Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Denver Nuggets: Going High Speed in Thin Air

The Denver Nuggets traded their star player, Carmelo Anthony, to the Knicks for half of New York's roster last season.  Normally, large roster turnover plus small sample size equals poor results.  However, Denver's offense for the last half of 2011 was ridiculous, as their abundance of versatile players developed immediate chemistry.

The lockout was unkind to the Nuggets, with Kenyon Martin, Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton going to either different teams or hemispheres; hence, the depth entering the 2012 season declined, the Andre Miller addition notwithstanding.  

Denver still has a lot of firepower.  
The offensive potency, however, has remained relatively high.  As of today, Denver was ranked sixth in team offensive rating.  Their 18-15 record belies their true standing in the NBA considering their SRS rating is a well-above average 3.62, good for eighth in the league.  And that's with Nene Hilario and Danilo Gallinari missing some time.  

Denver's early 2012 success has been spurred by Gallo and Ty Lawson, a duo I talked about over the summer when I evaluated the league's top young duos.  Lawson's 15.4 points, 6.1 assists, and mere 2.3 turnovers per game powers Denver, and his speed from foul line to foul line weaponizes Denver's young talent and running bigs, which is why the team is ranked first in pace.  Gallinari leads the team with 17 points per game on nearly 60 percent True Shooting despite knocking down 3's at a disappointing 31 percent clip.  Thirty-one percent- coming from a forward whom Mike D'Antoni called the greatest shooter he ever coached.  At least, before Steve "Novocaine" Novak came into the picture.  

Consider- Denver's offense is clicking right now even with pedestrian offensive rebounding and turnover numbers.  They are efficient because they draw fouls, take many 3's, and hit their 2-point shots, a fact I'd reckon comes from their quick pace and ability to get good shots when the defense is in transition jeopardy.  

What happens when they start hitting their 3's at even a league-average rate?

Denver is perhaps the most well-put together offensive squad in the league.  No ball-stoppers or selfish gunners or "diminishing returns" scenarios; the unselfish duo of Lawson and Gallinari leads them.  They fit.  And the West would be wise to take note, because in a season like this that rewards youth and instant cohesion in the regular season, Denver may take a top-four spot heading into the playoffs.  Old squads (Dallas, L.A., San Antonio for example) plus thin Denver air gives the Nuggets a shot to be legend killers and second-round entrants this season.                    

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