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Team Previews: 2009 Denver Nuggets Preview

Erick Schutte

Erick Schutte

Erick Schutte writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.


DENVER NUGGETS
By Erick Schutte
RotoWire Writer



STATE OF THE FRANCHISE



George Karl finally decided it was time to get back to his North Carolina defensive roots last year, and he told the team as much prior to training camp. Of course, introducing a new philosophy is one thing - having everyone buy in is entirely another. That buying in started with Carmelo Anthony's commitment early in the summer, it grew with the signing of guys like Chris Andersen and Dahntay Jones and it hit its zenith when the club shipped Allen Iverson to Detroit for Chauncey Billups. The trade proved to be the master stroke on a regular season canvas that saw the club win 54 games, the Northwest Division title and claim the coveted No. 2 seed in the playoffs. After taking care of the dysfunctional Hornets and beat-up Mavericks in five games apiece the club finally fell to the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals. However, the season was an unquestioned success, especially compared to the previous three, and several players like Carmelo Anthony, Nene, and J.R. Smith made huge strides in maturity, leadership and dependability.



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.






PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION



The starters will be Nene at C, Martin at PF, Anthony at SF and Billups at PG. The only real question mark with the starting lineup is whether Karl will choose to start J.R. Smith or Aaron Afflalo at SG. Regardless of whether Smith starts, expect him to see 25-30 minutes a night while all the rest of the starters will get 30-35. The primary bench players should be C/F Chris Andersen, PG Anthony Carter and Smith or Afflalo at SG-SF. Andersen will see the most minutes of any bench player (22-27 a night) filling in at center and occasionally at power forward. Carter should see around 20 minutes a night early in the season, but Lawson could steal those minutes as the season progresses. Afflalo will get at least 15-20 minutes in the role vacated by Dahntay Jones while Renaldo Balkman and Malik Allen battle each other for the 12-17 minutes a night that's left over up front. Johan Petro will see no more than 4-5 garbage minutes every now and then.







PLAYER OUTLOOKS





Center




Nene: With Marcus Camby gone Nene was finally given the starting nod at center in 2008-09, and he performed admirably averaging 14.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.3 bpg, and 1.2 spg in 76 starts. The 6-11 Brazilian also shot a monster 60.4 percent from the field while making a respectable 72.3 percent of his free throws during his 32 minutes of court time every night. Most of his injury issues in the past were freak things (testicular cancer, torn knee ligament), and he's proven his big body can take the nightly pounding of a full season and a full playoff schedule. We expect slight increases across the board as he'll be even more comfortable in the pivot with a full year under his belt and the club hinting that they're going to be more committed to getting him more touches down low.



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.




Forward




Carmelo Anthony: Anthony finally committed entirely to Karl's "defense first" system, and while that might have benefitted his team it didn't help his fantasy owners. 'Melo saw an overall decrease in almost every statistical category in 2008-09 including minutes played (36.4 to 34.5), scoring (25.7 to 22.8), rebounding (7.4 to 6.8), and FG percentage (49.2 to 44.3). It could be argued that his effort on the defensive end contributed to his poor shooting, but he did shoot 37.1 percent from downtown and 79.3 percent from the line, both up from his previous season. He still remains a legitimate fantasy star, but one has to wonder if his scoring and rebounding numbers will return to previous highs with J.R. Smith, Nene and Chris Andersen all expected to improve heading into the 2009-10 season and the same philosophy in place in Denver.



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.






Guard




Chauncey Billups: Nobody in the league meant more to their team or led a club better than Mr. Big Shot. Billups brought his skills and leadership to the Nuggets early in the season and never looked back. In 77 games with the Nuggets Billups averaged just over 35 minutes a night and posted 17.9 ppg, 6.4 apg, 3.0 rpg, 1.2 spg, and only 2.3 TOs. The bad news for Billups is that he's now played deep into the postseason in seven straight seasons which has to take its toll on his body sooner or later. The good news is the club re-signed a dependable back-up in Anthony Carter and drafted the speedy Ty Lawson. That means the club should be able to give Billups fewer minutes keeping him fresher for the postseason, but also leading to slight reductions in his stats across the board.



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.




Sleeper



Aaron Afflalo: There has been a lot of speculation that Afflalo is much more talented than the departed Dahntay Jones and that he may end up being a larger part of Denver's offensive sets. We won't know for sure until training camp but if Afflalo proves to be a capable scorer and supreme defender he could steal minutes from J.R. Smith and end up having some real value in deep leagues.





Bust



Chauncey Billups: "Bust" is probably too strong, but the fact is Billups played way too many minutes last year, and the club seems dead-set on making sure it doesn't happen again. We think the team will lean on Anthony Carter more and push Ty Lawson to mature quickly. The result will likely be a reduction, not only in Billups' minutes, but his overall statistics as well.



Article first appeared on 9/10/09