Fraternizing with the Enemy- SfS chats with Nate from Denver Stiffs

Pounders, I had the luxury of chatting with Nate, from the Nuggets blog Denver Stiffs. He's a pretty cool guy and he clearly knows what he's talking about, so hopefully we can all learn a little from this. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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Denver, in Winter...better be ready for Winter Shoes

via t0.gstatic.com

SfSaa:

I'm going to start by admitting I don't know much about your Denver Nuggets. I know last year they traded Carmelo Anthony, and I know I wasn't entirely surprised that you ended up on the better end of that trade (and with a better team after it, as well.) That being said, I've only see part of one Nuggets' game this year- the end of the first LA game when Gallinari missed the layup near the end. I was shocked he missed it, and disappointed yall couldn't pull out the win- any time the Lakers lose, I get pretty happy.

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I know Gallinari is a pretty good player, on offense like a pre-weight gain Hedo Turkoglu with a much better skill set on defense. I know Nene is a beast down low. I know Ty Lawson is fast, I know Aaron Afflalo is underrated and has the most frequently misspelled name in the NBA, and I know J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin are stuck in China.

That's all I know- so what should I look out for from the Nuggets? Is there a player that could come out of nowhere to surprise those of us who are unfamiliar with the team? What are your expectations for Denver this year, and what are your expectations for this game?

Nate:

Stephen, how can you not know more about the Nuggets? John Hollinger and Tim Legler were singing their praises during that half-hour off-season we just had. You should probably purchase NBA League Pass and adopt the Nuggets as your team of choice! Here let me tell you why ...


Ty Lawson is indeed fast, he trimmed down playing over in Lithuania in an attempt to get even faster (he was claiming to be around 188 pounds from close to 200 pounds last season), and he now has confidence in his mid-range and long-range game to go along with being able to get to the rim on anyone.

Arron Afflalo was flying under the radar, but he now has a fat new contract. His game has underwhelmed thus far as he told the local reporters he didn't play much competitive ball the past eight-months, with his contract status up in the air. So, he didn't want to risk injury and now is paying for it with a slow start. I haven't heard the "pre-weight gain Hedo Turkoglu" comparison for Gallinari, that's pretty funny - he's being leaned on to become Denver's star and along with Lawson ... they look promising. Gallo's all around game has impressed many in Nuggets Nation, but we must live with some growing pains as well (like that missed layup against the Lakers on New Year's Eve.)

Yes, three former Nuggets are stuck in China. Kenyon Martin is actually back in the States, but can't sign with anyone until the Chinese Basketball Association's season is over (mid-March). J.R. Smith has been replaced by Bizarro Swish aka Rudy Fernandez ... he's wearing Smith's old number (No. 5) and jacking up all the same long-bombs J.R. used to take, as well (but he's not making them.) Wilson Chandler is also in China and Nuggets Nation is pining for him to return to the team after the CBA season is completed.

You want to know about a surprising player, I'll give you three. Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos give the Nuggets 14+ feet of useful big men. Mozgov has been starting and is trying to find his way in the NBA; he has shown flashes, but also gets into foul trouble early-and-often. Koufos finally got some burn with Nene sitting out the last of a back-to-back-to-back and has many on Denver Stiffs calling for him to start over Mozgov or at least be the first big off the bench ... Chris Andersen's current role. But the most surprising Nugget has been AL HARRINGTON! Big Al was suffering from plantar fasciitis last season and was out of shape and unable to impress. This year he came back in terrific shape, he credits weight training and Bikram Yoga, and has been without a doubt Denver's best bench player and one of the best players on the team. He averaged 10.5 points per game last season and is already at 15.7 ppg this year and is easily becoming a fan favorite. Harrington's story is an epic tale that Disney should look into making a movie about ... well, that might be jumping the gun a bit ... but we're thrilled in Denver!

