Today's episode of "See the Future" is going to be combined with our regular feature "Better Know an Opponent". Up first, "Better Know an Opponent"
Nate Timmons of Denver Stiffs and I exchanged a number of emails the last few days talking about our teams and tonight's game. Be sure to check out my answers here and be sure to visit Denver Stiffs to see how the Nuggets feel about their chances tonight.
1.) At 16-14, the Nuggets are currently 7th in the West. What's gone well this first third of the season and what does the team need to improve on to climb the standings in the West?
The Nuggets have played 10 home games and 20 road games so far this season. The Nuggets longest home-stand is just two games and at 9-1 at home I think we'll see the record improve at the end of January when the Nuggets have 12 of 15 games in Denver.
But, the Nuggets must get better on the road. They are just 7-13 away from home and they have been an abysmal shooting team away from The Pepsi Center. On the season Denver is shooting just 32.5% from three-point land and that's good for 28th in the league. To add to that atrocious number, the Nuggets rank dead last in free throw shooting as a team at just 68.6%.
George Karl values offense in this order: 1.) shots at the rim, 2.) free throws, and 3.) three-pointers. When your team is struggling in two of those three areas - you're often going to lose more than you win, but Denver's ability to score in the paint has allowed them to win a lot of games.
2.) On paper, the Nugget roster is filled with possibilities. What's been your favorite five man unit?
It's hard to argue with the starters as they are a +33 on the season in over 296 minutes together on the floor. That lineup consists of Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, and Kosta Koufos. Denver relies heavily on Faried in any combination as he is the best rebounder on the team and he often anchors the center position to close out games (at 6'7") as Gallo slides down to power forward, Iguodala to the three, and Andre Miller or Corey Brewer at shooting guard, and with Lawson running point.
JaVale McGee has yet to be a guy that Denver needs on the floor, but the Nuggets typically can't last long without Faried out there. His energy is just so daunting to the opposition and he has a pretty incredible ability to finish in the paint around much larger bodies.
The only thing I don't like with the Nuggets starting unit is that Koufos and Faried have been unable to stretch the floor with any type of consistently, so the lane is usually clogged for Lawson - who thrives at scoring and making plays by attacking the rim. Same can be said for Gallo and Iguodala too - they do much better with an open lane to penetrate.
3.) I was... displeased when Dallas sent Corey Brewer, Rudy Fernandez, and Jordan Hamilton to Denver. Brewer had a huge game against LAL for you Wednesday night. How have he and Hamilton worked out? Why doesn't Hamilton get more playing time?
All the Nuggets had to give up in that deal was Raymond Felton - who went on to eat his way out of Portland. And Denver also received Andre Miller from the Blazers in that big player swap - a Karl favorite.
Corey Brewer has carved out a very nice role with the Nuggets and it has ballooned into a larger role with the absence of Wilson Chandler - who is still battling off-season hip surgery (he was not able to even walk for one month). Karl has called Brewer his "Wildcard" player and said that he scares other teams and can even scare him. Some nights he is brilliant - like his 27 point performance against the Lakers and other night's he's a detriment -- like his 2 point performance in 21 minutes against the Clippers on Christmas.
Brewer can play a very nice 15-20 minutes and offer up a lot of energy and a relentlessness on the fast-break. He's also a terrific locker room guy and always has a smile on his face. Hamilton has told me that Brewer is his mentor on the team and the two hang out together a lot. Sort of funny because it's Brewer who is standing in Ham's way for playing time.
Hamilton has shown an ability to score the ball in bunches and he can really rebound too. His problem has been on the defensive end as he loses his man quite often and has yet to get the defensive rotations down. At times he can also get a little shot happy on the offensive end, but I don't mind that ... scorers like to shoot.
There has been speculation that Hamilton has been in-and-out of Karl's doghouse this year, but I think once he shows improvement on defense that he'll get more playing time. But Brewer is really forcing Karl's hand to play him too ...
4.) This summer JaVale McGee signed a four year contract worth $44 million dollars, but he's sitting on the bench backing up Kosta Koufos. Why and can he eventually become the team's starter?
The $44 million question!!! McGee is averaging 19 minutes per game to Koufos' 22 mpg - so not a huge difference there. Karl has told me that one reason he likes to start Koufos over McGee is that he doesn't have to get shots to Koufos. He will get involved in the offense by getting garbage points and taking what is given to him.
