Blazersedge 2008-09 NBA Season Preview: Nuggets and Jazz

With the completion of this post we have now previewed 29 of the 30 teams in the NBA.  Next week we’ll take an in-depth look at the Trail Blazers over multiple days.  Before we get there, though, it’s fitting that we finish with the Nuggets and Jazz, as they will be the teams Portland will have to compete with closely if they hope to make the post-season (Nuggets) or have any dreams of the sweet seed a division title brings (Jazz).

 

DENVER NUGGETS

Record:  50-32, 2nd in Northwest Division, 8th in Western Conference

 

Statistical Comparisons

 

Notable:

2nd in the league in scoring (110.7 ppg)

29th in opponent scoring (107.0 ppg)

1st in free throw attempts per game

3rd in assists

1st in steals

1st in blocks

2nd in opponent turnovers

 

Others:

11th  in ppg differential (+3.7 ppg)

6th in field goal % 

14th in opponent field goal %

19th in three-point % 

19th in free throw percentage

21st in turnovers

Poor offensive rebounding team

Poor defensive rebounding team

 

Movement

 

Significant Additions:  Chris Anderson, Renaldo Balkman, Dahntay Jones

Significant Subtractions:  Marcus Camby, Yakhouba Diawara, Eduardo Najera

 

Roster

 

Coach:  George Karl

 

Key Players

PG:  Anthony Carter, Chucky Atkins

SG:  Allen Iverson, J.R. Smith

SF:  Carmelo Anthony, Renaldo Balkman

PF:  Kenyon Martin, Linas Kleiza

C:  Nene Hilario, Chris Anderson, Steven Hunter

 

Comments

 

Anyone who has read my stuff over the last few years knows that I’ve never been a huge fan of the whole Wonder Twins concept in Denver.  (“Form of…spraying shots!”  “Shape of…no defense!”)  It always seemed like a gamble to me.  For one thing, you needed a lot of effort, cooperation, and happiness out of all of the guys who weren’t going to touch the ball.  For another, neither Anthony nor Iverson have games predicated on making others better, except in the crude “I drew the defense to me so life ought to be easier for you” sort of way.  I’m not denying Iverson’s toughness nor his willingness to pass when merited, but he’s the kind of guy you say you love to have on your team as long as he’s there without shedding a tear when he’s gone.  Together they’re like having two, huge outboard motors on your boat but they’re not always pointed the same direction.  When it works, it’s spectacular.  When it doesn’t, seeing that boat bobbing out there on the waves is disappointing.

 

Denver does two things very well:  score the ball and gamble on defense.  They can score from multiple positions when they want to.  They can find the open man.  They’ll play the passing lanes and make life tough on you by skillfully and seamlessly turning defense into offense.  They are not as good at straight up defense, which means they pretty much need to score in triple digits to win.  Then again, they usually do.  Their calling card in the past couple years has been their athletic wing players, including J.R. Smith, who has really come into his own.  They’ll have to find a way to give him more than 20 minutes per game this year.  Anthony Carter and Chucky Atkins are tough, experienced point guards who know what their job is.  (Get the ball to the big two!)

 

The frontcourt has been a mix of standout performances and misery for Denver the last couple of seasons.  The stalwart has always been Marcus Camby, whose shot blocking, rebounding, and mid-range jumper made him the near-perfect fit.  He was never a good post defender but I don't think the Nuggets have used those two words in the same sentence for a while anyway.  He’s gone now.  The Nuggets are hoping that Kenyon Martin can regain some of his pre-surgery form and mobility and provide them an athletic bruiser in the post and on the boards.  The story is similar with Nene Hilario, who has an incredible body that keeps breaking down on him.  Should one or the other not come through Denver has scoring forward Linas Kleiza and newly un-suspended Chris Anderson at backup.  Those guys can provide depth but aren’t going to provide the interior defense and pushing power Denver needs.  The spotty frontcourt makes this season even more of a gamble for the Nuggets than usual.

