Monday , Oct , 12 , 2009 Oly Sandor

Can Anthony and Billups lead Denver past L.A. and San Antonio in the west?

A basketball renaissance occurred in Denver last year because the team swapped shot-first Allen Iverson for pass-first Billups. Fair or not, Iverson’s scoring and ball dominating ways confused; Billups’ passing and leadership clarified. For instance, after Iverson, Anthony became the undisputed first option on offense. Best of all, the forward’s game matured throughout the season -‘Melo, despite a low field goal percentage, started buying into the concept of team scoring …


Can Anthony and Billups lead Denver past L.A. and San Antonio in the west?Every day until the regular season begins, HoopsVibe the Blog will ask and answer an important question facing each of the NBA’s thirty teams. Weigh-in with thoughts on our Key Questions feature in the comment box below.

Today’s team: the Denver Nuggets.

Key Question:
Can Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups help Denver compete with Boston, L.A., San Antonio, and Cleveland?   

The Answer: They’re good. Just not championship good.

A basketball renaissance occurred in Denver last year because the team swapped shot-first Allen Iverson for pass-first Billups. Fair or not, Iverson’s scoring and ball dominating ways confused; Billups’ passing and leadership clarified.

For instance, after Iverson, Anthony became the undisputed first option on offense. Best of all, the forward matured throughout the season -‘Melo, despite a low field goal percentage, started buying into the concept of team scoring.

Others prospered next to Billups, a former NBA Finals MVP and classic point guard. Kenyon Martin and Nene had strong years on both ends of the floor. The temperamental but talented J.R. Smith set a career high in scoring by averaging 15 points per game.

The bench was very much a positive. Linas Kleiza and Smith were the designated scorers; Chris Anderson, Renaldo Balkman, and Anthony Carter provided energy. Most nights, this unit gave Denver an edge through outworking opposing benches.

With many returning players, 2010 looks good. Three things must occur for the Nuggets to stay near the top of the Western Conference standings.

First, Billups has to continue bringing his ’A’ game. After some disappointing performances in Detroit, the muscular table-setter rediscovered ‘Mr. Big Shot’ in Denver and earned MVP consideration. Billups must maintain his steady, consistent play on both ends of the floor.

Second, Anthony and Smith have to progress. For Anthony, this means joining the NBA’s elite, which occurs if he improves his passing, rebounding, and defense. Smith, who will start the season serving a seven game suspension for reckless driving, has to become more professional to fulfill his potential.

Third, they better stay nasty. Anderson, Martin, and Nene need to be physical down-low, especially since none stand taller than 6-10. Newcomer Johan Petro adds depth to this platoon of blue-collar bigs, while Joey Graham and Arron Affalo will try to replace Dahntay Jones and Kleiza.

Prediction: 4th in the Western Conference. Denver, even if everything falls into place, hasn’t kept pace with Los Angeles, San Antonio or even Dallas. 
     
Sound off: Where will Denver finish in 2010? Will they make playoffs? Why? Why not? Get at Oly’s Key Questions feature in his HoopsVibe archive and follow him on Twitter. Photo courtesy of dherrera 96.