Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It's Smith Time; If I ran the Denver Nuggets...

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past day, you'd know Melo finally got his wish and is with the Knicks. Gone are Shelden Williams, Renaldo Balkman, Billups, and of course, Melo. Newly arrived are Timofey Mozgov, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton and Wilson Chandler. While the Nuggets might lack a proven superstar, they suddenly have two teams worth of starting quality players. Let's take a look at the depth chart here;

PG - Lawson/Felton
SG - Smith/Afflalo
SF - Chandler/Gallinari
PF - Nene/Martin
C - Mozgov/Birdman

Some will call it a logjam, and they are right to a degree, but barring Martin and to some extent Nene, most of their key rotation players are relatively young, i.e. 25 or younger. However, while most in the Nuggets organisation will lament that they have lost their franchise player, one man is going to be very happy; J.R. Smith. For years he's been stuck on the bench despite a wealth of offensive talent because with Melo around there wasn't a need for another volume scorer, and players like Dahntay Jones and Arron Afflalo who were defensively minded kept him restricted to the role of "spark off the bench". Yet, despite Afflalo's improved play this season, this might be the golden opportunity J.R. has dreamed of his whole career; a chance to break into the starting line-up and get all the shots at the end of shot-clocks he desires. While the Nuggets will likely run more plays through Nene, it isn't hard to see that J.R. Smith is going to have an increased role. Looking at the list above, Smith is far and away the best offensive wing on the list, especially when entrusted with finding his own shot.

Now, I'm not saying that with more minutes J.R. will definitely produce, but this is almost a lost season, as the Nuggets will struggle to figure out their identity in the wake of Melo's departure, so why not give him the green light, and see if this unique opportunity prompts him to finally deliver on his enormous talent. Worst case scenario, the Nuggets bomb out, and enter the lottery, which might not be a bad thing, considering they might be able to snag a Harrison Barnes late in the lottery if he declares. Best case scenario, Smith has a career year and the Nuggets have found their franchise talent.

However, it isn't all that simple, because even though I brushed over it earlier, it's hard to ignore the fact that Afflalo has been playing very well this season, and is only a third year pro, despite being the same age as Smith. He is also a defensive specialist, but that could be a problem when you need a guy to avoid foul trouble. I suggest Afflalo is given the bench treatment and Chandler is paired with Smith. Chandler is a few years younger, a consummate team player and can hit the big shots when needed. However, that poses the problem of what to do with Gallinari. Danilo is an excellent sharp-shooter, but I still see him as more of a small forward than a stretch-PF given his build. While Gallo is a gun from long range, without a player of Amare's calibre to force double teams down low - no disrespect to Nene, who I'm a big fan of - Gallo might struggle with Smith on the court, and Chandler just seems like a better fit. There is the option of playing Nene at the C, and Gallinari at the four as he has been for much of his career with the Knicks, but now that the Nuggets finally have that hard-running, rebounding seven-footer in Mozgov, it would be a little ridiculous not to give Nene the chance to play his natural PF position where he won't be undersized most nights. Certainly, playing the PF Nene can be even more productive, and a two man game with Smith and Nene getting most of the shots in offense is a way of enticing him to stay.

Felton poses another problem entirely, he plays a lot better in a team with a franchise player, as in New York as opposed to Charlotte, and now he once again lacks that proven leader. Lawson should be given the chance to start, because Felton isn't part of their long-term plans, he was most likely included to screw the Knicks.

So to sum up, give Smith a green light to shine, Chandler as starter, Nene to the PF and Mozgov to the C. It might not win a championship, but it'll be a bold move, which is patently required, and should be fun to watch J.R. be given a chance.

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