Nearing the first day of the year 2011, our Nuggets should consider making the following New Year's resolutions...
Everyone can use some self improvement. Our Nuggets are no different.
Chauncey Billups, who has been playing terrific basketball lately (take that, Chauncey haters), should vow to stop shooting so many three-pointers early in the shot clock. While he's at it, it wouldn't hurt to try getting his field goal percentage over 40%.
An obvious one and a repeat of previous years' resolutions, but Nene must be more aggressive in 2011. When Nene scores into the high teens/low 20s and grabs at least eight rebounds, the Nuggets are virtually unstoppable.
Kenyon Martin has to keep the weight off. Coming back from yet another knee surgery, K-Mart looks terrificly thin physically. But staying lean and mean is the only hope we have of him playing out the rest of the year.
Arron Afflalo must find more consistency to his game. It seems like we either get a great game or a disappearing-act game out of Afflalo. Fast becoming my favorite Nugget for 2010-11, the hard-working Afflalo needs to make 15-16 ppg commonplace and not every-other-game.
Speaking of consistency (and here's another obvious one for you), J.R. Smith must play consistently with his defense and rebounding. J.R. will always be an erratic scorer - we get it - but there's no excuse not to perform on the boards and on the defensive end of the floor. J.R.'s already improved defense and rebounding has actually won the Nuggets more games than his offense this season thus far.
Shelden Williams has to work on his hand-eye coordination around the rim and footwork more...and more, and more and more. Too many times Williams is caught flat-footed while opposing power forwards snake rebounds from him, and too many times Williams misses chippy layups near the basket. One can hope, right?
Gary Forbes - one of the Nuggets most pleasant surprises of the season to date - must resolve to stay patient. Forbes' minutes will continue to be spotty, but if he continues to produce when given playing time, a long future in the NBA could be his.
Al Harrington has to regain his swagger and drop some weight. The Nuggets didn't catapult themselves back into the luxury tax to get just 12 ppg out of Big Al at a paltry 41.3% shooting clip. Yes, he's been hurt. But upon return from his thumb injury, Harrington should let the game come to him, be aggressive when the opportunity calls for it and start scoring in bunches again. We're sure gonna need it if/when Carmelo leaves town.
Chris Andersen needs to stop falling for every head fake thrown at him. NBA offenses have clearly figured out how to attack the Birdman, evident by his blocked-shots-per-game numbers declining for a second consecutive season. It starts by playing solid defense with your feet and shoulders, rather than swiping at every ball that comes into your airspace.
Renaldo Balkman must work harder in practice. A tireless worker on the court during games, Balkman is known to slack off (and then some) in practice. Head coach George Karl needs all the horses he can get and the only person holding Balkman back from being a nightly contributor is Balkman himself.
Melvin Ely has to gain 15-20 pounds. Generously listed at 6'10" and even more generously listed at weighing 245 pounds, Ely looks like a toothpick compared to his counterparts at power forward. With K-Mart's shaky knees, Harrington being banged up, Nene's suspect hamstring and Birdman likely to get hurt again, we might actually need Ely for more than a few garbage minutes.
If only Ty Lawson could vow to grow a few inches. Lawson just needs to continue improving in all aspects of his game as we've seen all season to date. Dishing out a few more assists is worthy of a resolution, as well.
Anthony Carter just needs to keep himself in shape for the next time he's called into duty. Nothing to complain about with Carter this season.
Supermascot Rocky must bring back the dancing referee routine. Rocky's acts are threatening to get stale, and why he has removed the best routine from his repertoire defies all logic.
Head coach George Karl has to preach and teach some fourth quarter defense in 2011. No one likes watching an up-tempo, run-and-gun team more than me, but Karl's Nuggets have blown too many games in the fourth quarter this season thanks to careless defensive play. Additionally, the Nuggets are sixth worse in points allowed per game and the only Western Conference team in the "top six" of that dubious category to likely make the playoffs.
General Manager Masai Ujiri has to look for the Nuggets to be buyers before the trade deadline equally as much as being sellers. When Nate, Jeff and I wrote our respective Carmelo plans on Halloween, I suggested the Nuggets wait and see what their record was through 30 games. Well, through 31 games - many without Melo's services - the Nuggets are a very respectable 18-13. If Melo wants out he wants out, but Ujiri should at the very least find a trade scenario that improves the Nuggets around Melo, giving Melo another reason to think about staying.
And last but not least, Carmelo Anthony needs to make up his mind about his future already. The Nuggets aren't great without him, but they're not the Cleveland Cavaliers either. With Melo and the team as-is, this Nuggets team wins 55 games and has a shot at a conference finals appearance. With Melo and a further improved roster, the sky is the limit. Melo owes himself, his teammates, the Nuggets organization and the fans a straight answer. I can't think of a better resolution than that.
Here's to a fruitful 2011 for all those involved in Denver Nuggets basketball and our fellow Stiffs worldwide. Go Nuggets!!