Denver’s Whole Much More Than Sum Of Its Parts

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Back in 1985, give or take a generation depending on what year was dialed in, Doc Brown retro-fitted a campy DeLorean with a few spare parts he had around his workshop and spawned an entire time-traveling series of Hollywood comedies.

Nearly 30 years later, Denver Nuggets VP of basketball operations Masai Ujiri has cobbled together a roster largely out of spare parts, discards and items from the NBA’s great cutout bin and essentially made time stand still. As in another multiplex favorite, the one with Bill Murray and the rodent in which every day and night ends up the same: Win, win, win, win …

Consider the two hottest teams in The Association at the moment and how they came to be. The Miami Heat, aiming for their 26th consecutive victory Sunday evening against Charlotte, were conceived in a lightning bolt and thunderclap moment of AAU-comes-to-NBA inspiration, the brainstorm of the three key Hall of Fame-caliber players involved. Then there are the Nuggets.

Denver, which extended its lower profile winning streak to 15 games Saturday night, have made do – and made dangerous – with far more humble pieces than the crew in south Florida. At the risk of putting a silly “NBA.com has learned…” spin on something that’s been hiding in plain sight, it is worth looking again (if you haven’t done so recently) at the how the Nuggets’ roster was built:

  • Drafted (3): Kenneth Faried (2011, Round 1, No. 22 overall); Evan Fournier (2012, Round 1, No. 20 overall), and Quincy Miller (2012, Round 2, No. 38 overall).
  • Trades (9): Corey Brewer, Wilson Chandler, Jordan Hamilton, Andre Iguodala, Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Kosta Koufos, JaVale McGee, Andre Miller and Timofey Mozgov.
  • Free agents (2): Anthony Randolph and Julyan Stone.

Looked at as a group, the ensemble nature of what Denver and coach George Karl are doing this season – 15 straight, 49-22, fourth-best record in the league with a legit chance to catch OKC to claim the Northwest Division and the West’s No. 2 seed – is amazing and undeniable. That whole sure had better be greater than the sum of its parts, because its parts, on paper especially, wouldn’t scare hardly anybody.

Faried’s sleeper status out of Morehead State has gotten wide play by now. But it’s indicative of Denver’s recent draft history, with the Nuggets stuck at No. 20 or lower for their last 10 picks overall. The last single-digit guy – heck, the last lottery guy – by the Nuggets? Carmelo Anthony in 2003.

As for player acquired via trades, look how many current Nuggets were disappointing Something-Elses before they made it to Denver. Brewer, Randolph and Koufos, huge contributors on a surging team, were left at the curb by Minnesota. So, in a pre-arranged draft night trade, was Lawson, on the same date the Timberwolves spent the No. 6 pick on Jonny Flynn.

Andre Miller was considered old and broken-down by some at age 34, after five teams and 12 seasons. Chandler, Gallinari, Mozgov (and Quincy Miller, as a future pick) were, at the time of the Anthony trade, the best Ujiri and the Nuggest could do when faced with a marquee player who wanted out. Hamilton was a throw-in from Dallas to Portland to Denver on the night he was drafted in June 2011 at No. 26.

McGee? He was classic addition-by-subtraction for Washington, eager to reduce the knuckleheads quotient of its locker room. Even Iguodala, so helpful at both ends and in a leadership role, had fallen out of favor in Philadelphia.

Ujiri, early this season, referred to the process as a “rough two years.” Yet the Nuggets did not drop out of the playoffs in that span. They did not, obviously, sit and pine for pricey, big-name free agents they weren’t going to get anyway.

They took what was available and, with Ujiri working as hard in the front office as Karl on the sideline and the players on the court, rigged it MacGyver-style into something special. Gourmet chefs, three-star restaurants and the finest meats and veggies often make for great meals, but occasionally so do leftovers used creatively in perfect balance.

41 Comments

  1. altitude says:

    Rudy Gay? – Nice player – Memphis is better without him – why would we want one like him? People keep saying we don’t have a “star” – we have a “TEAM of stars” – any given night any one of them can shine, and usually do it together, making them even brighter. Next years’ all-star team could be the Nuggets (to make up for the “snub” this year) – besides – all-star teams and games are a joke anyway. I’d trust any one of the Nuggets with the final shot in any game!

  2. Wattsy says:

    Nuggets are doing a great job and are definately a team to look out for in the playoffs. However, all the big teams and their superstars step it up in the playoffs? Can nuggets really step it up anymore than they already have? I just don’t think they can step it up enough to challenge OKC or the Spurs and given the fact these would have home court it would be a tough ask.

