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Playing Voltron with the Denver Nuggets

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Playing scenario-related basketball late into the night

Dirk Knows...
Dirk Knows...
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As a kid, I got up earlier on Saturday mornings than any other day of the week. Saturday mornings brought Looney Tunes, Scooby Doo, and Tom and Jerry, amongst many others. Thank god I eventually outgrew cartoons. Or...

I'd like to tell you that I don't have Archer on in the background while I write this. I'd like to tell you that, but there's no need to introduce lies into our relationship at this point. And animation has always been a part of my life, from the kid toons above to the Animaniacs, from Speed Racer to the ThunderCats, I have spent WAY too much time in front of a television watching someone else's moving coloring book.

And Voltron... ohhhhh, Voltron. For those of you unfamiliar, here's way more than you ever wanted to know about the 1980's Japanimation half-hour cartoon, which was repurposed and re-voiced for American television. I read the page carefully before tacking it into this article, and am ashamed to say I learned nothing new. Wow. One of my favorite things about Voltron was a theme that's always been near and dear to me; that a sum can be greater than its parts. To describe the cartoon, um... Well, five robotic, uh... Lions... click together into a giant robot guy, that... Yeah, it sounds dumber than it was, especially when you were in your teens, but... they formed this big-arse robot which could basically kick the crap out of anything. I loved it. And realistically, it was 52 episodes of the same ending, sorta. Sum Is Greater Than Its Parts. Sum Is Greater Than Its Parts. Sum Is Greater Than...  Sum... Somehow, I still look fondly back upon that cartoon. Don't talk to me about Season Two. Because I have personal issues with Season Two which border on anger. Yup. About a cartoon from my teens.

I still have several other guilty pleasures of that nature, including our Denver Nuggets. And given the current hour, one might also say writing about the Denver Nuggets. Also all sports. Plus movies like Hudson Hawk. Or the James Bond oeuvre. I'll occasionally fret over how many times I've seen most of my favorite movies, shows and even cartoons when I used to watch such things more often. Monty Python and the Holy Grail. 42 times now. Not maybe 42 or 43. 42. Eesh. But whether a brilliant and subtle film like The Shawshank Redemption or less subtle Japan-Lion-Robo-Mega-Dude-animation, most of the stories have some version of that theme running through them. The Sum Is Greater Than Its Parts. Then the other day...

I'd mentioned in a recent Stiffs thread that I wasn't out of ideas for articles just yet, but that I could see where Stiffs columnist Jeff Morton was coming from in his fun article the other day of just what a topical wasteland the offseason can become when you've been doing this for as long as Nate, Jeff, Andy, and Colin have. A few folks threw in some fun ideas. I went looking for who wrote what idea in what thread, but couldn't find the string quickly enough (as I debated sleep) to not just say thanks, fellow Stiffs. I'll find and attribute the idea for this article ASAP (edit: found by a Stiff below, thanks nohoops4u!), but very grateful for the idea. Not surprisingly, there were several topics suggested and critiqued, including a couple suitable for some X-rated Denver Pro Basketball Team Fodder Blog, which I'm glad our site is not. Since then I'd be less comfortable about our name.

Anyway, said fellow Stiff mentioned a topic which has been touched on once or twice in these threads: the impressive versatility of our squads and the ability to play matchups well, whether Small/Tall Ball or focus on offensive vs. defense. The Nuggets have some interesting combos to throw on the floor for all kinds of situations. Yet again, The Sum Is Greater Than Its Parts, at least when it comes to the Swiss Army Voltron that they seem to be from a matchup perspective. Here are the lions... er, players we're working with, including some rookie/overseas longshots with a key below for my "stab" at strengths/weaknesses:

Name

Position

Height

Weight

Defense

Offense

Notes

Arron Afflalo

SG

6'5"

215

2

2

Used to be closer to a 1 on D, but sacrificed to get his offensive game in gear

Darrell Arthur

PF

6'9"

225

2

3

Best Nugs defender at PF, close to a 2 on offense, needs consistency

Wilson Chandler

SF

6'8"

220

1

3

Can be a lockdown defender, and should be a 2 on offense if he bounces back

Kenneth Faried

PF

6'8

228

4

2

Needs defensive work, with a blossoming offensive game. ENERGY GUY.

Randy Foye

SG

6'4"

210

3

2

Gives effort on D, can be a hot shooter

Danilo Gallinari

SF

6'10"

225

1

2

Gifted at both ends of the floor. Defender, scorer, creator.

