By Erick Schutte
The offseason started with the addition of point guard Ty Lawson in the draft. The North Carolina product has a lot to learn, but his summer league performance suggested he's got all the tools to play at this level and his shifty, high-energy style could end up being the perfect change-up to Billups' more cerebral one. As the offseason has progressed the club has remained surprisingly quiet while most of the teams behind them in the standings have stocked their cupboards with one high priced free agent after another. That has left some fans feeling the team wouldn't be able to repeat last year's performance while the front office's response has been, "if it's not broke don't fix it." Dahntay Jones left for a gig with the Pacers, but that pain was quickly relieved with the signing of the more polished Aaron Afflalo from Detroit. Linus Kleiza also departed and left what appeared to be a big hole in the club's bench. However, one need only remember how useless the 6-10 Lithuanian was during the magical 2008-09 regular season to realize the club didn't necessarily lose somebody it can't win without.
Chris Andersen: Talk about surpassing expectations. Andersen not only proved he could still play in the league, he proved he could be a true difference maker off the bench for the Nuggets. "Birdman" blocked a whopping 2.5 shots to go along with 6.4 points and 6.2 rebounds in around 20 minutes a night. He shoots a high percentage (54.8% FG) and can be counted on to bring it every night. We expect the club to lean on him even more in 2009-10 leading to slight increases in all categories, but he'll remain a fringe prospect because he doesn't start, and his main role is still defense (i.e. he just doesn't get enough touches).
Johan Petro: Petro was re-signed for reasons we can't explain other than no other player on the team had a rear end big enough to keep Nene's seat warm. He remains a project, and teams who are eyeing division and conference titles don't have time for projects.
Kenyon Martin: He may be drastically overpaid, but Martin mended a lot of fences last year with a spirited effort and renewed commitment to his team and city. While his statistics declined slightly almost across the board he still gave his fantasy owners a little bit of everything with averages of 11.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.5 spg and 1.1 bpg in 32 minutes a night. Martin continues to struggle from the free throw line (60.4% in 2008-09), but he did shoot a respectable 49.1 percent from the field in his 66 games played. With no real competition for his starting power forward spot and a thin corp of reserves, we expect Martin to put up almost identical numbers in 2009-10 while crossing our fingers that his knees hold up.
Renaldo Balkman: After coming over from New York a lot of people thought Balkman might play a relatively big role for the Nuggets. Instead he was relegated to mop-up duty and produced a modest 5.0 ppg and 3.8 rpg in limited minutes off the bench. The addition of Malik Allen this offseason could leave him even more on the outside looking in.
Malik Allen: The Nuggets needed more bulk up front so they brought in Allen who will compete with Balkman for minutes behind starting PF Kenyon Martin. The winner will see 12-17 minutes a night, and with both being expected to rebound and play defense, neither will have any real fantasy value even if Martin goes down for an extended period.
J.R. Smith: Smith had his best year yet in 2008-09 as he finally started listening to his coaches and grew up a lot on the defensive end. The result was a team best 81 games played and an increase in playing time from 19.2 minutes a night to 27.4. That increased playing time paid off for Smith's owners in the form of 15.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg and 2.8 apg, increases of 2.9 ppg, 1.6 rpg, and 1.1 apg respectively. Smith's field goal percentage dipped slightly but he still made 40 percent of his 3-pointers (178-of-454) and improved his FT percentage from 71.9 to 75.2. This year Smith will probably continue to be the first player off the bench as Aaron Afflalo starts for defensive purposes, but his minutes and overall statistics should still remain steady with a good chance for slight improvement.
Aaron Afflalo: Afflalo was brought in specifically to fill the void left by defensive stopper Dahntay Jones. That means he'll likely start, give way early to J.R. Smith and average anywhere from 15-20 minutes a night. That being said, Afflalo is a much more complete ballplayer than Jones so we expect more from Afflalo than the 5.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, and 1.0 apg Jones contributed last year.
Anthony Carter: Carter returns for another season as Chauncey Billups' primary back-up. The only real issue is whether he'll be able to hang onto the job the full season or if rookie Ty Lawson will develop enough to overtake him. The good news for Carter is Karl has never been keen on giving rookies significant minutes, so any change that's going to come will mostly likely take some time to develop.
Ty Lawson: Lawson comes in with big expectations and a chance to learn from two good veterans (Billups and Carter). How fast he learns and whether or not Karl relaxes his usual disdain for rookies will dictate just how involved gets. Our money is on Lawson making a big splash and ultimately passing an aging Carter on the depth chart sometime after the all-star break.
Article first appeared on 9/10/09