SI Vault
 
11 DENVER NUGGETS
Mark Bechtel
October 30, 2000
In Denver, they've been thinking—and drafting—big, but have they cured their problems in the post?
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 30, 2000

11 Denver Nuggets

In Denver, they've been thinking—and drafting—big, but have they cured their problems in the post?

View CoverRead All Articles

Projected Lineup

STARTERS

PVR*

1999-2000 KEY STATS

SF

James Posey

129

8.2 ppg

3.9 rpg

1.8 apg

1.21 spg

42.9 FG%

PF

Antonio McDyess

14

19.1 ppg

8.5 rpg

1.72 bpg

50.7 FG%

62.6 FT%

C

Raef LaFrentz

61

12.4 ppg

7.9 rpg

2.22 bpg

44.6 FG%

32.8 3FG%

SG

Tariq Abdul-Wahad

191

11.4 ppg

4.8 rpg

1.6 apg

0.97 spg

42.4 FG%

PG

Nick Van Exel

54

16.1 ppg

9.0 apg

3.9 rpg

39.0 FG%

33.2 3FG%

BENCH

PVR*

1999-2000 KEY STATS

F

George McCloud

152

10.1 ppg

3.7 rpg

3.2 apg

41.7 FG%

37.8 3FG%

F-C

Keon Clark

155

8.6 ppg

6.2 rpg

1.41 bpg

54.2 FG%

68.8 FT%

G

Robert Pack

196

8.9 ppg

5.8 apg

1.4 rpg

1.07 spg

41.7 FG%

F

Tracy Murray

199

10.2 ppg

3.4 rpg

43.3 FG%

43.0 3FG%

85.1 FT%

C

Terry Davis?

297

3.4 ppg

3.8 rpg

0.3 apg

53.3 FG%

73.7 FT%

Now acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)
?1998-99 statistics

When the Nuggets selected Auburn center Mamadou N'Diaye with the 26th pick in the June draft, it looked as if the most immediate benefit they would see from their choice was some clever puns, such as the one coach Dan Issel offered up on draft night: "Remember, nobody blocks your shots like your Mamadou." After all, N'Diaye averaged just 8.9 points per game as a senior and looked like little more than a project.

But there's more to his acquisition than the yuk factor. By drafting N'Diaye and signing free-agent center Terry Davis, Issel showed that he was committed to plugging the hole in the middle that sank his team last year. "Mamadou has been a pleasant surprise at both ends of the floor," says Issel. "It looks like he's going to be able to play in this league. But right now we really have a power forward in Raef LaFrentz playing the center position, so we have to improve our team defense and be confident in one another that if we cover up for one teammate, somebody else is going to cover up for us."

When LaFrentz, who is 6'11" but weighs just 240 pounds, was overmatched last year, Issel often turned to power forward Antonio McDyess. But forcing his best scorer to bang with the Shaqs and Tim Duncans of the world took a toll at the other end of the floor. "I don't think we're going to do that this year," says Issel. "There are eight or nine centers in the league who you've got to double-team on the catch, so we might as well have our center guarding those people if they're going to get that kind of help. And all the other centers I think Raef can cover by himself."

Besides holdover Keon Clark, the Nuggets now have the luxury of other center options in Davis, who, according to Issel, "can guard anybody," and N'Diaye. But Denver really needs LaFrentz on the floor for his offense, which means he'll see some minutes at power forward as well. He was the Nuggets' fourth-leading scorer, and his ability to step back and hit the three (he made 60) creates matchup nightmares. Without him, the Nuggets become too dependent on McDyess and point guard Nick Van Exel.

Then again, that wasn't always a bad thing last year: Denver was 22-7 when Van Exel scored at least 19 points. "What I read into that," says Issel, "is that it's important to have more people on the floor who can shoot the basketball, more people who can score, so we're not so dependent on Nick to score for us to win. I think everybody likes a pass-first point guard, and I think Nick is that kind of a point guard. [He was second in the league in assists last season.] But when he didn't have confidence in the people he was passing it to, he had more confidence in himself taking the shot."

To support Van Exel on the scoreboard, Denver acquired gunners Voshon Lenard and Tracy Murray. That pair, along with three-point specialist George McCloud, swingman James Posey and starting shooting guard Tariq Abdul-Wahad (a suspect outside shooter with good moves to the hole), at least gives Issel a host of bodies to choose from at shooting guard and small forward. Says Issel, "If we can get 20 points a night from those two positions from a combination of those players, we'll be in pretty good shape."

Being in good shape is also a key for LaFrentz. He missed the last 70 games of his rookie year, 1998-99, after tearing his left ACL, so last season was the first in which he played a full schedule. It showed. "He hit the wall 40 or 45 games in," says Issel.

LaFrentz was able to work on his game this summer, though, unlike the previous off-season. "Last summer was so rehab-intensive because of my knee," he says. "This summer first thing I did was take a little time off, got myself refreshed physically and mentally."

He got engaged and did a little traveling. Then he worked tirelessly on conditioning, footwork and low post moves. He also picked Davis's brain during training camp, all of which will make him a better defender. But he knows he still has his work cut out for him. "A lot of it is just one thing: strength," LaFrentz says. "Against some of those guys I give up almost 100 pounds. That's an uphill battle."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

1