Erick Green

PG/SG

6'3"

180

3

3

Has shown flashes at both ends, but hard to say until he plays in the NBA

Gary Harris

PG/SG

6'4"

210

2

3

NBA-ready on D. Almost slipped to a 4 on offense, we shall see

J.J. Hickson

PF

6'9"

242

4

3

Inconsistent on defense, Has offensive flashes

Nikola Jokic

C

6'11"

253

3

3

Same as above. Left at average until we see him play in the NBA

Ty Lawson

PG

5'11"

195

3

1

Decent on D, needs to work through screens better. The leader on offense, period.

JaVale McGee

C

7'0"

237

2

2

Probably should be 3/3 with inconsistency, but can change a game at both ends.

Quincy Miller

SF

6'9"

210

2

4

Length makes up for inconsistency on D, but not on offense.

Timofey Mozgov

C

7'1"

250

2

3

Solid stay-at-home D, is close to being a 2 on offense as well

Jusuf Nurkic

C

6'11"

280

3

4

Young. Raw. Possibly cubic. But if he pans out, he's a beast.

Nate Robinson

PG

5'9"

180

3

2

Gives effort on D, can light it up on offense when on a hot streak

Key: Number rankings: 1=Elite 2=Good 3=Average 4=A weakness 5=Why are you on the floor?

Need offense? Let's try this:

PG: Ty Lawson. Lawson has poured in over a thousand points the last two seasons, and was a whopping point shy in the ‘11-‘12 season. But Lawson is no ball hog, he's crossed the 500-assist line in each of the last two seasons. Lawson scores and distributes and sits at the fringe of the All-Star conversation in one of the deepest position battles in NBA history. Ty's numbers show him to be remarkably efficient, and the Nuggets are a different team with him in the drivers seat.

SG: You have luxuries here, with Arron Afflalo, Nate Robinson and Randy Foye all available, and all prone to hot streaks. If I had to compare three players, like the handy dandy Basketball Reference allows me to do, I might find that they all have wildly similar statistics, with Nate my guy based on career stats, but mindful of how any one of those three veteran presences has been playing during the game.

SF: Prior to Wilson Chandler's ambivalent campaign last year, I'd have argued this a bit more as Will can get hot, but Danilo Gallinari has skills inside, outside, distributing, creating... there's no contest, situationally. I'd run the 6'10" Gallo (our small forward is 2" taller than our Power Forward) and allow him to create mismatches in the defense along with Ty's speed and trips through the lane.

PF: Kenneth Faried. You've got a couple of competent scorers behind him, but Faried fills the bill here in a couple of ways. His offensive game is blossoming over the last third of last season and into this years' Team USA stint, and confidence always seems to play nicely for the Manimal in his game and effort. It's also no accident that Faried was converting points at an 80% clip through last week's games in Spain, as he was taking everything that was given to him in outworking less athletic competition and converting shot after shot into dunks and putbacks. It's always good to have the effort/cleanup guy on an offensive Voltron as not everyone can be looking for their shot.

C: Argh. Am I? Yes, I guess I am. JaVale McGee. There are head-scratching moments along the way, but the man is a force of nature when things are clicking, a wrecking machine that can come at you in ways your brain cannot fathom he can accomplish. Just having the threat of his ability under the basket keep the spacing on the floor honest, as he can never be left alone.

So... That's two jet-quick backcourt scorers, both of whom can distribute (even if only one likes to), with a hurricane under the hoop and Manimal simply cleaning the rest up. All while our most complete player tortures you slowly with whatever you give him.  I love this idea. By the way, I'm not suggesting Faried and McGee for the defensive end, this is situational-only.

What about a defensive squad? I'm liking this game.

PG: Always cool to write about one of your rookies. Gary Harris. Harris is a dedicated and talented defender, who has shown the sort of fundamental skillset that had most scouts labeling him "NBA-ready" at this end of the floor. It's been some time since we were able to put a lockdown defender on the opponents' distributor and backcourt scorer simultaneously, leading me to...

SG: Arron Afflalo. I know, people say he lost some of his defensive prowess in Orlando when being asked to be the primary scorer on that amorphous squad. I view that more as the sign of a talented guy who can contribute in whatever ways you ask him to. I remember the AAA from Denver days who could terrorize an offensive opponent. I suspect that since Brian Shaw will be asking for his reappearance, I'll be seeing him soon.

