Friday, April 30, 2010

2010 Denver Nuggets Autopsy

The key to Denver's first round series against the Utah Jazz was the ability of Deron Williams to exploit Chauncey Billups off the dribble. Williams repeatedly broke Billups down, creating easy shots for everyone on the Jazz including himself. Chauncey struggled down the stretch. The last couple months he was not the player he had been since the Nuggets acquired him for Allen Iverson at the beginning of last season.

The other key to this series was the injuries to Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur. While skilled, these big men are precisely the type of players the Nuggets feast off. The Nuggets struggle with powerful, bruising type players. With Kirilenko and Okur in street clothes, the Jazz were forced to give more minutes to Paul Millsap and Kyrylo Fesenko. Fesenko has laughable weaknesses, but the Jazz are not a team that needs scoring from the center position. Fesenko merely took up space in the middle, creating room for Williams and Boozer to work the pick and roll unmolested by rolling Nuggets.

Meanwhile, Millsap was hunting down every rebound and loose ball in sight and usually immediately tossing it back into the net. Millsap is exactly the kind of player the Nuggets need, a hardnosed bruiser with a proclivity for contact. He killed the Nuggets in this series, scoring loot like a fox in a henhouse. A healthy Kenyon Martin might have been able to balance him out, but K-Mart was closer to cadaver than equalizer in this series. The Artist Formerly Known as the Birdman was also a non-factor, and is now "just a guy."

Throw in some horrific officiating and a Witness Protection Programmed J.R. Smith, and it's actually impressive the Nuggets were able to extend this series as long as they did. Smith, always the X-Factor, exploded for five minutes in game one and then disappeared into thin air.

It's always tempting to cast Carmelo Anthony as the scapegoat, especially after an anemic Game 6 performance, but the truth is Melo played the best basketball of his life this season and postseason right up to the last game of the year. It is a bit disconcerting that the secondary Nuggets, albeit in brief stretches, seem to play better when Carmelo is not dominating the game.

It is easier to identify the Nuggets' problems than it is to solve them. I certainly don't have answers. Neither does Adrian Dantley, obviously. We can only wonder if George Karl would have been able to solve the riddle that was the 2010 Denver Nuggets.


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