When the Denver Nuggets had no choice but to trade Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks in the 2010-11 season, Nuggets coach George Karl and general manager Masai Ujiri immediately went to Plan B.
The idea was simple: without a true superstar to build around, the Nuggets remade their roster with top-10 talent at every position. Basically, Karl and Ujiri went against the conventional thought that you need stars to set your team. Instead, they stockpiled the roster with superbly gifted athletes who were willing to share the ball and play a frenetic pace.
That high-speed, full-throttle basketball style was on display Monday night when the Nuggets ran the L.A. Lakers off the court. Wilson Chandler scored 23 points and Ty Lawson added 22 in the Nuggets’ 119-108 win, a game in which Denver outscored the Lakers 33-3 on the fast break and 78-50 in the paint.
”The fast-break points, that’s a killer,” Kobe Bryant said. ”That team is like a track team over there.”
The Nuggets are two-deep at every position and play at a remarkable pace that wears teams down, especially at home where they are 24-3.
”It’s tough to neutralize speed, especially when they’re very good at what they do,” Bryant said. ”Yeah, their speed. Their speed got us. They got out on transition, got easy buckets. Kept the pressure on us. We had to labor for opportunities, think we might have had two fast-break points. Contrast that with 33. It’s crazy.”
Anything and everything the Lakers tried to do to flip the size-speed disadvantage only backfired on them.
”You have to almost over-exaggerate getting back on defense,” Bryant said. ”Literally, nobody can go to the offensive boards.”
It starts with point guards Ty Lawson and Andre Miller. Lawson is the engine that drives the Nuggets fastbreak. He’s the player with the 100-mph fastball, the type of player who can single-handedly affect a game with his blinding speed. Backing him up is the 35-year-old Miller, a savvy veteran who plays at a much slower place. Miller is the off-speed pitcher who relies on guile rather athletic ability.
Andre Iguodala, who was acquired from Philadelphia last season, is an upgrade from Aaron Afflalo. Iguodala is a versatile swingman who plays both ends of the floor and fills the stat sheet. He’s backed up by Corey Brewer, a good defender who has greatly improved his 3-point shot.
Danilo Gallinari came over from New York in the Anthony trade. Gallo is not afraid to take big shots down the stretch, and he’s the closest thing the Nuggets have to a fourth-quarter closer. He’s backed up by Wilson Chandler, who spent the lockout-shortened season in China.
The Nuggets found a gem in the 2011 NBA draft in Kenneth Faried. The player known as The Manimal is a relentless athlete who doesn’t need set plays to make an imprint in a game. His effort and energy is infectious, and Denver fans absolutely love his hustle. Faried is an undersized power forward (listed at 6-8 but probably closer to 6-6), but more than makes up for his lack of length with a Dennis Rodman-like motor. He’s averaging nearly double-double this season (12 points, nine rebounds).
Karl starts Kostas Koufus at center, and rotates him with JaVale McGee and Tim Mozgov. Koufus and Mozgov are space-eaters, while McGee is a shot-blocker who may be the most athletic big man in the NBA. And his wingspan is ridiculous. Oftentimes, McGee ignites fastbreaks with his shot blocks, and he can run the floor like a wide receiver. If he ever develops a go-to shot in the low block he could become an All-Star.
‘They continually pushed the ball down our throats,” Bryant said. “Shots go up and those guys are already leaking out, to go along with the speed. They got a lot of easy buckets because of it.”
Denver is currently in the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference, battling the Clippers and Grizzlies for the third spot. The Nuggets will be a tough out in the playoffs, especially if they somehow gain home-court advantage in the first round.