STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The key word around Denver last year was ‘cancer’, more specifically the neck and throat variety that struck head coach George Karl and left assistant coach Adrian Dantley in charge for the latter half of the season. The result was a lack of leadership and direction by the coaching staff, a huge hole in the ability to hold sway over those pesky NBA referees, and ultimately a first-round playoff exit. The club also had player health issues highlighted by power forwards Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen both missing games or being limited due to a variety of injuries. J.R. Smith was asked to step up and embrace more of a leadership role on the club and instead he seemed to regress. The good news was that the team seems to have found its point guard of the future in rookie Ty Lawson, and Carmelo Anthony had perhaps his most complete regular season ever, so there was still hope heading into the offseason.
That offseason started with zero draft picks and zero moves on draft day. With multiple huge salaries already pushing the team into luxury tax land, there was no chance of the Nuggets bidding for prime free agents. Instead they focused on second-tier big men and ended up “settling” for Al Harrington, a 6-9, 250-pound forward with a paltry 5.8 rpg average for his career, and career bench-warmer Sheldon Williams. Oh, and owner Stan Kroenke fired team executives Mark Warkentien and Rex Chapman, hired Masai Mujiri to replace Warkentien, and “sold” the team to his son Josh so he could buy the St. Louis Rams. Carmelo Anthony was so impressed with the offseason changes he promptly declared his desire to vacate the Denver area despite still being under contract (Anthony has since said that the made no such claims). Trade “suggestions” have steadily poured out of Anthony’s camp through August and September and if the club ‘forces’ him to stay it may end up undermining the team’s chemistry. The bottom line is this is a make-or-break year for the Nuggets; if they stay together and stay focused they could still make a long playoff run. If they send Anthony packing it could be the tip of the iceberg in the total implosion of the team as it’s currently structured.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
If Anthony stays, the starters are expected to be Nene Hilario at C, Kenyon Martin at PF, Carmelo Anthony at SF, Arron Afflalo at SG, and Chauncey Billups at PG. Anthony will see 35-40 minutes a night, Nene and Billups 30-35, and Afflalo and Martin 25-30. Al Harrington (PF/SF) and J.R. Smith (SF/SG) will see the most minutes off the Nuggets' bench, with both averaging 25-30. Chris Andersen and Ty Lawson will see 20-25 minutes a night at C and PG respectively. Anthony Carter, Renaldo Balkman and Shelden Williams will, for the most part, see only minimal mop-up duty minutes.
Nene Hilario: The 2009-10 season saw Nene post almost identical averages in all categories to the previous year, so he seems to have settled into a mediocre groove. The good news was he was finally able to stay healthy for an entire regular season, starting and playing in all 82 games. Still, with Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen expected to be healthy and Al Harrington now on board, you should probably expect a little less than the 13.8 ppg and 7.7 rpg Nene posted last season. You’ll still get a guy who shoots a great percentage from the field and a modest percentage from the line, (59.6 percent and 71.4 percent respectively over the last two seasons), but he remains a moderate injury risk and his 3.4 fouls per game and seven disqualifications were both team highs.
Chris Andersen: Andersen was hardly the dominating presence in 2009-10 that he was in 2008-09. Most of that can be attributed to knee tendinitis that seemed to plague him the entire season and eventually led to offseason surgery. He still managed to play in 76 games and post respectable averages of 5.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, and 1.9 bpg in 22.3 minutes a night while shooting 56.6 percent from the field. However, his sub-70 percent free throw shooting is a detriment, as is his 0.4 apg average. With Al Harrington now on board you could see a drop in his numbers across the board in 2010-11, leaving him even less of a fringe fantasy prospect than he was originally.
Carmelo Anthony: The club’s high profile small forward posted 28.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.2 apg and 1.3 spg in a career-high 38.2 minutes a night. More importantly, he upped his field goal percentage from 44.3 percent in 2008-09 to 45.8 percent and hit 83.0 percent of his free throws, a career best. Really the only downside to his year was his 31.6 percent 3-point shooting. All that aside, Anthony’s remaining time in Denver appears to be short. However, if the Nuggets hang onto him, we see him being professional and committed to helping his team win. Of course with Al Harrington on board Anthony’s scoring numbers could suffer regardless, but his assist numbers could rise. All in all he remains not only the best fantasy prospect on the Nuggets but one of the top 15 fantasy prospects league-wide.
