|I remember when the Nuggets were an up and coming team
several years back. A number of bad personell decisions finally caught up to them, and the
team is in rebuilding mode. One could argue that they were always in rebuilding mode as
they always seem to have the youngest team in the league and always seem to be making
trades to make the team younger. Given Denvers managaement recent comments regarding their
feeling that they need to add some veterans, long suffering Nuggets fan can hope that the
team has learned from the past mistakes.
put last season in a better light, however, this is a team that did an admiral job. They
finished 12 games above their per 82 game mark last year from the previous year. Put in
perspective that represented a 110% improvement in wins while suffering a heavy loss with
the ACL injury to number 3 overall pick Raef LaFrentz. As bad as thier win total may have seemed, the team showed much
progress. As they are moving into a new arena, showing promise over the next two years
will be essential in keeping a fan base that is sure to increase with the excittement of a
The Nuggets had made some major moves last year, and were
one of the busiest teams around. Some moves worked out, some didn't. Notably, the signing
of McDyess cannot be
understated. He had a monster year silencing his critics (including me) with a year
deserving of his praise. He did well enough on a horrible team to merit consideration as
an all-nba player (albeit 3rd team IMO because of the strength of the PF position in the
NBA). He was the one player and hope that Denver can hang their hat on for the next
The drafting of Raef
LaFrentz also turned out to be a solid move. Certainly some
questions were raised about this move, but LaFrentz easily held his own. No, he may not be
as good as a few players drafted after him, but that is usually the case. The addition of Nick Van Exel helped as well, but if Denver
fans were expecting an AS caliber PG, then they were sadly mistaken. Nick Van Exel, however, played fairly well
and won some games for the team. Denver could have been worse at the PG spot. They
probably now realize, however, that Nick Van Exel knees are not up to playing a running game for 30 minutes a game (much
The one haunting move was to bring in Billups. Essentially Denver traded away their
first round pick for Billups.
The trade was questioned at the time, and does not seem to make much sense unless the
Nuggets do not expect to resign Nick Van Exel. While Billups
had his moments, his overall play was reminscent of his rookie year when he shot poorly
and didn't prove he was a capable PG at the pro level (and is just too short to play SG).
The first round pick they gave away could have easily brought them a much needed SG in
Hamilton, or a solid scoring SF like Szerzbiak. Billups is young and has upside, but is too reminicent of many too short SG's
from college. At best he may be as good as Mamoud Abdul Rauf.
|Of course, one could argue that at the rate Denver has
been blowing their draft picks, having traded this one away is not a big blow. Indeed,
looking down their roster it is hard to find players that they drafted who are
contributing. LaFrentz was the
most notable, and he has only played 11 games in the pro's. After LaFrentz, you'd have to say Stith is the next
best contributing member of the Denver draft, and thats no t saying a lot. Denver seems to
have a tendancy to draft big or trade for young size ( LaFrentz,
Battie, McDyess, Fortson), however if they wish to play a
running game, they need to get some athletes on the wing. If past history is any example,
expect Denver to do some big deals on draft day. 98 was Nick
Van Exel, 97 was Fortson, 95 was McDyess.
Denver also seemed to be enamoured with
raw undeveloped talent (Battie, McDyess) until last year when they went safe and drafted LaFrentz. I expect this trend would continue
(if possible) as management is trying to gain credibility for the team. They have said as
much to the press saying claiming they want to take a player who can contribute
|What positions does Denver need to upgrade to be more
competitive? One could argue all of them except PF. At PF Denver can start McDyess, and follow with Fortson or LaFrentz. That is as deep, strong and talented at PF than any team in the league.
The drop off on the other positions will be high, however.
At the center position, LaFrentz starting with Fortson backing up is a very solid combination, even if LaFrentz is better suited
to the PF position. LaFrentz got lost in the early season glitter of Jason Williams, the
press Pierce got and the ESPN highlights of Carter. LaFrentz, however, turned in a very
solid performance night in and out doing the job the Nuggets wanted him to do; Play on the
run. While the numbers on LaFrentz were not particularily impressive, they were consistant
with no real weaknesses in his game. Discounting his 4 minute injury game, he averaged
15.1 points, 8.3 boards 1.5 blocks and only .8 turnovers. While his 45.7 fg% was
unimpressive for a center, his did shoot 39% from three point land giving him an effective
fg% of 50.4% while shooting 75% from the line. This certainly is in line with many of the
better C's in the league. His numbers, especially per minute (35 mpg) matched up with any
rookie in the league. Fortson came in to play center after LaFrentz went down, and
performed admirally as well given his undersized nature. He averaged 11.6 rpg in 28 mpg
and would have won the rebounding title if he would have had the minutes throughout the
year. 11 ppg of 49.5% shooting was acceptable. Basically, the Nuggets have no need to look
big. LaFrentz's knee will of course be questioned, but the team is lacking in so many
areas they would be better off to address the known deficiences and evaluate LaFrentz's
physical health next year.
