NBA Betting: Nuggets Better Off Without Iverson
by Trevor Whenham - 11/26/2008
I'm a big Allen Iverson fan so I hate to admit this, but the Nuggets really seem better off without "The Answer" on the court. Denver has won eight of 10 since acquiring Chauncey Billups from Denver for Iverson. The only two losses have been totally acceptable, too - on the road to the equally hot Cavs and Lakers. They are 6-3-1 ATS in this new era. This streak has them precariously perched atop the Northwest Division and, for now anyway, comfortably in a playoff spot. Here's a look at how they are doing it, and whether it can be sustained, or at least whether the team can make the playoffs - somewhere they weren't really expected to end up:
Billups - I want to look at Billups in two ways - what he brings, and as an agent of change. First, the player. On the surface, Billups is a slight step down from what Iverson brought to the table - he has slightly fewer points and assists per game in Denver. The impact goes far beyond that, though. Any player who adds 18 points and six assists a game is a good thing, and Billups has noticeably changed the feel of the team on the court. Iverson plays with a desperate intensity and anger. Billups is no less competitive or intense, but he has more of a calmness about him, and the team seems to be thriving on it. It also obviously doesn't hurt that Billups is a true point guard. Iverson was a sound floor general, but he was also a pure scorer who looked for his own opportunities on every play. Billups is somewhat more selfless, and that helps his team. It also works better with coach George Karl's system - the coach preaches patience, and Iverson is anything but patient.
The other impact Billups brings is just plain change. With Iverson the team had been decent, but not really good enough. They could already see their fate again this year - they would win 42-50 games but likely not make the playoffs, and not do anything if they did. The addition of Billups may not make them markedly better, but at least it jarred them out of the rut that they were in. Billups is an exciting player, a good guy, and very popular in Denver. His presence has obviously reinvigorated this team. As long as he doesn't wear out his welcome, and his time in Detroit gave us no reason to think he will, then he should continue to inspire as he leads.
Carmelo Anthony - Melo is clearly enjoying his time with Billups. He has four double-doubles in his last 10 games, including the last two in a row. He'll work well with Billups, but then he worked reasonably well with Iverson, too. Though he is one of the bigger stars in the league, Anthony is reasonably undemanding - he just wants his share of balls so he can score his points. I don't think that Anthony will improve dramatically with Billups, though the guard's outside shooting ability should open things up inside a bit more than before - teams could defend the inside because they knew Iverson and Melo both were headed there. Beyond that, though, Melo was and is a star, and that isn't going to change any time soon.
George Karl - Karl is at his best when he has a classic, game controlling point guard on his team. That's why he and Gary Payton were such a good pair. He has that again here. Iverson had the ball control and passing skills of a point guard, but he didn't have the mentality of one. Karl was doing a decent job in Denver - a first and three second place finishes in the division in four years. He has lost in the first round each time, though, and he is essentially treading water. Billups could be just what he needs to get refocused and re-energized. When Karl is good he is very good. This shake up and the subsequent success could have as much to do with him as anything.
Inside presence - This is still the biggest concern I have about this team. When they are healthy at the same time, Kenyon Martin and Nene make a dynamic inside duo. The problem, though, is that both players are as fragile as tissue paper. An injury to Martin is pretty much an annual event - he missed 11 games last year, and that was the best he has done as a Nugget. Nene is even worse. He played one game in 05-06, and he is just five games away from surpassing last year's game total. Inevitably, one or both is going to break down and miss time - Martin is already nursing a sore wrist. If and when those players are out, I have little faith in their depth and the ability of the team to maintain the level of play inside, or even come close.