Cleaning Out the Bottom of the Roster

Entering the season the Nuggets had what appeared to be a strong core of Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby and Nene.  However, there were some big questions about what they had on the rest of their roster. 

Eduardo Najera was the only known quantity coming off the bench to start the season.  Kenyon Martin was recovering from his second microfracture procedure and how much or how long he could play was unknown.  Many people expected to make a mere cameo appearance before having something else go wrong.  J.R. Smith had been publicly benched in the 2007 playoffs and experienced a tragic offseason.  Most Nugget fans would have probably preferred a public execution of J.R. as opposed to seeing him on the court. 

Newly acquired Steven Hunter and Bobby Jones were question marks.  How they would fit into the Nuggets system was a mystery.  Yakhouba Diawara was a good defensive player, but offensively had not been able to translate his interior game from college to a perimeter game at the NBA level.  The point guard situation was in flux with both Chucky Atkins and Anthony Carter injured.  The only other somewhat reliable player off the bench other than Najera was Linas Kleiza, but he had not done much other than have a handful of nice games.

Fast forward to April of 2008 and Kenyon Martin started 71 games and was still ticking.  J.R. Smith was considered one of the top sixth men in the NBA over the second half of the season.  Linas Kleiza had taken another step forward and was providing a higher level of productivity than the previous season.  Eduardo Najera was not just a scrappy player, but had added a pretty consistent three point shot to his arsenal.  Nene was available for a few games and provided a good boost when he was on the floor.

On the other hand, not everyone on the bench proved to be a success story.  Kuba Diawara played frequently early in the season, but his complete lack of offense, even for a team with several scorers, was too difficult to swallow.  Steven Hunter shattered his previous career lows in both games played and minutes.  He was only given the chance to play major minutes once all season even though he played well in that game.  Chucky Atkins was hurt for much of the season and then ineffective upon his return.  Bobby Jones was cut loose only to be brought back after having four other teams kick his tires.  The already forgotten Von Wafer was abysmal as he failed to make a single three pointer for the Nuggets this season.

With all of that as prologue the question at hand is what do the Nuggets do with the players who basically added nothing to the team this season?  Someone has to fill out the bottom of your roster.  Should the Nuggets hang on to these guys or should they look to replace them for someone else.

Before we analyze the Nuggets bench to determine who should stay and who should go, I better share my thoughts on my philosophy on how to best fill the last five or so spots available on the roster so you can tell where I am coming from. 

I believe the bottom slots should go to young players with potential to develop into something.  Whether they are second round picks or undrafted free agents, there are always talented players sitting around the scrap heap.  Examples of these types of players currently on the Nuggets roster are Bobby Jones and Taurean Green.  For Denver to allocate any more than three roster spots for players like that who may not play much during the season when they have injury risks such as Kenyon Martin and Nene might be dangerous, but you would never catch me carrying a Eric Piatkowski or Kevin Ollie on my team.

That being said, let’s take a look, player by player, at the bottom of the Nuggets roster and try to figure out who should be back, and who should move on.

Chucky Atkins (24 G, 14.6 MPG, 4.7 PPG, 2 APG, 31.6 3P%)

I was very outspoken about the Nuggets addition of Chucky Atkins.  You can sum my thoughts up as basically what a waste of money as well as a roster spot.  Yes, Chucky had a nice year last season in Memphis, but it came out of nowhere at the age of 32.  Memphis was not sad to see him leave and neither were the Lakers or Wizards before that.  I have heard mention of a player option for a third season on Chucky’s contract, but as far as I can tell he signed a two year deal.  To me, that makes Chucky a $3.4 million expiring contract.

 

There is no reason to waive or buy Chucky out at this point.  He will be back and George Karl will probably try to find a spot in the rotation for him as long as he can stay healthy next season. 

The only area of Chucky’s game that impressed me at all was his ability to run the pick and roll.  As long as he can set up his teammates with easy shots, he should be on the floor for a few minutes here and there.  If he can somehow regain his stroke, which I see no reason why he cannot be counted on to hit 35-37% of his threes he would be a solid back up point guard. 

Then of course, it will be interesting what that $3.4 million can help accomplish next February at the trade deadline.

Verdict:  Keep him and either trade him or enjoy the savings of his expiring contract

Yakhouba Diawara (54 G, 10.1 MPG, 2.8 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 31.8 3P%)

When Kuba was a rookie George Karl proclaimed that he had the potential to be a Bruce Bowen type lockdown defender.  Well, Kuba is a good defender, but as impotent as Bowen is offensively, Kuba is far worse. 

His offense is limited to shooting open threes and perhaps scoring on a post up once every other month.  He cannot drive, he cannot set his teammates up and he does not rebound. 

There was some hope for Kuba early in the season as he finished November shooting 45.2% from three point range.  Then he only made seven of 35 threes over the remainder of the season.  Yep, 20%. 

Needless to say that is not encouraging.

Kuba is currently not under contract and I would have no problem with Denver bringing him to training camp next season to see if he has made any progress, but I would not give him a guaranteed deal.

From what I have seen, I do not think Kuba has what it takes to make it in the NBA.

Verdict:  I have seen all I need to see, b-bye

Bobby Jones (25 G, 8.9 MPG, 3.4 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 39.1 3P%)

One of the big mistakes I thought the Nuggets made with their bench this season was casting Jones off early in the season.  Fortunately, the rectified that mistake by bringing him back at the end of the season, which makes you wonder why he was waived in the first place. 

I have gone on record of saying I like Bobby Jones.  He is a solid defender.  He is aggressive going to the basket.  It seemed that within the first minute or two that he was on the floor in every game he played he was called for a charge, but he would always settle down after that.

 

Jones also improved his three point shooting this season hitting 39.1% of his threes as a Nugget though he only 34% overall for the season.

Jones is without a contract at the moment, but I would like to see the Nuggets offer him a guaranteed deal for next year as long as it is in the neighborhood of the league minimum.

Verdict: Bring him back, I am intrigued 

Steven Hunter (19 G, 6.3 MPG, 2.1 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.32 B, 53.6 FG%)

I mentioned that one of the problems I had with the Nuggets bench was their release of Bobby Jones, well here is the second.  Steven Hunter should have been playing at least 12 minutes a game. 

Marcus Camby clearly lost his edge in the second half of the season and was a mere shadow of the player that some thought should have been an all-star (even though they were wrong).  Camby played 390 more minutes than he had ever played before and six hundred more minutes than his second highest minutes played total.  As I have pointed out before, that is an extra 11 or 12 games worth of minutes Camby played this season.

Does anyone else think Hunter could have helped prevent that from happening? 

Hunter is a proven rebounder and shot blocker, he also showed he is adept at running the floor and most importantly, not taking 20 foot jumpers.

I will never understand why Hunter only played double digit minutes once this season.

He is under contract and has two years left at more than $3 million a season. 

Verdict:  Let him play!  Let him play!  Let him play!

Taurean Green (9 G, 3.3 MPG, 1.1 PPG, 0.3 APG, 33.3 3P%)

Taurean Green was acquired in exchange for Von Wafer at the trading deadline.  Wafer was supposed to be the young prospect for the Nuggets heading into this season.  Now Green takes that spot. 

We really have not seen enough of Green to know what Denver has in him.  He certainly has the ability to become a very good back up point guard or perhaps even a fringe starter.  Sounds like the kind of player I would like to have rounding out my roster.

The Nuggets hold a team option on Green for $711,517 and I would be shocked if they declined it.

Verdict:  Keep him around until he proves he is no good

(Thanks to Hoops Hype for the salary information)

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