11 Denver Nuggets In Denver, they've been thinking--and drafting--big, but have they cured their problems in the post?

October 30, 2000

When the Nuggets selected Auburn center Mamadou N'Diaye with the
26th pick in the June draft, it looked as if the most immediate
benefit they would see from their choice was some clever puns,
such as the one coach Dan Issel offered up on draft night:
"Remember, nobody blocks your shots like your Mamadou." After
all, N'Diaye averaged just 8.9 points per game as a senior and
looked like little more than a project.

But there's more to his acquisition than the yuk factor. By
drafting N'Diaye and signing free-agent center Terry Davis, Issel
showed that he was committed to plugging the hole in the middle
that sank his team last year. "Mamadou has been a pleasant
surprise at both ends of the floor," says Issel. "It looks like
he's going to be able to play in this league. But right now we
really have a power forward in Raef LaFrentz playing the center
position, so we have to improve our team defense and be confident
in one another that if we cover up for one teammate, somebody
else is going to cover up for us."

When LaFrentz, who is 6'11" but weighs just 240 pounds, was
overmatched last year, Issel often turned to power forward
Antonio McDyess. But forcing his best scorer to bang with the
Shaqs and Tim Duncans of the world took a toll at the other end
of the floor. "I don't think we're going to do that this year,"
says Issel. "There are eight or nine centers in the league who
you've got to double-team on the catch, so we might as well have
our center guarding those people if they're going to get that
kind of help. And all the other centers I think Raef can cover by
himself."

Besides holdover Keon Clark, the Nuggets now have the luxury of
other center options in Davis, who, according to Issel, "can
guard anybody," and N'Diaye. But Denver really needs LaFrentz on
the floor for his offense, which means he'll see some minutes at
power forward as well. He was the Nuggets' fourth-leading scorer,
and his ability to step back and hit the three (he made 60)
creates matchup nightmares. Without him, the Nuggets become too
dependent on McDyess and point guard Nick Van Exel.

Then again, that wasn't always a bad thing last year: Denver was
22-7 when Van Exel scored at least 19 points. "What I read into
that," says Issel, "is that it's important to have more people on
the floor who can shoot the basketball, more people who can
score, so we're not so dependent on Nick to score for us to win.
I think everybody likes a pass-first point guard, and I think
Nick is that kind of a point guard. [He was second in the league
in assists last season.] But when he didn't have confidence in
the people he was passing it to, he had more confidence in
himself taking the shot."

To support Van Exel on the scoreboard, Denver acquired gunners
Voshon Lenard and Tracy Murray. That pair, along with three-point
specialist George McCloud, swingman James Posey and starting
shooting guard Tariq Abdul-Wahad (a suspect outside shooter with
good moves to the hole), at least gives Issel a host of bodies to
choose from at shooting guard and small forward. Says Issel, "If
we can get 20 points a night from those two positions from a
combination of those players, we'll be in pretty good shape."

Being in good shape is also a key for LaFrentz. He missed the
last 70 games of his rookie year, 1998-99, after tearing his left
ACL, so last season was the first in which he played a full
schedule. It showed. "He hit the wall 40 or 45 games in," says
Issel.

LaFrentz was able to work on his game this summer, though, unlike
the previous off-season. "Last summer was so rehab-intensive
because of my knee," he says. "This summer first thing I did was
take a little time off, got myself refreshed physically and
mentally."

He got engaged and did a little traveling. Then he worked
tirelessly on conditioning, footwork and low post moves. He also
picked Davis's brain during training camp, all of which will make
him a better defender. But he knows he still has his work cut out
for him. "A lot of it is just one thing: strength," LaFrentz
says. "Against some of those guys I give up almost 100 pounds.
That's an uphill battle."

--Mark Bechtel

COLOR PHOTO: TIM DEFRISCO/NBA ENTERTAINMENT LAFORCE? At the center of the Nuggets' plans is the hope that LaFrentz can stay healthy and man the middle. COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBA ENTERTAINMENT HELP WANTED For the offense to get off the ground, Van Exel could use another scorer to lighten his load.

In Fact

The Nuggets led the league last year in blocked shots per game
(7.54) and were the only team to have three players with triple
figures in blocks: Raef LaFrentz (180), Antonio McDyess (139)
and Keon Clark (114).

Projected Lineup

STARTERS 1999-2000 KEY STATS
PVR*

SF James Posey 8.2 ppg 3.9 rpg 1.8 apg 1.21 spg 42.9 FG%
129

PF Antonio McDyess 19.1 ppg 8.5 rpg 1.72 bpg 50.7 FG% 62.6 FT%
14

C Raef LaFrentz 12.4 ppg 7.9 rpg 2.22 bpg 44.6 FG% 32.8 3FG%
61

SG Tariq Abdul-Wahad 11.4 ppg 4.8 rpg 1.6 apg 0.97 spg 42.4 FG%
191

PG Nick Van Exel 16.1 ppg 9.0 apg 3.9 rpg 39.0 FG% 33.2 3FG%
54

BENCH 1999-2000 KEY STATS
PVR*

F George McCloud 10.1 ppg 3.7 rpg 3.2 apg 41.7 FG% 37.8 3FG%
152

F-C Keon Clark 8.6 ppg 6.2 rpg 1.41 bpg 54.2 FG% 68.8 FT%
155

G Robert Pack[1] 8.9 ppg 5.8 apg 1.4 rpg 1.07 spg 41.7 FG%
196

F Tracy Murray[1] 10.2 ppg 3.4 rpg 43.3 FG% 43.0 3FG% 85.1 FT%
199

C Terry Davis[1][2] 3.4 ppg 3.8 rpg 0.3 apg 53.3 FG% 73.7 FT%
297

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)
[2]1998-99 statistics

THE BOOK
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Nuggets

"It's more important to take away the transition game against
the Nuggets than against most other teams. Do that, and you'll
see that their half-court offense is pretty vanilla. They just
run their stuff over and over and try to make you react. Except
for Nick Van Exel, they're not very good at creating something
when a play breaks down.... Van Exel is the key in a lot of
ways. You have to pick him up early and slow him down. He takes
a lot of risks, and although he can make some real boneheaded
plays, he makes good things happen more often than not. He's
very good with the clock running down at the end of a
quarter.... Tracy Murray will probably be a little better in
Denver than he was with the Wizards. He's a shooter, and he'll
get more open looks in transition and from Van Exel's
penetration than he got in Washington.... With Murray, George
McCloud and Raef LaFrentz, the Nuggets have a lot of good
shooters, but you can play them aggressively on the perimeter
because they don't have enough power inside to make you pay for
it."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)