By Erick Schutte
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The broken record that has become every Denver Nuggets season since 2004-05 once again skipped for replay in 2007-08. The tune is one filled with gargantuan optimism and numerous peaks and valleys before coming to an abrupt end. In this case the optimism was the 60-plus-win talk in October. The peaks included solid seasons by Marcus Camby
, Carmelo Anthony
and Allen Iverson
and 50 wins. The valleys involved injuries to Chucky Atkins
and Nenê, and that seven other teams in the West still finished with better records. Then came the sudden end, the four game losing sweep to the Lakers.
The offseason didn't go particularly well, either. Anthony started it out with a DUI and a two game suspension to start the year. The draft yielded just one second-round pick, and the front office traded away C Marcus Camby
for a ham sandwich and a bag of chips. Of course it wasn't all bad as talented reserves G Dante Jones, F Renaldo Balkman
and C/F Chris Anderson were all brought on board, and Atkins and Nenê are both 100 percent healthy for now. That leaves just one lone problem area: defense.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Nenê will start at center, Martin at PF, Anthony at SF, and Iverson at SG. Nenê and Martin should see 30-35 minutes a night now that Camby is gone, with Anthony getting 35-38 and Iverson getting close to 40. Whoever wins the point guard battle between Atkins and Carter will see around 30 minutes a night with the loser picking up the remaining minutes. The primary bench players should be J.R. Smith
, Linus Kleiza, Renaldo Balkman
and Chris Anderson. Smith and Kleiza should see 10-15 minutes a night backing up Iverson and Anthony, respectively. Balkman and Anderson should see 12-17 minutes a night apiece backing up Martin and Nenê, respectively. We don't see Jones or center Steven Hunter
getting consistent minutes unless the injury bug hits.
After struggling through a torn ACL and testicular cancer two of the last three years, Nenê is back and finally set to get starter's minutes. Marcus Camby
's departure to La-La land automatically makes Nenê the club's starting center, and based on his past history, we don't see any reason why he can't step right in and be a legit fantasy player in any and all formats. Nenê's per 48 minute averages in the 80 games he's played over the last two years are 20.6 ppg, 13.2 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.7 bpg and 1.5 spg. He's in great shape, didn't waste his energy playing in the Olympics, and he's chomping at the bit to finally be a starter. That just reeks of breakout potential, and we suggest you don't miss out.
Birdman returns to Denver where he once flew so gracefully before his drug induced downfall. After getting reinstated to the league after a two year absence it still remains to be seen if Anderson can compete again at this level. We think he'll be up to the task, or at least he'll be better than Stephen Hunter, and thus will earn the primary back-up role behind Nenê. While we don't see Anderson getting more than 15 minutes a night on average, he's a guy to keep an eye on considering Nenê's injury history.
Stephen Hunter: Considering he's big and slow and this is a club built around a lot of athletic types, he just isn't a good fit. The only way Hunter sees legitimate court time is if Anderson just can't play anymore, and we don't think that's the case. In other words, don't expect Hunter to be more than a bit player showcased during lopsided wins and losses.
Anthony had a very solid year in 2007-08 posting 25.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.4 apg, and 1.3 spg. The 7.4 rebounds were a career high as was his FG percentage of 49.2. He graciously stepped aside and let Allen Iverson
be the offensive focal point of the club, and it helped yield 50 wins. With Iverson older and in the last year of his contract, and Camby gone, the time is right for Anthony to assume the role as the team's primary leader. Anthony has always known how to rebound but he, like all the other Nuggets front-court players, had always given way to Camby. With Camby out of the mix there are 13 extra boards available, and we think Anthony should be able to snag at least 2-3 of them a game. With a scoring average of more than 25 per game almost a guarantee, and his modest assist and steal marks staying intact, we think Anthony has a chance to place himself among the fantasy elite on a nightly basis.