PF is set with McDyess and Fortson. Keon Clark also will bring some rebounding
and shotblocking to the center and PF positions.
SF is a big hole. The Nuggets were hoping Eric Williams would return from injury to be
a solid scoring threat last year, but it just did not happen. Williams only made it into
38 games barely averaging 20 minutes. His 36.5% fg% was dismal. All other aspects of his
game were never good to begin with, and went as far downhill as was possible. If Denver
cannot pick up a player for the SF position, it is possible they may start a front line of
Fortson, LaFrentz and McDyess, but that leaves them very thin on the bench while severly
hampering thier team speed and Issel has repeatably claimed he's trying to build a team
for the break.
SG is another area where the Nuggets are weak. Brian Stith did not have a good year, and
throughout his career has not been very effective with Denver. While he has few
weaknesses, he is below average in many phases of the game. Denver experimented with Billups at SG, and are likely to keep
starting him if only to try to justify trading away such a high pick for him. Its always a
risk drafting a short SG from college. They are hard to convert to a PG, and just don't
have the physical tools to play SG. Billups shot at a 38.6% clip, although his 35% three
points percentage and 91.3 ft% helped. His boards were poor (~2 rpg), although his assists
(~4 apg) were solid. Billups may yet become a solid SG, but with his third team in two
years and only 6'3, he has many deficiencies to overcome.
The dismall shooting at SF and SG also extended to the PG
position. Nick Van Exel was
never known for his shot selection, and his 39.8% fg% certainly reflected that. His three
point game really suffered without a big C to draw the double teams. Nick Van Exel,
however, did contribute 7.2 apg and kept his his turnovers quite low (2.4 tpg). Nick Van
Exel is a FA, howver, and Denver plans on playing a running game and Nick Van Exel knees
just do not hold up. Its likely Denver envisions Billups as the PG of the future and Nick Van Exel will be allowed to walk without
much protest. Rumors are the new owners line Nick Van Exel though, so a big play may be
made to keep him around.
For these reasons I believe Denver will look at a SG or
SF, which seems to be the best stocked position in this draft. Where Denver drafts,
however, the landscape is dominated by the bigger players.
|As a team, Denver only scored 93.5 ppg while allowing
opponents 100.1. This differential rests mostly in the fg% difference where Denver shot
42.1% while letting opponents shoot 46.9% against them. Three point percentage also had a
4.2% disparrage which was compounded with the large number of three point shots attempted
(50% more than opponents). It is pretty obvious that the shooting percentgae discrempancy
was the result of the woeful shooting by the guards and SF's, not the PF's and C's.
Denver wasn't bad at the boards being -1.6 boards per game. Given
that Denver missed more shots than their opponents and defensive boards are easier to come
by, this isn't much of a concern. Their turnovers were low and assists acceptable
(considering their woeful offense).
What it comes down to was Denver was not scoring
efficiently enough, and wasn't holding opponents down. They need a SF/SG who can score
efficiently and can at least keep opposing players honest. Indeed, if they bring back Nick
Van Exel to go with McDyess, Billups and LaFrentz, there are few shots to go around after
those 4. Hence a defensive stopper at SF would be ideal, especially one that does not make
a lot of mistakes on the offensive end. Rebounding and passing are not big problems, but
defensive ability and taking high percentage shots are.
|Whats available in this draft that might fall to Denver?
Certainly nothing matching the description of the ideal draft pick. Shawn Marion, Tim James, James Posey, Quincey
Lewis or Kris Klack may fit the bill.
The possibility also exists of Denver taking the best player available. The problem with
taking the best player available is finding time to get them to play, but Denver should
not have that problem given their overall weaknesses except that they are basically set
with starters and depth at the C and PF positions. It would seem that the 14 - 17 rated
players are all 6'11 or taller. Denver may draft size, but just doesn't need it. Time will
be hard to find at PF and C.
the following players before the draft started (in order)
Shawn Marion - A 2/3 who is athletic, can run and play D. While Marion seems ideal,
its unlikely he will drop this low. There has been questions about his attitude, but that
may just be because he went to UNLV.