 

The biggest issue for Denver is that they have no margin of error.  When everybody is running and the shots are falling they’re going to be fine.  Assuming that happens more nights than not they can make the playoffs again, though the chances of them winning a series are small.  But they turn over the ball too much, they don’t defend that well, and they’re a generally poor rebounding team.  That means when things aren’t going right they aren’t going to be able to hold down opponents long enough to correct course.  This team is built to be a juggernaut and it’s just not.  How long they ride with “good, but not great” remains to be seen, but unless they do some major retooling that’s the best they’re going to be.

 

Read more about the Nuggets at PickaxeandRoll.com.

 

UTAH JAZZ

Record:  54-28, 1st in Northwest Division, 4th in Western Conference

 

Statistical Comparisons

 

Notable:

5th in the league in scoring (106.2 ppg)

4th  in ppg differential (+6.9 ppg)

2nd in field goal % 

2nd in free throw attempts per game

2nd in assists

3rd in steals

3rd in opponent turnovers

 

Others:

13th in opponent scoring (99.3 ppg)

17th in opponent field goal %

10th in three-point % 

16th in free throw percentage

22nd (tie) in blocks

19th in turnovers

Good offensive rebounding team

Good defensive rebounding team

 

Movement

 

Significant Additions:  Brevin Knight, Kosta Koufos (R)

Significant Subtractions:  Dee Brown, Jason Hart

 

Roster

 

Coach:  Jerry Sloan

 

Key Players

PG:  Deron Williams, Ronnie Price, Brevin Knight

SG:  Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Morris Almond

SF:  Andre Kirilenko, Matt Harpring, C.J. Miles

PF:  Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap

C:  Mehmet Okur, Jarron Collins, Kosta Koufos

 

Comments

 

Blazer fans, desirous of an early stab at glory, have been furiously trying to concoct reasons why the Utah Jazz won’t find as much success this year as they have in the last couple.  It’s wasted effort.  This team is solid.  Their stars are bankable every night.  The supporting cast knows its role and is also dependable.  The offense runs like clockwork.  The defense is so-so but the team can rebound.  They’re deep enough to sustain a run through 82 games and they rely on particular skills and not just athleticism.  The Jazz actually have a lot of similarity statistically to the Nuggets.  They just have their feet set on a wider base.

 

The team really starts and ends with Deron Williams.  He’s not only great himself, he’s making these other players look better than they otherwise would.  After that the roster reads like a list of archetypes.  Boozer is the scorer, Millsap his understudy.  Okur is the mid-range center who draws your big man out of the paint.  Kirilenko is the defender, Brewer the percentage scorer in the backcourt, Korver is the shooter, Harpring is the bull in the china shop.  These guys don’t have to fit together, but they do under Williams’ (and coach Jerry Sloan’s) hand.  It’s as varied and effective of a top eight as you’re going to find.  They didn’t lose anyone important either.

 

The teams the Jazz will have trouble with come in two flavors:  teams that can match their talent and teams with in-your-face toughness and size.  They don’t rely as heavily on scoring as Denver does but they’ll still struggle to beat teams that can take their best punch and keep on rolling.  This is what separates the Jazz from the L*kers and Spurs of the world…perhaps now the Rockets as well (and someday the Blazers thanks to Oden and Aldridge).  They don’t have the power to knock you out or shut you down unless they can run up the score. 

 

Fortunately for them the Jazz will be able to run up the score many nights during the regular season and squeak out plenty of wins even when they can’t.  There aren’t enough truly great teams in the league to pin losses on them.  You can pencil in 50+ wins again easily.  The big question is not how good they are, but how much better they can get.  Even if you’re skeptical about the latter, the former is enough to keep you busy for now.  Yes, there are pretenders to the division crown.  Denver thinks they can unseat Utah.  The Blazers are waiting in the wings.  Back in the Clyde Drexler years Spurs fans used to salivate over David Robinson kicking Blazer butts while Phoenix loaded up with Kevin Johnson and Tom Chambers and Utah started flexing their Stockton/Malone muscle.  As long as Portland was both talented and tight, it didn’t matter.  That’s exactly where the Jazz are right now.  They’re not going to keep the division lead forever, but this isn’t the year they lose it.

 

Read more about the Jazz at SLCDunk.com.

 

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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