Nuggets and Jazz

DENVER NUGGETS

Record:  44-38, 1st in Northwest Division, 7th in Western Conference

Statistical Comparison:

Noteable:

5th in the league in scoring (100.3ppg)
30th in three-point %
3rd in assists
2nd in steals
3rd in opponent turnovers

Others:

23rd in opponent scoring (100.1ppg)
15th in ppg differential (+0.2)
8th in field goal %
15th in opponent field goal %
14th in rebounding
7th in blocks
23rd (tie) in turnovers

Additions:  
Joe Smith, J.R. Smith, Yakhouba Diawara (R)

Subtractions:  
Greg Buckner, DerMarr Johnson, Francisco Elson, Ruben Patterson, Howard Eisley

Key Players

PG:  Andre Miller, Earl Boykins
SG:  J.R. Smith, Julius Hodge
SF:   Carmelo Anthony, Eduardo Najera, Yakhouba Diawara
PF:   Kenyon Martin, Reggie Evans, Joe Smith, Linas Kleiza
C:   Marcus Camby, Nene Hilario, Jamal Sampson

Comments:  The Nuggets' game plan is no secret: throw a bunch of athletes out on the court and overwhelm the opposition from all sides.  Six or seven of their top eight guys are physical specimens.  It's also no secret that many of those athletes have neglected the finer points of the game, Kenyon Martin and Carmelo Anthony being exhibits A and B.  'Melo's stint on the national team seems to have brought out something more refined, however.  Him becoming a complete team player would go a long way towards giving this team direction.  Martin's knees are questionable, but Denver has plenty of ammo in the pack.  Who wouldn't want to bring Evans, Najera, Joe Smith, and Nene off the bench?  Marcus Camby, when healthy, makes more of a difference than you think he should.  Little Earl Boykins is one of the most annoying bench players in the league.  They lost a lot of veteran talent off the bench though, and it remains to be seen whether J.R. Smith can become a money guy.  They'll have to add another backcourt player somewhere because they're dangerously thin.  And despite their individual talent, I'm not sure the Nuggets did much to address their most pressing needs:  deep shooting and taking care of the ball.  In fact they may have gotten worse.  They were only so-so on the boards last year, though it's hard to imagine that this year with all those huge bodies.  For an athletic team they don't play stellar defense.  If they stay injury-free and improve their team cohesiveness and defense they should make a strong run at this relatively weak division again.  If they remain fractured the more cohesive Jazz could easily catch them.

UTAH JAZZ

Record:  41-41, 2nd in Northwest Division, 9th in Western Conference

Statistical Comparisons:

Noteable:

26th in the league in scoring (92.4ppg)
26th in three-point %
28th (tie) in steals
2nd (tie) in blocks
27th in turnovers

Others:

9th in opponent scoring (95.0ppg)
23rd in ppg differential (-2.6ppg)
25th in field goal %
11th in opponent field goal %
9th in rebounding
7th (tie) in assists
14th (tie) in opponent turnovers

Additions:  
Derek Fisher, Rafael Araujo, Ronnie Brewer (R), Paul Millsap (R), Dee Brown (R)

Subtractions:  
Devin Brown, Milt Palacio, Keith McLeod, Chris Humphries, Greg Ostertag

Key Players

PG:  Deron Williams, Derek Fisher, Dee Brown
SG:  Gordon Giricek, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Miles
SF:  Andre Kirilenko, Matt Harpring  
PF:  Carlos Boozer, Jarron Collins, Paul Millsap
C:  Mehmet Okur, Rafael Araujo

Comments:  The Jazz faced an uphill climb last season with significant injuries to three-fifths of their starting lineup.  That they still managed to play .500 and get within four wins of the playoffs shows just how they roll in Jerry Sloan's 'hood.  Deron Williams showed enough last year to make you think he could be pretty good. Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer are already pretty good.  Andre Kirilenko is much, much better than that.  After all these years, though, they're still looking to replace Gordon Giricek.  Perhaps Ronnie Brewer will finally be the one.  After Harpring the bench is pretty thin, but Derek Fisher will provide both stability and tutelage for Williams, so I like that add a lot.  I doubt they'll miss anyone they lost. Shooting percentage and scoring look like glaring weaknesses but injuries force people to shoot who really shouldn't.  With a full squad under Sloan's baleful eye I expect the percentage to go up immediately.  That and a few more made free throws should help the overall scoring.  Between Williams growing and Fisher spelling him the turnovers should also decrease.  Utah was a fantastic rebounding team, even better than their overall rebounding total shows.  (They were tied with Miami for the best rebounding differential in the league.)  This team really has more going for it than last year's stats would indicate.  I wouldn't be surprised to see them give Denver a real run for their money.  If I had to pick just one team that didn't make the playoffs last year to enter them this year, it would be the Jazz.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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