SF: Danilo Gallinari. Look, Dirk Nowitzki hates playing against him. That should be right below his name on his defensive resume. He was one of three lockdown defenders (he, Chandler, and Andre Iguoudala) from the season before last who were making teams resort to ridiculous options and commit shot clock infractions time after time and had the Nuggets looking like the team no one wanted to play in the postseason - before Gallo went down. Gallo plays smart positions and angles, and works hard to harass his opponent.

PF: You could go with Darrell Arthur here, who is a solid enough defender to be a temptation, but I believe that Wilson Chandler will have a bit of a defensive renaissance this year, similar to the trio listed above... only with AAA filling in the holey moley spot, and to the better in my opinion. Chandler and Gallo would alternate who took the PF and SF on opposing teams that season, going with the best matchups for size and shooting ability.

C: Timofey Mozgov. Yes, it was tempting to go with the shot altering swaths of JaVale McGee, but Mozzie was so fundamentally sound on the defensive end this last season as to earn the nod. Mozzie, simply doing the things he's supposed to do, allows you to to actually implement a defensive scheme. So here's your defensive scheme overview:

Four good-to-great lockdown defenders with speed, strength, and intelligence revolving around a 7'1" monolith who's sharp and ready to sacrifice. A buzzsaw, waiting for you to run into it. It's so pretty, I might cry. Or just grab a beer.

What about the size game? No, we're not doing that topic. Let's start with Small Ball.

Small Ball gets a lot less positional, but in my mind's eye you have some combination of five of these six guys:

Lawson

Robinson

Afflalo

Foye

Faried

Chandler

All of the guards can score, dribble and distribute. Both of the forwards can rebound and score. Five of the six are capable-to-excellent defenders, and I may be imagining things, but I'd swear in Spain Faried's defense has been proportional to the size of the guy he's defending. In small ball, he might not be quite such a liability. You can even play all four guards and just one of the forwards, as both Foye and Afflalo have done stints outside the backcourt in their careers. What I'm saying is, we've got options. How about we got back to defined positions for...

Tall Ball? Is that what we're calling it? Fine.

PG: Ty Lawson. Wait, what? Off to a crappy start, Olson. I don't disagree, but... Tall for the sake of tall isn't the point of the exercise, it's putting out lineups that can win against tall teams, and even match up well. Lawson has shown a propensity amongst the trees, especially when it's enough of them to slow the game down. He's also the best distributor amongst the Nuggets guards, and with that many trees in the forest, you'll want the right floor general. Lawson's still your guy. I'll acknowledge Gary Harris has him by 5 inches. Show me what Harris can do, and we'll revisit.

SG: Wilson Chandler. I was tempted to still leave AAA in this spot, as at 6'5", he's still more than qualified as a tall guard, but Will has the skillset to play out of the back court and thrive, especially against defenders trying to keep up with him from the perimeter on drives. A 6'8" shooting guard also makes Chandler the only guy mentioned at the 2-5 slots at some point during this article. A versatile guy, Ill Will. The best part of that versatility being that you'd not be surprised to hear he did well on offense or defense against the other team's shooting guard, forwards or center. Interesting. At least to me, as that means that...

SF: Danilo Gallinari. I want to exclaim A SIX-TEN SMALL FORWARD IN OUR TALL BALL LINEUP!!!!, and then come to realize once again that he's our regular starting small forward, and that this is news to no one.

PF: JaVale McGee. Now we're playing tall ball, my friends, with seven feet of power forward ranging around the boards to harass and alter any inbound shot, alongside:

C: Timofey Mozgov. For all the reason listed above. And for 14 feet of Twin Towers on the block. So that leaves us...

A team of four ferocious defenders, rebounders and scorers patrolling the paint and lanes, powered by the engine that makes the Nuggets go. Or we could just get silly, Make Gallo an even better distributor, put him at the point, somehow swing getting Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic (Jusuf and Jokic. Nurkic and Nokic. Oy, I'm glad I'm not Kyle Speller this year.) over and integrated, and throw those guys on the floor with McGee and Mozzie, and the littlest guy is 6'10". I'm not saying it will work, I'm saying it would be a funny slow-motion-stride moment.

What say you, Nuggets Nation? What scenario did you like the best? What scenarios have I not even thought of? Did I miss on one of the calls? And don't forget those guilty pleasures. Husdon Hawk. 9 times. Not ok. Go Nuggets! (Go Voltron!)