It’s that time of year. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole and flim flam articles on Stiffs loosely related to the Denver Nuggets. The other day one of our new writers asked why we call the site Denver Stiffs and I realized, we’ve gained a lot of new readers over the past couple years and perhaps they too are wondering what’s up with the weird site name. This is in particular true of fans who were born in the 90s or later. So let’s dive into the name, and which Nuggets represent it the best.
Some of you may know, the site originally started as firegeorgekarl.com. Our founder, Andy Feinstein, was fed up that a team with a stacked roster like Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Nene and Marcus Camby could do no better than being swept in the first round by the Los Angeles Lakers and so the site was made. What Andy probably didn’t count on was the name catching fire. Before you knew it, everyone in Colorado was talking about firegeorgekarl.com. Heck, even I originally heard about the site on late night sports radio. Unfortunately, other people (George specifically) caught wind of the name and it led to some legal stickiness. More importantly though, Andy realized the site, and himself, had potential for so much more. He knew that as a now representative of the fan base, he had to be more than just a hot take artist calling for the coaches head.
Andy was also big into 80s Nuggets basketball like most people who got the chance to watch that generation play. Those teams were of course led by the legendary Doug Moe who’s basketball philosophy was, well, unique.
You can hear Moe say it right in the clip “make those Stiffs chase you around on defense.” A Stiff was one of Moe’s favorite descriptors. He used it generally to describe a player who didn’t have a ton of athletic skill or scoring prowess. As it evolved, the term was almost used in an endearing way. It was used to describe those grit and grind guys that every team needs but often go unheralded. So Andy adopted the moniker for us. As the “bloggers” of the media circle we often can go unheralded and as Nuggets fans we all often times feel like the fans of the try hard team that just doesn’t have enough talent to get over the top. We are Stiffs, all of us. So, for Thanksgiving today I though we’d really bring the point home by going through the Stiffiest players at every position throughout Denver Nuggets history
Point Guard: Anthony Carter
Ironically, AC and Stiffs were breaking out in Denver at the same time. When the Nuggets traded for Iverson they had to give up Andre Miller who was their floor general. Iverson being very undersized at the two guard spot made it impossible to play him next to diminutive Earl Boykins so Boykins was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks a few weeks later for the taller Steve Blake. Blake provided a stop gap solution for the rest of the season but left after the Nuggets were bounced in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs. During that same series J.R. Smith drew the ire of coach Karl and was unceremoniously benched for game 5. Carter took his place and actually played pretty well. He parlayed that performance into 67 starts the next season. Carter wasn’t quick, he wasn’t a particularly deadly outside shooter, his playmaking was average. Across the board the best way you could describe him is solid or you could simply describe him as a Stiff.
Runner up: Junior Harrington
Honorable mentions: Emmanuel Mudiay, Steve Blake, Mark Jackson
Shooting Guard: Ryan Bowen
Ryan Bowen is a stiff in the absolute best of ways. He had the unfortunate luck of being in Denver during the darkest period of the franchise’s history: the late 90s into the early 00s. His time peaked in the 2002-2003 season where Denver won just 17 games but Bowen started 31 of them at shooting guard. Bowen never had range out to the three point line (or at least never used it if he did have it), he never averaged above five points a game or one assist a game for the Nuggets. He was a liability on offense, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. However, Bowen was a defensive stalwart and did it on determination and effort. No one is confusing Ryan with the most athletic guy on the court but he locked up some of the best perimeter threats in an era dominated by perimeter threats. Had coach Moe been around for Bowen’s tenure I’d risk a guess he’d have been one of coach’s favorites.
Runner up: Yakouhba Diawara
Honorable mention: Vincent Yarbrough, Randy Foye, Greg Buckner
Small Forward: Eduardo Najera
If Ryan Bowen isn’t the picture perfect Stiff then it’s definitely Eduardo Najera. Eddie came to the Nuggets as a return for Nikoloz Tskitshvili (we’ll get to him in a second) but the trade was really more about moving on from Skita than anything else. On a lot of teams Eddie probably languishes at the end of the bench but Karl found a way to use him. Like Carter, Eddie found his opportunity when Karl became upset with one of his starters during the playoffs and benched him (Kenyon Martin). Like Bowen, Najera’s best skill was his hustle. He crashed the boards with ferocity and played stout defense. Nothing was better than in his final season with the Nuggets Eddie suddenly came with a corner 3pt shot. He went from taking pretty much no threes at all to taking around two a game and knocking them down at a 36% clip. A testament to Karl’s ability to find things in players that others might have missed. Najera also got the chance to play with Doug Moe who was an assistant on George’s staff. I have no doubt if you were to talk to Moe about Eddie he’d have nothing but glowing praise.
Runner up: Renaldo Balkman
Honorable mention: Corey Brewer, Linas Kleiza, JaKarr Sampson
Power Forward: Nikoloz Tskitishvili
Oh Skita. In a lot of ways Tskitishvili doesn’t really exemplify a Stiff. He was billed as being extremely skilled which is why the Nuggets took him with the fifth overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. He was of course not that skilled. During his rookie year when the Nuggets were abysmal Skita logged more minutes than he would the rest of his career...combined. He was billed as a new age stretch four in the mold of Dirk Nowitzki...he shot 23.5% from three in Denver and for his career. No, Skita doesn’t fit the classic mold of a Stiff because in general Stiffs were solid contributors to the team and Skita was not. However, there is probably no more iconic player in terms of busts for the Nuggets than Nikoloz. For that reason he belongs at the top of the Stiff List.
Runner up: Raef LaFrentz
Honorable mention: Danny Schayes, Tony Battie, Bill Hanzlik
Center: Scott Hastings
If we were just going to list Stiffs regardless of position Scotty would be at the top. So much of Hastings exemplifies the best parts of the term Stiff. He was not particularly skilled in the NBA and he’d be the first to admit it. He served as Dikembe Mutombo’s backup during the early 90s and was the type of big man to make sure he got use out of all of his six fouls. Scotty came from the Detroit Pistons Bad Boys and carried that attitude and championship pedigree with him to Denver. When you think enforcer on a basketball court, Hastings fits the bill. As a guy who never averaged more than 2.1 points a game with Denver, he also fits the bill of a Stiff. In many ways Hastings has carried all the good parts of the Stiff moniker as much as we have. Still an icon in Denver as the Nuggets color commenter and daily radio show host, Hastings can often be heard espousing the merits of playing hard, playing tough and playing with energy. He applies those same principles to every day life conversations on his radio show as well. I can’t think of a better symbol of a Stiff than Mr. Hastings himself.
Runner up: Timofey Mozgov
Honorable mentions: Thomas Welsh, Blair Rasmussen, Johan Petro