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Postseason experience would hold value for Nuggets

Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson is one of several Denver players who could benefit from additional playoff experience.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

From the war room to the locker room to the training room, the Denver Nuggets are building a culture of winning.

Practice the right way, play the right way, celebrate team over the individual.

Qualifying for the Western Conference playoffs – whether as a 4-seed, an 8-seed or anything in between – plays an important role in developing that culture.

To suggest otherwise would be off the mark.

“I totally disagree with the philosophy of a (higher) draft pick being more important than growing up,” Nuggets coach George Karl said Thursday. “The playoffs is where you learn and you grow up. The regular season is kind of like the marathon race before the Olympics. You’ve got to go through it. You’ve got to train, but the prize is in the games in the playoffs.

“Obviously the playoff experience (is where) so many young guys get to understand what Broadway is. The regular season is off-Broadway and touring the country. The playoffs is where all the big boys come to play.”

For a young team that has just one player (Chris Andersen) remaining from the 2009 Western Conference finals roster, the Nuggets would benefit from extending the franchise’s current run of eight consecutive playoff appearances.

The Memphis Grizzlies, considered one of the NBA’s up-and-coming teams, qualified for the postseason last year and upset the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round.

The Nuggets could draw the Spurs in the opening round this season, but the matchup is beside the point. Denver’s talented young core of Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson is slated to be together for years to come. Postseason experience can help expedite their development.

“There are a lot of teams still searching for their identity and they find it in the playoffs,” Karl said. “Once you make one step, sometimes you make two, sometimes you make three. Dallas made two big steps (during its title run last year). When they beat the Lakers 4-0, they got the confidence to make the next step.”

Denver is one of only three NBA teams – Dallas and San Antonio being the others – to reach the playoffs in each of the past eight seasons. Success breeds expectations, and its understandable for Nuggets fans to be disappointed that their team is not in line for home-court advantage in the West playoff picture.

Fans also have to keep things in perspective.

The Nuggets (32-26) are the seventh-youngest team in the NBA with an average age of 25.9. Of the six teams who are younger, only Memphis (34-23) has a better record than Denver.

More than most other teams, the Nuggets would have benefitted from a normal training camp that was limited to two weeks because of the shortened NBA season. Practice time also has been rare during a compact schedule.

“Our preparation and familiarity – which you usually get in practice time – you didn’t get that this season,” Afflalo said.

In addition, injuries and roster moves have required Karl to juggle his lineup and playing rotation for nearly the entire season. Denver has used 23 starting combinations and is one of only seven teams to have more than 15. Of those seven teams, the Nuggets are the only one with a winning record.

“The re-programming of our team is to me been pretty impressive,” Karl said. “It’s pretty miraculous what (executive) Masai (Ujiri) has done with the salary cap and getting young players in and (allowing us to) still be a winning team and a successful team.”

The Nuggets are also fighting a perception that they lose an inordinate amount of games to teams with poor records. At 17-7, Denver has the fifth-best winning percentage in the Western Conference against sub-.500 teams.

With eight games remaining, the Nuggets will play only one more sub-.500 team as they battle for another postseason berth.

While it’s true that a trip to the playoffs would lead to a lower draft position, Denver would likely still select in the mid-teens in the 2012 NBA Draft if they miss the postseason. Is three or four spots on the draft board more valuable than playoff experience?

Probably not.

“If we go to the playoffs, it’s going to be very helpful, the experience that I had last year,” said Gallinari, who made his first playoff appearance last spring. “Every series teaches me a lot of things. Hopefully everything I’ve learned is going to help me.”

Gallinari (selected 6th overall in 2008) is one of only three current Nuggets who were lottery picks. Reserve small forward Corey Brewer (7th in 2007) and veteran point guard Andre Miller (8th in 1998) are the others.

The rest of the Denver roster is composed of guys who were selected 18th or later or undrafted, and many of them have developed into talented NBA players capable of contributing to a playoff team.

In about two weeks, they hope to be able to get an opportunity to show just how much.


Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for Nuggets.com, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press, making him one of the longest-tenured sports writers in Denver. Aaron's full bio...