Analyzing the Surprise Teams Part IV: Denver Nuggets

The fourth part in this five-part series will be the first to feature a Western Conference team, the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets were not a horrible team last year, but they weren’t fighting to be among the West’s elite like they are this season. Denver will also be in a heated three-way battle for the Northwest Division all year long with the Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers.

The Nuggets are a solid all-around team, ranking in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency. As I’ve said before, their strong defense is usually a surprise to people because of the amount of points per game they allow. But this is a factor of their fast-paced games, something that inflates the point totals on both sides.

Looking at the Offensive Four Factors, Denver’s biggest strength is getting to the free throw line. In fact, they have six rotation players (Chris Andersen, Dahntay Jones, Chauncey Billups, Nene, Carmelo Anthony, and Linas Kleiza) that have FT/FG rates that are higher than 30%. One other important stat is that they generally win the field goal percentage battle. Denver’s effective field goal percentage is eighth in the NBA while they’re effective field goal percentage allowed is sixth best.

Before I get into why they have improved, I should mention why they haven’t improved: Carmelo Anthony. I don’t want to tear the guy down any more (considering he was analyzed on this blog not too long ago), but let’s just say he’s having a down year. His PER of 16.7 is still above average but he’s playing very inefficiently. Despite a career-best year from three, his true shot percentage is not good, at 51.8%. He’s also turning the ball over a ton and not racking up huge assist or rebound totals. And as always, his defense could stand to be improved considerably.

The biggest reason for Denver’s success was the early season trade they made, swapping Allen Iverson for Chauncey Billups. Iverson was a bad fit for the Nuggets from the get-go (we may be saying the same thing about the Pistons soon). He likes to dominate the ball and the Nuggets already have enough guys who do that. Billups, on the other hand, is a Basketball-Statistics favorite. He’s deadly efficient and a good defender. Nothing has changed since his move from Denver. He shoots at high percentages, draws a lot of fouls for a point guard, distributes the ball well, and doesn’t turn it over. It’s no surprise that the Nuggets have taken off since they acquired him.

Besides Billups, the Nuggets also have a strong big man rotation. There have been many rumors involving the Nuggets looking for another big man, and you can always use depth, but I think they should also be happy with what they’ve gotten so far (and just imagine if they still had Marcus Camby). Nene is having an excellent year thanks to a true shot percentage of 64.3%. Kenyon Martin is providing solid defense and just enough offense, as usual. Lastly, and something that has gone relatively unnoticed, is the strong play of Chris Andersen. Andersen clearly has not forgotten how to play. He gets at it on both ends and as a result has a PER of 18.3. You could do worse than a trio of Nene, Martin, and Andersen.

Will the Nuggets reach the Finals? Probably not. The Lakers are just too good and there are plenty of other contenders out there as well. But the Nuggets will make a run at it thanks to their smart and efficient point guard, something they haven’t been able to say in the past.

Information from the KnickerBlogger.Net stats page was used in this report.

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Chicago at Miami: Heat
Charlotte at New Jersey: Nets
Minnesota at New York: Knicks
Houston at New Orleans: Rockets
Oklahoma City at Detroit: Pistons
Indiana at Memphis: Grizzlies
Philadelphia at Denver: Nuggets
Dallas at Utah: Jazz
Toronto at Sacramento: Raptors
Boston at Golden State: Celtics

Prediction Record: 251-113

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