With the "Aughts" coming to a close, we've looked back at 10 Years of Stiffdom and at the ten best performances of the decade (kudos to Nate for an amazing job on that). Now it's time to present the Nuggets' All-Decade Team and revisit the Nuggets All-Decade teams from years past.
Unlike other NBA franchises that may have gone through some turmoil throughout the Aughts, the Nuggets, beginning with Carmelo Anthony's arrival in 2003, have been relatively stable and consistent. Since Melo was drafted, the Nuggets have appeared in six consecutive postseasons, trades have been kept to a minimum and we've seen only two real coaching changes (I'm not counting Michael Cooper's 14-game stint, sorry). And thus, the Nuggets All-Decade Team shouldn't surprise anyone...
As mentioned already, you can trace the Nuggets stability directly to Melo's arrival. Simply put, had Darko Milicic landed in the Nuggets lap in 2003 instead of Melo, the Nuggets eight year playoff drought that carried over from the 90s could very well be extended today. At his current pace, Melo could surpass Alex English as the Nuggets greatest small forward ever...but I'm not ready to crown him that yet.
Power Forward - Kenyon Martin
This position is up for some debate, given that Antonio McDyess gave the Nuggets an All-Star caliber season to kick off the decade and Nene has played some at power forward, as well. But to me it's no contest. He may be grossly overpaid (ok, he is grossly overpaid), but while healthy K-Mart has been the Nuggets defensive quarterback, a much needed enforcer and the Nuggets don't get to the conference finals without his defensive presence last season.
Center - Marcus Camby
The Nuggets never did any postseason damage with Camby at center, but Nene has only played one-and-a-half solid seasons as center whereas Camby anchored the positioned admirably for five-plus seasons. I'll forever feel cheated that we never got to see a Camby/Nene/K-Mart/Melo front line at full health...who knows how good this team could have been. As a Nugget, Camby averaged 10.1 ppg, 11.1 rpg and 3.0 bpg.
Shooting Guard - Allen Iverson
Iverson's tenure in Denver was brief and he played both point guard and shooting guard, but Iverson's always been a shooting guard in a point guard's body. As noted in our decade retrospective, Iverson was asked to keep the Nuggets afloat after the Madison Square Garden Melee in 2006 and he did just that. Iverson's time in Denver will be remembered for a number of spectacular individual performances (like when he scored 49 points in three quarters against the Lakers) that didn't translate into postseason success.
Point Guard - Chauncey Billups
Just when we were about to anoint Melo as the team's (and possibly the league's) MVP, Billups' recently injured groin has showed us who the Nuggets true MVP is. Billups second stint as a Nugget brought immediate success to the franchise and gave a previously rudderless team some much needed direction. We just have to hope he stays healthy as we enter a new decade.
Edged out at center on our All-Decade Team by Camby, Nene has nevertheless played the center position well for a season-and-a-half. Unfortunately for Nene - and us - his natural position is power forward.
Reserve #2 - Andre Miller
Miller had plenty of critics during his time in Denver, but he played a major role in the Nuggets ascension into a perennial playoff team. Miller averaged 7.3 apg as a Nugget and never missed a game.
Reserve #3 - J.R. Smith
An All Star-caliber player without an All Star-caliber mindset, J.R. has given us countless "wow!" moments and we can only hope he improves into the next decade.
Reserve #4 - Antonio McDyess
A holdover from the dreaded Dan Issel Administration, McDyess's 20.8 ppg and 12.1 rpg was good enough to make the 2001 All-Star team. Tragically, McDyess blew out his knee and played in just 10 games the following season.
Reserve #5 - Chris Andersen
Even though he led the league in blocks-per-minute last season, much of what "The Birdman" did/does can't be accounted for with statistics. Andersen's energy, court presence and fan appeal is invaluable.
Reserve #6 - Juwan Howard
Traded from a championship team to a bottom feeder when he went from Dallas to Denver in 2002, Howard held his head up high, played hard and contributed 18.3 ppg and 7.7 rpg as a Nugget during one-and-a-half brutal seasons. Fans seem to forget that Howard was a Nugget, but I always thought he was a classy contributor during his brief tenure here.
Reserve #7 - Voshon Lenard
Before rupturing his Achilles tendon in 2004, Lenard produced for Denver to the tune of 12.6 ppg and a respectable 37% shooting from three-point range. Lenard also won the three-point shootout in 2004, the only Nugget ever to do so.
Coach - George Karl
He often leaves us scratching our heads, but the numbers don't lie. Under Karl, the Nuggets have won 61% of their games, have had two 50-win seasons and made only their second NBA Western Conference Finals appearance in franchise history.
And while we're at, let's do a brief rundown of the Nuggets past All-Decade Teams...
Small Forward - Reggie Williams
When fans look back fondly at the 1993-94 Cinderella Nuggets, the names mentioned are always Phonz, Dik and Mahmoud. But Williams was that team's third-leading scorer and was a top-two scorer on the Nuggets the two seasons prior.
Power Forward - LaPhonso Ellis
Some might argue for McDyess here, and for good reason. McDyess gave the Nuggets four full seasons in the 1990s, three of which were great. Ellis gave the Nuggets just three full seasons (all three great) but was here for six. The nod goes to Ellis who was instrumental in the Nuggets upset playoff win over Seattle in 1994.
Center - Dikembe Mutombo
Even though he played just five seasons in Denver, Mutombo quickly cemented his legacy as the second-best center in Nuggets history. Watching Mutombo clutch the basketball to his chest after the Nuggets upset the heavily-favored, 63-win Supersonics in 1994 remains the most endearing image in Nuggets history.
