Scouting the Opposition: Denver Nuggets
For every home game this season, we’ll be gathering some intel on the opposing team from someone who knows them best — a team employee, a rival blogger, beat writer or broadcaster.
His answers are below:
Hawks.com: The Nuggets participated in the NBA’s biggest blockbuster trade over the summer. What was the reaction amongst the fans in Denver when the deal was consummated?
Aaron Lopez: The response to the trade was widely embraced by Nuggets Nation. While Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington were popular players who brought leadership, professionalism and perimeter shooting to the roster, fans were excited about adding an Olympian and All-Star in Andre Iguodala. As much as Nuggets fans love high-scoring games, they also understand that the defense needed to improve, and Iguodala fits that role perfectly. Plus, he’s an athletic wing who shot a career-best .394 from 3-point range last season, so it’s not like he’s a slouch at the offensive end.
Hawks.com: Denver is one of the deepest teams in the league. Are there any concerns about minute and shot distribution with such a glut of talented players?
AL: One of the benefits of the Iguodala trade was it created an opportunity for young wings such as Jordan Hamilton and Evan Fournier. Hamilton is a second-year guy who might have the best 3-point shot on the team, while Fournier is a 20-year-old rookie with a very mature game. Both are still trying to fit into the rotation, as are big men Timofey Mozgov and Anthony Randolph. At the risk of sounding cliché, there will be injuries along the way, and the Nuggets are well-equipped to handle their share of sore knees and tweaked ankles.
Hawks.com: Andre Iguodala was largely considered out of place as the go-to offensive option in Philadelphia. What has his role been so far offensively for the Nuggets?
AL: I like to refer to Iguodala as a Swiss Army Knife. He can run the floor, shoot the 3 and create shots for others. Nuggets coach George Karl has used Iguodala as a point-forward at times this season, letting him run the offense while point guard Ty Lawson shifts to the wing. This can be effective because Lawson is so quick that it’s tough for defenders to close out against him near the 3-point line. From a pure statistical standpoint, Iguodala’s scoring is up more than three points from his 12.4 average last season.
Hawks.com: JaVale McGee earned a rep in Washington for being talented but aloof. Has he matured some now that he’s with a more veteran squad in Denver? What are the team’s expectations for him going forward?
AL: Since arriving in Denver, we haven’t seen the goofiness that defined McGee in Washington. He puts in a lot of extra work with the Nuggets coaching staff and genuinely seems eager to learn. I think it’s also important to note that most people figured McGee would be Denver’s starting center, yet he has accepted a reserve role behind Kosta Koufos. McGee is a great fit off the bench because he plays so well with veteran point guard Andre Miller (the two connect on at least one lob per game). The Nuggets don’t run their offense through the low post, but McGee’s footwork is getting better in the interior. He still needs to be more disciplined on defense, but I think Denver would be happy if he can give them 20-25 good minutes, 10-12 points, 6-8 rebounds and 2-3 blocks every night.
Hawks.com: The West is a beast this season with several teams in the mix to represent the conference in the NBA Finals. Where do the Nuggets rank on the list of contenders?
AL: I think we’ll know a lot more about this team by the end of January. The game in Atlanta marks the start of a five-game road trip and will be the 13th road game for Denver this season, compared to six home games. By Jan. 1, the Nuggets will have played 22 road games and 10 home games. November and December are all about survival, so the record won’t be glitzy, but 12 of 15 games in January are at Pepsi Center. If the Nuggets take advantage of the altitude, they can make a swift move up the Western Conference standings. Memphis, Oklahoma City and San Antonio have separated themselves early in the season, but the battle for playoff seeding is going to be in flux until the last week of the season. In the end, I still think the Nuggets have the talent to compete for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.