While most kids are wishing for Wiis, LEGOs or whatever the hell kids are into these days, yours truly only has Nuggets basketball on his mind for Christmas...
Being Jewish, I don't normally get to do this Christmas list thing, but I hope you'll grant me a holiday wish list nonetheless because our Nuggets - in spite of their splendid 20-9 record - could use some help. That said, here's what I'm hoping will show up in my imaginary stocking this holiday season...
...I wish for Chauncey Billups' groin to fully recover. Even though the Nuggets laid a major league beat down sans Billups on the normally tough Atlanta Hawks last night, this team is going nowhere without their starting point guard (understatement) and are just 1-5 when either Billups or Kenyon Martin are out of the lineup.
...I wish J.R. Smith would shoot straight consistently. Launching for 41 points on 10 made three's last night, just one game removed from shooting 2-12, was further proof of how erratic J.R. has been this season (and has always been, frankly). We don't need 41 from J.R. We just need consistency. And while we're at it, I wish J.R. would work on his free throws. After shooting 75.4% last season (an unacceptably low number for someone with his stroke), J.R. is down to 69.2% this season.
...I wish for Nene to finish stronger around the basket. I've been getting deluged with emails asking me to start a get-Nene-into-the-All-Star-Game campaign. I'm sorry, my fellow Stiffs, but 13.5 ppg and 8.6 rpg aren't All-Star caliber numbers. Not even close. And the reason Nene's ppg are down from last season is because he's still in love with the "flip shot" around the rim rather than just dunking the damn ball. Show me stronger finishes at the rim and I'll show you an All-Star petition for Nene.
...I wish Carmelo Anthony would play better transition defense. It's tough to call out a guy averaging 30.3 ppg on a very respectable 47.8% shooting and a career high 10.1 free throw attempts per game. But if Melo wants to be in the MVP conversation, he needs to improve his transition defense. How many more times do we need to see Melo barking at an official while the man he's supposed to guard launches a wide open three on the other end?
...I wish for Kenyon Martin to stop being such a Stiff around the rim. Contrary to what many readers here believe, I love K-Mart. I really do. He brings a toughness and defensive intensity that this team would be utterly lost without. That said, he's been an absolute Stiff around the rim this season, routinely missing chip shots in each game. Rather than work on that un-salvageable jump of his, K-Mart should practice more put backs.
...I wish Arron Afflalo would get more comfortable in the offense. Afflalo seems to improve with each game, but he's still tentative on offense. Once Afflalo gets more into the flow of the Nuggets "system" (I love putting "system" in quotes because I still refuse to believe that the Nuggets have an actual "system"), he'll be that much better for us.
...I wish for Ty Lawson to continue getting playing time. The rook has a had a few off games lately, but regained his form last night. Considering where he was drafted, Lawson may very well be the steal of the draft!
...I wish Chris Andersen played like he was making $900,000 again. As the guy who launched the "Bring Back Birdman" petition, I probably deserve some blame for the "Birdman" raking in a larger than expected salary. But regardless of the excuses (we've heard knee tendinitis, the flu, etc) it's clear that either a) the Birdman doesn't have the same fire this season, or b) opposing teams have figured him out. I fear it's a bit of both.
...I wish George Karl would work the refs more. Since bringing this up with Karl in person, he seems to be working the sidelines more than in seasons past. But Karl is still under-doing it when it comes to defending his players after atrocious calls are made by the referees. How many times have we seen Melo or K-Mart glare at their coach with the "please save me" look after getting whistled on a suspect call, only to have Karl sit there and put his head down?
...I wish the Nuggets would win more on the road. With last night's walkover victory over the Hawks serving as another example, the Nuggets have become a Dr. Jeckyll / Mr. Hyde team at home vs. the road. This doesn't bode well for the future or the postseason, where the Nuggets will have to win on the road to secure some big victories. I guess we'll see what they're made of in Portland tomorrow night.
...I wish the Nuggets would rebound better. The Nuggets lack of rebounding has been in the news a lot lately, but it has to be addressed at some point....soon. As the Denver Post's Dave Krieger aptly pointed out in his latest column, the Nuggets only out-rebounded the Lakers once in the WCF last Spring and that game was their lone easy victory. The Nuggets lack of rebounding prowess brings me to my most important wish...
...I wish management would bring in another big man! As has been discussed ad nauseam since I suggested a few possible deals over the summer to bring in a big, Nuggets fans worldwide are clamoring for a move to improve the Nuggets front court depth and move Nene to power forward, his natural position. My friend Travis Heath at HoopsWorld recently outlined the difficulties in making such a move, but I don't share my friend's pessimism. After all, it's Christmas...anything can happen, right?!
On behalf of Nate and myself, I want to wish all this site's readers a very Merry Stiffmas*. Hopefully we'll be celebrating Christmas cheer by beating the Trail Blazers in Portland tomorrow night!
*Kudos to Denver Stiffs reader NoHoops4u for coining the term "Stiffmas"