Consistency has been George Karl's forte.
Under the watchful eye of the acute head coach, the Denver Nuggets are always in the mix to make a championship run because of their chemistry and attention to detail.
How else could this team make it to the playoffs nine years in a row?
Denver came on strong at the end of the lockout-shortened season by going 10-4 in April and winning eight of the last 10 games. It ended the season at 38-28, finishing with a winning percentage over .500 for a ninth straight campaign, before losing in seven games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Nuggets, who led the NBA in scoring (104.1) and last made nine straight playoff runs from 1981-1990, only are one of three teams to make the postseason in each of the last nine years (Dallas, San Antonio). But they haven't moved on to the second round of the playoffs since 2008-09.
So, the Nuggets decided to make some noise this offseason by dipping their toe in the trade pool and made a splash by dealing for Andre Iguodala of the Philadelphia 76ers in a four-team trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers. Denver shipped guard Arron Afflalo and forward Al Harrington to Orlando, and was ecstatic to acquire the defensive-minded Iguodala.
"It's not often you get the opportunity to improve your team by adding an All- Star player like Andre Iguodala," Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said. "He's an Olympian, a great defender and a great all-around player. We think he fits in really well with the type of system coach George Karl runs and the team we have here in Denver."
Iguodala is not known as a scorer, especially in the clutch, but brings veteran leadership and is one of the top perimeter lockdown defenders. The Nuggets are a team that lacks an individual superstar, but can bring it all together with depth and versatility. Karl seems excited about the new look.
"They're a lot of interesting pieces, a lot of interesting scenarios," Karl said. "The process just begins. It'll be fun to see where it goes."
Karl said this bunch is just as good as the one he had a few years ago when Chauncey Billups ran the floor. He added that the NBA is "obvious to us" with what the team is capable of accomplishing this season. The Western Conference is difficult to succeed within, but Karl feels the Nuggets can be a top four team behind San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the Lakers. The Nuggets will be ready for the challenge.
"We have a lot of talent, we have a lot of depth," Iguodala said. "This is going to be an important training camp for us."
Iguodala is looking forward to get on the court and believes he fits well in the system. Defense and teammates meshing will be key, which is why it's so important for center JaVale McGee to have an impact season. Acquired from Washington in a multi-team deal, McGee averaged 11.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.16 blocks last season. He also inked a new deal this summer.
"JaVale did a tremendous job for us after the trade," Ujiri said. "He worked hard on the court and did everything our coaches asked of him. Plus, he's only 24 years old. With our coaching staff, he's only going to get better."
Karl, however, said that in order for McGee to excel he must understand fundamentals and be "more consistent" with the basics. A good training camp and preseason will surely aid McGee.
The Nuggets were a high-scoring team last season and hope that trend continues in 2012-13. They posted an 18-2 record when scoring 110-plus points and sport an impressive 72-1 mark since 2008-09 when registering that many points at home. Denver was 20-13 as the host a season ago.
Injuries always play a factor in team's plans for success. The Nuggets' upcoming season will be determined by how healthy they can stay because this squad is not short on talent by any stretch of the imagination.
2011-12 Results: 38-28, second in Northwest, lost in West quarterfinals to LA Lakers
ADDITIONS: G Evan Fournier, G/F Andre Iguodala, F Wilson Chandler, F Anthony Randolph, F Quincy Miller
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Ty Lawson SG- Andre Iguodala SF- Danilo Gallinari PF- Kenneth Faried C- JaVale McGee
KEY RESERVES: F Corey Brewer, G Andre Miller, C Timofey Mozgov, F Wilson Chandler, C Kosta Koufos.
FRONTCOURT: Perhaps Denver's biggest weapon is second-year forward Kenneth Faried, a first-team All-Rookie a season ago with averages of 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds. Faried had his third-year option of his contract exercised and will be with the team through 2013-14. A great presence down low and outside, Faried will be making All-Star teams in the near future and recorded 12 double-doubles as a rookie. The energetic Faried stepped up his play against the mighty Lakers in the playoffs. McGee has a lot on his shoulders this season and Karl is his top supporter. Teams will think twice about driving the lane with the lengthy McGee setting up camp in the paint. Pounding the glass and blocking shots will be Denver's mantra this season.
You can't forget about smooth-stroking small forward Danilo Gallinari either. Gallinari said he is excited about this group's chances and was pleased to see everyone returned to training camp in shape. The Nuggets have to be in tip-top condition for how much running they'll be doing. And that means Gallinari has to stay out of the trainer's room.
BACKCOURT: Ty Lawson is a reliable point guard and enjoyed a productive run in the playoffs against the Lakers. Quick off the dribble and highly durable, Lawson averaged 16.4 points and 6.5 assists during the regular season. He was one of seven players to average more than 10 points. A student of Karl's unconventional wisdom, Lawson is the glue that keeps the nucleus intact. Iguodala said it was important for this team to mesh and who could make that happen better than Lawson?
Karl said the deal for Iguodala was good "for all teams" and made the Nuggets better on the other end. Known for his defensive prowess and taking on opposing teams' best scorer, Iguodala is aware how tough the West can be and how important it is to win games against inferior teams. Denver is a surprise team to move up the conference ladder in 2012-13, and the addition of Iguodala makes that even more possible.
BENCH: The Nuggets' reserves were arguably the best in the NBA last season, as the bench averaged 41.6 points per game -- good enough for second in the league. Denver's "other" guys were tops in the NBA in assists (10.0) and rebounds (18.6) and second in field goal percentage (.470). Led by the likes of Andre Miller, Timofey Mozgov, Corey Brewer and Kosta Koufos, the Nuggets' bench netted 50 or more points 13 times in 2011-12 and outscored the opposing reserves on 40 occasions.
Miller is back to lead the young corps, while Wilson Chandler, Anthony Randolph and rookie Quincy Miller are expected to keep the tradition going from the pine. Chandler and Randolph were acquired in the offseason and provide depth and experience.
COACHING: Karl is simply one of the best coaches in the NBA and in the history of the sport. He stresses how important it is to win games at home, as the Nuggets are 221-77 under Karl at the Pepsi Center. Karl, who signed a contract extension with Denver on March 8, 2011 and is the 19th head coach in franchise history, has a plethora of talent at his disposal this season. Blessed with a deep roster and an ability to run the break with any team, the Nuggets are fortunate to have such an inspiring coach in Karl. Look for Karl to finally get his team over the hump in the playoffs and continue his success without a big-name superstar (i.e. Carmelo Anthony).
OUTLOOK: When gazing over Denver's coaches, roster and overall talent, it's difficult to discover any weaknesses. Better three-point shooting and creating shots could be difficult to come by, but every team has its flaws. The Nuggets should have no trouble scoring the ball or sizing up on defense. Are they ready to move past the likes of the Spurs, Thunder or Lakers? Not just yet, but after the big three the Nuggets are right in the mix. A strong run at the end of last season will catapult this bunch to a 10th straight playoff appearance and perhaps homecourt advantage in the opening round.