Thoughts on Durant and Denver

Allow me to re-introduce myself. It's been awhile since I checked in with any thoughts about the NBA, but I thought it was a good time now that the season has started and I'm already sleep-deprived.

I've stayed up late the last two nights watching the Lakers-Rockets (to see if Kobe Bryant would throw "his heart and soul" into it) and the Nuggets-Sonics (to watch the debut of Kevin Durant and see if Carmelo Anthony is insane for saying that Denver should win 60 games this season).

I'll comment on the Kobe situation some time later, because there is so much else going on in the league already.

First off, I have to say that I was relatively impressed with Durant's debut last night. His shooting night was dreadful (7-for-22), but he wasn't scared to be on the floor and finished with 18 points. He did nothing to make me think that he won't be rookie of the year.


This kid can really get up. (Rod Mar/The Seattle Times)

Durant took 14 shots in the first half, making just three. But I blame that on him being nervous and rushing his attempts. He seemed to interpret being open to mean that he had to shoot immediately. The Sonics are clearly willing to give him all the freedom he needs, which is probably best (although I wonder how long P.J. Carlesimo will be able to accept Durant gunning before his head explodes).

Durant was obviously in attack mode, but he had a sweat dish to Chris Wilcox for a dunk when he could've easily scored himself. He seemed to calm down and should look a little better tonight against the Phoenix Suns (my pick to win the NBA title this year).

I also marveled at how skinny that kid is. He is comically skinny. I mean, he looked lean and lanky in college, but matched up against Carmelo Anthony, Durant looked like he could fit into a pencil sharpener.

By the way, if you have some time, you should check out the Seattle Times. It has a webpage dedicated exclusively to Durant and it displays an incredible picture of the youngster skying above Seattle's Space Needle.

. . . As for the Nuggets, I picked them to win the Northwest Division because they were playing the best basketball of any team the last month of the regular season; they just ran into a buzz saw in San Antonio in the first round. I also was worried that the loss of Derek Fisher would be huge for the Utah Jazz since they don't have many veteran leaders on that team.

I think the return of Kenyon Martin will be a major boost, giving Denver a formidable front line with Marcus Camby and Nene. Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony had found an incredible rhythm with each other. Iverson, of course, still has to prove over the course of a full season that he is willing to play second banana to Anthony, who scored 31 rather effortless points last night. But the Nuggets are deep. They have solid backups at almost every position. Almost, which is the key.

Anthony is extremely optimistic about the team, and he expressed his feelings on his bland new, um, brand new blog. Anthony said the Nuggets should win 60 games this season. Sixty? "I take our squad at full strength against anyone in the L," he said in his blog. "I'm going to go all out and say we might have the best team in Nuggets history. It's great to be back on the court with KMart, AI, and the rest of the guys. We definitely have the talent and the depth to go all the way."


I'm laughing, too, Melo. Sixty wins?

He added, "All I know is that everyone's healthy and hungry for that championship! If we can stay healthy there's no reason why we cant win it all. [W]atch out!"

I think Anthony's enthusiasm is great, but I think I should add some information to temper that excitement a bit.

Since the 1999-2000 season, 11 teams have won 60 games - Dallas (67) and Phoenix (61) last season; Detroit (64), San Antonio (63) and Dallas (60) in 2005-06; Phoenix (62) in 2004-05; Indiana (61) in 2003-04; San Antonio (60) and Dallas (60) in 2002-03; Sacramento (61) in 2001-02; None in 00-01; and the Los Angeles Lakers (67).

Those teams either had excellent floor leaders like Steve Nash, Chauncey Billups, Tony Parker or Mike Bibby or played excellent team defense. The point guards for the Nuggets are Chucky Atkins and Anthony Carter - and they are both hurt right now. Even if they were healthy, I can't see either one of those guys directing a 60-win team.

And, I know that Marcus Camby won Defensive Player of the Year last year, but I am not sold on the Nuggets playing lockdown team defense for an entire season. I mean, the Sonics aren't exactly one of the elite teams in the West and they scored 103 points.

George Karl said this team could win 55 games, which is a more realistic estimate in my opinion - but still a bit high for me. You have to remember that while the Nuggets are incredibly talented, these personalities have to mesh for the whole year to truly be great. I'd like to see it happen, but it's not a given by any stretch of the imagination.

. . . I think the league should move at least one of those Seattle-Denver games to the Verizon Center this season. Think that game would sell out? Did you see how many guys on the floor last night had D.C./Maryland connections?

The Sonics had former Montrose Christian star Durant, former Northwestern and Georgetown star Jeff Green, former Eleanor Roosevelt star Delonte West and former Maryland star Chris Wilcox. The Nuggets had Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony, former Georgetown star Allen Iverson and Linus Kleiza, another Montrose Christian alum (Denver also has Chucky Atkins, who had a legendary 28-game stint with the Wizards).

