The Nuggets are my second favorite team in the NBA. Let's get that straight right now. I backed the Nuggets all season last year, told everyone that, yes, they were that good, even though nobody believe me that they were a new team. That's the funny thing about the NBA. Sometimes swapping one piece can completely change your team's outlook.
I remember that some stats-heavy analyst was saying that the Chauncey Billups trade didn't make the Nuggets great; the fact that the Nuggets played defense this year made them great. Apparently he's not into making the connect.
My point being that this isn't the same team the Nuggets had last year, just like swapping Allen Iverson for Mr. Big Shot changed their dichotomy last year. The problem, however, is that --unlike acquiring Billups -- I'm not convinced this season's change is for the better.
As I just pointed out, this season's Nuggets are fit to be a very different squad. Yes, the big pieces are all still in place: Carmelo Anthony, Billups, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, Nene, and the Birdman Chris Andersen. The problem is that the small pieces are all jumbled, and probably not for the better. Losing Linas Kleiza is a bigger deal then most people realize; the Nuggets front-court is only Martin, Nene, Birdman, and Johan Petro -- unless you count Malik Allen, who you very might well have to by the end of the season. That's terrifyingly thin given the fact that Andersen is more of a gadget player than a power forward or center, and K-Mart is notoriously fragile.
That being said there are reasons for positive outlook. Dahntay Jones is really terrible, I mean awful, and anyone watching him play knows that he was basically just playing to keep J.R. Smith from taking all of Carmelo's possessions. Jones wasn't nearly the defender the press made him out to be, and dunking was his only practical skill on offense. Replacing him with Arron Afflalo, who is very talented in the right situation, and with more, older J.R. Swish should be a huge production boost for this team.
The backcourt looks better than ever this season, and I suspect that Ty Lawson will nicely complement Billups, allowing him to play shorter minutes to compensate for his age. Again Afflalo is a useful player, kind of a Battier-lite, and this is the year J.R. pulls things together.
Then there's Carmelo Anthony. Anthony had perhaps his worst offensive season since his rookie year last season, and yet the national media gushed over his talents. Expect a return to a 50% shooting from the field, as well as a little improvement in his passing kid. 'Melo is one of the true NBA superstar franchise players, and I suspect he'll come up even bigger and better this year.
Breakout- Carmelo Anthony- He's really good at scoring and rebounding, and a return to form would make Anthony a first round talent that you can find in the second or third. ESPN has him ranked at #18, which seems about right until you consider that guys like Andre Iguodala, Steve Nash, and Al Jefferson are ahead of him. I'd argue all of those players are even more unproven, with Iguodala never hitting potential, Nash on a short minute leash, and Al Jeff coming off an injury that normally slows players down in their first season back.
Bust- Chauncey Billups- Ranked one spot ahead of Anthony, Billups, like Nash, will be seeing shorter minutes this season, which should be terrifying to fantasy owners. I have a hard time drafting him in the second round -- I'd much rather wait a round for Rondo, Harris, and Calderon.
Useful- J.R. Smith and Nene- Both these guys will probably drop too far in your draft. If you can't tell, I really like the Nuggets for fantasy this season. Draft either in a second if you see them around near their ESPN ranks.
My Predictions: 52-30 (ESPN: 51-31) Worth noting here that me and my boy Hollinger have the same number. The Nuggets benefited from a slightly weaker Western Conference last season. I believe that, somehow, both conferences are set to get better this year, as much sense as that makes. But while the other competitors definitely got popping this offseason, the Nuggets were mainly stagnant, though they're no longer a team that can punish teams with its infinite well of scoring. This season Nuggets like J.R. and 'Melo need to become smarter and more efficient scorers -- I think they're up for the change.
Denver Stiffs is great, I read it all the time.