Can Denver Nuggets Compete Without NBA All-Star Caliber Talent?

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Can Denver Nuggets Compete Without NBA All-Star Caliber Talent?
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

No player on the 2012-13 NBA Western Conference All-Star roster collects his regular paycheck as a member of the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets nevertheless have players who are capable of performing at All-Star levels for sustained periods of time, but they won’t be doing much damage in the postseason unless that occurs.

Andre Iguodala has been an All-Star before. He’s also been an Olympian—but the former Philadelphia 76ers wing player hasn’t done enough this season to warrant All-Star consideration. Prior to the announcement of the exhibition’s reserves, Iguodala shot 43.3 percent from the field, 30.9 percent from 3-point range and 61.4 percent from the free-throw line: all dismal marks.

In the five games since, he’s put up 16.0 PPG—on 50.0 percent field-goal shooting, 28.6 percent 3-point shooting and a 52.2 percent mark from the line—5.8 RPG, 5.8 APG, 2.4 SPG, 0.6 BPG and 2.4 TOPG. Only the field-goal number has improved in recent history for Iguodala, but the Nuggets are winning games.

Denver has climbed into the No. 5 seed in the West on the back of the NBA’s second-longest active winning streak (seven games; the San Antonio Spurs have won 10 straight).

They are 13-2 in their last 15, and 14-3 since the calendar flipped to 2013.

The Nuggets don’t have any All-Stars because they have too much balance; nobody on the roster plays more than Iguodala’s 34.7 minutes per game or scores more than Danilo Gallinari’s 17.1 PPG. The closest thing they have to a double-double producer is sophomore Kenneth Faried, who pulls down 9.7 boards a night in addition to 12.0 points per game.

USA TODAY Sports
Kenneth Faried was a dark-horse All-Star candidate for the Denver Nuggets.

If Faried played 36 minutes per game instead of 29.2—and his nightly averages stretched accordingly—he may have received more All-Star attention as a member of a competitive Western Conference squad. He’s producing 14.8 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 1.4 SPG and 1.1 BPG per 36 minutes.

Denver’s two players that get the most run—Iguodala (34.7 MPG) and Ty Lawson (34.3)—have underperformed to begin the 2012-13 season. But true to form, Lawson has ramped up his play as the season matures.

He was one of the NBA’s most efficient scorers after the All-Star break last season: On just 12.7 shots, Lawson averaged 17.3 points per game. He shot 50.1 percent from the floor, 40.7 from deep and 84.5 from the line.

From October to December this season Lawson posted percentages of 40.8 from the field, 30.8 from beyond the arc and 69.2 from the stripe. Since, he’s converted 47.9 percent of his field-goal attempts, 44.9 percent of his long-distance offerings and 81.3 percent of his freebies in 16 games en route to 18.3 PPG.

Lawson has added 6.8 assists (to 2.8 turnovers), 2.4 boards, 1.6 steals and 0.3 swats a night since January began.

USA TODAY Sports
Ty Lawson's play has elevated in 2013.

Denver’s recent record is no surprise when Lawson’s play has elevated to its current level: In his last two games, he’s scored 43 points on 48.0 percent shooting, dished out 20 assists, grabbed four steals and turned the ball over twice.

It’s too late for him to sneak into the All-Star game, even as an injury-replacement player—Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors has first dibs on that—but if Lawson keeps it up the Nuggets will be dangerous in the postseason.

Especially if Gallinari joins in on the party.

Since the All-Star reserves were announced, Gallinari has also kicked his scoring up: On 51.4 percent shooting (43.8 from three), the Rooster put up 21.6 points per game in his last five.

With a three-headed scoring attack of Gallinari, Lawson and Iguodala putting an efficient 60 on the opposition, Denver is going to be a problem in the playoffs. The Nuggets attack in waves; any explosive scoring output by that triumvirate is likely to be supported by two or three double-digit performances from their teammates.

That will add up to eclipse 100 points in no time, which is why—while it would be nice—the Nuggets don’t have to have an All-Star to make a deep postseason run.

 

For more Denver Nuggets analysis, follow Jamal on Twitter

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