October 22, 2010
SI.com's NBA Enemy Lines
Denver Nuggets
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Nuggets

Who knows, they may be getting ready to strip it all down and become the next version of the Timberwolves. Mark Warkentien [the de facto general manager who was not re-signed last summer] was probably the sane voice, as much as there can be in that organization, and it looks like people are jumping ship on them now. [Assistant coach] Tim Grgurich is not going to be around any longer, and who knows how it's going to go for George Karl?

Karl has let it go free rein the last few years. He's got that kind of a chaos game plan: We don't need no stinking plays, we're just going to outplay you and force matchups on you. It's a Don Nelson kind of approach and sometimes he looks like a genius with it. But he's going to miss Grgurich -- they always had an edge defensively where they had this organized system of switching and trapping defenses. When George was out last year they lost that edge, and I wonder how much of that edge George himself will lose without Grgurich there.

They've got a terrible roster with older, expensive players, and I don't see how they fit together, especially if they trade Carmelo Anthony. If they trade Carmelo, Chauncey Billups won't want to stay and hang out with a bunch of young kids.

Everything looked good when they went to the conference finals two years ago, but last year George was out with his cancer scare and they limped into the playoffs without him, and just like that it's over for them. Now they look at Kenyon Martin and they can have no idea when he's going to be there for them, and then there's J.R. Smith, a total loose cannon who can lead you to victory or tear you down. I don't expect them to make the playoffs, especially with the Carmelo rumors hanging over their head. I see a down year.

I feel like Anthony forces the issue too much. Look, he is a great shooter, a terrific athlete and a post-up player -- a highly unusual combination. He is an incredible scorer who can win the game on his own. But he tries to take over the game in the wrong context. He only knows how to take over with ball in his hands; you don't see him dominating with his rebounding or defense. And if something goes wrong, he's one of those complaining about somebody missing an assignment. So you don't look to him as a leader because he's among the first to turn when something goes wrong. I'm just telling you the body language I see from him. When the going gets tough, he doesn't always get going.

Everybody knows he can get on a roll and carry you, but there are times when the pressure gets to him and he's the one who flies off the handle -- and then the team takes on that personality because it can't win without him. It's that aspect of leadership that keeps him from becoming one of the top three or four players in the league. Does he need to be in a situation where someone else is the emotional leader and Anthony is the one who supplies the scoring? He's going to be a leader no matter what because of his talent, but sometimes he leads them right down the hole.

Billups is a very solid point guard who can still make big shots. I just don't know if he can stay in front of the other point guards defensively, especially all of the younger and quicker guys who are starting now that the league is upping the pace more and more. Billups has increased his scoring and he is a leader, but his quickness, athleticism and durability are going to be huge factors for him over the next few years. The irony is that the Nuggets depend on him to lead that fast-paced game.

Is Ty Lawson going to take more minutes from Billups? Probably so, and Chauncey will play the 2 some because they can play together. But as the team declines and Chauncey finds himself having to chase those younger guys through screens, I'm thinking we'll probably begin to see a decline in his game.

Billups is important to Denver because in transition he's getting the ball to the right people, and in the half-court he's getting his teammates to execute the play or get the ball to the right people. Sometimes as a point guard you're seeing the matchup you have to exploit, even if that means discarding the play and going for it because Chauncey has the experience to make those decisions correctly. If they were to lose that leadership from Chauncey, they'd really be starting over. But I don't see them getting great value back in a trade; his value is in his contract [a $14.2 million team option for 2011-12]. If they get off to a bad start, I don't know if even Chauncey can counter the bad vibes, because every day there's going to be more questions of what's going to happen next with Carmelo or George or the team.

In the right context, Martin was a very good player. But he's long past that now because of his knee troubles. He rebounds, he knows how to defend and he has the quickness and the reach to get around his man in the low post, and he has the instincts to create deflections and ignite the break. Those are things that he's always done when healthy.

He's a guy who has had long spells away because of injuries, and maybe he has a different view of the game now. He's probably cherishing the games a little bit more than he used to, when he would get all upset over any little thing. You don't see him going off like he used to. It's almost a bigger concern that he sometimes falls in love with his jump shot, and he can cause more harm that way by being sporadic. But what he does defensively and on the glass make up for it -- when he's healthy.

Nene is a quick jumper, he has good, big hands, and he plays with muscle inside. When there's penetration from a teammate, you'll see him at the rim and he can finish as a high-percentage shooter. Nene had a cancer scare a couple of years ago and he fought back from it, and that impressed the hell out of me. But you also have to recognize that he profits from their system. Their game is to spread it out, and when you have 10 people spread out over the 94 feet -- as opposed to everybody crunching down into the lane -- then he's going to have more room to operate. I'd like to see him be a more consistent rebounder, but their transition game puts him out of position a lot.

There are times I'm completely amazed by Smith and times I simply can't stand him. Sometimes he'll get on a roll and he is unbelievable -- you can foul him hard and he'll still make a three. He's one of those heat-check guys: If his last three has gone down, you know the next one is going up, and if you get in his face, he'll back up and shoot it a little sooner from 26 feet, maybe even from 30. But I don't know if you can win consistently with someone like him, because it doesn't look like it's about winning for him. He likes winning, of course, but it looks like it's more about showing up the guy guarding him and getting his points. He can shoot you into it, and he can shoot you out of it. You can't count on him.

It's going to be interesting to see Smith in a year or two if he's with another team that is less accommodating to him. He'll probably try to sell himself on the promise that he won't be a distraction, that he'll say he's grown up and he's learned and he'll come off the bench and do whatever he has to do to help the team. I have no doubt that a team looking for shooters to space around a big man will take a chance on him. I've seen worse characters get job after job in this league, and Smith is so explosive that it's hard to say no to him.

I didn't understand the signing of Al Harrington. I just can't see him playing well with Carmelo because they both need the ball. Harrington didn't appear to be happy in New York because he wasn't getting enough chances. All he does for you is score. He's mainly a guy who puts up quick shots in transition. He can go down into the post and hold his position in the block, but he's also a black hole when the ball comes into him.

Chris Andersen is limited offensively, but he brings athleticism and energy. He gets his hands on the ball to keep it alive on the offensive glass, he runs the floor, he'll get a few deflections at the defensive end that lead to fast breaks and he'll finish those breaks. But in the half-court he gives you nothing apart from an offensive rebound.

I'm lukewarm on Arron Afflalo. He does everything OK -- he brings quickness as a utility guard, he can shoot with range and he can defend.


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