x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

No NBA superstar but teamwork makes Denver Nuggets tough to crack

The NBA a star-driven league? Sure, but that what makes what the Denver Nuggets are doing special. 'We make a superstar as the game goes on," says Nuggets coach George Karl of his no-name team.

From left, Denver Nuggets forward Anthony Randolph joins guard Andre Iguodala in congratulating forward Corey Brewer after a basket. The Nuggets are relying on team play more than an individual superstar's act, as they have no big-name player.
From left, Denver Nuggets forward Anthony Randolph joins guard Andre Iguodala in congratulating forward Corey Brewer after a basket. The Nuggets are relying on team play more than an individual superstar's act, as they have no big-name player.

The NBA is a star-driven league, and that makes Denver Nuggets' success an outlier. Even ardent basketball fans might have trouble identifying the team's best player, since it changes from game to game.

Or maybe even quarter to quarter.

"We make a superstar as the game goes on," George Karl, the coach, said last week. "We have a superstar every game. Sometimes it's the team - a night when we have an unselfish 30 assists, or a night we create so much energy by playing defence."

The Nuggets are built this way by default, not design. They had a superstar in Carmelo Anthony, until last year, when he used his impending free agency to force a trade to the New York Knicks.

It was a blessing in disguise. After a ho-hum, 11-12 start to this season the team found its footing, playing a flashy, up-tempo offence while getting gritty on the backboards.

The Nuggets are third in the league in scoring average and third in the league in rebounding differential.

"We're playing really well right now," the newcomer Andre Iguodala told the Denver Post as they stretched their winning streak to 11. "Obviously, we've grown from the beginning. We started off with a tough first two months, playing on the road so much, and trying to get acclimated to each other."

Iguodala is the quintessential Nugget. He was a scorer in Philadelphia, averaging as many as 19.9 points per game in a season. In Denver, he is known as the team's best perimeter defender, and also scores 12.9 points per game.

He is one of six Nuggets averaging in double digits, led by the point guard Ty Lawson's 16.8. Kenneth Faried, an athletic forward, is their most ferocious rebounder (9.5 per game), and is also known for thunderous dunks.

Karl's team have used their breakneck pace in Denver's mile-high altitude to build a lopsided, 30-3 home record (matched only by Miami Heat) and a 15-game home winning streak.

It has brought them into contention with Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers for third, fourth and fifth places in the Western Conference.

Third and fourth will have home-court advantage in the first round of the play-offs.

Without a recognised leader, the Nuggets have not drawn much attention, but in the past three weeks they have found their form. Karl had some play-off success with his Anthony-led teams, but confessed that this team is more "fun". "You're seeing guys grow up, and seeing guys understand and get better," he said.

Lawson added: "If we just pay more attention on the defensive end, I think we'll be one of the elite teams."

With a rotating band of stars.

 

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