Nothin' but Net: The throwback Denver Nuggets

Ask most NBA followers and they'll tell you two things about the current NBA.

The first, you have to have a true superstar to win the NBA championship.

The second, you have to be a great defensive team to win the NBA championship.

The Denver Nuggets don't believe either.

It's true, the Nuggets own the best record in the league without an All-Star representative, let alone a superstar. At 40-22, the Nuggets are fifth in the Western Conference, but are not far from the third-seeded Los Angeles Clippers, who make their way to the Pepsi Center on Thursday night.

And no member of the Nuggets got voted in by the fans as a starter, nor any tabbed by the Western Conference coaches as a reserve.

The only player on the Nuggets roster who ever made an All-Star team, Andre Iguodala, averages 13.1 points per game, but also 5.3 rebounds per game and 5.0 assists per game.

The closest thing Denver has to a superstar is Ty Lawson and, perfect timing, he is the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week. He shares the team scoring lead with Danilo Gallinari at 16.7 ppg.

Lawson has been on an unbelievable tear of late. Over his last 24 games, Lawson is averaging 20.8 ppg and 7.5 apg. The only other player in the league averaging at least 20 points and seven assists during that span is Tony Parker.

"He's been really playing well, so his confidence is already there," Iguodala said of his starting backcourt mate. "It will continue to drive higher and higher. He'll be more in a comfort zone. Thinking every shot's going to go in is going to help your percentage. Sometimes it's more mental than anything."

Truth is, Denver doesn't need a superstar to achieve its goals (more on that in a minute).

Six Nuggets average double figures in scoring. Lawson, Gallinari, Iguodala, Kenneth Faried, Corey Brewer and Wilson Chandler all average over 10 a game. JaVale McGee and Andre Miller are both over 9.0 ppg and Kosta Koufos is at 8.1.

Head coach George Karl employs a nine-man rotation, littered with versatile, athletic wing guys; a short, lightning-quick point guard; an old, slower than death point guard; a banger; a freak rebounder; and as physically gifted an athletic big in the league.

On any given night, one of those nine has led the Nuggets to victory.

"That's kind of how our team is," Karl said. "You never know who's going to grab the steering wheel and who's going to drive us home. People don't think that's good. I think it's a pretty versatile asset to have."

Yet, it's widely assumed for a team to win the title, you have to have at least one star, maybe more. You need someone to score in the slow-down pace of the playoffs, or someone to score in pressure-filled fourth quarters.

The only team since 1980 without a true dominant player was the 2004 Detroit Pistons.

Chauncey Billups may make the Hall of Fame one day and a healthy, motivated Rasheed Wallace had as much talent and feel for the game as anyone, but they did not have a LeBron, a Kobe, a Shaq, a Duncan, a Michael, a Magic, a Bird or an Isiah.

It's a pretty daunting task to fly so hard into the face of history. Of the last 33 NBA championship-winning teams, one could basically be called a team absent an immortal figure.

Know what that Pistons team was great at? Defense, defense, defense.

Know what this Nuggets team is not great at? Defense, defense, defense.

Denver ranks 26th in the NBA in opponents' scoring. They're a respectable 12th in opponents' field-goal percentage, but teams have averaged 101.8 ppg against the Nuggets this season.

To mirror their offensive pace, the Nuggets do excel at certain things on the defensive side. They force the fourth-most turnovers in the NBA (15.7 per game) and pull down the second-most rebounds in the league (45).

Iguodala and Chandler are above-average defenders. Miller and Gallinari would have to work on just defense every minute of the rest of their careers to become average. Faried is tough inside, Koufos is a load and McGee can fly around and alter shots.

Oh, and they score at an obscene rate. The Nuggets are third in the league at 105.7 ppg. That's not obscene if we lived in the 1980s, but "Miami Vice" isn't on my television, Oingo Boingo isn't on my radio and my Commodore 64 is on the fritz. This will pass for high-scoring in 2013.

Karl's philosophy is based on quick decisions, which, in his mind, doesn't allow the defense much of an opportunity to do anything.'

And they run. Lawson's as quick as almost anyone in the league and there isn't a bad athlete in the bunch, except for maybe Miller, whose body control is still impressive.

"That team is like a track team over there," Kobe Bryant said after a recent Los Angeles Lakers loss to the Nuggets in Denver.

Karl's system is not just run down and chuck it up. The Nuggets are muckers inside. They score 57.6 ppg in the paint, which is tops in the league. They attack. Denver is middle of the pack in 3-pointers made.

They run, but their running has a purpose.

The Nuggets aren't the Showtime Lakers, but they are an offensively aggressive squad.

Can the Nuggets contend with a casual indifference to defense, a high-octane offense and no star? Yes, but why they won't is through no fault of their own.

The simple reality is, despite several key variables like Karl being a top- five coach in the league and Denver being a top-five home team in the league, they aren't talented enough.

Can they beat the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs? Certainly, but can they beat the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder further down the line? Doubtful. Those teams just have more pure talent.

Until then, cherish the Nuggets for what they are: a throwback. They are star- less contenders in star-driven world. They're offensive-minded when defense wins championships.