Sure, Denver is only two games into their 2009-10 season and it’s so early some could say the games don’t matter.
Realistically, in an 82 game season, it’s the games at the end of the season that matter more than the ones at the beginning, as some teams will go on a tear to start, only to fade late. It is so early in the season the Nuggets still don’t have their full starting lineup, because J.R. Smith has five games left on his seven game suspension.
Still, in two tough Northwest Division battles against the Utah Jazz and Portland Trailblazers, the Nuggets pulled through and won against the two contenders for Denver’s division crown.
And coming into tonight’s game against the lowly Memphis Grizzlies and ex-Nugget Allen Iverson, the way Denver is winning is with their star power—namely Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.
Through two games in the 2009-10 season, Anthony has been amazing, and Billups a beast.
Melo scored 30 against Utah and 41 in Portland Thursday, the second game in a back-to-back, after the team got in at 4 a.m. Anthony’s 71 points to start the season makes him only the seventh Nugget to score over 60 in the team’s first two games, and only Alex English’s 79 points in 1985 and 74 in 1988 best Carmelo’s great start to this year.
What’s amazing about Anthony’s scoring fest is that everything seems to be working for the six year pro—the deep jumper, the lightning quick drop-step, and he’s finally finishing strongly at the rim.
Carmelo is officially the purest shooter in the NBA today, as the ball rarely even grazes the rim when his beautiful jumper drops through the net. Melo has been so solid shooting so far in 2009 that he has made over 50 percent of all field goals (.512) and is exactly 50 percent on his shots from downtown.
The most awesome part of Anthony’s scoring is his finishing around the hoop. In the season opener against Utah, a shot was missed and the Jazz rebounded the ball, but instead of just giving up and backpedaling down court, Melo jumped in, stole the ball, and emphatically cocked back the ball and threw it down on Ronnie Brewer.
The next night, Carmelo dunked the ball after running behind the hoop, and finished strong over Joel Przybilla, and even when he thought he was fouled, Melo didn’t complain.
Not only is Anthony scoring though, he’s helping the team out with four assists, seven rebounds and a steal per game as well. Melo is all over the court, including playing solid defense, and is making a case for MVP of the league so far, early in this season.
To go along with Anthony’s astonishing scoring and all-around great play, veteran leader Chauncey Billups is playing wonderfully as well.
Billups has “changed the culture of Denver,” as ESPN analyst Hubie Brown said in the season opener. No longer are the Nuggets about outscoring opponents at all costs, they know they can score at will, but also realize defense will bring them closer to a championship—as last season proved.
Billups is a hard-nosed defender, with size on his side, and still has enough quickness to stay with most point guards in the NBA. And when he gives his all on the defensive end, Billups leads by example and the rest of the team buys in as well.
But don’t think “Mr. Big Shot” Billups can’t score, as he got his nickname by shooting lights out in Detroit. In Game One against Utah, Billups went 7-15 for 25 points, and against Portland he scored 22—all while shooting a great 41.4 percent from the field. Against the Jazz, it was Billups who carried the Nuggets in the third quarter, as he put in 14 points in the period.
Billups is basically the definition of a team player for Denver though, as he is more comfortable passing to teammates than scoring huge amounts of points for himself.
Billups is the leading passer with four assists per game, and adds in three-and-a-half rebounds and half a steal per contest too.
Basically, Anthony and Billups’ biggest impact so far this year has been on the offensive end, as together they have scored 118 of the Nuggets 211 points so far in 2009. They lead the NBA for one-two punches, the second best being Toronto’s Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani with 98 points in their first two games.
Both Melo and Billups will knock down a three-pointer at will, especially if left open. Both use the rules and referees in their favor and either will take over a game if it’s needed.
Following their game against the Jazz, Utah point guard Deron Williams gave respect to the two stars saying, "They're huge, especially the way we finished last year with our road record, this was a game we wanted to come out, make a statement and win. They won the division last year and this was a big game for us."
So, even though the season is just underway, Billups and Melo are showing they should gain national respect for being the best duo in the NBA today. Anthony should be in the MVP conversation as long as his play continues to be at this elite level, and Billups is the consistent, vocal leader of the Nuggets who has made the team respect head coach George Karl.
Billups, Melo, and the Nuggets look to stay undefeated tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies at 6 p.m. MT. The game can be found on Altitude in the front range and all over the mountain west region on Comcast channel 25, HD channel 664.
Update: The Nuggets are now 3-0 on the 2009-10 season and their 133-123 win over the Grizzlies was largely due to the performances of Anthony and Billups. Melo scored a season-high 42 points with seven rebounds and five assists. Billups was great as well with a double-double of 22 points and 12 assists. Both further made a case that they are the best duo in the NBA today.