Ron Artest - Not likely to fall his low, Artest still is an intriguing prospect.
Supposedly a better shooter than build, he can pass and board and seems to have a strong
James Posey - A SG/SF type who is just starting to develop. A risky pick, but seems
Quincey Lewis - Solid
SG/SF who picked it up at the end of his career, notably offensively.
Lee Nailon - Depending upon whose list you are looking at, Nailon's position is all
over the board. Rumors are however he's showing an outside touch and ball handling
abilities coveted at the SF position. He may be just the player to take some offensive
load off McDyess.
Kris Klack - Athletic defender who has no offensive skills.
Jonathon Bender - High School player could be a solid SF in the pro's. Would certainly
generate fan interest.
Tim James - Too much a PF for Denvers needs.
Denver is interested in Posey (See http://www.denverpost.com/nuggets/nugs0617.htm)
and also worked out Evan Eschmeyer although he's expected to go closer to 12th than 18th.
They worked out Langdon but apparently were not that impressed although if he hangs around
to the second round (not likely) Denver will gladly take him.
As well, looking at http://www.denverpost.com/nuggets/nba0619d.htm
its obvious that Denver is interested in a SF type and certainly one of Artest, Posey or
Lewsi should be available at 18.
|When it came down to it, Denver needs to get someone who
can play the 2/3 on the break. Outside shooting isn't a must, but defensive ability is.
Orlando hit a goldmine (ok, maybe copper, but what do you expect this far down?) in
getting Matt Harprer in about this area last year, and let us hope Denvers pick pans out
the same way.
James Posey is a player the
Denevr fans would likely boo when chosen, but should make them happy in the future. He's
not a big name and likely many Denver fans wouldn't know him, but he's a legitimate SF
prospect. He's a decent three point shooter with excellent defensive skills. He has good
shot selection, can rebound and seemed to be liked by the Nuggets during workouts.
THE TEAM WILL TAKE ...
|Denver has the option to give this pick to Orlando.
While I cannot find accurate details of the trade, it is apparent that Denver will have to
fork over a first rounder sooner or later. If a player is not available to help them, they
may very well give up the pick. A quote was seen that said Issell will give the pick away
rather than pay guarenteed money to a player that will not help them now.
Given that they are moving into a new arena, however, they may wish to
keep the pick to signal to thier fans that they are ready to compete. While they could not
get much with the pick, they may wish to try and trade down. For commodities (that they
could trade) they have Fortson and the possibility of a sign and trade with Nick Van Exel.
The Raptors are supposedly interested in Nick Van Exel, and may give their 12th pick for the 18 pick + Nick Van Exel on a sign
and trade deal (the interest is coming out of the Toronto media) which would allow Denver
a shot at Marion. Assuming Toronto wants Nick Van Exel (and they won't if they get
Francis), they would probably want a big guy, and Denvers #18 position seems as good as
I'll go out on a limb and say they will either forfeit
the pick or trade down. Denver does not have the commodity needed to vault them into a top
7 position (pretty much the drop off level in sure talent in this draft), and hence I'd be
mildly suprised if they moved up unless they could get a player they wanted (hence the
deal would be done during the draft).
|Looking at the overall makeup of this team, I would only
be inclined to say McDyess, LaFrentz and Fortson are keepers. While they provide a solid nucleus around the 4/5 positions
to build from, the guard situation is deplorable. Stop gap measures such as Nick Van Exel and Billups are just not answers at this time.
Denver appears to be takings its rebuilding job seriously and are commited to building a
team that can run the floor. To do that you have to have a point guard who can run, and Nick Van Exel simply does not fit the bill
physically or mentally.
could resign Nick Van Exel
(don't expect a lot of interest in him on the FA market), I believe they would be better
off letting him go and instead chasing some of the FA PG's that may be available, or at
worst simply instilling Billups
at the point.
As I said in the draft analysis, Denver needs a defensive
oriented SF who doesn't make a lot of offensive mistakes. If someone is not available in
the draft, then they have enough money available in the FA market to persue someone
(although not a big name). Bo Outlaw and Micheal Curry are two free agents that could easily fill Denvers need for a team
oriented defensive player. Denver should have about 5 - 7 million this year for FA's and
that much next year as well. Players of a those two caliber can be had for about that
amount (nad hopefully less). Instill a player with a hard working defensive attitude and
it may parlay into enthusiasm for the other players. The chance of Bo resigning with
Orlando seems slim (with Hardaway and Daly gone) and Curry may be interested in the
playing time he would get with another team (as opposed to being behind Allen in