McGee is a talented offensive player and is still developing his game. If he can find consistency he will force the starting issues, but he also battles severe asthma and the Nuggets worry that playing him more than 7-minute stretches really hinders what he can do on the floor. They are all about maxing out his court-time in bursts.
But like Brewer and Hamilton, Koufos, at just 23 years-old (younger than 24 yr old McGee) has been forcing Karl's hand and he is a good defender on the pick-and-roll and has shown much improvement in his post defense as well. Defensively McGee is pretty hit or miss and Karl is big on defense - so until he shows improvement there Koufos will continue to log more minutes. But like I mentioned above, it's usually Faried who closes games at center. Although Koufos and McGee have each closed out games this season when they have been playing well.
The biggest problem for Denver? If Koufos does prove to be better than McGee long-term, what do they do with that double-digit million dollar contract? Koufos makes a very affordable $3 million per season and McGee's big number makes him very hard to trade (if that were to ever happen).
5.) Do you see the Nuggets making any moves before the trade deadline?
The trade machine (ESPN devil invention) often appears on Denver Stiffs - especially after losses where readers recommend trading whoever played bad that night. Ha ha ...
I don't think the Nuggets will make a major trade unless some big name becomes available ... hello DeMarcus Cousins?!? Timofey Mozgov appears to be the odd big man out as Anthony Randolph could be the insurance big off the bench for the Nuggets. Mozgov is also on an expiring contract, so he's not much of a gamble for a team in need of a young big man who can be counted on.
Wilson Chandler's name also appears in a lot of rumors because he hasn't played much the past two seasons (China and hip injury) and is signed to a fairly reasonable contract. The Nuggets could attempt to move him if the right deal came across, but again I don't see a big trade coming with this team ... yet.
Thanks so much Nate. Everyone be sure to visit Denver Stiffs. Now on to our preview...
The last two Dallas losses have been brutal. One was an utter beat down. The other was a gut punch where we lead the whole game only to lose at the very end. Tonight, playing on the tail end of a back to back, the Dallas Mavericks (12-17) face yet another challenging opponent in the Denver Nuggets (16-14) who are coming off of an impressive win against the Los Angeles Lakers.
As disappointed as I am in the loss, it was refreshing to see fire from the team. Energy and enthusiasm are hard to establish when you're losing and both will be key tonight if Dallas hopes to stay with the younger, more athletic Nuggets. Denver has had a rough first half of the season in spots, mainly due to their road heavy schedule. As a result, they are probably much better than their record indicates.
At point, Denver has Ty Lawson and Andre Miller, both very good offensive administrators. Darren Collison, coming off a season high 32, will have his hands full containing either guard. Andre Igodala, an all world defender and solid offensive option, will be starting at the two guard and should give O.J. Mayo trouble at both ends.
With Dirk continuing to come off the bench, I believe Dahntay Jones will be starting at small forward and will be tasked with keeping Danilo Gallinari off his rhythm. Chris Kaman and Kosta Koufos will match up at center. The most interesting initial match up will be Shawn Marion and Kenneth Faried. Faried has been a monster on the glass, averaging 10 total rebounds, including four offensive ones per game.
Dallas gets into trouble when Denver uses their bench. The aforementioned Miller is an incredible asset off the bench. Corey Brewer is coming off a fantastic game against the Lakers, and we haven't even touched on JaVale McGee. Though I tend to view the bench of Dallas as a strength, this particular unit could give the Mavericks fits.
Getting wins on the second game of a back to back is tough, with Dallas going 2-4 in these games. If they hope to win tonight they need a few things to go their way.
First, they need to play with energy. Last night was delightful because the Mavs came out fighting. Against a more talented, athletic, or younger team, you have to be ready to play from the opening tip. Second, Dallas will need to keep the Nuggets off the glass, as Denver is second in the league in rebounding. Frankly, Dallas has been unable to keep anyone off the glass an entire game, so I'm not holding my breath here. Third, Dallas needs O.J. Mayo to play better. Much, much better. These last three games he's scored 21 points on 26 shots and has committed 17 turnovers. An efficient Mayo seems to lead to the entire squad playing better.
Dallas can win this game if they execute well and limit their mistakes. See you all tonight at the game thread!