Watching the latest incarnation of Team USA's "Dream Team" dismantle their international competition in London, it got me thinking: if we could assemble the all-time Denver Nuggets "Dream Team," who would make the 12-man roster?
Following the model that Team USA seems to be adhering to lately, I wanted to construct a roster that features two centers (a la Tyson Chandler and Anthony Davis), two power forwards (Kevin Love and Carmelo Anthony), two small forwards (LeBron James and Kevin Durant), two shooting guards (Kobe Bryant and James Harden), two pure point guards (Chris Paul and Deron Williams) and two swing players (Russell Westbrook plays the one and the two, and Andre Iguodala plays the two and the three) to model our Nuggets "Dream Team" after. Filling in those slots, there are some obvious choices and perhaps some not-so-obvious selections.
In selecting this roster, I didn't want to overburden us with rules except one: to qualify, a player had to wear a Nuggets uniform for at least three full seasons. This eliminates the likes of Spencer Haywood (probably the best one-season Nugget/Rocket ever), Allen Iverson (arguably the second-best two guard ever for the Nuggets, but played just a season-and-a-half in Denver), Calvin Natt (an absolute stud at the four-spot when healthy), George McGinnis and Kevin Brooks (just seeing if you're paying attention).
So let's get to it ...
Dan Issel: Long before Issel was a franchise-destroying president / head coach, he was one heck of a big man. Standing at just 6'9", Issel's ABA/NBA career was one of the greatest of all-time for an offensive oriented center/power forward. Even today, if you combine ABA and NBA statistics, Issel ranks 9th all time in points scored and 28th in rebounding. As a Nugget, Issel was an integral part of two Western Conference Finals teams (1978 and 1985) and one ABA Finals squad (1976).
Dikembe Mutombo: While Issel would rack up points for the Nuggets "Dream Team," Mutombo would be asked to share the load when it comes to blocks and rebounds. In his five seasons as a Nugget, Mutombo never averaged less than 11.8 rebounds and 3 blocks per game, and led the NBA in blocks three consecutive times while wearing the Nuggets uniform (with impressive bpg averages of 4.1, 3.9, 4.5). Most notably, Mutombo was the defensive leader of the 1993-94 Denver team that became the first-ever eighth seed to upset a one-seed in the NBA playoffs when the Nuggets defeated George Karl's Seattle Supersonics in five thrilling games.
Antonio McDyess: Like many of the Nuggets promising power forwards, McDyess had a very incomplete career in Denver. But while playing in the Mile High City for about six seasons, McDyess put up impressive numbers, including his 21.2 ppg, 10.7 rpg and 2.3 bpg 1998-99 campaign and his 20.8 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 1.5 bpg 2000-01 season.
LaPhonso Ellis: Modern day Nuggets fans are probably wondering why Ellis gets this slot over Nene Hilario or even Kenyon Martin, but Ellis was the heart and soul on the Cinderella 1994 team. And had his Nuggets career not been cut tragically short by a devastating knee injury, Ellis may very well have been regarded as the greatest Nuggets power forward ever. When healthy during his six-year Nuggets career, Ellis could score (once averaging 21.6 ppg in 1996-97) and rebound (averaged 9.7 rpg as a rookie in 1992-93). But more importantly, Ellis was (still is!) a man of high character who led by example on and off the court. The Nuggets were lucky to have Ellis while he was in Denver.
Alex English: Not only do the Nuggets have two tremendous small forwards for their "Dream Team," in English and Carmelo Anthony they may have two of the best scoring small forwards in NBA history. The NBA's 13th all-time leading points producer, English went nine consecutive seasons as a Nugget where he scored at least 1900 points in a season, twice leading the NBA in most points scored during that span. English also led the Nuggets to two Western Conference Finals and an NBA franchise-best 54 wins in 1987-88, a season that was the most competitive in NBA history.
