When one thinks of the elite teams in the West, images likely appear of Kobe Bryant and newly-minted Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard, of Kevin Durant and James Harden, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and even the phenomenal low-post combo of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
This season may surprise most people, though.
The Denver Nuggets are now poised and perfectly built—despite working in a small market—to make a run at their first Western Conference Finals since losing to the Lakers in 2009.
Questioning whether Masai Ujiri has done a great job as the general manager? Let's detail his moves briefly.
This also doesn't add in the fact that he re-signed and then traded away the then-30-year-old Nene for an up-and-comer in JaVale McGee. Ujiri then proceeded to re-sign McGee for less than what Nene is paid, now with the Washington Wizards.
An aging, overpaid center was flipped for a young, athletic seven-footer oozing potential...for less money? Sign me up.
As for whether the Nuggets will be able to move into the upper echelon of teams in the West, it will certainly be tough with the three-pronged force up top in the Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Combine that with their seemingly tough beginning stretch of the season and they may be on their heels before the All-Star break hits. Navigating through this stretch of tough games will be key, but the schedule always evens out when they play easier teams later on.
They will also be able to offset that tough stretch by simply overpowering teams with their newfound depth and ability to run at an even higher number of possessions. Their defense will improve by leaps and bounds with Iguodala manning the wing position, doing his best LeBron James impression by guarding point guards to power forwards.
According to NBA.com stats, the Nuggets were ranked first and eighth on offense and defense, respectively. Mesh the improvements of a do-it-all forward in Iguodala, and a top offense and potentially top-five defense will be a force to be reckoned with.
Throw in "Energizer bunny" Kenneth Faried, uber-athletic and ever-improving (ask Hakeem Olajuwon) McGee, sharpshooter Gallinari and the dynamic Ty Lawson, and this is a team that is not only League-Pass worthy every night, but one that can push the Big Three in the West to seven games in any given series.
Not only does adding Iguodala extend the defensive prowess of the team, it also gives them another solid ball-handler and distributor to sharpshooters like Gallinari and Wilson Chandler.
Let's take a step back for a second and imagine a lineup of Lawson, Iguodala, Faried, Evan Fournier and McGee. They'd come at you in droves.
Then there's the always-solid Andre Miller, who can control the tempo of the game, Chandler and Corey Brewer (another defensive ace) off the bench.
Interior defense may be an issue, but with the great play in the Olympics by Timofey Mozgov, there is optimism for a two-headed post monster in Denver.
This team's bread and butter will ultimately be the way it can pressure the ball and just keep running and running. The Nuggets certainly have the athletes to do so.
And while everyone is talking about Dwight's move to Los Angeles, Denver's under-the-radar acquisition has just put the Mile High City in the discussion for a Western Conference Finals appearance.
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