Following the Dwight Howard trade, the Denver Nuggets were able to snag Andre Iguodala and brought him to the Mile High City, but how will the addition affect the Nuggets when they face off against the Los Angeles Lakers?
Series Matchup 2011-2012: 3-1 Los Angeles Lakers
Series Matchup 2012-2013: November 30th, December 26th, January 6th, February 25th
Ty Lawson has shown improvement every year that he’s been in the league — as most players should — and this season will prove no different. During the 2011-2012 season, he averaged 16.4 points on 48.8% shooting from the field, 6.6 assists, 1.3 steals and knocking down 36.5% from downtown.
Lawson is an efficient scoring machine, but Steve Nash is still an orchestrator on offense. Last season, Nash averaged 12.5 points on 53.2% scoring, 10.7 assists, .6 steals, and 39% from downtown. Nash has a basketball IQ out of this world, an extraordinary playmaker, but when it comes to defending, he won’t be able to stop quick-as-a-whip Lawson.
When Lawson is on the court, during the 2011-2012 season, Nash’s three-pointers decreased 20% from his average, and his FG% by 47%; adversely when Nash on the court, Lawson three-point percentage increased (83%), assists increased (10.2) and +/- increased (4.8) over his average. With that being said, Nash’s effectiveness on a talented Lakers squad is completely different, but Denver also has one of the best backup point guards in the game to play with the second unit; can we say the same about Los Angeles’ weak depth?
Newly acquired Iguodala will start at the shooting guard position and the Western Conference will have to deal with his tenacious defense regularly, as well as, Iguodala will get a taste of the run-and-gun west. Last season he averaged 12.4 points on 45.4% from the field, 6.1 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.7 steals, and scoring 39.4% from three-point land. His offense isn’t even in a thought in my mind when he squares off with Kobe Bryant; last year, he averaged 27.9 points on 43% shooting, 5.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 30.3% from the perimeter.
Say what you will about Kobe, and his declining field percentages ( from 45.1% in 2010-2011), but Kobe is still a force in the league and Coach Brown has admitted he wants to play him less minutes to make the most of Bryant’s effectiveness. However, with Iguodala on the court, last season, Bryant’s +/- decreased (8.5) average of 26.1 to 20.8 as well as his assists, rebounds, and field goal attempts via NBA Stats Cube. This proves as evidence that Iguodala’s defensive prowess will be necessary to slow Bryant down.
Starting at small forward for the Nuggets will be Danilo Gallinari, who had a bout of bad luck last season with not one, but too ill-timed injuries, obviously health is the number one priority for Gallinari. Despite only playing in 43 games last season, he averaged 14.6 points (second-lowest of his career) on 41.4% shooting, 4.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.0 steal, and shooting 32.8% from beyond the arc. He will go up against Metta World Peace who averaged 7.7 points on 39.4% shooting, 3.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 29.6% from downtown.
Let’s go back to Game 7 of the Lakers-Nuggets 2012 Round 1 series, when World Peace returned after a 7-game suspension for ‘bowing James Harden. You may remember he was vital for the Lakers as he nearly shut down Gallinari who went 1-for-9 and three turnovers. Many clamored that MWP has slipped tremendously over the year, the truth is he is still defensively effective; he doesn’t back down from an opponent and rises to a challenge and Gallinari won’t get a bevy of uncontested shots with World Peace.
With that being said, Gallinari has worked on his shot over the season, and one can assume — or perhaps pray — for more consistent shooting from the Italian stud. I believe the key in this matchup for Gallinari, is to not settle for contested three-pointers, but to Attack! Attack! Attack! It was evident last season, he is effective when slashing through the lane and getting to the basket; in doing so it can also translate into free throws. It’s also fair to mention, World Peace has worked his way into shape and the results have demonstrated a spry and fast MWP.
Second-year player, Kenneth Faried, will start at the power forward position, and his first season with Denver was anything but dull. His 2011-2012 NBA averages were 10.2 points on 58.6% scoring, 7.7 rebounds, and 1 block. While, Faried is tenacious, and could have an impact year; Faried will square off against the fundamental Pau Gasol. Gasol averaged 17.4 points on 50.1% shooting, 10.4 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game.
