The Nuggets have gone 14-7 in their first 21 games this season, as opposed to 13-8 a year ago, and are ridden of Iverson and his "shoot first," dominant ego.
Here is a review of the most significant figures of the first 21 games of the season for the Nuggets:
The Nuggets, bearing a new sheriff in Chauncey Billups, have gone 13-4 since his arrival and the three-time All Star has averaged 18.2 PPG, 6.9 APG, and 1.4 SPG. The 2004-05 Finals MVP has also compiled three double-doubles, eight 20+ point games, and two 20-10 games since his return to Denver on November 7.
Thanks to Chauncey’s leadership and control at the point guard position, the Nuggets own wins over the Spurs and Celtics on the road and the Mavericks and Rockets at home.
The Brazilian leads the league in field goal percentage and has surpassed the expectations of the Nuggets, registering at 63.3 percent with Shaq trailing at 58.8 percent, and though he’s no Marcus Camby, he’s been solid in the middle. Nene has five double-doubles, averages 1.6 BPG, and has recorded over nine rebounds seven times this season. The rest of his stats look like this: 15 PPG, 7.2 RPG, and 1.4 SPG. It’s a wonder why Nene was left off the All-Star Ballot.
Chris “Birdman” Andersen has been a nice surprise off the bench and a good bargain for Denver. Averaging 5.4 PPG, RPG, and 2.3 BPG, Andersen has played exceptional defense against premiere teams, posting three blocked shots against the Lakers in their first meeting, and five blocks against Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets.
Birdman has had a block in every game he’s played in this season, and has a better block-per-game-average than Andrew Bynum, Yao Ming, and Tim Duncan, despite only logging 16.6 minutes per game. Incredible defense!
While Carmelo’s offensive numbers are easy to flaunt (9 20+ point games, 130 free throw attempts) what about Anthony’s commitment to defense:
'Melo has more total rebounds (153) than the likes of David West, Ben Wallace, and Al Horford, and a better average (8.1) than centers Zydrunas Illgauskas and Kendrick Perkins—Imagine if Anthony had not missed the first two games of the season because of his misguided choices (drinking while driving); nonetheless he still has more defensive rebounds (115) than Andrew Bynum (111). The 8.1 rebounding average is also a career-high for Anthony.
He also has six double-doubles on the season, more than Amare Stoudemire, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Steve Nash, Tony Parker, and Lebron James, who each have five.
Smith has scored in double figures in 61.9 percent of the games he’s played in this season and he’s averaged 18.5 PPG in eight games against Western Conference playoff teams last season, including a 32-point revival of his range against the Hornets.
Inopportunely though, J.R. is still struggling to find compatibility with head coach George Karl, and his questionable and quizzical shot selection doesn’t help.
Before Billups arrived, Smith hoisted 50 shots in the Nuggets’ first four games of the season, scoring 52 points; 16-50 or 32 percent FG, and Denver went 1-3. Starting with Chauncey’s first game (vs. Dallas), it took J.R. Smith six games to attempt 50 shots, which he scored 64 points; 21-50 or 42 percent FG. The Nuggets went 3-1.
As you can see, Billups and the Nuggets are slowly incorporating Smith to a smarter breed of basketball, unlike he’s seen and the Nuggs themselves has seen in recent years.
If Smith buckles down, he will be a great contributor for years to come either off the bench or in a starting role for Denver.
The Nuggets are fourth in the league in forced turnovers and assists, fifth in scoring, and seventh in field goal percentage. Denver is also tied for first in the league in steals and tied for second in the league in blocks. Outstanding numbers for a team pre-destined to be a cellar dweller the moment Marcus Camby was shipped off and Eduardo Najera inked to the slums of New Jersey.
The Nuggs are also 5-1 against the Eastern Conference this season with all five wins by eights points or more, and an average of 15.6 points in those victories.
Talk about unselfishness, the Nuggets do not have a single scorer averaging 20 PPG for the first time 2004-05, the same year 19-year old Carmelo Anthony was beginning his second season in the league.
Wins have come easy early, but if the Nuggets want to remain a fixture among the game's best, they must continue to play smart, team-oriented basketball.