PORTLAND | I finish off the day's posting with some thoughts on the Nuggets and Trail Blazers. We went to this game as part of my epic Pacific Northwest journey last week, on which I finally met face-to-face with long-time colleague and co-author Kevin Pelton. I actually was credentialed for the Denver-Portland game and hoped to invade the Denver locker room and demand Carmelo Anthony answer this simple question: "What is the deal?"
That never would have happened of course. Indeed, I didn't make it to the game early enough to pick up my credential. We were touring the Oregon wine country during the day. It's beautiful country and if you like wine, particularly pinot noir, it's a trip I'd highly recommend. The problem is that there are A LOT of wineries in the Willamette Valley, and we went to more than our fair share. By the time I got to the Rose Garden, I was pretty well hammered. Well, not really hammered but certainly in no condition to be interviewing professional basketball players. I am, after all, not Hunter S. Thompson. But I enjoyed the game, and this is what I saw:
1. Mellow 'Melo. I've been programmed by all the Carmelo Anthony speculation of the last few weeks, a fact I didn't realize until I saw him play. Anthony played 40 minutes in the game and shot 6-of-23 from the floor. Poor shooting and, indeed, poor shot selection was rampant in the game and Anthony's performance fit right in with the night's theme. I've watched enough NBA games not to put any stock in a single night. I'm also all-too-aware of the difference between regular season and preseason. However, it was impossible for me to watch Anthony without thinking that he didn't want to be there.
I can't get inside Anthony's head and, if I did, I'm not sure I would understand what's going on. He looks puffy to me and his effort on Thursday was certainly lackadaisical. Of course, the game didn't count, so what did it matter? Competitors compete, though, and that's what worries me. A typical scene: Anthony misses a long jumper or commits a turnover, then jogs back down the court with a goofy smile on his face. Everything amuses him. This is a terrible assessment of a star-caliber player, but watching him just left me cold. It's not a feeling I had the only other time I saw him in person, last year in a tight game against the Bulls.
To be redundant and clear, I'm not suggesting that what I saw of Anthony on Oct. 21 means that the Nuggets should unload him at all costs. I'm not saying that I know for sure that he doesn't want to be there. That seems to be the case based on media speculation, but that's all we really have right now--speculation. What I am suggesting is this: If the Carmelo Anthony that the Nuggets get in the regular season is as aloof as the Carmelo Anthony I saw at the Rose Garden, Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri can't get rid of him fast enough. If Anthony is truly committed to Denver, at least for this season, then the team is a borderline contender, as is suggested by the projection pieces we ran today based on both our projection systems.
To me, if a title run is a possibility, you have to let things play out for awhile, especially if the offers Ujiri is getting aren't exceptional. Championships are hard to come by and if the team has to start over in the aftermath, so be it. However, if Anthony doesn't care, there is no reason to keep him around. Trade him for whatever you can get.
2. Fabulous Forbes. Gary Forbes didn't make Pro Basketball Prospectus 2010-11 but it does look like he's going to make the Nuggets. I thought it would be worth revisiting what I had to say about Forbes when he came out of UMass:
"Forbes is a lunchpail swingman type who can get his own shot (29.1 usage rate) and has solid passing skills, with an assist rate of 17.8 that is nice for a player of his type. He's also a decent rebounder for his size, leading UMass by grabbing 17.3 of opponents' misses last season. Forbes could sneak his way into the league if he can guard NBA wing players. Of major concern are the low shooting percentages Forbes posted throughout his four seasons at UMass. As a senior, he shot a 45.7 eFG%, not a good sign. He's more productive than efficient, averaging 19.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3 assists per game but posting an offensive rating of just 99.8. Forbes doesn't really have that one skill that jumps out at you."
Forbes played 12 minutes against Portland, not enough for me to gauge how much he has changed, if at all. However, in the Nuggets' next game, a 144-106 rout of the flagging Suns, George Karl rested his regulars and Forbes scored 25 points on 14 shots in 31 minutes. Overall in the preseason, Forbes averaged just over 10 points on iffy shooting percentages. In other words, he's kind of the same player he was at UMass. While it's to his credit that he's (apparently) earned an NBA roster spot, it's still going to be Forbes' defense that determines if he sticks and actually gets regular minutes. Karl has compared Forbes' style to that of former Denver defensive specialist Dahntay Jones, which would be a good fit for the team's current roster.
3. Meh Melvin. Looks like Melvin Ely is going to make the Nuggets as Denver is likely to keep two free-agent camp invites on its opening night roster--Ely and Forbes. Ely played 33 minutes at center against Portland and was basically hammered on by Marcus Camby all night, which shouldn't be surprising. Ely didn't stand out on either end of the floor, but he did appear much lighter than he was in 2008-09, his last season in the league. While I wouldn't expect to much out of Ely, the fact of the matter is that the Nuggets may need to use both him and Shelden Williams in rotation roles early in the season. That's a result of the health issues surrounding Chris Anderson, Al Harrington and Kenyon Martin. Itís a scary thought for Nuggets fans.
4. Mr. C. Unless I misread the crowd reactions at the Rose Garden, Dante Cunningham is one of the more popular players on the Portland roster. He may also be a key factor for the Blazers early in the season as the top backup big man behind Camby and LaMarcus Aldridge. Cunningham is a scrapper, an energy player that seems to get in the middle of everything while he's on the floor. He's also quite undersized for an NBA big. I like his ability to finish at the rim and the fact that he can step out and reliably knock down midrange shots. He can help spell Aldridge in that regard. However, any time Cunningham is playing center, the Blazers' interior defense is going to be highly suspect. That being the case, it'll be incumbent on recently-signed Fabricio Oberto to get up to speed or the Blazers could get off to a rough start while waiting for Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla to return to full-time duty. Of course, if you're playing Oberto too many minutes, that's not a great sign, either. The Blazers, for once in their history, need to get their centers healthy and keep them that way.
5. The Rose Garden. This was not my first trip to Portland, but it was the first time I'd been to the Rose Garden. As I've never traveled for work, I haven't been to nearly as many NBA venues as I'd like. Been to lots of games in Chicago, included one exhibition at the old Chicago Stadium. I saw the Spurs when they were still at the HemisFair Arena. Saw the Pacers once at Conseco. Have been to a few Jazz games in Salt Lake City. I guess that's it. I've seen NBA preseason games in Kansas City and Lawrence, Kan. I went to Civic Auditorium in Omaha frequently when I was a kid. No basketball. I saw legendary acts like Dokken, Kiss, Accept, Iron Maiden, Dio and others bands that made sounds I can't really listen to any longer. You'd still see "Kansas City-Omaha Kings" logos here and there in the arena but, as I say, I never saw them play there. Iíve been to other arenas for various reasons, but not a lot.
The Rose Garden is nice enough, though all new-style arenas seem similar to me. I didn't see it as either better or worse than the United Center, though I did appreciate the proximity of public transit. The UC has buses and cabs, but no trains, which is why it's the only place in Chicago I actually drive to with any regularity. There is this odd "pass the ball to the court" thing at the Rose Garden I didn't know about and barely avoided participating in. Also, we had seats just above one of the tunnels, which is a nice vantage point. However, these things were small. I'm a little over six-feet, and I had to turn my legs to the side a little because they wouldn't fit in behind the seats in front of me. Come on, Paul Allen, you can do better than that.
What I was impressed with was Blazers fans. Not only was the atmosphere lively for a preseason game, but throughout my stay in the city center of Portland, I caught snippets of Blazers conversations--in restaurants, bars, on the train, walking down the street. Great basketball town.
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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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