If you're not a hardcore NBA fan in Denver you might not have noticed that the league hasn't played any games yet. There was this whole thing about millionaires and billionaires arguing about how to chop up a few billion dollars. A quick synopsis: it was boring and tedious and then the players caved to the owners and, Merry Christmas, here's some basketball. And all praise to Santa Claus because despite trading away the best player in franchise history last season, the Nuggets should be good. In fact, thanks to a deep cache of young, talented players and an incredibly condensed season, the Nuggets could be really good.
When the NBA decided the season was a go, it wanted to get as many games in as possible. The result for the Nuggets is a 66-game schedule in 126 days. This means that deep teams with young legs will have a decided advantage since they'll be plaing more games in a shorter amount of time than they are used to. The Nuggets already have the advantage of being good, assuming the 18-7 finish to the season following the Carmelo Anthony trade wasn't a fluke. The Nuggets also have the advantage over every other team in the league of having more young players than anyone else.
The Nuggets have twelve players capable of contributing meaningful minutes and only two of them, Andre Miller and Chris Andersen, were born before 1980. Both Miller and Ty Lawson will look to push the pace, continuing the trend for a team that was third in the league in possessions per game last year.
This will give the Nuggets a huge edge, made even bigger when teams are playing their second or third game in as many nights at this altitude. The NBA schedule is brutal this year. As an example, starting next Wednesday the Nuggets play five games in six nights. Each team has several weeks like this in their schedule.
When other teams come to Denver in the middle or on the tail end of a similar stretch, we could see some horrific blowouts if the Nuggets are playing full speed.
While this team did not play together for long at the end of last season, the core of that team will be back, aside from a few tattoo-covered ballers who thought China was kidding about those contractual obligation and communism issues.
The starting five will likely be Lawson, recently extended Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, recently signed Nene, and Timofey Mozgov. Lawson will have his first full season as the starting point guard and is prime to make the leap that many talented players make from their second year to their third.
Nene will be able to play power forward, his more natural position where he won't be asked to do so much of that pesky rebounding he's never been real fond of. Gallinari and Afflalo are also candidates to show significant improvement and Mozgov is, well, tall.
Unlike many teams, the Nuggets have a full second five that don't make you say 'Oh shit, that guy is checking in.' Miller could start for many teams, Rudy Fernandez can light it up from downtown, Corey Brewer is a good wing defender and does a little bit of everything, Al Harrington's contract makes fans want to punch a wall, but he is occasionally useful and the Birdman does Birdman things.
Anything the Nuggets get out of rookies Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton will be a bonus. The coaching staff will likely ask Faried to do little more than catch some alley-oops, rebound, throw in some tip-in dunks and be a pain in the ass on defense. Which is good, because that's about the extent of his game.
The Nuggets also have the prospect of Wilson Chandler returning from China in March, once his season there ends, or earlier if he's able to escape through an elaborate series of disguises, speed boat chases and helicopter rides -- at least that's the way I picture it in my head. Chandler is a restricted free agent so other teams can make him offers when he returns, but Denver will have the chance to match any offer.
The Nuggets' deep roster also affords them the flexibility to make trades in-season. They have several assets, such as Miller's expiring contract, that other teams covet. This could be useful in picking up a quality big man.
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As much as the Nuggets roster should help them in the regular season, it might hurt them in the playoffs, where coaches shrink their rotation and slow the pace of the game. The share-the-ball-and-run-like-hell style of play will beat up weary teams during the grind of the regular season, but when teams play exclusively their best players in the post season, it would be nice for the Nuggets to have a star or two they know they can count on to get tough baskets.
We saw what happened last year in the playoffs when the Oklahoma City Thunder imposed its size and star-power on the Nuggets and took the series in five games.
With the regression of the Western Conference's top two seeds from last year -- the Los Angeles Lakers and Mavericks -- the Nuggets could easily finish in the top three of the conference. From there, it's hard to project a deep playoff run from such a young team with little offensive punch in the post outside of Nene. But all that changes is the Nuggets are able to swap some of their young talent for a proven scorer mid-season.
Whether the Nuggets try to ride their young speed into the playoffs or add a piece along the way, it should be fun to watch -- for the twenty-eight of you paying attention.