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Depth Charge - The Denver Nuggets Bench

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With what may be the deepest team in the league, the Nuggets reserves look to push the pace when the rest of the NBA needs a breather.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Let's say... Let's just say that this was the starting five for your Denver Nuggets this season:

C - JaVale McGee

PF - J.J. Hickson

SF - Wilson Chandler

SG - Randy Foye

PG - Nate Robinson

How would you feel about that lineup? I'm betting they're not taking down the Spurs in a seven game series, but there's a lot of teams that those gents stack up well against, I'd not be embarrassed about any of them, and some great things to be said about each of the five:

JaVale is back after almost a year's rest and some time to hopefully train and mature. If McGee can get consistent with some of the brilliance he has shown in flashes previously, he's able to be one of the league's dominant big men. While currently a wild card, when he's "on", he's a terror for any big man going against him on either end of the floor. Just ask the L.A. Lakers or Zach Randolph...


J.J. started at center last year, and though he suffered a very up-and-down season in the midst of taking a lot of heat on these pages, he acquitted himself nicely several times during the season, including his monstrous 16-point, 25-rebound game against the Portland Trailblazers in February. Though J.J. has been called a "stat stuffer", his ability to stay at home nicely compliments McGee's leaping, and once moved to his natural Power Forward slot last season, he was much more effective in his game.

Wilson Chandler provided a spark much of last year, and was not bitten by the injury bug quite as much as we've seen in the past. Though he was not as aggressive or consistent as many had hoped he'd be in a starting role, he's a nice player and playmaker who can drive to the rim, hit from deep, and guard just about anyone on the floor. As statistically inconsistent and injury-filled as Chandler's career has been to date, I look for him to return to 2012-2013 percentages in lower minutes against a lot of second-string competition.

Randy Foye started 78 of the 82 games Denver played last season, playing hurt, playing out of position, and playing with effort of both ends of the floor, coming within a hair's breadth of passing Dale Ellis' all-time season mark for made 3-pointers. This sort of behavior is not out of character for Foye, who had eclipsed the single-season record for the same with the Utah Jazz the season prior. The more I look back on the yeoman's effort Foye put in last year, the more I'm impressed with the guy. This season, I appreciate his attitude: wanting to compete, but wiling to take any role to help the team. You also saw more about his youth engagement and humanitarian stuff in Nate's great update yesterday.

Nate Robinson had a rough start to the season last year, but once roles were established, NateRob went on a tear, winning several games near single-handedly for the Nuggets, including a couple while Ty Lawson sat during his first short injury bump. You take the good with the bad with Nate, with streaky shooting, a propensity for unconstructive chatter, and a heavy dose of near-overconfidence. But you balance that with speed, talent, passion, and moments of lights-out shooting, and Nate is a formidable foe for most any opponent. He collapses defenses on a regular basis, especially second string defenses who may not play a concept as well. If Shaw can convince Robinson to become just a bit more a distributor, I can envision a land of alley-oops at Mr. Robinson's disposal. I could see he and JaVale feeding off one another, though that also has all the chemical hallmarks of something flammable.

Not too shabby, huh? A respectable squad. Oh, by the way... this is your bench, Denver (you saw the punchline a mile away, you know the roster too. As a matter of fact, a couple of Stiffs have beaten me to the punch on this topic in the last couple days). Many of these players have recently been in contention for starter minutes, and Foye and McGee both have made it known they intend to compete for starting roles, and McGee especially could press Mozgov for minutes and marquee at any point this season, pre-to-post. Looking back on those five gents, one could make an argument that any of them is a luxury piece as a backup. Find me another NBA squad you can say that about this season (an exercise I'll semi-engage in below).

Denver made a lot of hay off of their bench last season, with many teams unable to withstand the constant pressure of a high-energy, high-talent squad on the floor for all 82 minutes. And that team was still absent the services of McGee and key cog Danilo Gallinari providing depth to that talent pool. Denver's bench was running many teams off the floor last season prior to an already-thin squad absorbing injury after lengthy injury. It's to their credit that they finished as close to the Mason-Dixon as they did.

