Denver Nuggets: The Big Men Leading The Way
After a rough start–caused mostly by an extremely difficult early schedule which included a ton of road games–the Denver Nuggets are back on track and are quickly establishing themselves as one of the more dangerous teams in the Western Conference.
Even though their 24-17 record can’t quite hang with the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs, anyone who’s played this team recently knows they are certainly nothing to scoff at. They’re a deep team and this might be the year they win their first playoff series of the post-Carmelo Anthony era.
Who’s been responsible for the Nuggets’ march up the standings? A lot of it has had to do with the excellent play of their big men. Indeed, the Nuggets have more talent at the 4 and 5 spots than most NBA teams and it makes them a force to contend with up front.
They are the best rebounding team in the league and the top offensive rebounding team, which is a big part of why they are such a high-scoring team. With the beasts Denver has in the post, no possession is ever truly dead.
The most prominent member of Denver big brigade would have to be second-year man Kenneth Faried. After exploding onto the scene midway through last season, Faried has definitively proven that last year was no fluke and he’s on track to become one of the top forwards in the league.
Both his hustle and his athleticism are phenomenal. There’s no play he won’t try to keep alive and he’s always a threat to throw down a mind-boggling dunk. Faried first gained prominence because he was a very entertaining player to watch. In recent months, though, he’s had staying power because he’s just a really good player and he’s only going to get better.
At the center spot, the Nuggets have an embarrassment of riches. Kosta Koufos, JaVale McGee and Timofey Mozgov are all very capable players who could be starters on contending teams. Considering how many teams are struggling to find one good center, it seems a bit unfair that the Nuggets have found a way to get three, but that’s just the way it goes.
Lately, Koufos seems to have asserted himself as the permanent starting center, with his extremely efficient shooting and great rebounding ability. It’s funny; just two years ago, Koufos was a non-rotation on player on a dreadful Minnesota Timberwolves team. Now, he’s a starter on a team that could make a serious playoff run.
No one could have possibly seen this coming, although I’m guessing Wolves general manager David Kahn really wishes he had figured it out before letting him go to Denver. The thought of a Love-Pekovic-Koufos frontcourt is even scarier than what the Nuggets have going right now. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
As for McGee, everyone knows what a goofball he is and that he has an unfortunate tendency to hinders his teams’ chances with his goofiness, but that really hasn’t been a problem with the Nuggets. He doesn’t have the space to do that kind of thing in Denver; not with George Karl watching his every move and not on a team that has a chance to actually do something.
You might see him doing something a bit silly once in awhile, but for the most part, the hijinks that submarined his career with the Washington Wizards are a thing of the past. Instead, he’s become one of the best backup centers in the league and is finally harnessing the athleticism that largely went to waste in Washington.
Coming off the bench for the more-efficient-but-less-explosive Koufos allows McGee unleash his athletic arsenal on weaker opponents, which has been huge success. None of the backups McGee is going against have any way to stop him and his occasional defensive lapses are far less harmful against the second string.
Anyone who doubted McGee’s ability or willingness to contribute off the bench should surely be eating crow by now.
The Nuggets are almost certain to be a playoff team and the guys up front are a huge part of that. Sure, Ty Lawson is a good floor general and Danilo Gallinari‘s shooting is finally starting to improve, but it’s the big dudes grabbing boards, tipping in misses and–in the case of Faried and McGee–dropping huge slam dunks who are really setting things in motion for this team. If they finally win a playoff series or even sneak into the Western finals, the guys doing the dirty work in the post will be the primary reason.
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John Hugar lives in Buffalo, where he is finishing up undergraduate work at the University at Buffalo. His work has appeared at 3 Shades Of Blue, The Classical, and Bleacher Report. He's been a Grizzlies fan since day one, during their time Vancouver and Memphis.