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Deconstructing a 57-win team: Denver Nuggets Season Preview

Starting five: PG Tywon Lawson, SG Evan Fournier, SF Wilson Chandler, PF Kenneth Faried, C JaVale McGee
Key bench contributors: PG Andre Miller, SG Randy Foye, PG Nate Robinson, PF Darrell Arthur, SF Danilo Gallinari (expected back in December-February from a torn ACL), PF JJ Hickson
Offseason additions: JJ Hickson, Darrell Arthur, Nate Robinson, coach Brian Shaw
Offseason subtractions: Coach George Karl, SF Andre Iguodala, SF Corey Brewer, C Kosta Koufos
FACT OR FICTION: Did the Denver Nuggets spend the offseason dealing themselves out of the playoffs?

FICTION. Without one single All-Star player, the Denver Nuggets (literally) ran through the rest of the NBA last season. George Karl’s squad nabbed the third-best record in the Western Conference, winning a remarkable 57 games–just one less than the seconds-away-from-a-title San Antonio Spurs. They finished with the NBA’s fifth most efficient offense, ran the second fastest pace and racked up a deceivingly good 11th ranked defense.
But it all started and ended for the Nuggs on the run, as they were terrors on the fast break, destroying teams with run and gun specialists like Tywon Lawson, Corey Brewer, Andre Iguodala, Kenneth Faried and a sneaky set-up maestro in Andre Miller. They compounded this offensive attack with the league’s best offensive rebounding and started it all with fantastic rim protection from Kosta Koufos, JaVale McGee and Faried. Still, the Nuggets featured two facets of their basketball identities that absolutely belied their excellent record. Surprisingly, they were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the NBA last season (.343%, good for 25th) and yet, they still sent opposing defenses scrambling. And yet, despite the facade of a reckless scoring avalanche, they were actually one of the most careful teams in basketball–only three teams in the league turned the ball over less. It’s for all those reasons just stated that the Nuggets were such a strange anomaly in the NBA last year: a fast paced team that couldn’t shoot three pointers well, never turned the ball over, didn’t have a single dominant scorer and lacked a post scorer whose hair didn’t look like a newborn baby’s.
Perhaps for those reasons, and many more, it was so easy for ownership to almost completely reshape the face of the Nuggets this offseason. In a matter of weeks, Denver had allowed the newly minted Executive of the Year, General Manager Masai Ujiri to take a job with the Toronto Raptors and had fired newly crowned Coach of the Year, George Karl. With a new front office regime in place, two starters were traded (Koufos to Memphis for Darrell Arthur and Iguodala sign-and-traded to Golden State) and the bench was almost completely turned over. New hires like Nate Robinson, Randy Foye and JJ Hickson were brought in to try and recreate some of last year’s reserve’s offensive energy that they no longer will have with Corey Brewer gone to the Minnesota Timberwolves and both JaVale McGee and Wilson Chandler elevated to a starting roles. Coach Brian Shaw was finally given his shot at running a team and is almost certain to slow things down from the break neck speed Karl operated his squad at last year.… Read more...

Fact or Fiction: 2009 NBA Draft Class Contract Extensions

As the country was out giving candy to either children or twenty-something girls that were both curiously wearing the same size costumes, the NBA’s deadline for 2009 Draftee extensions came and went. The draft class ended up with seven different players being offered multi-year deals, while the rest would go on to being restricted free agency next summer. Thus, players like OKC’s Eric Maynor, Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans and Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings could be extended offer sheets by other teams, only to have them matched by their current squad. 
Before this week, Clippers forward Blake Griffin had been the only 2009 rook to sign an extension, a five year pact worth approximately $95 million. Since then, six of these twenty-somethings have signed within the past few days, four just before the midnight buzzer Wednesday night. 
Resuscitating a feature from THE GREAT MAMBINO’s blog predecessor NYisMecca, we’re going to examine these deals and ask “these young fellows worth the money: Fact or Fiction?”

James Harden: $80 million over 5 years and Blake Griffin: $95 million over 5 years 
2012 stat lines: (Harden) 16.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.7 apg .491/.390/.846 shooting and (Griffin) 20.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 3.2 apg .549/.125/.521 shooting
Fact.  Griffin was an open and shut case for an extension here, even with a documented history of knee injuries. By the time this extension even begins, he’ll most be one of the most decorated Clippers in franchise history (two presumed All-Star teams, one 2nd Team All-NBA nod and perhaps another one on the way). This isn’t to speak to Griffin’s still burgeoning potential–he’s got enough room to grow to fit both of Boris Diaw’s boobs–but rather to the dubious distinction which is being a good player on the worst franchise in American sports history. Owner Donald Sterling couldn’t let Blake go no matter what the price was for keeping him. 