Prior to the Lakers-Nuggets first round series, many pundits believed Faried wouldn’t matchup well with Pau stating the typical “undersized” excuse, but something metrics can’t measure is Faried’s incessant energy and insatiable appetite to clean the glass. It was very demonstrative during Game 3 of the series, when Faried tallied 15 points and 12 rebounds in a win for Denver. Faried’s “never quit” attitude was a constant thorn in Gasol’s side during the series.
With that being said, being undersized in the NBA can be a detriment, it takes a greater toll on the body for an undersized athlete to play, day in and day out, against athletes inches taller than them. Something that Pau Gasol has going for him, even when Faried plays great one-on-one defense on Gasol, is his creative passing. Another notable item, is Kenneth Faried never folds, he’s mentally strong and bleeds basketball and when he matches up with players that have mental lapses — like Pau — Faried is a dominating force.
Finally, we come to the center position which George Karl has admitted that Kosta Kousta may start over JaVale McGee or even Timofey Mozgov for that matter, depending on how they look during the preseason. For arguments sake, let’s use JaVale McGee as the starting center for the Nuggets.
Some will laugh at McGee, but somehow, someway, he works in Denver’s system. In addition, he has tremendous upside that will affect the young squad in a positive manner. Last season, he averaged (with Denver), 10.3 points on 61.2 shooting from the field, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks over 20 games with five of those he started. The starting center for the Los Angeles Lakers is Dwight Howard and last season — the best center in the NBA — averaged 20.6 points on 57.3% from the field, 14.5 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game.
OY VEY! Where do I start with this matchup? JaVale has plenty of upside, this is true, ranging from his height and athleticism to his offensive repertoire, but let’s be honest. Dwight Howard is freakin’ Dwight Howard, we may be unsure of how he will cohere with Kobe and company as the season moves along, but the fact he he’s a defensive dominator.
McGee has the ability to intimidate with his defenses and has improved offensive arsenal, but it’s his ‘Shaqtin-A-Fool’ tendencies that detract from his positives. With that being said, Howard is an offensive and defensive threat; one of his few negatives — besides DwightMare over the summer — is his lack of free throw shooting prowess. Hack-A-Howard, maybe?
On the flip side, Dwight Howard could face health concerns at anytime during the season, but that can go for Steve Nash or Kobe Bryant as well. Lakers are considerably older than Denver, which is a blessing and a curse at the same time. While, one can’t predict if JaVale will — 100% — have a breakout year, we can assume Denver will run the Lakers haggard.
Looking at benches, Denver has a bench as deep as an ocean, which is helpful during the regular season — not so much during the post-season — as they have one of the best backup point guards in the game, Andre Miller, paired with Wilson Chandler, Jordan Hamilton, Corey Brewer, Timofey Mozgov, Anthony Randolph, Kosta Koufos, and Evan Fournier.
However, the Lakers bench — while an upgrade from last season — fails in comparison. Yes, the Lakers do have Antawn Jamison who averaged 17.2 points on 40.3% from the field, 6.3 rebounds, and 34,1% from three, but once again that was a starter’s production. How will he do coming off of the bench and how he regulates with that role is still up in the air. Let’s be honest, Jamison is the reason why pundits are touting an improved Lakers bench.
Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill are highlights to the bench as well, Hill can provide a mismatch and clean the glass, Meeks gives the Lakers a shooter behind Kobe Bryant. Adversely, there’s a lack of depth for Los Angeles at the small forward position, and the reserve point guards — Steve Blake and Chris Duhon — are laughable. Clearly, Denver has the superior bench, but a bench is only as good as its productive.
The new-look Lakers are clearly the better team, but the Denver Nuggets aren’t slouches either; L.A.’s starting five can outwork Denver, but Denver has the ability to drive-and-kick it’s way to victories over Los Angeles.
Series Prediction: 2-2