NBA / Sep 28, 2009 / 10:00 am

Denver Nuggets ’09-10 NBA season preview

J.R. Smith

J.R. Smith

NBA training camps opened over weekend, meaning it’s time again for Dime’s team-by-team season previews. Last year we debuted the “Highs and Lows” system — predicting the respective ceilings and basements for each team. Or in other words, what is the realistic best-case and worst-case scenario for the 2009-10 campaign?

Added: Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, James White, Joey Graham, Malik Allen

Lost: Linas Kleiza, Dahntay Jones, Sonny Weems

Ceiling: NBA Finals
Chauncey Billups gave everyone an education last season. Included in the semester’s lesson plan: (1) Don’t overlook CB when talking about the best point guards in the world, and (2) Don’t ever count out a Chauncey-led team in the NBA championship race. Billups helped get Denver over its first-round postseason curse and all the way to the Western Conference Finals, where they put a legit scare into the Lakers. One of these years Chauncey is going to start slowing down, but I’m not sure this is that year. He keeps himself in phenomenal shape, he rarely gets hurt, and his style is one that lends itself to playing at a high level until he’s damn near 40. And then there’s Carmelo Anthony, arguably the best pure scorer in the League, coming off the most complete season of his career and fueled by getting a taste of playoff success. J.R. Smith is poised to blow up in his first year as a full-time starter, rookie Ty Lawson offers a nice change-of-pace backup for Chauncey, and the big men — Nene, Kenyon Martin and Birdman Andersen — are as tough and intimidating a trio as any in the NBA. George Karl could’ve won Coach of the Year in ’09, but for the sake of his job and given the history of the award, maybe it’s best he didn’t.

Basement: Second-round exit
Depth is an issue, especially after losing valuable role players like Kleiza and Jones. Kleiza’s departure also means there’s only one designated shooter on the roster (Smith), and Jones leaves a void on defense — he was instrumental in making Chris Paul‘s life hellish in the Nuggets/Hornets series, and took on the Kobe assignment in the conference finals. Afflalo came into the NBA billed as a defensive stopper, so he could help in that respect, but he hasn’t proven it yet. Will Nene, Birdman and K-Mart each be able to replicate what they did last season? Even if they can play to that level and stay healthy, the group has glaring limitations on offense. Smith will miss the first seven games of the season due to suspension, which can make a big difference in what should be another tight Western Conference race, and in a tough Northwest Division where the Jazz and Blazers will contend and Oklahoma City is improving. But even if the Nuggets are vulnerable and arguably weaker than last year, realize that Mr. Billups hasn’t gone home in the first round of the playoffs since 2002.

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  • Patrick

    Their basement is sneaking in to the playoffs. I think the nuggs will be in the tournament, but they lost a lot of their outside shooting and are hoping for big performances from historically underachieving players e.g. Smith and Nene. The Hornets were down last year from their two seed the year before. I still think Chauncey and Melo can carry them to the second round, but I don’t think they make it back to the conference finals.

  • http://www.nukedasouth.net Chicagorilla

    JR Smith will be traded by the end of this season. Guarntee it. He’s a stone cold Jacker on a team that really wants to win.

  • calvin brodus

    being the eternal optimist, i still think the nuggs are doing all right. our glaring weakness is not having a true center that could play 20 or 25 minutes a game. nene starting the 4 instead of the 5 would be ideal. losing kleiza might be a blessing in disguise. and with the exception of some killer playoff D, jones wasn’t doing a whole lot for the nuggets.

    the nuggs still have their $9 million trade exception that expires early in the season. hopefully, they can pull something off and pick up a legit big man. i still got the nuggs taking the NW division and getting out of the first round without problem. from there, well what kind of magic the nuggs got this year.

    and finally…melo, melo, melo. if he continues to improve, the nuggs should be a dandy in 09-10.

    heres another good season preview on a local nuggs blog: http://www.denverstiffs.com/2009/9/27/1057684/are-we-in-a-good-place-ask-melo

  • UpNorth

    @ Austin – George Karl is planning on using AC as the primary back-up to Chauncey, and has said he’ll play about the same minutes as he did last year. Expect Ty Law to get few to no minutes at the start of the season, unless it’s a blowout.

    I agree with what you selected as the ceiling and basement for the Nuggets.

    They’re returning basically the same squad as last year, with better chemistry. I’m fine with Linas walking; he once showed potential a few years ago, but has built nothing off of that and done nothing to improve of expand his game. He was pretty bad last year, minus a handful of games, which oddly enough seemed to be on National TV, and is why I believe non-Nuggets fans think his departure is significant. If you watched the Nuggets last year, more than when they were just on ESPN, TNT, ABC, or when LK had a good performance in a WCF game, you’d know he’s not worth what he was asking for. There’s a reason no other team in the L signed him to an offer sheet.

