The NBA trade deadline was just 10 days ago, and while many expected Dwight Howard to leave Orlando for New Jersey, Dallas, Chicago, or Los Angeles, he is still the starting center of the Magic. And since Monta Ellis and Andrew Bogut were traded from one non-playoff team to another, the trade that will most impact the 2012 NBA playoffs was the three team trade that sent Nuggets' forward-center Nene to the Wizards, in return for center JaVale McGee.
Since trading Nene, the Nuggets have gone just 2-4 and have fallen out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference. And while two of those losses have come against the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder and the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, the Nuggets were recently blown out by the Jazz and Twolves—both teams that they should have beaten or at least competed with.
Losing small forward Danilo Gallinari to injury has definitely hurt. But with the recent signing of Wilson Chandler, the loss of Gallinari is one that the Nuggets should have been able to absorb without incident. After all, this Nuggets team has been called the deepest team in the NBA time and time again, some even suggest that it's too deep.
The reason for that criticism is that much of the depth is focused in the backcourt and on the wings, with Ty Lawson, Andre Miller, Arron Afflalo, Corey Brewer, Rudy Fernandez, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and even rookies Julyan Stone and Jordan Hamilton making significant contributions at times.
The front court is a different story entirely and Nene was the best post player for the Nuggets on both sides of the ball. With Kenneth Faried, Al Harrington, Chris Andersen, Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufos and the recently-acquired JaVale McGee, the Nuggets have an interesting mix of talent, athleticism and size. However, those three attributes are rarely on display in one player at the same time as they were in Nene.
One of the reasons that Nene was traded was the emergence of rookie power forward Kenneth Faried, who is averaging 11.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game for the last 10 games. While "the Manimal" is without question one of the most exciting players to watch this season, he has had a difficult time filling the shoes Nene left behind. At 6'8" and 225 lbs, he's a bit undersized and that was exploited by Dirk Nowitzki (33 pts & 11 rebs), Kevin Love (30 pts. & 21 rebs) and the post players for Utah (combined 49 pts & 21 rebs). He also lacks a low post repertoire with a go-to move. If he scores, it is almost always the result of a dynamic play, and very rarely because of his post game.
Forward Al Harrington has looked like a sixth Man of the Year candidate at times, but too often he plays lackadaisical defense and fails to hit the boards with determination.
Center Chris Andersen has ideal height, but at 228 lbs., is too small to consistently defend in the post. He shows great hustle on defense and is committed to crashing the boards, but is limited offensively and athletically. Center Timofey Mozgov possesses prototypical NBA center size, but he is still very much a work in progress and has a fairly low ceiling athletically. Like Mozgov, forward-center Kosta Koufos has ideal size and shows a nice hustle when he's on the floor but cannot contribute consistently at a high-level in any aspect of the game.
Which brings us to oft-maligned JaVale McGee, the man that Nene was traded for. The acquisition in and of itself is a curious one, considering Head Coach George Karl's general disinterest in coaching knuckleheads (see Smith, J.R.). What's even more curious is that McGee plays almost the exact same game as Faried and Andersen. McGee is 7'0" tall and weighs 252 lbs., but at that weight, he's thinner than you'd expect, and the result is a "finesse" defensive game. Like Andersen, he's a capable, or even elite help side shot-blocker, but he's bullied and exploited in the post by stronger and more technical players when forced to play one-on-one. Like Faried, he lacks a developed post game on offense and will score the majority of his points off of alley-oops, put backs or passes inside when the defense is out of position. He will not dominate offensively and cannot create scoring chances for himself when he has the ball.
Yes, the Nuggets overpaid for Nene. Yes, it seemed like Nene was constantly missing time due to injury. Yes, when Nene was healthy, he played like someone who was just signed to a lucrative contract. But given the Nuggets' inexperience and lack of capable players along the front line, the Nuggets may be trapped in limbo and could fail to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-2004 season, which, coincidentally was the season after Nene's rookie year.