By Dave Bruning
Many Major League Baseball trades take about three years to fully gauge how the trade worked out for the participating teams. The NBA provides more immediate dividends. Three weeks after the mega-trade of Carmelo Anthony, the Denver Nuggets and the New York Knicks are moving in opposite directions. Good news for Denver; not so good for New York.
The Nuggets are 12-4 since the trade of Melo following the spirited come from behind victory last night against the NBA’s best team, the San Antonio Spurs. The new Nuggets are playing classic basketball. They are sharing the ball beautifully playing the up tempo style coach George Karl endorses. Their defense is second best in the league behind the Chicago Bulls since the trade. Even in my most optimistic view of the trade, I did not see this coming. I was hopeful Denver could hang on to a playoff spot. Instead, they are rapidly becoming the team nobody wants to see in the playoffs.
The trade of Anthony has opened up the court for the Nuggets. Coincidentally, the Knicks wide open offense of coach Mike D’Antoni has slowed and become particularly ineffective in the 4th quarter with the acquisition of Melo. Let’s look at the Nuggets and how their key players have responded.
• Nene – Perhaps nobody has benefited more than Nene. He has always run the court well, has excellent low post moves and is extremely quick for a big man. All these skills are being allowed to flourish without Melo clogging the paint or hogging the ball. Nene’s contract is up at the end of the year. Both sides seem to desire an extension and I believe this will happen.
• JR Smith – Smith is also flourishing. This instant scorer and at times spectacular player is playing more relaxed knowing he will get his minutes. He has the ability to play point guard and seems to have embraced Denver’s new team-oriented approach. His contract is also up for renewal. The biggest question about Smith has been his maturity; he appears to be taking full advantage of this opportunity to secure his future and garner a nice new contract, if not from Denver, then as a free agent. It won’t be cheap, but I think Denver will resign Smith as well.
• Kenyon Martin – K-Mart has embraced the leadership role on the new Nuggets. He is a hard-nosed defensive enforcer. The Nuggets new style of play accentuates everything he does well. K-Mart’s deal is also in its final season. I think Denver would love him back, but he will have to take a significant pay cut from the approximately $17 million he is making this year.
• Ty Lawson/Raymond Felton – I love this duo. Hands down the fastest point guard combination in the league. With these two pushing the tempo at Denver’s Mile High altitude, the Nuggets will have a tremendous home court advantage for years to come. My only concern is they both deserve to start. Can their egos co-exist? It hasn’t been a problem so far. In fact, they have been very effective when paired together. They are under-sized, and this could be an issue come playoff time.
• Aaron Afflalo – Afflalo has not been affected all that much. I continue to love his toughness and effort on a night in/night out basis. His offensive game continues to blossom and he is not afraid to take the big shot. A true go-to scorer down the stretch of games is another concern of mine for the Nuggets. Afflalo is not the typical clutch player, but it is a role he appears to be well-suited for as he can create his own shot off of dribble penetration or pull up for a jumper. The Detroit Pistons certainly regret letting him get away, but they haven’t made a good decision since drafting Darko Milicic.
• Danilo Gallinari/Wilson Chandler – I am still learning about both these players. I like what they have shown so far. Both can score, shoot, rebound, and play defense. By the way, they are 22 and 23 years old and will only get better.
• Al Harrington – Harrington has struggled to find his game, but had a huge effort against San Antonio. His experience and scoring off the bench in the playoffs is a nice ace up the sleeve. He does have a big contract, and it would not surprise me if the Nuggets tried to move him in the offseason.
• George Karl – The trade has been like the end of chemotherapy for Karl; a chance to take a deep breath knowing the worst of the drama over. He has a young, athletic team that is two-deep at just about every position that is buying into his approach to playing basketball. The new contract extension he just reached with Denver bodes well for the future of basketball in Denver, a future that not too long ago was filled with Melo Drama.
The trade of Carmelo Anthony has breathed new life into the Denver Nuggets. The old team probably reached its peak when they lost in the Western Conference finals a couple years back to the Lakers. While the Knicks struggle to find their rhythm, the Nuggets seem to have struck gold.
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