Experts have varied on the Nuggets. Everyone picks the Thunder to win the Northwest and the Nuggets to chase right behind them and finish anywhere from No. 2 to No. 6 out West. With this schedule, I don't know what to think. I just hope Denver can go down to San Antonio and get a win. Beating the Spurs is just as good as beating the Lakers to me! I don't disrespect the Spurs, in fact I think it shows a team played really well if they are able to get a win over the Spurs. Plus, the Tim Duncan bug eyes are always fun.

The Spurs ... is that same nasally voiced stadium announcer still in town calling games? Can't wait to hear him in the background of the TV broadcast this Saturday. "Let's go Spuuurrsss." He's not my favorite. The best way I can think of the Spurs is this: they are the Michael Myers of the NBA. No matter how many stab wounds, gun shots, cars that run them over, windows they fall out of, no matter what you do to them - they just KEEP COMING BACK FOR MORE! I'm just glad this game isn't taking place on Halloween, then we'd know the outcome.

How does Spurs Nation feel about George Hill no longer being in town? Does rookie Kawhi Leonard just have big hands or is he going to make other teams unhappy they didn't draft him? Nuggets fans really wanted DeJuan Blair in that 2009 draft, how is he performing? Is Manu Ginobili's bald spot still growing? Whose wife is Tony Parker looking at? (Too soon?, Too far?) How is Gregg Popovich handling the minutes?

SfS:

Well, the short answer is that I ignore the four letter network as much as possible. Between the constant over hyping of Andrew Luck, and the never ending "Where will Chris Paul/Dwight Howard end up" it just makes me want to puke. I'm glad yall did get some press, though. It's always nice when they stop talking about Miami, New York, Boston and LA.


If Ty Lawson is so small now, is he a liability to be posted up by bigger guards? I remember him hitting a few big shots last year, so I'm not surprised he's getting confident in his shooting. He's a star in the making.

I'm not surprised Gallo is doing well. He was being groomed as a star in NY. I am kind of surprised Spell Check came in out of shape- that seems a bit our of character, but I guess contract uncertainty can do that to a person.

I heard that about K-Mart. Did he not play well in China, or did they just do him a favor and buy him out? I forgot Wilson Chandler existed- he's a really good player and he's going to make yall so much better when he gets back. I've got no doubt about that. As far as JR Smith vs Rudy, that's probably a wash, except Rudy (IMO) is probably a better ball handler. Then again, you don't really need him to be a PG, do you?

Wasn't Mozgov the piece that held up the Melo deal for so long? I haven't seen him play much, but he seems really good 50% of the time and amazingly average 50% of the time, from what I remember. Koufos? I've heard that name before. How long has he been in the league? What's so good about him that he'd take Birdman's role? I've always been a fan of Andersens game, if not his eccentricities. So, if you're George Karl, what do you do? Birdman or Koufos- make the call, Nate.

Like I said, I watched the NYE game, and Harrington was hitting absolutely everything. When he plays well, he's the perfect stretch 4. And when he's on fire on offense, his defensive energy picks up. He's the worst kind of "irrational confidence guy" because he doesn't just start shooting more, he does everything more. So, in that respect, he's like JR Smith but 10x better.

As far as what I expect, yall are a top 4 team in the West at worst. I think yall could beat OKC in a 7 game series. In fact, it's possible you're the best team in the West. I'll go on record and say that I love watching Denver play. I have very nearly adopted yall as a second favorite team- especially now with Melo gone. Yall have a lot of moving pieces and all of them equally dangerous. It's like yall are playing Chinese Checkers or something. In terms of general team build, you kind of remind me of the Detroit Pistons team that won the title a few years ago. No super-duperstar, but lots of above average role players, that when they all do what they are supposed to do are a real menace to play against.