. . . Those ESPN commercials featuring Greg Oden make me more upset that he isn't playing this year. It does look like Portland is going to be okay, though. Lamarcus Aldridge looks like he's ready to make a serious leap this year. It might not be a big deal if Aldridge scores 27 points - but he did it against Tim Duncan and the Spurs.

By Michael Lee |  November 1, 2007; 7:32 PM ET
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So, ML, is Carmelo nuts? Can the Nugs go 60?

Posted by: joe c | November 1, 2007 7:56 PM

Mike,

I, too, have the Nuggets taking the Northeest. I think they're the real deal out there. I believe, as you do, that 60 wins is a bit high, but around 50 isn't. I was more impressed with AI's play last night. The assists and steals were great, and he looks like he might be willing to defer some to 'Melo. If AI is willing to give shots to someone else and worry more about facilitating the offense, than the Nuggets will be scary good. And a front court combo of K-Mart and Camby may not be the most dynamic offensively, but they should play better interior defense and be solid rebounders. I was disappointed that they gave up 14 offensive rebounds and let the Sonics get up 96 shots. But that should improve.

I think the Nuggets should play AI at point. That would give them that elite PG that those 60-win teams had because, as you mentioned, Mike, the other options are less than appealing. I think Chucky Atkins is a subpar player. He can shoot, but so what? So can a lot of players. What else does Atkins do?

Regardless, Denver is going to be solid.

Also, I know it's only one game and it's against Dallas, but how bad did Cleveland look last night against the Mavs? I think the Cavs just barely make the playoffs this year. They simply don't have the talent outside of LeBron to make any legitimate progress in the East. I think they'll come crashing down from last year's 50 wins.

Posted by: Colin | November 1, 2007 8:52 PM

Durant is a very smooth player. He'll be a good player overtime. I like how Chris Wilcox plays! He is a very strong player! The Wizards could use a player like him.

Posted by: bdunkadunk | November 1, 2007 9:52 PM

Hey, dc88'er, the heat look like they really suck! bwahahahahah!!! What I mean to say is, Shaq is MCfat, Mcfattikins. If you don't like them, thens whats your fave team??

Posted by: DC | November 2, 2007 2:36 AM

"Hey, dc88'er, the heat look like they really suck! bwahahahahah!!! What I mean to say is, Shaq is MCfat, Mcfattikins. If you don't like them, thens whats your fave team??

Posted by: DC | November 2, 2007 02:36 AM "

OMG, I hope they suck. Shaq is not worth watching anymore, and DWade is supposedly not back until the end of the year. I never cared for Pat Riley teams anyway.

Also, I assume you are talking about the Heat with me b/c you think (as someone has accused) that I am someone who writes on espn as someone else who support the Heat. They could not be more wrong. I couldn't care less about the Heat, but one thing about the Heat, they have Les BouleS' number.

Posted by: DC Man88 | November 2, 2007 9:03 AM

After seeing last night's Sonics-Suns game --

Kevin Durant now = Butter.

Kevin Durant + 15 pounds of muscle + adjusting to NBA pace = Beast.

Barkley called it right. When he can take the banging of the pro game and finish the easy shots, look out below.

Posted by: iceberg | November 2, 2007 9:39 AM

Durant reminds me of Scottie Pippen as a rook (in terms of body style). He is farther advanced offensively though. Nice J on display last night against Phoenix and he has decent handles and peripheral to pass. Seems like he's in a rush though and needs a yellow light more than a green. Speaking of Green, Jeff didn't seem to do much. Just as he did at Georgetown, he often seems to fall into a lull and just be "out there." But he does the little things well and is definitely an asset. Look out when he decides he wants to score. As for the poster about Wilcox. I've always liked his game since his days in College Park. But he benefits more from a transition game than in the half court. He's still raw and leaving school early hasn't sped up his development in the low post set.

Posted by: G$ | November 2, 2007 10:57 AM

Mike Lee, thanks for another fantastic article.

enjoyed watching Sonics v. Suns last nite.

From my perspective - the Soncis(mostly rookies - held their own against my team, the Suns. More than I can say for more mature teams. Collison, Ridnaur, Durant, Wilcox and one other player were rollin!!
Thats gutsy on their part good coaching.

KUDOS to them. I congratulate Jarvis as well - Detroit won.

The Heat? No Wade - forget it. Soon Shaq will have some sort of injury.

"THE SENIOR TEAM" KG, PP, RA, need to do whatever they're gonna do NOW. That picture of them (heads down..) its their last Hoorah! They still don't know if they can beat anybody but Cleveland. I'll pray for them cuz I want them to do well.

Ray Allen, every SG's idol - won't have any natural bone to his ankles - just pins. He's had so many ankle breaks.
Mike Lee, I agree - somebody on the "Seniors Team" will get injured. W/out a bench??? it could be bad. They barely won in preseason.

Don't get me wrong..I love KG and Pierce..
like I do Bret Farve. I just hope they can obtain their dreams. Time is always moving.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 2, 2007 2:21 PM

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