By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
Posted Oct 19 2012 5:42PM
The numbers were impressive. In four games of the best-of-seven playoff series against the Lakers, Ty Lawson scored 25, 25, 32 and 24 points.
The proclamation was bold. "I think we're the best team in the West," Lawson said as the Nuggets opened training camp.
Stats and words get attention. But what Denver really needs to take the step up to true contender in the Western Conference is for Lawson to take a step forward as the team's leader.
"I think so much of leadership is your daily attitude, daily energy and daily approach," Coach George Karl told the Denver Post. "I'm not a big believer that leadership comes from your mouth. I think it comes from your actions. Ty is usually very good at that when we get 5-on-5 oriented. Some of the other stuff, locker room, I think Ty understands what he has to do this year. I think he's ready."
For the better part of the past decade the Nuggets have been a playoff team, but little more. Only once since 2004 have they advanced past the first round.
Two seasons ago, it was all about the 'Melo-drama as All-Star Carmelo Anthony pushed to get himself out of the Rockies and eventually succeeded. A year ago, the Nuggets welcomed the start of the season by signing center Nene to a whopping free agent contract and within a couple of months had shipped him off to Washington in exchange for the talented question mark JaVale McGee. This summer general manager and general contractor Masai Ujiri reached for the dynamite and blasting caps again in blowing up the roster again, sending away the budding guard Arron Affalo to get veteran Andre Iguodala.
Now Karl, starting his ninth season in Denver, has a lineup that he says is exactly what he wants, a group that can constantly try to sprint down the floor like Usain Bolt on offense and always apply pressure at the defensive end.
Iguodala, never quite the right fit in Philadelphia, says he's already feeling right at home with the Nuggets and says he'd like to stay with the franchise for the rest of his career. He is a much more than a quite capable wing defender, as demonstrated by his performance on the gold medal winning U.S. Olympic team and is willing to take on the role of clutch shooter when the games get late.
However, if the Nuggets are going to do more than fantasize about overtaking the returning conference champion Thunder and the reloaded Lakers in the West, then it's going to take stability and identity and leadership. Which is where Lawson comes in.
Last season Lawson averaged 16.4 points along with 6.6 assists per game. But those overall numbers were delivered unevenly as he suffered through painful stretches. While he is still young -- 25 on Nov. 3 -- still learning about the NBA, this is the start of his fourth pro season and others his age have already blossomed into All-Stars at the point.
In other words, it is time for Lawson to walk the walk.
"Right now, I just want to win," he said. "Everybody does talk about point averages, assists. I want everything to go up, at least around 18 (points) and eight (assists), something around there. I feel like it's easy with this team because everyone's unselfish and everyone can score. It's a goal I can accomplish."
The leadership theme is one that Karl emphasized all through the offseason with his quarterback. It was, in fact, a message that was almost inescapable.
"He texted me all summer," Ty Lawson told the Post.
"Leadership? I probably have, I'll say, at least 20 of them in my phone . 'Leadership? What are you doing? Are you leading right now?' I'm like, 'I'm asleep, it's 12 o'clock at night.'
"But the point he wants to get across is definitely coming across."
It has to if the Nuggets are going to finally stop riding in circles on the first-round carousel and actually go somewhere.
1. Carmelo Who? Two seasons later and the Nuggets might be the best team without a superstar since the 2004 Pistons won it all.
2. The iconoclast George Karl says he's ready to run, run, run till Daddy takes the T-Bird away to get the most out of this roster.
3. While blazing Ty Lawson and Andre Iguodala will run to glory, count on 36-year-old Andre Miller to prove his value once again.
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LAST YEAR: 38-28, 2nd in Northwest
FINISH: Lost in first round of playoffs
2011-12 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2011-12 Stats|
TY LAWSON, POINT GUARD
16.4 PPG | 6.6 APG | 1.3 SPG
The lightning-quick Lawson can make the outside shot, but excels at driving the ball all the way to the basket. He's improved steadily each season.
ANDRE IGUODALA, SHOOTING GUARD
15.3 PPG | 5.8 RPG | 4.9 APG
One of the league's top perimeter defenders, Iggy is great in transition and should shine even more in the high-octane offense Denver utilizes.
DANILO GALLINARI, SMALL FORWARD
14.6 PPG | 4.7 RPG | 2.7 APG
His 3-point shooting dipped to .328 pct. last season, but he has added the drive game to his arsenal and had it on full display last season.
KENNETH FARIED, POWER FORWARD
10.2 PPG | 7.7 RPG | 1.0 BPG
Rolling bundle of dunks and rebounds was a monster in March and April. Works well with McGee to form an intimidating, athletic frontcourt combo.
JAVALE MCGEE, CENTER
11.3 PPG | 7.8 RPG | 2.2 BPG
The oft-maligned big man provided the defense, averaging 3.1 bpg in the playoffs. Those flashes of talent led Denver to re-sign him and hope for more of it.
|Andre Miller||6-2||200||G||At 36, still finds a way to get the job done.|
|Anthony Randolph||6-11||225||F||Third different team in three seasons takes flyer on big.|
|Wilson Chandler||6-8||225||F||Former starter can rebound, score off bench with the best.|
ADDED: G Evan Fournier, G/F Andre Iguodala, F Quincy Miller, F Anthony Randolph, F Izzet Turkyilmaz
LOST: F/C Chris Andersen (amnesty), G Arron Afflalo, G Rudy Fernandez, F Al Harrington
JAVALE MCGEE, CENTER
Denver acquired McGee from Washington in an in-season trade. The oft-mercurial center's impact as a solid protector of the basket was felt immediately. A team that plans to run also will need a defensive presence, and the league's No. 2 shot blocker gives them that.
|Smith's Sudden-death Winner|
Russ Smith drains the game-winner in sudden-death overtime to beat the Magic.
|Marble on the Break|
Devyn Marble tips the ball to himself and finishes with a fastbreak dunk.
|Smith Ties the Game|
Russ Smith buries the 3-pointer to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
|Smith's Up and Under|
Russ Smith takes the feed under the rim and finishes with a pretty up and under layup.
Josh Robbins from Orlando Sentinel joins Greg and Vince to discuss the state of the Orlando Magic.