of keeping Tony Parker from scoring so many points in the paint. Above and beyond the matchups we all know the Spurs cannot win the championship this year because they won last year so someone has to knock them out, why not Denver? The other teams I think Denver would have a shot against are Dallas, New Orleans and Houston.
20. What food best describes this team?: Some kind of casserole that would include bacon, cheese, chocolate syrup and peppermint ice cream because individually all those things are great, but mixed together it just does not seem to work.

This team continues to baffle me. Players like Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin have been to the finals and lost. When AI was traded to Denver all he talked about was how badly he wanted to win a championship. These guys are not getting any younger, but they do not put in the mental and emotional effort necessary to be a contending team. Carmelo has watched LeBron and Wade play in the finals and he claims that he desperately wants to get there too, but you cannot see that night in and night out in the way he plays. Teams should be scared to death to play a talented team like the Nuggets, but they are not because they know that Denver is not willing to pay the price to win.

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