Lost in all the trade talk and the headline stealing news about the Heat and Lakers and Wizards and Favres has been a pretty remarkable player transformation undergone by one Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets (as of this writing). With big-minute bigmen Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen shelved with injuries, Anthony has sacrificed some of his accustomed scoring to shore up team rebounding, and he’s never played better.Carmelo is putting up the sorts of stats we expect from a Dirk Nowitzki, averaging nearly 25 points and 10 rebounds. His PER, Win Share per minute, rebounding rate, steals rate, blocked shot rate, offensive rating, and defensive rating are all at career highs. His usage rate is down but still quite high at 28. His True Shooting percentage (factoring in 3 pointers and free throws), regular field goal percentage, three point shot percentage, and free throw shooting percentages are all also at a career best. In essence he’s playing like the swing forward we saw dominate the NCAA tournament at Syracuse, and he’s doing it against NBA front courts.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Nuggets are only 5-5 while their best player is working his tail off like never before. Of course there are some good reasons they aren’t winning more. As we’ve already established, their starting power forward, Martin, and their first big off the bench, Birdman, are both absent with injuries. As yet unmentioned is the fact that Chauncey Billups left his game in Turkey after the world championships. B-B-B-Billups is shooting 34% from the field to begin the season and tossing 2.7 turnovers against 4.1 assists per game. Super-sub JR Smith is also having a rough start, shooting 37% from the field, and his points are under 10 per game for the first time since he arrived in Denver, down more than 5 points per game from last year. Denver has also had a tough schedule to start the season facing only 2 non-playoff teams in their first 10 games. And they lost one of those in Indianapolis when the Pacers put on one of the most otherworldly shooting performances anybody’s seen in years.
No one knows what will happen in Denver. Carmelo may be there all season, or he could be traded at any time. If he is there when KMart and Birdman get back, and if Chauncey’s 34 year old game ever makes it across the Pond, the Nuggets could be very dangerous. Like their superstar Anthony, Ty Lawson and Aaron Afflalo are playing the best ball of their careers and give the team additional speed and production in the backcourt, a traditionally shallow position for George Karl’s Nuggets. Phil Jackson has mentioned that of all the teams in the West, Denver worries him the most. When you look at the potential of the finished product and couple that the with a promising start from Melo, it’s obvious why the Zen Master has concerns. And you can see why Mike D’Antoni and Avery Johnson had their front offices throwing all their chips at Denver before the season even started.