The season is still two months away, but most of the rosters are set, barring the requisite Michael Jordan comeback rumor (just kidding, but only a little). We have an idea where our team stands, but we can't really know unless we discuss everyone else. In that spirit, I'm going to throw up a "competition discussion" thread for each of the other 29 teams over the next month or so. We'll go in alphabetical order from A to Z. Today's team: Denver.
Last year's record: 45-37.
Playoffs: Lost to San Antonio 4-1.
In: Chucky Atkins (free agent), Von Wafer (free agent).
Out: Steve Blake (free agent).
Projected starting lineup: Chucky Atkins, Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, Nene, Marcus Camby.
Bench (in no particular order): Anthony Carter, J.R. Smith, Yakhouba Diawara, Linas Kleiza, Von Wafer, DerMarr Johnson, Eduardo Najera, Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin.
So what do we think? Can the Iverson/Melo experiment work over a full season? What's the deal with Nene right now? Can we expect anything from the artist formerly known as Kenyon Martin? Will it matter that the salary-cap situation is so dreadful? What about J.R. Smith? How much will they miss my boy Steve Blake?
I'm kind of throwing my hands up in the air with this one. If you're a fan of speculation and needlessly discussing elements that will likely matter, but have no concrete answers, then Denver is your team. Seriously, would anything surprise you? If everything breaks right, they might win the West. If not, then they'll be in the lottery. That's a pretty crazy range right there.
First things first, Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony will work better this year than they did last year. It's funny to think about this pairing, because I'm of the opinion that both are among the most overrated players in the game. Iverson's a scorer that uses too much of the ball, and Anthony seems destined to be this decade's Dominique Wilkins; a tremendous scorer who should be an excellent rebounder and athletic defender as well, but isn't. Now, to be fair, the one advantage Carmelo already has over Dominique is that he knows how to score efficiently, but on the flip side, he's not as spectacular as Dominque was. It was interesting to see that San Antonio series, because Anthony destroyed Bruce Bowen, but Iverson was totally shut down by Tony Parker. You would think that the reverse would happen, but it didn't.
Still, I think the two will learn to play well together. Anthony has come a long way under George Karl, even if all he's really doing is improving at the one skill he already possessed. He's become particularly adept at scoring quickly and moving without the ball, which is essential, because Iverson controls the ball so much. If healthy, Denver's bigs will also make it easier for the duo, because they are very good at executing the high screen and roll. And in Linas Kleiza, the Nuggets may have finally found the spot-up shooter they so desperately needed.
The problem is Denver's defense. It's not that they're a bad unit, they were 9th in defensive efficiency according to Knickerblogger, but considering the way they play, they need to be spectacular in order to reach the next level. With the type of lineup they have, they can't run an elaborate half-court offense, not with two small point guards that need the ball and only one big man who can play with his back to the basket (and that's if Nene is healthy). The best way for Denver to score is in transition, and the best way to create transition is by playing defense. Consider this: George Karl's Seattle teams were known as run and gun squads, but they won because they defended. They never finished below 10th in DE between 1992 and 1998, and in their two most successful years (1993/94 and 1995/96), they were 3rd and 2nd respectively. Denver's not bad, but they're a rudimentary 15th in eFG%, tied for 11th in turnover rate (which isn't bad, but should be higher), and a paltry 21st in offensive rebound percentage against. With a thief like Iverson and the defensive Player of the Year in Camby, that shouldn't be happening, but it does. Perhaps the small backcourt hurts, and perhaps the problem is that teams screen using Camby's man, forcing him away from the basket, but really, Denver should be better on that end.
If they get better there, they'll run through the league, but that's the only way it'll happen, because even with Iverson and Melo together for a whole year, I don't see that offense suddenly developing incredible half-court efficiency. I'm thinking that the offense might improve marginally regardless just from simple familiarity, but if the defense becomes spectacular, the offense will take off. If not, we'll probably see a similar record that last year.
For now, let's say 51-31, a Northwest Division title (barely), and maybe a first-round win. But I could see this going either way, to be honest.