: We'll give Martin credit for staying "relatively" healthy for an entire season (he did miss 11 games), but it's hard to get on his bandwagon just yet. Despite having awe-inspiring athleticism and one of the best dunk repertoires in the league, Martin needs to get more consistent. For instance, he's 6-9 and jumps out of the gym, but averaged just 6.5 rebounds per game in 30 minutes a night. Granted, he shot a solid 53.8 percent from the field last year but that was just behind the 58.0 percent he shot from the free-throw line. Don't get us wrong, Martin is a definite fantasy contributor who gives you a little something in every category – he's just not an elite fantasy (or NBA) player because he has too many off nights.
The Nuggets acquisition of Balkman flew under the radar, but this guy can play, and he'll add an honest to goodness defensive presence to the club's front line. He won't beat out starting PF Kenyon Martin
, but he should win the backup job netting him around 15 minutes a night. Again, like Anderson, Balkman should be a guy who stays on your radar because of Martin's injury history. If he were to take over the PF spot he could be a solid source of rebounds if given 25-30 minutes a night.
Kleiza continued his rise up the Denver depth chart last year showcasing a deft outside touch, hard-nosed mentality and surprising hops. The only problem is that head coach George Karl has a hard time finding significant minutes for Kleiza who is buried behind Anthony. There were times last year when Karl tried Kleiza at power forward, but with the arrival of Chris Anderson and Renaldo Balkman
, and the fact that Kleiza just doesn't thrive with his back to the basket, it's likely to be another year where he gets a modest 15 minutes a night and just never quite makes it into the fantasy discussion.
Iverson has averaged 7.4 apg and 29.2 ppg over the last five years despite being pushed and pulled between both backcourt spots. This year it appears the club may finally make him a full time SG which will hurt his value because his assists will drop. However, he remains a decent rebounder for a 6-1 guard (career 3.8 rpg) and continues to snag 2-3 steals a night making him a good guard option in any format. Oh, and did we mention he shot a respectable 46 percent from the floor last year, including 35 percent from downtown, and 80 percent from the line?
Atkins was brought in prior to the 2007-08 season as the club's answer to a iffy point guard situation. He played well in the preseason and then proceeded to suffer through several injuries, including a sports hernia, which limited his effectiveness and left him out of a starting job even after he returned. Atkins also had arthroscopic knee surgery in September and will miss all of training camp. As a result, Anthony Carter
will likely have the starting job initially, but we think Atkins will take it over eventually – assuming he's healthy.
Smith is serious 3-point threat and is capable of scoring in bunches. The problem of course is that Iverson and his 40 minutes of court time keep Smith on the bench way too much. We don't see that changing this year, especially with Chucky Atkins
back in the fold, so keep Smith off your team unless you see Iverson get traded.
Carter stepped up and played well in the starting PG role last year after Atkins went down. As much as we can appreciate the job Carter did he's just not as dynamic or talented as Chucky Atkins
and so we think he'll ultimately lose out on that job and be relegated to a 10-15 minute a night back-up job once Atkins proves he's fully healthy.
The well traveled vet landed in Denver after a solid summer league showing, but his value to the club is still not clear. Jones seems to believe he'll be in the mix for quality minutes. Others tend to think he'll be far down the depth chart getting the occasional 5-10 minutes during blowouts. We think the latter is closer to the truth, but ultimately it will take a full training camp and preseason to really know for sure.
The second round draft pick will spend his 2008-09 season keeping Anthony's seat warm.
We know we may be getting ahead of ourselves but we're confident that Atkins will not only win the starting point guard spot once he returns, but that he'll thrive in it. We're not saying he's going to be Steve Nash
, but Atkins has the potential to deliver 10-12 points and 7-8 assists a night with some serious steals – assuming his knee holds up.
We can't help but stick by last year's comments that "he can't consistently hit outside 15 feet, he can't play with his back to the basket, and he has a hard time taking guys off the dribble." Nenê is a better low post player and will likely be the No. 3 offensive option behind Iverson and Anthony. That leaves Martin at No. 4 and that's only if J.R. Smith
isn't in the game. We also think Anthony, along with Nenê, will outrebound Martin on a regular basis, further decreasing his value.
Article first appeared on 10/1/08