Jussel: Lack of stars doesn’t mean Nuggets can’t win in NBA

Because every step taken and every throw made by a certain Hall of Fame-bound quarterback has been so thoroughly chronicled and because ineptitude by a certain baseball team has been impossible to ignore, the Denver Nuggets have been but a tiny blip on the radar screen.

Because the National Basketball Association is a superstar-driven league and because most of those stars reside in one of three cities, none of those being Denver, it has been difficult to think of the Nuggets as anything other than fodder for those stars and their respective teams during the coming NBA season.

Those who pay attention to the NBA know that next year’s Finals are all set, featuring either Oklahoma City or the Los Angeles Lakers going against the defending-champion Miami Heat.

In the West, the home of the Nuggets, Oklahoma City boasts three Olympians in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

The Lakers have Kobe, Pau and now, Superman, Dwight Howard, and the walking assist, Steve Nash.

The Heat, of course, have LeBron, D-Wade, Chris Bosh and now Ray Allen and already have been ceded the crown in the East.

Why bother to play the season? Why should we pay our hard-earned money to watch the likes of the hopeless Nuggets play the also-hopeless Phoenix Suns? Or Minnesota T-Wolves? Or ...

Here’s why: Make a mental note of all of those names mentioned above and then keep tabs on how many games those players miss during the regular season, the playoffs or both. Things seldom go as planned for an 82-game season and beyond.

This is where the Nuggets come in.

The Nuggets are a grand experiment in the making, an experiment that has a much better chance of success than a 75-pitch count for starting pitchers and a piggyback reliever.

Basketball, it has been said, is a team game. Sure, the above-named superstars skew the results, but only a bit. LeBron James has an impact on a game, but only within the confines of playing with his teammates. LeBron vs. five players isn’t going to succeed.

The Nuggets have no LeBron.

Instead, they have a roster that goes deep enough that coach George Karl isn’t sure who is going to be starting at center amongst three players: JaVale McGee, Timofey Mozgov or Kosta Koufos. A fourth, free-agent addition Anthony Randolph, a 6-foot-11 jumping jack, is in the post mix as well.

Denver went out and acquired its own Olympian in Andre Iguodala from the Philadelphia 76ers as part of the trade that allowed the Lakers to grab Howard. In doing so, the Nuggets lost Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington, two long-range gunners, but gained one of the league’s top shutdown defenders and a player who flies up and down the court on fast-break opportunities.

Iguodala and point guard Ty Lawson, maybe the NBA’s fastest player, will be flying from the get-go, especially with second-year rebounding demon Kenneth Faried tossing the outlet passes.

Other players who will be on the floor often as Karl sorts out his rotation include Danilo Gallinari, the 6-10 Kiki Vandeweghe clone who can shoot it or beat the defender with his quick first step, and Andre Miller, who will lead the second squad onto the floor at the point and quite likely allow Lawson to move to the two-guard late in games.

Wilson Chandler, who re-signed with the Nuggets last season but then was injured, and second-year player Jordan Hamilton, both in the 6-foot-8 range, can shoot and play defense. In the early preseason going, Hamilton has looked to be the most improved Nugget, one who can make an immediate impact with his three-point shooting and pick up where Afflalo and Harrington left off.

This team is deep, can go big with twin towers of Karl’s choosing, or go small with Faried, Iguodala and Hamilton/Chandler working with Miller and Lawson.

There won’t be another team in the league as flexible over the long haul.

Ah, yes, the long haul.

Think about the Bronco schedule, those murderous first six games we talked much about. Check this out: The Nuggets play nine of their first 12 games on the road, starting at Philadelphia, at Orlando and at Miami. They are also at San Antonio and Memphis in that dirty dozen. Of their first 32 games through the end of December, 22 games are on the road, only 10 at home.

If Denver can survive that scheduling nightmare and win about half its games, look out.

Of the final 50 games, as teams and players are starting to wear down and injuries mount, the Nuggets will play 31 at the Pepsi Center.

That should be a stretch that former Nugget coach Doug Moe will love. The Nuggets will be running, opponents will be gasping, and maybe, just maybe, this grand experiment in which team truly is the watchword, works out.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.


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