(Boulder-CO) The NBA roster rules state that a team can have 15 players on its roster, but only 12 can be active at any one time. The Nuggets currently do have 15 players listed on their official roster at their home page, but understanding what is immanent with these 15 is where I come in.
Right off the bat it is clear the Nuggets starting five is going to be tremendously strong this year. Obviously, AI and Chucky Atkins are going to make up the Nuggets backcourt. Chucky is going to start at point with AI playing the two (where he NEEDS to be!). This is going to be the best positional breakdown in the backcourt because when AI runs the show he has a tendency to dribble the ball way to much around the perimeter while not getting the play going early. Chucky is going to be able to bring the ball down and get the offense started. Other than that… Atkins needs to spot up by entering the ball into the post for Camby, Nene, Kenyon, and Carmelo and then relocate for open threes as his man becomes preoccupied with helping the post defender.
In the frontcourt the only two obvious starters are Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby. Anthony should have another real good chance of leading the league in scoring this season and I’d venture to say that his average minutes per game is going to be above 40 for certain. Somewhere in the realm of 40-42 is where I think Carmelo’s minutes will tally with about a three to four minute breather at the start of the second quarter and another similar break as the third period is concluding.
On the other hand, the Nuggets coaching staff would be wise to limit Marcus Camby’s average playing time to around 30-32 minutes a game. This reasoning is two-fold: first off, Marcus Camby is getting up there in age, and as we all know, has been injury-prone. Playing him anymore than this is just asking for trouble with a player as, “high-mileage”, as Camby. Secondly, I think Marcus can only play at the top of his game when he doesn’t have to worry about foul trouble and this is equally one part freshness off of routine and frequent substitutions and one part oppositional match-ups. With oppositional match-ups meaning that if the opponent’s big man is a strong lowpost presence, (say for instance Shaq or the bruising Dwight Howard), I believe the Nuggets are better personnel wise with Nene defending them with Camby playing some power forward.
And now that I have mentioned “Big Brazil” we have finally come to the only question mark the Nugget have in their starting five.
It is murky as to who is going to be ready to start for the Nuggets at the four spot. Kenyon Martin is returning off of season-ending surgery and Nene is once again out of shape and coming off of a calf strain suffered while playing for Brazil in the FIBA Americas games. So, before training camp even starts, I would have to give the starting nod to Nene only because of the severity of Kenyon’s injury and the recent action Nene saw playing for Brazil. But what is important to keep in mind, Nuggets Nation, is how Nene needed to play himself back into the player we all saw him to be last year and it is in this realm that I see he and Kenyon Martin essentially sharing time early in the season before one man is clearly identified himself as the fulltime starter. And the good news for whoever doesn’t end up starting is they will almost surely be the first man up off the bench in George Karl’s rotation.
And if you’re keeping track… that is the first six players covered on the Denver Nugget roster. Six down and nine to go!
The next four players to round out the second tier for the Nuggets are pretty obvious. Linas Kleiza is going to probably be the next man off the bench. LK can play small forward and some shooting guard, but it is his energy and rebounding spark that makes him the Nuggets seventh man. LK showed in the latter half of last year that he can run the floor with explosive finishing capability and if his three ball can continue to consistently improve, (remember the last home Laker game?), he will see a lot more time at shooting guard than the Carmelo Anthony dominated three spot.
Now, at the back-up point guard position we have a problem and the most likely solution is to move Allen Iverson over to the point when Chucky Atkins exits to the bench. I wish the Nuggets had a more proven reserve at the one spot, but AI is going to play nearly 40 minutes a game, so it only makes sense that he would slide over and run the show. And with AI running the point, this is where I see J.R. Smith or Von Wafer coming into the game. I’m including the rookie Von Wafer in the competition for the eight spot because I’m sure we all have not forgotten how J.R. ended last season with “Furious” George Karl criticizing his professionalism in the media and then consequently benching him for the rest of the playoffs.
So, with that being refreshed in our memory, I expect Von Wafer to really give J.R. a run for his money as the “Shooter’s” shooting guard. ’Nilla has proven to be a scorer at every level thus far in his career, and if he can prove to Karl that he is also somewhat of a defender, then I think he might have the upper hand over the doghouse renting J.R. Smith.
Don’t get me wrong here, I like J.R. Smith’s explosiveness and his ability to catch fire, but his continued uncoachability and poor shot selection is going to be his defining fulcrum in the NBA. He has already bounced around the league for a young player and the report from every coach that has tried to work with him has been that J.R. just doesn’t want to improve the areas of this game that need the most work.
But most importantly to keep in mind when trying to clear up the reserve shooting guard position for the Nuggets is that it is a position that boils down to who puts the ball in the basket. Whoever decides that they can score the ball coming off the bench is going to instantly solidify their position in George Karl’s rotation. So, either way, J.R. Smith and Von Wafer are going to round out the eighth and ninth spot for the Nuggets.
And in the tenth, and final second string spot, I see Eduardo Najera stepping in. Eddie slips to the tenth spot this season because I see his role being a situational one with Marcus, Nene, and Kenyon seemingly dominating the four and five spots. However I will say this: Najera’s role may be bigger than the tenth spot may seem because if/when Kenyon Martin, Nene, or Marcus Camby become injured he is the man that has to step up. The same is true of Eduardo if the Nuggets decide to put a big line-up on the floor with Carmelo actually playing some shooting guard and Najera plus a combination of the aforementioned two rounding out the frontcourt. Plus, Najera is a “glue guy” meaning that he is not only capable, but more often than not is willing to do whatever the Nuggets need to him to do night-in and night-out. On more than a few occasions last year, Eduardo Najera did all the small things that tied together the loose ends for the Nuggets in games which his contributions ultimately resulted in wins. Plus, he is a consummate professional. Najera will have no problem coming off the bench and giving the Nuggets everything he has without complaining, pouting, or loafing in however many minutes he does end up playing. Bottom line is you gotta love Eduardo Najera!
Only two more active roster spots left. Are you ready for who rounds out your Denver Nuggets this year?
The eleventh man in the rotation is probably going to be Steven Hunter. The seven-foot journeyman is on a very crowded Denver Nugget roster and with Nene being equally adept to playing center or power forward makes things that much tougher on Hunter. Steven is essentially a cheap insurance policy in the event that the Nuggets become very banged-up up front and I would be very surprised if he even averages eight minutes a game by season’s end.
And last but not least, (O.K., maybe least in this case), is Yakhouba Diawara. While I think Yak has what it takes to be a consistent active roster player, I do not think he will see much time this year unless it is in a special defensive capacity. The best way I can sum up ‘Khouba’s game is that he is offensively a CBA player while being NBA defense-ready. Not a bad thing to be on a team that struggles, at times, defensively because Diawara will definitely see his fair share of time this season marking up with the likes of Kobe, McGrady, and the Vince Carters of the league.
And there you have it, Nuggets Nation! The breakdown of how the active twelve shakes out just about two weeks before training camp starts.
The three inactive players that will most likely stay on Denver’s payroll are point guard Anthony Carter, free agent center Jamal Sampson, and small forward/shooting guard Bobby Jones. Carter and Jones may see some active status if any of the Nugget guards become injured and same goes for Samspon in the event that a front court player goes down for any reason. But don’t get your hopes up that any of these three play more than a handful of minutes this season.