Harden has had his detractors the past few days after the trade to Houston, but after his ridiculous 37 point, 12 assist night (even against the lowly Pistons), I can’t imagine there’s very many people yelling “fiction” at his max deal. The Beard is questionably one of the top-20 players in the NBA right now, and could end up being one of it’s 15 best in April. Fact, fact, fact over the validity of this contract.
DeMar DeRozan: $40 million over 4 years

2012 stat line: 16.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, .422/.261/.810 shooting
(From El Miz)

Hilarious Fiction, on par with the movie Super Troopers.  DeMar can’t create his own shot, doesn’t defend particularly well, and in fact doesn’t really do anything other than dunk particularly well.  In 2014-15 the Raptors owe Landry Fields $8.5 million and DeRozan $10 million (unless its escalates every year, in which case it’ll probably be around $11.25 million) — so they’ll owe at least $18.5 million to two wing players, neither of whom is an elite scorer, neither of whom can even create their own shot. Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo needed to be fired yesterday; how much longer can that guy ride the coattails of Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash? Toronto should have let DeRozan go to restricted free agency. I highly doubt any other team would give him a contract of this size after another decent but largely uninspiring season from a

one-dimensional player.
Jrue Holiday: $41 million over 4 years
2012 stat line: 14.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.5 apg .432/.380/.783 shoot… Read more...

BQ #1 – Who makes The Leap?

These Burning Questions hardly make sense anymore, considering the fact that the 2011-12 NBA season started almost a month ago. But MAMBINO doesn’t quit anything, unless it concerns KOBEsh playing organized basketball (He will use all of his fouls. All of them.).

A common topic used by other people who write on the interwebs is the attempt to find the next great player. Whether it’s a local columnist raving about a player who hasn’t yet stepped onto the national scene, or a fantasy sports writer (nerd alert) advising readers to target a specific sleeper in late rounds, the concept is fairly simple. Who makes “The Leap?”

BockerKnocker: Paul George, Indiana Pacers SF

Let’s start off with a fun fact that I couldn’t possibly have made up: Paul George’s parents are Paul and Paulette George. That’s fantastic.

But back to the business:
George attended Fresno State, where he played for two years before the NBA. He never produced a collegiate body of work worthy of a top-5 selection. In fact, his own school labels him as “the program’s premier free throw shooter, an astute defender, multi-dimensional scorer and leader by example.” You’d think that if your school FIRST describes you as its best free throw shooter, George would be of the Caucasian ilk. But then again, he can do stuff like this:

In his rookie year, George didn’t really make an impact in the box scores: 7.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, and a steal in a shade under 21 minutes per game. He struggled to keep up with the scoring prowess of teammate Danny Granger. Additionally, George often deferred running offensive sets to point guard Darren Collison, despite showing a nimble passing touch since his days at Fresno. But for all of his offensive troubles last year, George was a lockdown stopper on defense. As Indiana made a late season playoff push, coach Frank Vogel inserted George into the starting lineup for the final 24 games of the regular season, providing a defensive complement to the Pacers’ run-and-gun offense. His moment came in the postseason, as he was assigned the task of shadowing Derrick Rose for all 5 playoff games. While the 1-seeded Bulls easily dispatched the young Indiana squad, Rose shot an inefficient 18-57 from the field; a 32% clip is hardly ever, if at all, connected to the league’s MVP. The nation met Paul George during that series, saying hello to a player who used his elite athleticism to become a force on defense (my favorite type of player).

But you can’t make The Leap without improving on both ends of the court. What made me choose George for this BQ was the fact that he lists Kobe Bryant as his favorite athlete. No, I’m not worried that he’ll get all busy in Colorado. The importance in choosing Kobe is that George says that Kobe “works harder than anyone else to be the best.” While nobody questioned his ability to defend on the perimeter, George did consistent work in the offseason with his offensive game, noting that he “didn’t want to be an offensive liability” for the Pacers anymore. And that work ethic has resulted in a favorable uptick this year, through 10 games: improvements in almost every statistical category, including an eye-opening 25% jump in 3-point shooting percentage.

And it’s not just the stuff that he can control, either. George was reported to have grown a full 2 inches, which would list him at 6’10”. Not too surprising until you realize that he’s a freaking swing… Read more...