I really enjoy the Michael Myers comparison, although when you first said that I expected something about Dr Evil and Goldmember to follow. In a way, the two are similar- no matter how many box office flops Michael puts out, he's just going to keep making movies he finds amusing. Much like those movies, Spurs teams cater to a niche audience, and we come back year after year. We enjoy watching the team, but for those who don't enjoy our brand (execution, fundamentals, and occasionally defense), it's a horrible miserable experience. To us, that makes the game so much sweeter- or at least it does for me.
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Coming soon to theaters near you:
Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs in
"Austin Powers IV: AARP Member"
As for George Hill, we miss him badly- more-so the person than the player. As a player, he was limited to a very specific role- guarding other team's best perimeter players- but his size was sometimes an issue. Now, we've got Kawhi Leonard, who does have very large hands. Right now, he's a little unrefined, but the potential is there for him to be more than just an outstanding hustle guy- which he already is. His shot isn't pretty, but he's relatively efficient when he shoots off the dribble. If he gets to where he can spot up consistently, we'll have gotten a real steal (again). I love Dejuan Blair. I own three Spurs jerseys- his, Matt Bonner's, and Tim Duncan's. As far as how Dejuan is playing, it seems to be hit or miss. He's had two bad games and three really, really good ones. On the good nights, he's a slightly above average defender and the type of low post bully on offense that frustrates opposing teams. On bad nights, he usually gets in foul trouble so fast that he's a total non factor.

You're other questions? Yes, it's taking over. Yours, most likely, as well as any other in the arena. Plus the Nuggets cheerleaders. And rest assured, they are looking at him, too. I've been watching how Pop handles the minutes. It seems the starters are getting close to 28 a game, and the back ups are getting everything else. It's kind of tough to tell, though, because we haven't had a close game yet. It's been a blowout one way or the other, so Pop will rest anyone and everyone he gets the opportunity to.

You may or may not have heard, but Manu Ginobili broke a bone in his hand, so he's out indefinitely. If that doesn't let Nuggets fans relax a little more going into this game, I don't know what would. He was playing like an MVP before the injury, and it's going to be a challenge to overcome his absence.

Where do you rank George Karl as a coach? I know that's kind of a random question, but I'm curious. Is he every bit as good as Phil Jackson and Pop, or is he on a lower tier? Is he a coach you can win a championship with?

Nate:

I'm still in a buzz over Kenneth Faried's fine performance in last night's (Jan. 4th) fourth quarter. The rookie only got about nine minutes of playing time, but he had two incredible blocked shots (four total) and threw down a ridiculous alley-oop off a behind the head, no-look pass from Rudy Fernandez.



Can Lawson be posted up on? Guys try to do it all the time, but point guards don't go into the post and have a ton of success. Plus, Denver's front line of 6'10'' Gallo, 6'10'' Nene, and 7'1'' Mozgov offer plenty of intimidation and help. Mozgov and Koufos have been great topics of debate this season. Koufos has started two games for Nene (bruised left heel), at the time of this writing, and recorded his first double-double against the Kings with 10 points and 10 rebounds. K2, as Koufos is becoming known as, has a knack for rebounding, nice post moves, and sweet touch around the rim. Plenty of Denver Stiffs want to see Koufos starting as Mozgov has looked very raw and lost at times, but he too has been showing flashes. I don't envy Karl's job of divvying up minutes.

Birdman Andersen is the perfect guy for 10-20 minutes a night, pretty much every night. But Birdman has been off to a slow start, and Koufos has looked pretty good when given the minutes. If Nene misses more time, there is no issue as Koufos starts at power forward, at 7-feet, but if Nene is healthy the minutes disappear. Who do I play: Birdman or Koufos ... I'm going with K2.

Harrington is an "irrational confidence guy," but he's also had pretty good success throughout his NBA career. He was actually given the opportunity to start recently with Nene out and he declined it, said his role off the bench was too good. He paved the way for Koufos and is really playing a team role. Harrington has been a great addition, along with Andre Miller ... godsends, both of them.

It pained me to hear about Manu Ginobili's injury. I never want to see key players out and always enjoy facing teams that are at 100% ... the Spurs are really going to struggle with Ginobili out, aren't they? I knew we'd see the injury bug with this dumb compacted schedule and already we see Ginobili and Zach Randolph get hit with major injuries. Sucks.

