March 18, 2011

Denver Nuggets - All For One

It's been around three weeks since the trade deadline, and the new pieces that were roughly reshuffled on Feb 24 are now starting to show some shape with adjusting to their new teams. But out of all the teams involved in major trades at the deadline - Hawks, Celtics, Cavs, Nets, Knicks, Thunder, Blazers, Jazz, and Wizards, it has been the Denver Nuggets who have shown the most improvement, winning nine of their 11 games since.

Before the trade, it had been a season full of 'Melo'Drama for the Denver Nuggets and their coach George Karl. Trade rumours were lurking for their superstar forward, and the Nuggets, who have been one of the best teams in the West for Carmelo Anthony's seven-year era, were on a slightly slower pace this season. True, they were still winning more games than they lost, but there was a tension in the air.

And then Carmelo and Chauncey Billups were sent to New York Knicks for four lesser-known players. Now, a lot of people compared Carmelo bolstering out of Denver to LeBron James' exit from Cleveland, but this is far from a fair comparison. LeBron left the Cavs as a free agent, leaving his former team with nothing in return. Cavs lost LeBron, Shaq, Ilgauskas, and Delonte West to free agency, getting nothing in return but large cap space to use on players who didn't want to go there in the first place.

Anthony was also reaching his free-agency at the end of this season, so instead of leaving Denver with nothing, his trade to New York mid-season at least brought the Nuggets some value for him. And oh my, have the Nuggets struck gold.

This was the original trade: The Nuggets gave up Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, Renaldo Balkman, and Anthony Carter. Melo is a multiple time all star in his prime and one of the league's best scorers. Billups is a multiple time all star from the past and a Finals MVP. Melo and Chauncey were their top two scorers. The other three guys are solid backups.

In return, they got Wilson Chanlder, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, and Timofey Mozgov from the Knicks, and Kosta Koufos from the Timberwolves. No all stars, no championships, not even a 20 point average - just four or five guys who are willing to fit into the system.

And the trade has worked miracles! Before the trade, Denver were a respectable 32-25. Since the trade? They are 41-27. Conversely, look at the Knicks, who have seemingly gotten the better of the trade - Knicks were 28-26 before Melo, and have been 7-6 since.

Everyone expected Denver to free fall without their two leaders. Instead, this team has figured out a way to stay relevant and even get better. The Nuggets now share their offense between Nene, Chandler, Arron Afflalo, JR Smith, Ty Lawson, Felton, Al Harrington, Kenyon Martin, Chris Anderson, and Gallinari, who is currently injured. In a team full of support-guys, players amongst whom near is no real star, they have figured out a way to be incredibly efficient.

A lot of credit for this needs to go to Coach Karl. Without Anthony's lack of defensive ability, the Nuggets are now a much better team on the defensive end. And on offense, since the ball doesn't need to go through one player alone, they are a lot more efficient, sharing, assisting, and actually scoring more points.

Of course, the true test of this team will come in the playoffs. If the playoffs started today, the Nuggets would be fifth in the West, and they would play their first round against the Thunder. If they keep playing balanced basketball the way they are, the Thunder have a right to be quiet worried.

But does all this mean that, despite all his abilities, Carmelo Anthony is a negative player? Well, yes and no. Of course, his problems on defense and sometimes his one-trackedness can hinder a team, but every successful squad needs someone to turn to when the going got tough, and Anthony is one of the best in the league at that. At this point, the Nuggets may be enjoying life without their former best player. But the Knicks shouldn't feel despair about getting a lethal scorer like him: it will take time for him and Billups to settle in their new team, and once the playoffs start, we will see Anthony's real value.

As of now though, the Denver Nuggets are definitely the winners of the trade deadline.

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