Last year, the Nuggets were one of the more intriguing and exciting teams in the league. They literally came out of nowhere to shock the basketball world, making it to within two games of their first NBA Finals appearance.
Questions have been raised this offseason as to whether the Nuggets have done enough to keep up with other Western Conference powers, such as the Spurs, Lakers, Mavericks, and Blazers, who have all made significant acquisitions to improve their teams.
While it is reasonable to raise these questions, I have come up with 10 reasons why the Nuggets should not only be an improved team, but will have enough to get over the hump and win it all.
Any time you have a seven-foot prospect with some athletic ability, there is a potential fit on an NBA team.
Petro is a good rebounder, which was one of the Nuggets Achilles Heel’s in the playoff loss to the Lakers last year, and he also possesses a good midrange game.
He is only average defensively, but the Nuggets have enough talent in that department to where they shouldn’t need to rely on him for many stops anyway.
He should be a solid big man coming off the bench to help the Nuggets get Chris Anderson, Kenyon Martin, and Nene some needed rest.
God bless Anthony Carter for everything he has given this team, but the man has about as much athletic ability as a drunken redneck.
Ty Lawson is a huge upgrade coming off of the bench to spell Chauncey Billups. He is devastating both in transition and in the half-court, he is a good spot-up shooter, and takes exceptionally good care of the rock.
While I expect Lawson to experience some growing pains, the change of pace he will provide will fit in perfectly with the likes of Birdman and K-Mart running the wings.
Expect to see some spectacular assists on SportsCenter.
Joey Graham has proven himself to be an effective player in this league coming off of the bench.
With the departure of Linas Kleiza to Greece, he will provide some badly needed scoring for the second unit. Expect him to score about eight points per night with the occasional break out game.
He should nicely fill the void left by Kleiza and will be more consistent in his shooting and his mental approach to the game.
Dahntay Jones was the classic “one trick pony”.
He was undeniably an excellent defender and often bullied his opponents using his aggressive approach, but watching him with the ball in his hand was like watching a 12-year-old struggle through a spelling bee.
Also, his reputation often hurt the Nuggets as he was prone to pick up ticky-tack fouls.
Afflalo is equally as dominant a on the defensive end, but possesses much more upside than Jones, a better reputation, and has the potential to become a double-digit scorer.
Last season, J.R. Smith was unquestionably the most explosive player in the NBA coming off the bench.
He could tear off his sweats and drop 10 points before the other team knew what hit them.
While there is definitely value in having this type of a player available in reserve, Smith proved in the playoffs that he is much more than just untapped talent.
He demonstrated that he has the ability to protect the ball, find open teammates in spectacular fashion, and even D up his man more than effectively.
Smith will have a breakout season as a starter and will be voted an All Star for the first time.
Let’s face it, nothing energizes a man more than showing him how much he is needed.
That’s exactly what Nuggets ownership did this offseason when they put there money where their mouth was and committed to resigning the Birdman.
Anderson was already the emotional leader coming off of the bench last season, and a re-energized Birdman should definitely pick up where he left off and maybe even improve on his one blocked shot per second average.
Since 2004, Nene has averaged only 43 games played per season, and if you exclude last year that number drops to an eye-opening 34 games.
That said, Nene proved in 2008 that he could be a beast in this league, and has all the potential to be a top-five center.
He had a career year, averaging 15.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 1.3 BPG, and it is clear to me that he has the capability to improve on these numbers this season, assuming he can stay healthy.
He appeared to fade a little toward the end of the season and into the playoffs, and I truly believe that a fully effective Nene would have meant a NBA Championship for this team.
K-Mart was quoted this offseason as saying that his legs feel the best they have felt since his first season with the Nuggets in 2004.
Martin will play this year 10 pounds lighter than last, coming in around 220, and has worked extensively on his short-range game.
His teammates have observed that his energy levels are up and that his focus is notably more intense.
Martin was already the defensive leader of this team last year, and I think it’s fair to say that he was a top-five defensive power forward.
If he can improve even slightly on his offensive output, he could once again become a force to be reckoned with.
While not statistically his best season, 'Melo showcased many aspects of his game and his character that were previously only an afterthought.
No longer did he have to score 30 points a night in order for his team to have a chance. He was aggressive when he needed to be aggressive, but he also demonstrated a selfless side and more often looked to his teammates for assistance.
He still relied too much on his jumper at times, but as the season wore on he seemed to gain a deeper understanding of how unstoppable he can be when he drives to the basket.
In the playoffs, 'Melo was a dominant force and I think effectively silenced all of his critics, who were quick to point out his previous postseason woes.
Anthony is an underrated rebounder and passer and will need to elevate both aspects of his game even further this year.
If his playoff form was any indication, 'Melo is ready to take finally that next step to elite status.
Do I really need to say any more? Some guys are just winners, and have the ability to make all of those around them winners too.
He will undoubtedly be the perfect mentor for the young Ty Lawson, who will need to rely heavily on Billups' experience to harness his raw talent.
Billups seemed to fade some as the Nuggets got deeper into the playoffs, so George Karl would be wise to cut back on his minutes from the 35 MPG he averaged last year to around 25 - 30 MPG this year. This will allow him to save his aging legs for the playoffs.
The addition of Lawson and the resigning of Carter should allow him the luxury to do so.
Billups was the perfect addition to this team last year, and his presence will continue to serve as a solidifying force for this year and for as long as he remains a Nugget.