  3. DANITo says:

    whos said denver has no superstars. ty lawson is definetly a superstar to me. iggy faried and gallinari , they playing an allstar level too

  4. LB says:

    I really really like the Nuggets and I am very happy to see them get recognition. But in my mind, Iggy is the star of the Nuggets. He was an all star last season despite only averaging 12 points a game. I believe that Iggy, Lawson, and Faried are the most underrated players in the game today. Gallo and Wilson Chandler are also quite underrated. You also have to appreciate the athleticism of McGee and the fundamentals of Miller. KNICKS VS NUGGETS in the finals!!!!

  5. Cammmm says:

    They may not be stars yet but just wait and see. There is no ceiling for this team. We are finally getting recognition. The 04 pistons had all stars but they were better known no one from the media could give a damn about a nuggets player until this streak. Unless it was ja vale on shaqtin haha. One or some of our players will soon be recognised as all stars or whatever you wanna call them. For now we a all star team we are 10 deep, we are dangerous, who you gonna game plan for each night?

  6. LALA says:

    Ty Lawson is already better than Gay.

  7. Ryan from Philippines says:

    Im a huge Dallas MAvericks and Dirk NOwitzki fan but it seems that theres a new dominant force in the west right now and they’ll probably stun the HEAT in JUNE. And it is them the WILD HORSES in DENVER NUGGETS.

  8. Ryan from Philippines says:

    DENVER NUGGETS will BEAT THE HEAT in the FINALS. Just like the PISTONS beat the LAKERS in 2004.

  9. beestal says:

    Really, AI a leftover? The guy that glued a fiba champ and Olympic golds? No, that is just Mr. Underrated being undervalued yet again because he only does everything well, including think this game and lead. And that is a sad, sad thing to say about such great player.

  10. adumb says:

    Denver’s scary good.

  11. Nick says:

    Denver nuggets is formed by talented young players with a substance of skills and tactful coach which is driving force for getting this 15th win games. So if you want to know what is the real basketball look at the Nuggets and how they are playing. Basketball is a team game and they proved it. Go NUGGETS!!! Miami vs Nuggets in Finals!!!!

  12. Fed says:

    Denver is doing great right now. I’d like to see them get that number 2 spot out west. That will help them a lot since they’ve only lost three times on their home court. We’ll see how great of a team they are once playoffs start. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll see someone (Lawson, Gallinari, Chandler) emerge as Denver’s superstar. Maybe not league MVP but their version of what Memphis had in Rudy Gay.

  13. Shady says:

    If you’re a NBA fan, you gotta enjoy watching the Nuggets play

  14. NBA fan says:

    If you really need a bonified superstar to win in the playoffs then why are the Lakers, with 5 or 6 different players with all star appearances, struggling to even get into the playoffs. Its not solely about about having a superstar obviously. Chemistry is crucial in the playoffs. In addition if all you needed was superstars the Mavericks should have never gotten a ring. The two most comfortable teams I see playing right now is Denver and Miami. Nuggets vs. Heat finals 7 games.

  15. scootover7 says:

    Denver is a very exciting team to watch. Amazing athleticism and a lot of fast break points. I think they should conistently push the pace even in the playoffs. Forget about slowing it down in the playoffs I say the Nuggets should bring it full force into the playoffs.

  16. scootover7 says:

    The Denver Nuggets I agree when you look at the makeup of the team on paper don’t seem very scary. But they gell together very well with such amazing athleticism and speed down the court. I feel that if they play fast pace in the playoffs they will be dangerous.

  17. W/E says:

    YES i hope Nuggets face the Heat in the finals that would be awesome.

  18. stan says:

    the announcement of Marc Gasol being out of the rest of the season could be a great help in Denver keeping the 3rd spot

  19. Joe says:

    I would love to see a nuggets vs heat finals. STARS vs NONSTARS but Denver has a long road ahead of them before that happens

  20. Albert says:

    hmm east is weak if miami was in the west they would not have this awesome record or probably make it to the final… why teams like memphis and san antonio match up good withthem, okc cant beat them… And Denver has great chemistry , sometning the clippers need to get , but they are pretty good going against miami to… And wow the heats aint really play nobody….

    • HEATFANSINCEWADE says:

      LOL 23-5 against the west and no chance at making the final? Stop hating, If Okc cant beat the heat and they are 2nd in the west what place would the heat be Einstein? They would still be champions! Stop making excuses for your loser teams its laughable to anyone with common sense.