Kenyon Martin: When Kenyon was healthy last season he changed games. Yet knee problems crept up again and limited him to 58 regular season games and a woeful playoff showing. Martin did post 9.4 rpg in 2009-10 compared to 6.0 in 2008-09. He also continued to be good for at least a steal and block every night with double-figure scoring and a couple of assists in an average of 34 minutes. However, with Al Harrington’s arrival we see serious reductions in Martin’s numbers unless Anthony gets shipped out of town. Of course you also have to consider Kenyon’s 55.7 percent free throw shooting, his below average field goal percentage, and his bad knees before picking him in any draft.
Al Harrington: He’s not expected to start, but Harrington is expected to see significant minutes. Of course if Carmelo Anthony departs, big Al could be looking at a starting gig, so he’s worth highlighting on your draft cheatsheet as a guy to keep a serious eye on. He has always put up moderate fantasy numbers, averaging 14.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.9 spg and only 2.0 topg for his career. He shoots a high percentage from 3-point land (35.6 percent for his career) and is a decent free throw shooter at 73 percent. We expect to see him get around 25 minutes a night at both PF and SF with his primary focus being scoring.
Renaldo Balkman: His two years have been nothing but general mop-up duty. The addition of Al Harrington will leave Balkman even more on the outside looking in.
Shelden Williams: Joey Graham’s spot on the roster was open and Shelden was available. He’s a fantasy non-factor who will battle Balkman for mop-up minutes.
Chauncey Billups: Billups was asked to step up and score more last season and the result was a career-high 19.6 points per game average. While his assist totals did suffer a little, dropping to 5.6 per game last season, much of that could be attributed to the emergence of Ty Lawson and the deployment of both players in the same backcourt for long stretches. We expect more of the same in 2010-11, and we also expect that the arrival of Al Harrington will cut into Billups' shot attempts. The end result will be less scoring but rising assist totals. Also, Chauncey is a career 89.2 percent free throw shooter and 38.8 percent 3-pointer shooter. He is yet another player to highlight in case the Nuggets decide to move Anthony, as his role would undoubtedly be much larger and his minutes would probably rise to more than 35 a night.
Arron Afflalo: Afflalo did an outstanding job as the club’s defensive stopper at shooting guard. He more than filled the shoes of the departed Dahntay Jones by posting 8.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.7 apg, 0.6 spg and 0.4 bpg in 27.2 minutes a night. However, he’ll never be a primary option on offense, and J.R. Smith’s presence prevents Afflalo from being a 30-35 minute a night player, which further reduces his fantasy prospects.
J.R. Smith: We’ve talked about Smith incessantly and frankly we’re bored by his antics and inability to grasp the “team” concept. While he was still a primary contributor to the club last year, especially offensively (15.4 ppg average, good for third-best on the team), he mostly contributed to stress, both in the locker room and amongst fans. We could go on but all you really need to know is that if you’re in a league that highly values 3-pointers he’s a decent option. J.R. hoisted 467 of them in 2009-10 and made a respectable 33.8 percent. Outside of that he is a below average rebounder, passer and defender who shoots a modest 70 percent from the line.
Ty Lawson: Lawson will be the club’s No. 2 point guard heading into 2010-11 and for good reason. He quickly showed himself to be far better than original backup Anthony Carter last year, especially over the latter half of the season when he averaged 10.0 ppg, 3.2 apg, 1.8 rpg, 0.7 spg and only 1.3 topg in 20 minutes a night. While he was inexplicably shelved during the playoffs last year by interim head coach Adrian Dantley, George Karl is back in charge now, and he loves the North Carolina speedster. We expect similar numbers as he backs up Billups, but that could all change if Anthony gets shipped.
Anthony Carter: Carter returns for yet another season with the Nuggets but his job now is that of primary utility man and point guard insurance behind Billups and Lawson.
Ty Lawson: Man we love this guy. He’s tenacious, fearless, possesses great vision and speed, and his shot is improving. Lawson has proved he’s more than capable of running the club and we envision a lot of Lawson/Billups backcourts this season as the club continues to groom him to take over the point guard job full time.
Kenyon Martin: Martin has scores of fantasy owners who have snagged him and profited for a short time only to be let down by his aching knees time and time again. With a proven scorer in Al Harrington now on the depth chart behind him, and his seemingly annual injury woes showing no signs of slowing, we just don’t see anything but red flags heading into 2010-11.