Over a week ago, my editor here at SB Nation Denver asked that I write a piece about what we learned from the Nuggets preseason for my next column. It sounded like a great idea at the time, until I soon thereafter realized that none of the Nuggets preseason games would be televised locally. I was, however, fortunate enough to attend the Nuggets first home preseason game and watched their third game in Los Angeles against the Lakers on NBATV. And, of course, I can read a game recap, a box score and can deduce much information from Denver Stiffs readers who found pirated feeds for the games and gave thorough commentary throughout each game.
So if asked what I've learned about our 2010-11 Nuggets based on their preason thus far, five games in I can tell you the following...
...the Nuggets are painfully short on size. Yes, I know this is like saying the sky is blue when it's daytime and the sun is out. But after seeing a recovering Blake Griffin grab rebounds and dunk balls at will, a lethargic LaMarcus Aldridge do as he pleased inside, draft bust D.J. White pull down 13 boards for the Thunder and Laker teammates Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom put up respectable numbers while merely going through the motions against the Nuggets frontcourt, consider me concerned. Very concerned. Nene may be able to do to yeoman's work at center and I love newcomer Shelden Williams' enthusiasm and effort. But sans Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin - both lost indefinitely to injury and not particularly big by NBA standards to begin with - the Nuggets are going to get out-matched in the paint nightly.
...Nuggets fans may have to begrudgingly get used to small ball from this roster and seeing three guard lineups frequently. But fortunately for us, our non-bigs are pretty damn talented. Young guards J.R. Smith, Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson in particular have looked great in the preseason (and by all accounts training camp, too). Each appears to have put in ample gym time this summer - excusing the gym time Smith used to (allegedly) beat the crap out of a fellow practice player - and will be improved in 2010-11. Smith - I'm shocked to say - seems to be more patient, Afflalo's offensive repertoire has improved and Lawson looks intent on cutting down his mistakes. This bodes well for Nuggets fans.
...Carmelo Anthony doesn't want to be here. He's been "professional" in all of his preseason outings but hasn't played inspired basketball. This may have to do more with the nature of meaningless preseason games than anything else, but Melo's body language is clearly saying: "I'll show up, but please trade me sooner than later." Melo's trademark smile and his interactions with teammates - at least what I saw up-close - were pedestrian at best. I'm still holding out hope that the Nuggets put together a miraculous early regular season run that convinces Melo this is where he wants to be this season and beyond.
...George Karl is ready to coach. The one consistent comment I've gotten from everyone who has seen the Nuggets play live in both Denver and Los Angeles was that Karl "looks thin but good." Having recently seen Karl myself, I can assure you he's ready to rock. The challenge before him, however, is daunting as all (that's right, all) of his key players are in some form of contract limbo. As is Karl himself along with his entire coaching staff. It shouldn't have to be this way for a coach of Karl's stature at this stage of his career, but the Nuggets may require one of Karl's greatest coaching performances if they expect to get anywhere near 50 wins this season.
...Kenyon Martin ain't comin' back anytime soon. K-Mart's stupid comments about being in no rush to come back from knee surgery may have been taken somewhat out of context. But make no mistake about it: nearing the completion of a poisonous, $90 million contract K-Mart feels slighted and it will affect his play if he ever steps back on the court. K-Mart's comments were nothing if not honest and I believe exposed how many players feel in locker rooms throughout the NBA.
...the aforementioned Shelden Williams is a gamer, he just doesn't have a lot of game. Williams has a great power forward's body: broad shoulders, long arms, big hands. Unfortunately, he somehow inherited Johan Petro's footwork and my handling ability with a basketball. I suspect much will be asked of Williams in K-Mart and Birdman's absence, especially if recently signed Al Harrington misses regular season time thanks to his plantar fasciitis in his left foot. But will much be accomplished with Williams anchoring the four-spot?
...the Nuggets could finish anywhere between 38 wins and 55 wins. No joke. Given the unknown contract situation of so many players and coaches, the ongoing Carmelo Anthony saga and the always competitive Western Conference remaining as tough as ever, many things will have to break right for the Nuggets to match the regular success attained over the past two seasons.
All I can guarantee at this point is that we as Nuggets fans are in for a fascinating - and sometimes infuriating - ride.