I do look forward to seeing how the Spurs will overcome Manu's absence. I'm excited to see Leonard play, as well as Blair. Isn't Gary Neal back from a minor surgery or injury? A very nice pickup last season, that guy can really shoot. So, you're the guy who bought the Matt Bonner jersey! Didn't know they even made those.

Do I think the Nuggets can win a title with George Karl as the coach? Certainly. Karl took that old Sonics team to the brink of a title against the Chicago Bulls years ago, so he has the experience. Karl has also changed a lot as a person over the years. We (the three Denver Stiffs writers) went to a breakfast with Karl during the off-season and got to hear a lot about Karl's basketball philosophies and about his coaching career. He's a great basketball mind and a very good people person. I believe Karl has been rejuvenated, not only by his second cancer battle, but by this team as well.

The Nuggets are playing incredible team basketball, they are reminding a lot of people of a college team or a throw back team that doesn't care about stats, but about wins. Karl has a tough job of finding minutes for 10-12 guys that are deserving of minutes and I believe his coaching staff is as strong as it has ever been. Coaches can only take a team so far, we'll find out later this season if the Nuggets have the right players stepping up that will be able to help carry the team come playoff time.

I still remember my Nuggets losing two playoff series to these Spurs and would like nothing more than to get some redemption this Saturday. It would also be a nice playoff battle as well. Are you at all worried that the Spurs might miss the playoffs with the Western Conference looking strong and Manu missing so much time? Can Duncan and Parker carry this team with the crazy schedule?

SfS:

Uh, WOW. That's all I've got to say about that. Aren't you glad you have Rudy, now? LA may be "Lob City" but they certainly are not a mile high...which is the approximate elevation Faried reached before slamming that down. That's something straight out of Space Jam.

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Kosta? Is that you?

via image.toutlecine.com

In general, I'd vote for double-doubles...but if you want to start the other guy against the Spurs, that'd be OK, too. I'll look forward to watching either of them play.

That's awesome about Al Harrington. Declining a starting role shows a lot of maturity, which if I remember right isn't something big Al has always been known for. Anyway, if he keeps playing lights out, he's a definite candidate for 6th man of the year. I keep forgetting yall picked up Andre Miller. That's a solid addition.

Yes, we will struggle in LWM (life without Manu), but we can overcome. We can overcome by especially large margins if teams forget that we can, will, and do shoot three pointers with deadly accuracy. We just torched the Mavs with the Red Rocket, Matt Bonner, as our leading scorer. He and Gary Neal (recently returned, as you pointed out, from a minor surgery) both are excellent three point shooters. Danny Green, potentially my new favorite Spur, and James Anderson are also capable of shooting from deep. Oh, and there's Richard Jefferson, shooting 55.3% from 3- and that's not a small sample size, either, because he shoots just over 5 a game. Thats good shooting.

I'm going to go ahead and warn you about Danny. He's aggressive, and he's the best wing defender we've had since Bowen started declining. Some people might disagree with me on that, but if he can sustain the level of defense he's showed so far, he'll silence every critic out there. He's aggressive. Did I mention that already? He can guard positions 1-3, so if you see him frustrating Ty Lawson, setting up camp inside his jersey, don't be surprised. He's very aggressive...on offense, too. He doesn't shy away from the moment at all, and he never seems to stop fighting. The game seems to come pretty naturally to him, his movements are smooth and his instincts seem to be really solid. Plus, he's really aggressive.

/End tangent. How much will we struggle without Manu? Quite a bit, but between Tony, Tim, and Richard, we should be able to cope. I don't think we'll miss the playoffs, and if I'm being optimistic, I still see us having one of the top four records in the West, with the Thunder, Lakers, and Nuggets also up there (in no particular order). If we get another injury, we're probably sunk, but for now we'll be OK. This should be a really good game.

Really enjoyed chatting with you, Nate. I'd like to take this opportunity to invite you Stiffs over to PtR for some chatting either in this thread, or the game thread- many of us enjoy outside perspectives and that's what makes these posts so interesting to begin with.
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