But .500 ball is not going to cut it for fans or foes in the Western Conference this year. Many optimists are recalling the Nuggets win-count of two seasons ago and making favorable comparisons to that team. A few realists are tempering that with last season's record and many unknowns after a lost season last year. An aside...

***

My wife called me a pessimist several months back. I explained to her that I was actually simply a realist. Her response:

"That's what all pessimists believe."

Damnit, I hate it when she's right.

***

I compare the McGee-Hickson-Chandler-Foye-Robinson lineup to the benches of the rest of the league, and instead of comparing to each and every team, I'll look at the squads that currently are notoriously deep, or just a current/recent contender. If I miss one, apologies, show it to me downthread, please.

The Chicago Bulls? In the same order above: Cameron Bairstow, Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott, Tony Snell, Kirk Kinrich. Tough lineup, maybe a couple in their favor, but I'd take the Nuggets there.

The L.A. Clippers? Spencer Hawes, Glen Davis, C.J. Wilcox, Jamal Crawford, Jared Dudley (ESPN actually has Dudley as backup at PG and SF). This is a tough one. Guys who would go pretty well head-to-head across the board, you might have to call this one even. I think Chandler outmatches Wilcox, but I think Davis-Hickson is a push at best, and Crawford is a handful for Foye. Dudley-Robinson is a streak away from falling their way too. As the Black Knight says, "Alright, we'll call it a draw."



The San Antonio Spurs? Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, Austin Daye, Manu Ginobli, Cory Joseph/Patty Mills. OK, no argument is perfect. Damn you, Spurs.

Portland? Not even close. Miami? Please. (funnily, ESPN's Heat depth chart shows the never-injured Dwayne Wade without a backup at the two guard. Interesting plan.)

How about Cleveland? They've got the LeBron James magnet going now... Brendan Haywood, Tristan Thompson, James Jones, Mike Miller, and Matthew Dellavedova. Dellavalaodalada. Sorry, keyboard stuck. I'll take the Nugs again.

Dallas? Nooo. Memphis? They're decently deep, but I think these five would still take them. The Oklahoma City Thunder are spending too much up top to compete at guys 6-10. The Golden State Warriors have an interesting lineup of Festus Ezeli, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Brandon Rush, and Shaun Livingston. That one might be a push if I'm generous, but since we've been building some bad blood with the Warriors this past couple of seasons, let's just say our bench would typically beat those guys as well. See? I'm an optimist after all.

As you can see, even combing through the league, there are very few teams with the depth the Denver Nuggets can trot out onto the floor. Since you have to have five guys out there for all 48 minutes, some quick and crude math... Looking at average player minutes for last season, let's even more quickly hedge our bets and say starters average 36 minutes per game. (this is actually only true of top-tier starters, a much smaller group), but it makes our math simple, as that's ¾ of the game (36 of 48 minutes). Even in this crude-and-purposefully-undershot look, there is this: For a full quarter, on average, the Nuggets can use their depth to their benefit, especially at home. If the Nuggets can wear down opponents as in days of yore (altitude as advantage, anyone?) they may find themselves outpacing many opponents out of sheer constancy.

Practically applied, that could have a cumulative effect on the starters of a playoff opponent as well, who are suddenly riding their starters for 40+ minutes a night.  Exactly the place you find the teams who have been playing their guys for 38+ minutes a night over 82 games already. Lots of miles on the Carmelo Anthony/Kevin Durant/LeBron James-level crowd by the time you get to the playoffs (Gordon Hayward in the top 10 for minutes? Really?).

I believe there's a reason a team like the Spurs is the only one I didn't feel at least semi-confident about on this list. It's at least a part of the reason they have some hardware this last year. Several of those gents are ones they've brought back. A deep squad that's proven worth holding on to. The others that were close (Clippers... Bulls? Who am I missing?) are all trying to go deep into the playoffs as well.

So... What say you, Nuggets Nation? We've alluded to the makeup of the team with the return of Gallo, JaVale, and even NateRob. But who else in the NBA matches up across players 6-10? How big a difference does it make to elevate or take some pressure off the first team? Happy Thursday!