During the 2009 offseason, almost every contender in the wild Western Conference improved through free agency, and it seemed the Denver Nuggets stood pat.
The World Champion Lakers got All-Star Ron Artest from the Rockets. The aging Spurs added an older Richard Jefferson. And in the Nuggets’ Northwest division, the Trailblazers picked up ex-Nugget Andre Miller, although he’s underutilized as of now.
What did Denver do in response? They started by resigning Chris “Birdman” Andersen to a multi-year deal. Then, after Dahntay Jones left to the Pacers, the Nuggets traded a future second-round pick to the Pistons for Arron Afflalo—a third year player and relative no-name in the NBA.
Possibly the biggest pickup of the offseason was a draft-day trade with the Timberwolves for speedy Ty Lawson.
Both Nuggets newbies Afflalo and Lawson didn’t act like they were inexperienced when they came to Denver, as each have made a significant impact on the team since day one.
Afflalo, a 6’5” 215 pound shooting guard, can be sold as a defensive specialist, but he’s much more than that. In 10 games this season, Afflalo averages 9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 24 minutes a night.
He’s strong and athletic, as Afflalo is not afraid to drive to the hoop. But his best asset is his outside jumper, as he shoots 47.1 percent from three-point range so far this year.
On Friday night versus the Lakers, Afflalo played “Kobe stopper” as he forced the perennial All-Star into tough turnaround fade-aways that missed badly.
And at the end of the first half, Afflalo even stripped Kobe and the ball was run out for an easy bucket for Denver which gave the Nuggets momentum heading into the break.
Like Afflalo, Ty Lawson has been huge for the Nuggets, and he’s played bigger than his 5’11” 195 pound frame leads on.
Lawson has basically worked his way into the backup point guard position, behind Chauncey Billups and ahead of Anthony Carter with his supreme play.
In just under 22 minutes per game, Lawson averages 10.3 points, 3.1 assists and two rebounds.
Lawson is lightning quick and so fast he’s down the court before opponents know what flew by them. When he comes in the game, the energy of the Nuggets skyrockets and teammates must run with him or lose out on scoring opportunities.
Lawson is an efficient scorer too, knocking down 50 percent of his three pointers (9-of-18), is shooting 94 percent from the free-throw line, and can knife through the lane for an easy lay-up.
Lawson’s most impressive play in NBA so far was a quick crossover dribble that turned into an explosive dunk on Lakers reserve Didier M’Benga on Friday night.
It was impressive from the standpoint that Lawson is under six feet and M’Benga is a seven-footer. It was so big; the Pepsi Center erupted, including the Nuggets bench.
So the good news for the Nuggets is that both youngsters are playing great already, and their confidence continues to grow.
The influence of the two newest Nuggets is two-fold, as they both impact the team from the bench now, and both could be integral to Denver basketball for years to come. Lawson’s potential likely has a higher ceiling, but both players could develop into starters in the future.
Plus, both are extremely coachable and are proven winners, as each went to an NCAA Championship in college; Afflalo with UCLA in 2006, and Lawson won with North Carolina last year.
For Denver, both Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson will are already impressing now, and could be great later. Either way, it will be a lot of fun to watch for Nuggets fans.