Believe it or not, we have a chance to watch NBA basketball Saturday night. Sure, it's pre-season, but at least it's the Clippers. It's been a long time. The game is being played at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, the first time that an NBA pre-season game has been played on the strip (they've been played in Thomas and Mack arena several times, but never on the strip). As is the custom around here, in advance of the pre-season kickoff, I sent some questions to Nate Timmons of SB Nation's Nuggets blog Denver Stiffs. You can also head over there to read my answers to Nate's questions.
Steve Perrin: Wow, this Nuggets team sure is different than say 2 seasons ago. Is Ty Lawson really the only player left from the Carmelo era? Do you ever feel like you don't recognize your own team?
Nate Timmons: Steve, you ever visit your old stomping grounds and run into somebody that you went to high school or college with? You see them, chat for a few minutes, and walk away thinking, "Boy, Richie really got fat." or "Whoa, I really missed the boat on Jessie." The point is, when you haven't seen somebody for awhile they appear very different from those you are around on a daily basis.
Being an active member of Nuggets Nation, I've seen every single step so they don't appear radical to me. But stepping back and realizing that there isn't a single member left on this team from the Western Conference Finals squad of 2009 can be jarring. And what has helped has been the winning - since 2009 the Nuggets have changed a lot of faces, but they've also maintained winning percentages north of 57-percent the past three seasons.
And if we want to get crazy - the Nuggets have brought one member of that WCF run back, ANTHONY CARTER! A.C. is on the training camp roster and has an open invitation from George Karl to join his coaching staff ...
SP: We've talked about this some in the past, but the Nuggets went from being a very star-centric team to being a team without a star. Even Andre Iguodala is a non-star type of star. Who is the go to guy with the game on the line? Do you have to have one of those?
NT: We went through this summer, on Denver Stiffs, and placed where we thought the Nuggets core players ranked among their NBA peers, by position. The goal was to see if George Karl's talk of having a top-10 player at each position, instead of a star-studded team, was becoming a reality. Ranking Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, and JaVale McGee showed us that the Nuggets do have a lot of up-and-coming talent, but it peaks with Lawson and Iguodala, for now.
I don't know if you can win games in the NBA by not having that end-of-game killer, but Lawson had his moments last season and Iguodala took on that role in Philly, at times. The plan is always to win games without having them come down to the final possessions, but that's not a reality. The biggest test for the Nuggets continues to be finding a way to win close games and winning in the playoffs. I'm not afraid of the strategy of asking different guys to step up on different nights versus having a Kobe Bryant. It brings an element of unpredictability and focuses on the team in what I think is the ultimate team game. If the Nuggets can pull it off and win a title with this unconventional style, you'll see a lot of head's explode in Colorado. It's funny that I call "team basketball" unconventional.
SP: What do you expect from Kenneth Faried in his second season? Will he have a sophomore slump because the league will be ready for him now? Or is he the real deal?
NT: Faried is a remarkable player. He didn't become a part of the Nuggets' rotation until early February (2/9/12), the team was 15-11 at that point and had been losers of 6 of their previous 7 games. George Karl inserting Faried into the rotation helped changed the team. The Nuggets finished the season 23-17 and had a guy they could depend on every night to produce nearly a double-double. Almost all of his game is comprised of his athletic ability, but he also has a hunger to learn more and the coaching staff and management want him to hone his craft.
Talking with Faried at Media Day earlier in the week, he really came alive when I asked him about his time with Hakeem Olajuwon. Suddenly, he couldn't stop talking about learning post moves and counters for those post moves if the defender didn't buy the fake, how to be patient in the post, and how to pass the ball in the post. He said it isn't easy to get these moves down, but he's working on them during scrimmages and they're becoming a part of his game. Faried's athletic ability will serve him well for a number of years, but he must keep focusing on his fundamentals and skills if he wants to have staying power in the NBA and in the Nuggets' starting lineup.
I'm excited to see what Faried will do this season and I believe his work ethic will help him avoid the sophomore slump. But it's also going to take him some time to really become a more complete player.
Thanks to Nate for taking the time to share a little about this new edition of the Nuggets, which frankly could be something of a wild card in the West. Iguodala is a major upgrade over Afflalo, and if they have better health this year and get more out of JaVale McGee, they could be pushing for a high playoff seed.