As the Denver Nuggets stare into the teeth of a mediocre .500 record, maybe we as fans are asking the wrong questions? Maybe, the crux of the Nuggets issues aren't size, or the Melodrama? Maybe, just maybe, our problem is a point guard who wears jersey No. 1?
As much as it pains me to write this, the time may be at hand to bench Chauncey Billups. Or at the very least drastically cut his minutes. Over the course of this season, Chauncey's shooting percentage is 34.4%, including a very bad 31.6% at the three point arc and a paltry 4.7 assists a game.
But it's MORE than just statistics that tell the story. It's poor decision making (taking an ill advised 40-foot three point shot with 12 seconds left in the Trail Blazers game, and ignoring Melo for the final shot in the Bulls game), generally lethargic play, and a borderline blase attitude that is inexplicable for someone who is a 14-year veteran. We can speculate as to the reasons for this, such as his playing for the world championships this summer, his contract situation with the Nuggets, or the Carmelo Anthony drama, but either way something must change.
I'd wager to say that the offense that Nuggets head coach George Karl runs depends heavily on an effective point guard to distribute the ball to the right player, for the correct swing pass or isolation play. The Karl system doesn't require the point guard to produce a vast amount of assists, as much as it does the point guard to guide the flow of the play. So the key is to find the isolated player for an open shot OR be the conduit - ie: begin the perimeter passing to set the offense in motion. While I question the lack of set plays by Karl, the offense is effective when the open player makes the high percentage shots.Thus, why zone defense is so effective against this offense.
Too often this season, however, we have seen Billups chucking the ball. A trend that started last season. It's only effective if the person who's chucking makes a decent percentage of his shots. Chauncey hasn't. Let me emphasize that as much crap as Melo gets for stopping the ball Billups is just as big a culprit, and this season he's been even worse. Within Karl's "offense" the person who shoots the worst percentage should not throw up a large volume of attempts or the offense falls apart.
So what's the solution? I'm not entirely sure. Ty Lawson is the heir apparent, we think, but quite frankly Lawson has been up-and-down this season. In fact he's been more down than up (so far). His confidence is quite fragile and that is scary when you have to direct the offense. I'm willing to give him a chance, but he must be given an opportunity to prove he can be consistent. Which is why, I believe, Billups must take a reduced role and possibly come off the bench if need be. It's still early in the season, but I think I've seen enough to know that Billups most likely will struggle to break out of this slump.
It has been argued that CB's trade value is virtually nil. While I don't agree with that sentiment I do understand that it would be a bit unseemly to part with a native son in a way where the player has hard feelings. Yet, this is a business and I wouldn't be surprised if inquiries have already been made regarding Billups. His contract is favorable despite his $13 million dollar price tag for next season (team option). He can be bought out for about $3 million, which would be enticing to a team that's looking to save money. I'm not saying this is likely, I'm merely saying that his trade value goes beyond basketball ability.
Personally, I hate seeing our starting point guard struggle mentally such as Billups has. Last year I had the opportunity to meet him after a Nuggets game. He was gracious and kind. He is only two years older than me, and I clearly remember him as the basketball phenom from George Washington High School. His triumphant return to the Nuggets in the 2008-09 season was the stuff of legend in these parts. I can't delve into his mind, but I have a feeling this hurts CB as much as it does anyone else. I'm rooting for him to pull himself out of it, I really am.
One final note. Those who are rushing to blow up the team based on Melo's indecision are missing some key points. As I have said repeatedly, Anthony signing the extension does NOT guarantee the Nuggets won't rebuild anyway. We are heading into a precarious period for both the Denver Nuggets and the entire NBA and who knows what's going to come out the other end. Remember this, Melo's future in Denver is hinged on a plan for a viable COMPETITIVE future. It's my feeling that if Melo is not convinced the Nuggets have a desire to remain a factor in the West then he will leave at season's end. The Nuggets themselves also must take in to consideration economy, marketing and future viability. If they trade Carmelo to New Jersey (and I must reiterate that Melo's given no indication he'd even go there) and get back Derrick Favors, they must also have a plan to lure free agents to this team. I do not envy the Nuggets position if it becomes clear they must deal Melo (and there's no indication yet that they have made that decision). Maybe the Nuggets have a plan to improve without trading Melo?
At this point, I'm afraid, it's anybody's guess.