      • hatebandwagons says:

        heat fan since Wade? So you were not a fan of the heat in the 90’s when the heat were terrible. Is that user name supposed to convince us that you are not a bandwagon fan? because to me it does the complete opposite. I suppose in the 90’s your user name was Bulls Fan SInce Jordan? Stick with your team during the dark days and it will mean more to you when they become good. Stop jumping on bandwagons

  21. Kobe Bryant says:

    Denver is proving that you dont need superstars to be a championship contender. Just like the Pistons in 2004. But we all know who is winning the championship this year, next year and many more years to come: Miami Heat!! They are unstoppable and I dont see any team beating them in a 7 game series. They got no competition in the east and the top competitors for them was OKC and Spurs but theyve been falling lately.

  22. Nottoobad says:

    Born and Raised MIami fan~ And I live in Clorado now. I am loving the great style of play and excitement from the Denver Nuggets. Pepsi Center is an amazing fun time and the fans really know the game, Nuggets will have a great run. But I am absolutely in awe at the season Lebron is putting up. Great year for This NBA fan! Miami Nuggets Final!

  23. Conor 2L says:

    I love Denver and I love the Nuggets. Represent straight up and down

  24. Game Time says:

    I can’t believe Denver is in 3rd with a possibility of going for the 2nd seed. George Karl & the nuggets’ staff have done a great job with these guys. Karl should get COY for this. Pop is deserving as well of course, but I would like to see Karl get one.

    • HEATFANSINCEWADE says:

      Spoelstra has won 25 and counting in a row! Pop has stars just like Spo…. Maybe his name should be added to the COY list. Its about time Spo gets some credit for coaching a team of stars and ego, Just saying he is the defending champion with a team that is on a 25 game winning streak!

      • Twizz says:

        Lol. All he has to do is say “Lebron, go into the game.” Not much coaching needed there. Hell, I could do that all day, every day. Heat players are also pretty young compared to the Spurs “stars”. Don’t mistake a TEAM of good players with a team of stars.

      • Popo says:

        @ Twizz: Don’t mistaken yourself for someone who knows basketball. If that is all Spo had to do, then the heat would be 82-0 and would have two titles. Spo is a good coach, he’s not great yet. He is solid. He’s not pop. And the spur’s don’t have “stars”, they have stars. Proven, champions.

      • taco says:

        so somehow a team with three star players makes them less of a team, give me a break the two arent mutually exclusive. your reasoning is a result of bias, grow up

      • hatebandwagons says:

        I could coach Lebron Wade and Bosh to more wins then Spo. Miami have ex All-Star players on their bench? Try tell me their Roster is not loaded.Pop and Karl have developed their benches themselves – all Spo did is trade for some stars at the peak of the career. The hard work was already done by Cleveland and Toronto. Spo can’t take credit for the way Bosh or Lebron pay, nor can he take credit for the way Battier, Allen, Lewis or most of their team play. They were developed into superstars at other clubs and then traded to Miami. Spurs and Nuggets players have been developed into super players by THEIR clubs – not other clubs. The Spurs have all developed under Pop and the players (Apart from maybe Iggy) that coach Karl has at his disposal were all useless before they got to Denver – they are playing at career best levels – talent that coach Karl has drawn out of them.

  25. googergieger says:

    Miami was three “stars” who decided to join forces by making the east weaker than it already was and dominating that weak east.

    Denver is proving how much a team should matter in basketball. They are also rewriting the script and giving hope to all small market teams with very limited chance to get a “superstar” out there. I hope they have a deep playoff run. Might finally force the talking heads out there to give out some real insight into a team sport, instead of just saying “Superstars are responsible for everything good that has ever happened ever!”.

    • Mac says:

      @googergieger says:

      Dude, it’s a reality. You need stars who can make plays during clutch times.

      Denver is a great team, I would honestly say that. And they are doing something great right now.
      But in the History of NBA, the best teams have superstars.

      It is because these players need a Superstar that can lead them not just talent wise but composure wise. but who knows, let’s see how things will turn out. =D

    • taco says:

      Yes the east is very weak, especially when it comes to playoff time. which is why it took the heat just 5 games to put away the best team by far in the west in the finals, yet they were taken to 6 games by the pacers, and 7 games by the celtics who went 7 games with the 6ers who went 7 games with the bulls. yup the east is soooo weak. the heat are a great team, lebron and dwade play like their heartbeats are in sync. and im not sure if you realize but east teams dont only play other east teams during the season

      • googergieger says:

        They beat the Spurs? No, you mean OKC. The team that needed a lot of help to beat the Spurs in the western conference finals. You do realize you play your conference more often times than the other conference right? And that Phili and Orlando are no longer competitive teams in that conference. And that when Lebron left for Miami that meant Cleveland was done being a threat.

        The west has about four maybe five teams who could come out of the west and it wouldn’t be a shock. Miami has a cake walk. Especially with the two aggressive superstars they have that never get into any foul trouble.