As I scanned through many of the comments here on Denver Stiffs in reaction to Andre Iguodala's backstabbing signing with the Warriors, I noticed that we Stiffs are nearly 50/50 split on whether this Nuggets team needs to tank, or let the young guys play and see what happens.
Well I'm here to tell you, that tanking is not what needs to be done.
If you browse through the last 20 years of NBA Champions, the only team that tanked that went on to win a Championship in the near future, was the Spurs. However, Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have certainly all played a key role in their success over the past 16 years. If you look at the rest of recent champions-Celtics, Lakers, Pistons, Mavericks, Heat etc.- almost all have been constructed through Free Agency or Trades.
Currently constructed, I do believe this Nuggets team can make the playoffs. Obviously there are tons of unknowns, ranging from if Evan Fournier can be relied on for 30 minutes a night, to Javale McGee finally realizing his potential with a young, bright coach in Brian Shaw. We all have several questions in regards to Shaw:
1. What kind of offense is he going to run?
The triangle involves quick passes, player movement and off-ball screens. It actually is fairly similar to George Karl's drive-n-kick offense, without as much driving. He has stated that he will continue to run, something that obviously suits this young, athletic team, playing in the altitude.
2. Can he make us competent defensively?
Prior to Iggy, in the lockout shortened season, we ended up ranked 19th defensively. Last year we increased to 11th, largely in part to Iguodala. My first reaction to losing him is that we will take a major step back this year defensively. However, when I watched the Pacers nearly take out Miami in this year's playoffs (Lets not forget that the Pacers would have won if not for the blown defense at the end of Game 1), I realized that the defensive system a team runs is sooooo much more important than the players. If Shaw can make all of the Nuggets trust each other, and keep McGee and Faried from biting at all fakes, then I do believe this team can rank in the top 20 defensively, probably even in the top half of the league.
3. Will Javale McGee's potential be realized?
This is McGee's make or break season. He is finally going to be given the chance to start on a team that does not have the knuckleheads he played with in Washington. When we examine his per 36 numbers, he appears to legitimately prove that he can be an effective starter:
Now obviuosly it is a bit much to expect McGee to play 36 minutes a night, due to his asthma. I don't see him averaging these outrageous numbers, ones that would make him a lock in the All-Star game. However, I do think that with proper defensive training from Shaw, and with increased post work with Hakeem the Dream (he and Faried are working out with Hakeem again this year), McGee can average about 30 mins a night, with 15 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. If he comes close to this, then I think we will all call this season a success for him.
My next step in convincing you that tanking is not the best option, is that we already have tons of young players oozing with talent. All of these players will be 26 or younger when the season starts:
All talented. All 26 or younger (most players prime are between 26 and 30)
So why should we add more young players to this team if we don't even know how good the young guys we already have are? Obviously having a draft pick or two next year in the loaded 2014 draft is not a bad thing, but I don't see any reason to unload any of these young guys just to end up drafting more rookies next year.
My final argument comes from a rumor that we are pursuing Monta Ellis. Now when I initially heard that the Nuggets had interest in him, I got pretty upset and anti-Monta. However, as I sat back and thought of the qualities he has, I realized that at a reasonable price, Monta is not a bad option to replace Iggy.
So what does Monta do well and poorly? Lets take a look.
In examining is per-game number, we see that he struggled to shoot the ball effectively last year in Milwaukee. However, 77% FT shooting is not too bad, and he did also average 6 assists per game, above average for a shooting guard. His 29% 3pt shooting is not good. However, I found that on spot up 3s (not off dribble), he shot a respectable 34%. Certainly not outstanding, but at least competent. If he can limit his 3s off the dribble, he could be fairly good.
Production by Position
Player Floor Time Stats by Position
This chart brings up some interesting questions. It is really obvious that Ellis was much better last season when playing Point Guard. With Ty Lawson here and established, and Andre Miller still off the bench (will he be traded?), Ellis would see the bulk of his minutes at SG. However, I don't think it is fair to blame all of the struggles at SG on him. I actually think that speaks more to how badly a fit he was with Brandon Jennings. Will he be a better fit with Ty Lawson? I honestly don't know. But is Ellis if used as both an off-guard and as the primary ball-handler, I think he can have some success.
(4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left,
neither team ahead by more than 5 points)
Floor Time statistics
The clutch stats really got me excited. When we look at the top 20 clutch scorers last year, not only is Ellis number 4 in points scored, he had the 2nd best shooting percentage, behind only Joe Johnson (a blistering 53.8%). One thing the Nuggets have been accused of is not having that go-to scorer in clutch time. Monta can be that guy, and a very good one at that. He can get to the rim and create his own shot. I also like from the higher chart, that the Bucks, a team that finished below .500, actually had a winning record in clutch time. I think that speaks to Ellis' ability to create offense for himself.
On Court / Off Court stats
Many stats are shown on a 'per 48 minute' basis
|Stat||ON Court||OFF Court||Net|
|Offense: Pts per 100 Poss.||105.8||100.0||+5.8|
|Defense: Pts per 100 Poss.||106.6||104.6||+2.0|
|Net Points per 100 Possessions||-0.8||-4.6||+3.7|
|Effective FG% Allowed||49.3%||48.8%||+0.6%|
|Assisted Field Goals||59%||63%||-4%|
|Assisted FG% Allowed||60%||59%||+1%|
|Own Shots Blocked||4%||5%||-1%|
This last chart dives into what the Bucks were like with and without Monta on the court. For as bad a rap as Monta gets on both the defensive and offensive ends, the Bucks were a solid 3.7 points better per 100 possessions with him on the court. Obviously he is not the most efficient scorer or best man-to-man defender, but the stats do not lie.
So now for the burning question: Where do the Nuggets go from here?
As I have indicated above, tanking is ultimately a risky maneuver, especially with the bulk of a 57-win team returning. The draft lottery is just that, a lottery. It can put you on the fast track to contention (Kevin Durant, Lebron James), or it can ruin you for many years to come if you make bad picks (Greg Oden, Michael Beasley).
What the Nuggets have now is a young, athletic, close team, that believes in each other, and hopefully, their new coach Brian Shaw. I don't see any reason to mess with the good chemistry our team has had-at least not this season.
As for bringing in Monta Ellis, I think I would like to have him on two conditions:
1. He signs a relatively short contract (3 years max, but preferably 1 or 2), and for somwhere in the ball park of $6-$9 million. More than that and I don't think it is worth risking both Ty and Evan's development.
2. He has to come off the bench. There is no use in having two guards who need the ball in Lawson and Ellis starting the game together. They are both very quick, but below average defensively. I think Fournier is the better option as a starter. Ellis coming off the bench to spell Ty and Evan is not such a bad thing. I think if he gets 25-30 min a night and proves he can limit his 3pt attempts, he can have a positive impact on this team. Ultimately, I will be okay with the Nuggets signing Ellis, and I will be just as fine if they pass on him.
I know many of the things I have said are opinions and highly debatable. I'm not here to tell you that you should believe everything I say, but that I recommend we not freak out over every little move the Front Office makes. Connelly was the not the one who took the risk on Iggy leaving, Masai did.
All we as fans can do is trust that eventually our young coach and players will become more than they are now. I truly do believe that it is not necessary to have a superstar to win a championship. I think Lawson, McGee and Fournier all can take monumental steps this year. If they do, the Nuggets may have something.
My final words are: Stay the course, don't lose faith, and keep on cheering for the team we all love deep down inside!