2011-12 Denver Nuggets Preview
The Denver Nuggets have been a consistent bunch for quite some time, but this season they could take a turn for the worse under legendary head coach George Karl.
The Nuggets were able to get by without superstar Carmelo Anthony by winning 50 games for a fourth consecutive season and reaching the playoffs in each of the past eight, advancing past the first just once in that span. The team did some negotiating over the abbreviated offseason and the biggest move was re- signing center Nene.
According to the Denver Post, the deal is worth as much as $67 million over five years. The 6-foot-11 native of Brazil has played his entire nine-year career in Denver.
"We've always said that Nene is a Nugget, and we are happy to welcome him back to Denver," Denver vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said. "Quality big men are hard to find, but we feel we have one of the best. Not only is he a great player, but he is a great person who will be part of our roster for years to come."
Last season, Nene logged a career high-tying 14.5 per game to go with 7.6 rebounds, which are close to his career numbers of 12.3 points and 6.9 boards per game. He also led the league in shooting percentage in 2010-11, making 61.5 percent of his attempts.
Denver needed some familiarity with the system since Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Wilson Chandler playing overseas. The Nuggets acquired forward Rudy Fernandez and guard/forward Corey Brewer from the Dallas Mavericks this month in exchange for a second-round draft pick. Fernandez joined the Mavs earlier this offseason via a three-way trade. He has only played for the Portland Trail Blazers throughout his three-year career and has averaged 9.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 218 career games.
Brewer, who won two national titles with Florida and was part of Dallas' championship team last year, has averaged 8.9 points and 3.2 rebounds over four seasons with the Mavericks and Timberwolves. Point guard Raymond Felton was dealt to the Trail Blazers, while Arron Afflalo and Danilo Gallinari are expected to carry the load along with Nene.
2010-11 Results: 50-32, second in Northwest, lost in West quarterfinals to Oklahoma City
ADDITIONS: G Andre Miller, G Rudy Fernandez, G Jordan Hamilton, F Corey Brewer, F DeMarre Carroll, F Kenneth Faried.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Andre Miller SG- Arron Afflalo SF- Danilo Gallinari PF- Al Harrington C- Nene
KEY RESERVES: C Chris Anderson; PG Ty Lawson; SG Rudy Fernandez; SF Corey Brewer; F Michael Ruffin
FRONTCOURT: Nene was fourth on the team with 14.6 points per game and has helped the Nuggets stay afloat when they were pretty much written off. Nene's size and athleticism will go a long way if he can stay healthy and get acclimated with his new teammates. Gallinari was acquired in the Anthony trade with the New York Knicks and has great all-around skills. He made 37 percent of his three-pointers and was third on the team with 14.7 ppg. Al Harrington could get the start at power forward since Chandler is playing in China. Harrington posted 10.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game a year ago. Brewer will most likely be a reserve and could eventually find his way into the starting lineup if he proves his worth.
BACKCOURT: Miller is one of the more savvy point guards in the game and will set the offense in motion. Miller has great skill at posting up guards inside and spent the past two years with Portland. He averaged 12.7 points and 7.0 assists in 81 games last season. Afflalo is a player on the rise and is expected to be the team's top shooting guard. Afflalo posted 12.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Lawson could also see time at one of the guard spots, but is expected to come off of the bench.
BENCH: The Nuggets made some moves in the offseason and most of them were centered around bench players. Fernandez, Brewer and Chris Anderson should see plenty of time on the floor despite not being able to crack the starting lineup. Denver hopes Brewer can revert back to his dominating days of 2009-10, when he posted career-highs in just about every category, while starting all 82 games. Fernandez was a clutch player in his days with Portland. Forward Michael Ruffin, who has averaged 1.7 points and 3.9 rebounds in 414 career games with the Bulls, 76ers, Jazz, Wizards, Bucks and Trail Blazers, and forward DeMarre Carroll are options down low for Karl's squad. Center Timofey Mozgov will get a chance to start at some point this season.
COACHING: Denver seems to be re-tooling at this moment, but many believed that when Anthony was dealt to the Big Apple. Karl won't admit it, but he had to be somewhat pleased with not having to worry about tailoring the offense around Anthony and his spotty defensive skills. Karl owns 1,036 wins in his coaching career, 328 of those coming as coach of the Nuggets. He should enjoy working with Miller, who fits Karl's philosophy of not being selfish and having the skill set to play defense. Chauncey Billups is gone and that could hurt the Nuggets, who played so well when he was on the floor. It's hard to believe how well the Nuggets have played despite losing plenty of talent. Who knows what tricks Karl has up his sleeve for the 2011-12 campaign?
OUTLOOK: The Nuggets are expected to compete with Oklahoma City for the Northwest Division lead and will look to prove the naysayers wrong once again. Reaching the playoffs in each of the past eight seasons with or without a superstar player hasn't been much of an issue for the Rocky Mountain hoopsters. This season should be no different despite the fresh faces, but the additions of Miller, Fernandez, Brewer and re-signing Nene can't possible put this team back a step. Don't forget this could be Gallinari's breakout year and Afflalo is on the rise. Stranger things have occurred in this league and Karl appears to have the answers for any situation. The 2011-12 campaign could be Karl's toughest job yet.