Shooting Guard - Bryant Stith
Stith, so favored by team "president" and "coach" Dan Issel that Issel wouldn't draft Vince Carter - anchored the shooting guard position for eight seasons in Denver. But after a short stint with awful Boston and Cleveland teams, Stith was out of the league for good. Have I mentioned yet that Issel was a horrible team president?
Like Iverson, Abdul-Rauf was a shooting guard in a point guard's body (or as Scott Hastings might say, he's really 5'11" but in a 6'4" guy's body...inside joke for those who watched the last Altitude broadcast). But Abdul-Rauf played both positions, and from 1992 through 1996 was as lethal a scorer as we've ever seen in Denver and even averaged 6.8 apg in 1995-96.
Reserves: Antonio McDyess, Michael Adams, Robert Pack, Nick Van Exel, Raef LaFrentz, Brian "Bison Dele" Williams, Dale Ellis
Coach - Dan Issel
In his first go-around as Nuggets head coach, Issel did a great job. He guided a young, inexperienced Nuggets team out of the NBA cellar to 36 wins in his first season and then oversaw the greatest upset (at the time) in NBA playoff history in just his second season. Issel abruptly quit 34 games into the 1994-95 season, however, and the Nuggets never recovered.
Before anointing Melo as the Nuggets best small forward ever, keep these numbers in mind: 25.9 ppg / 5.6 rpg / 4.4 apg / 50% shooting / five playoff series wins / seven games missed in 10-plus seasons as a Nuggets. English may have been quiet and boring, but he was graceful, classy and simply put, the best Nugget ever.
Power Forward - Calvin Natt
Kicking off the Nuggets power forward curse, Natt only had two great seasons in Denver from 1984 through 1986: 20.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg and 53% shooting. But in a decade devoid of good power forwards in Denver, Natt takes the cake.
Center - Dan Issel
Like Isiah Thomas, we seem to remember Issel more for the disaster he was as an executive rather than how great he was as a player. At just 6'9", Issel anchored the center position in Denver for 10 seasons spanning two decades, missing just 20 games in that span in a much more physical league. During the 80s, Issel averaged 19.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg and shot over 50% from the field.
Shooting Guard - T.R. Dunn
Another tough call here considering the Nuggets got one great season from David Thompson to kick off the decade and two very solid seasons out of Walter Davis near the decade's end. But Dunn - a member of our All-Intangibles Team - had the unenviable task of playing defense during a decade in which the Nuggets played no defense. And he did so well, earning three All-Defensive Second Team spots.
Lever was one of the most underrated players in NBA history. At (barely) 6'3" tall and weighing just 170 lbs, Lever averaged 17 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 7.5 apg and 2.5 spg in six seasons in Denver. From 1986 through 1989, Lever nearly averaged a triple-double: 19 ppg, 9 rpg and 8 apg. Did I mention he was just 6'3" and 170 lbs?!!
Reserves: Kiki Vandeweghe, Wayne Cooper, Michael Adams, David Thompson, Danny Schayes, Walter Davis, Bill Hanzlik
Coach - Doug Moe
Still the greatest coach in Nuggets history, Moe's Nuggets made the playoffs nine consecutive times, won over 50 games twice and took home a pair of division titles (back when division titles actually meant something) when the NBA was at its competitive peak. Perhaps more importantly, Moe made NBA basketball fun and from 1981 when Moe took over through the 1982-83 season, Moe's Nuggets scored under 100 points just four times, and never scored less than 90.
Small Foward - Bobby Jones
At 6'9" and 210 lbs, the skinny Jones was a relentless hustler,a tough defender and never took a bad shot. During his four seasons in Denver, Jones never shot worse than 57% from the field, never averaged less than 8.2 rebounds per game or less than 14.5 points per night. Between Denver and Philadelphia, Jones played in four ABA/NBA Finals.
Power Forward - Byron Beck
One of only four players to have their jersey number hanging in the Pepsi Center rafters, Beck alternated between power forward and center for 10 seasons in Denver. Beck was a major contributor on the ABA Nuggets who went to a West Finals and an ABA Finals before joining the NBA.
Center - Dan Issel
As good as Issel was in the 80s, he was even better in the 70s when he split his career between the Kentucky Colonels and our Nuggets. Issel was the second-best player on two of the Nuggets three best 70s teams: the 1975-76 Nuggets that lost in the ABA Finals and the 1976-77 Nuggets who made their NBA debut with an NBA second-best 50-win record.
In his "Book on Basketball", Bill Simmons argues that Thompson - had he stayed off cocaine - may very well have been the best player in NBA history. Thompson was Michael Jordan before there was Michael Jordan (proved by MJ himself selecting Thompson to present him during his Hall of Fame ceremony last summer) and quite simply revolutionized the shooting guard position as we know it today.
Point Guard - Mack Calvin
The 70s weren't exactly littered with great Nuggets point guards (even Larry Brown held the position early in the decade). Calvin gets the nod because he had the single best point guard season in 1974-75 when he dished out 7.7 apg to go along with 19.5 ppg in leading the Nuggets to a franchise best 65 wins.
Reserves: Ralph Simpson, Julius Keye, Larry Cannon, George McGinnis, Dave Robisch, Bob Wilkerson, Mike Green
Coach - Larry Brown
Under Brown, the Nuggets had winning seasons of 65, 60, 50 and 48 games and lost in their only finals appearance as a professional basketball franchise to Julius Erving's New York Nets in 1976. Brown also deserves major props for coaching the Nuggets to 50 wins in their first NBA season after the ABA/NBA merger in 1976.
Photos courtesy of AP Photos, Getty Images and NBAE