Carmelo Anthony: Had Melo not cut his Denver career short by demanding a trade to New York, he could have rivaled English for the best Nugget of all time. During his seven-and-a-half seasons in Denver, Melo presided over one of the greatest stretches in franchise history. In addition to scoring an ample amount of points, Melo's Era produced seven consecutive playoff appearances, three 50-win seasons and one Western Conference Finals appearance in 2009 (during which the Nuggets got closer than they've ever been to the NBA Finals). Moreover, Melo's 14 game-winning baskets as a Nugget will probably never be equaled.
David Thompson: As Bill Simmons notes in his The Book of Basketball: before there was Michael Jordan, there was David Thompson. The Skywalker (Thompson's awesome nickname) was the best Nuggets two-guard ever, routinely averaging north of 26 ppg while shooting over 50% from the field and bringing a showmanship to the game unrivaled by any player other than Julius Erving. Had Thompson not ruined his career with a cocaine habit, he'd be in the conversation alongside Jordan, Bryant and Jerry West among the all-time great shooting guards. But in spite of Thompson's personal demons, he still led the Nuggets to an ABA Finals and an NBA Western Conference Finals during his brief, seven-year career.
T.R. Dunn: In about two more seasons, this spot probably goes to Arron Afflalo and goods argument could be made for Walter Davis and Bryant Stith, as well. But during his 10-year tenure as a Nugget (from 1980 through 1991, with a brief stopover in Phoenix from 1988-89), Dunn was the team's defensive stalwart at the two-guard position. Never asked to score, Dunn had the thankless task of guarding the 80s' top shooting guards like Jordan, Clyde Drexler, Davis and Alvin Robertson.
Fat Lever: Before there was Jason Kidd, there was Lafayette "Fat" Lever - an undersized point guard who could literally do it all. Listed (generously) at 6'3" and 170 pounds, Lever averaged at least 18 ppg, 8 rpg, 6.5 apg and 2 spg for a four-season span (1986 through 1990) that might be one of the best four year stretches for an NBA point guard ever. And while anchoring the point guard position from 1984 through 1989, arguably the most competitive era in NBA history, Lever's Nuggets won 50 games twice and won four playoff series.
Chauncey Billups: Billups' patchwork Nuggets career (he was a Nugget from 1999 through 2000 and again from 2008 through 2011) barely qualifies him for the Nuggets "Dream Team," but the Denver native's Nuggets career is nevertheless impressive enough to be included on this prestigious roster. As a Nugget, Billups led the franchise to its third and most recent Western Conference Finals appearance and brought much needed leadership and stability in the wake of Iverson poisoning the Nuggets' culture.
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf: If you can overlook Abdul-Rauf's (nee Chris Jackson) politics and just focus on his basketball, his six-year Nuggets career was pretty impressive ... so he gets the "Russell Westbrook" spot here. Playing both point and shooting guard, Abdul-Rauf averaged at least 18 ppg three times as a Nugget and was the team's offensive leader during its brief renaissance from 1992 through 1995, during which they took the NBA by surprise with their 1994 playoff defeat over the Sonics. Abdul-Rauf was somewhat inconsistent, but when he got hot there was no stopping him ... just ask Jordan's Bulls whose 17-game winning streak Abdul-Rauf snapped with a 32 points, 9 assists performance on February 4th, 1996.
Kiki Vandeweghe: Had he not been traded for Lever, Natt and center Wayne Cooper in 1984, Vandeweghe might have cemented himself as one of the best Nuggets of all time. We're fudging a bit by giving Vandeweghe the "Andre Iguodala" two/three swing spot, but in his three full seasons as a Nugget (from 1981 through 1984) Vandeweghe put up a lot of points, including averaging 29.4 on an astounding 55.8% shooting in his final season as a Nugget, so its hard not to have him on the Nuggets' 12 man "Dream Team."
Nene Hilario, Bryant Stith, Byron Beck, Bobby Jones, Walter Davis and Marcus Camby.