    I do think Dahntay’s departure somewhat hurts the depth chart; it was nice having him start for the first little while of each half, as he’s an outstanding perimeter defending, and gave the luxury of being able to bring JR off the bench for some much needed scoring on an offensively challenged second unit. But Indiana did overpay, so I can’t be mad at Warkentien shelling out the dough and Dahntay taking it. For a player of his bilities to get that payday in a recession, I’m happy for him.

    The Joey Graham pick-up for dirt cheap may end up looking like a genius move by Warkentien, a-la Birdman signing in ’08. He’s definitely capable of defending and getting out on the break, and his athleticism should fit in well with this cast. If it doesn’t, nothing lost, he’s unguaranteed.

    I see the Nuggets falling anywhere from the second to fifth spot in the West after the regular season is done.

    Many people still don’t believe in the Nuggets, and are still writing off what they did last year as a fluke. They will prove all of them wrong, as they’re a team made up of players who’ve been doing so their whole careers.

  • johnny

    UpNorth,

    You will love Afflalo.

    CalvinB,

    If something substantial happens for a big with the trade exception, then holy crap.

  • sh!tfaced

    As much as Wally World sucks, the Nuggets are a team that needs Szczerbiak most. They need that scoring punch off the bench with JR Smith moving into the starting lineup.

  • http://dime fan

    A real-back up point is needed along with a real post presence. Until will always fall short. If melo back packs this team like Games 1 & 2 on the O & D side they’re capable of beating anybody. The X factors are def Nene,Smith,Kmart in that order. The have a pretty strong team. Just need to put it together from last yr and stick with it. Stay away from all the bad habits. Chauncey’s presence definitely help mold and shape them into contenders. I think A.I. might give Chauncey 50 this yr. LOL. He still got it. Memphis vs Denver is going to be must see. Gilbert & A.I. with chips on their shoulder is a scary movie for opposing teams and defenders. HELPLESS

  • the cynic

    i just can’t help but laugh at a team that relies on JR Smith to do anything, but run-up the scoreboard in a blowout

  • Simi Laflare

    KOBE BRYANT, BROY, JR SMITH…BEST THREE SG’S IN WEST, IN THAT ORDER

  • http://heckler@aol.com Heckler

    i see this team taking a step back for some reason. carmelo can score, but dude has got to rebound and be better on defense for them.

    their frontcourt players really hurt them on defense. i mean, on a pick-n-roll or pick-n-pop, would any of you come off the ball? hells nah. double chauncey or any nuggs pg and dare their bigs to hit jump shots. i dont think they can consistently.

    they will make the playoffs, but i think the furthest they go is the 2nd round. they gotta make a move/trade during the season to help their frontcourt offense and there perimeter defense

  • http://heckler@aol.com Heckler

    @ #10—

    their frontcourt players really hurt them on defense. ERRRRRR…

    i meant to say thru nuggs frontcourt players really hurt them on OFFENSE. sorry yall for the confusion

  • matthew

    @Simi Laflare

    At first that didn’t sound right to me. But thinking about the only Western SG I would argue HAS to be in front of Smith is Ginobli.

  • doc

    I think Melo stepped his D up last year.And his boards.It will only get better.We havent seen the best of Melo.He’s due for a 93 Barkley year one of these seasons.And yes Im talking MVP.

  • http://dime fan

    JR SMITH is a budding all-star. He just has to put it all together. You can vastly see him improving yr by yr. He did a complete turnaround w/ Chauncey for a 1/2 yr. You do the math. Great Kid. Better family. He’s still a young man blossoming before our microscope. He can only be him not what you think he should be. He has one of the best jumpshots,range,Athleticism,motors,He’s 6’4″ and solid. He’s a top 5 sg and starter on any team in the N.B.A. He’d even be a steal for the Olympic Team. Don’t downplay real talent. It’s rare. Only comes around so often. You’d have to been good to understand his game. He’s working and developing. Both he Melo could be H.O.F. players when it’s over based on talent easily. WORK ETHIC- IT BEATS OUT TALENT 100% OF THE TIME.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qtOTBQcbiM&feature=related rodnets

    that frontcourt would scare most state prision frontcourt teams.

  • ab_40

    ey fan if talented guys work har who do they beat out on? guys who only work hard? I know where you’re coming from but you can only work harder then talented guys and win if they don’t work themselves. I know I’ve had dumb guys in games just to push me around on D and when they score they start talkin and at the end of the day you just killed em and showed em who’s better.

    The nuggets are gonna be good this year. did I read that they got a trade exception? because if they can get a solid fourth big that would be nice. the last couple of years the nugs were great getting guys for cheap and letting em blossom. jones and anderson. I think joey graham is next in line