Thanks to Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post we learned two things today: first, we can add Joey Graham's name to the list of players that Linas Kleiza was almost traded for. Second, Graham has all but locked up the 13th and perhaps final roster spot. Count me among those who are a bit confused and let's get into why ...
First things first ... obviously I'm not a front office expert and roster moves should be left to the guys who know what they are doing. The Nuggets did a great job last season plugging holes on the cheap and we should trust that once again they are making the right moves for the team. We'll soon find out how these moves pan out, as opening night is less than a fortnight away!
(I'll now put on my white wig and do a bit of judging ...)
I like the type of player that Joey Graham is ... a hard worker with a tough mentality. As George Karl points out in the Denver Post article on Graham, "There's a 'how we played' last year that I don't think any of us want to change," Karl said. "Joey has that Dahntay Jones personality. They are different players, going to do it in different ways. But from the standpoint of courage and toughness and the desire to defend, Joey has those personalities."
I appreciate the Joey Graham type of player. As a fan, I can relate more to the hard working guys as I assume I'd play the game the way the "Joey Grahams" of the NBA would. It's always important to have those roles players and perhaps Graham will give the Nuggets something they lacked last season ...
But don't the Nuggets already have that player on the roster and under contract? His name ... Renaldo Balkman.
Joey Graham: 6'7'' and 225 pounds.
Renaldo Balkman: 6'8'' and 208 pounds.
Joey Graham's career numbers: 17.4 minutes, 6.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 48% shooting, 82% free throw, and 31.4% three pointers (43-137).
Renaldo Balkman's career numbers: 15 minutes, 4.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 51.7% shooting, 53.6% free throw, and 17.4% three pointers (8-46).
If you judge these guys based off height, weight, and their career numbers ... you'll see they appear to be somewhat similar ... but the way in which the coaching staff plans on using the two could be vastly different. Karl has stated in the past that he likes to play Balkman at the power forward position, although many of us want to see 'Naldo get more minutes as Melo's backup at small forward. And from the Post's article it sounds like Karl plans on using Graham at shooting guard and at small forward (at least while J.R. Smith is serving his seven-game suspension to start the season.)
My hope is that if Graham does in fact make the team that it wont come at the cost of Balkman's minutes, but I have a feeling that, as Burgess Meredith once said in Grumpy Old Men: "You can wish in one hand and crap in the other, and see which gets filled first."
Readers of the old Pickaxe and Roll know that I wanted to see Balkman get more run last season. I like to track goofy stats like ... the Nuggets are 15-3 when Balkman played 20+ minutes a night and 21-6 when Balkman played 15+ minutes a night. I like to say that good things happen when Balkman is on the floor ... although I realize that the film might not always indicate my theory.
To compare ... the Raptors (33-49 last season) were 20-21 when Joey Graham played 20+ minutes a night last season. That's probably not a fair look at things because Graham wasn't on a team as good as the Nuggets (54-28), but you can say that when Graham played 20+ minutes he helped the team to 60.6% of their wins (and to 42.8% of their losses.)
So, who is Joey Graham? He's the former 16th overall pick of the Toronto Raptors from the 2005 NBA draft. He's 27 years old and wont be 28 until June 11, 2010. Graham played in 80 games his rookie season (2005-06) and averaged 19.8 minutes. In his second season (2006-07) he appeared in 79 games, but saw his minutes reduced to just 16.7 per game. In his third season, Graham appeared to lose the confidence of Sam Mitchell as he appeared in just 38 games and recorded 44 Did Not Play - Coach's Decisions (DNP-CDs) dropping his minutes to 8.7 per game.
But last season Graham, after head coach Sam Mitchell was fired the first week of December 2008, became part of the Raptors rotation again under new head coach Jay Triano. Through the first 13 games of the 2008-09 season (under Mitchell) Graham averaged just 6.3 minutes per game. But after that 13th game Graham saw his playing time increase to 21.6 minutes for the final three game of November, 21.6 minutes in December, 23.1 minutes in January, and 27 minutes in February. Then in March and April his playing time fell to roughly 17 minutes per game ... as the Raptors were probably auditioning some new players for the pending free-agent Graham's role.
This past offseason the Toronto Star reported that the Raptors chose not to offer a qualifying offer to Graham, thus making him an unrestricted free agent (exactly what the Nuggets did with Johan Petro.) The news of the non-qualifying offer on NBA.com noted that "He's (Graham) shown occasional flashes of usefulness during his Toronto tenure, but Raptors fans will mainly remember him as the guy former GM Mike Babcock drafted instead of Danny Granger."
So, is Graham another "coulda, woulda, shoulda" guy or will he prove to be a key role player for the Nuggets this season? On paper it would appear that he offers little in the way of big-time stats, but intangibles will be where this guy leaves his mark.
And with the news that Graham will probably fill the void as the teams' 13th player on the roster, that could signify the end of the James "Flight" White era in Denver. Karl has said he wants to carry more than the league minimum 13 players on the roster, so White may still find a home in Denver this year. I liked the idea of having White on the team. He felt like more of what Denver needed ... a guy to stretch the floor and hit the outside shot and a guy who could excite the crowd with some electrifying dunks, but he might be lacking on the defensive side. It seemed to me that the combination of White and Balkman made more sense than the combination of Graham and Balkman.
I hope that I'm proved wrong because I like what I'm hearing about Graham. Again, I like hard-nosed players that bring intangibles to a team that has enough weapons to hide the role players' flaws. Graham may have his draw-backs, but it sounds like he can make up for them in certain areas that this team needs.
For our sake and for Graham's ... let's hope we don't remember his time here as the guy our front office signed instead of Linas Kleiza or James White.