Can feeding hungry shooters cure a point guard's Clipperitis?
By Ian Thomsen
Team Page | Conference ranking: 12 | Overall ranking: 22
The Nuggets may win fewer than 30 games this year, but you won't hear 27-year-old point guard Andre Miller complaining. Anything beats playing for the Clippers. "I'm going to look back at last year and say it was the worst place I ever played," says Miller, who escaped from L.A. by signing a front-loaded, six-year, $51 million free-agent contract in July. "I look forward to playing with guys who want to get better and want to win."
After averaging a league-high 10.9 assists for the Cavaliers in 2001-02, Miller was shipped to the Clippers in a four-player trade. He entered a locker room filled with young players demanding the ball -- not to help the team win but to pad their stats in anticipation of moving on as free agents. Miller couldn't thrive in that atmosphere; his assists fell by 4.2 per game and his field goal percentage sank to a career-low 40.6.
Desperate to improve the worst offense in the NBA, the Nuggets were willing to dismiss Miller's regression as a temporary bout of Clipperitis. To make his recovery easier, they also signed an aggressive backup in 5'5" Earl Boykins, a clutch shooter who can play alongside Miller in tight games. Denver is counting on both to push the tempo and direct young frontcourt players Nenê, Carmelo Anthony and Nikoloz Tskitishvili -- tasks out of the reach of last year's starter, Junior Harrington.
Though other teams have expressed doubts about Miller's leadership, saying he was too quiet and passive during his season in L.A., the Nuggets are confident they have the right man. "Andre is a hungry, driven young man who wants a team that plays with discipline and unselfishness," says second-year coach Jeff Bzdelik. "He wants what we have, and we want what he has."
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Nuggets
"Last year they had the worst collection of talent I've seen on an NBA team. They were last in turnovers and in all the shooting categories, but they pulled off upsets in 17 games by playing hard every night.... This year's team is almost the opposite of last year's. They might go from number 29 in scoring to number 1, because they're going to be like the old Doug Moe-coached teams and try to run you off the floor in that high altitude.... The Nuggets have two big weaknesses. First, Jeff Bzdelik is big on discipline and defense, but he has offensive-minded guys who will have to work hard to play good D. Second, their only big men are Marcus Camby and Nenê, and both of them get in foul trouble. Still, if Camby can stay healthy -- he looked good in preseason -- this should be a comeback year for him. He's playing for a new contract, and the running game is good for him because he's so mobile.... Nikoloz Tskitishvili has gained 30 pounds and he's more confident playing inside, but he's so inexperienced that it's going to take another two or three years to see how good he is.... Every team dreams of having a second unit of hustlers like Chris Andersen, Jon Barry, Ryan Bowen and Earl Boykins .... I'm not one of those who wrote off Andre Miller, who is coming from a bad situation with the Clippers. He can do whatever they ask, whether it's push the ball or run the half-court offense, and he's smart and big enough to play good positional defense.... Carmelo Anthony might lead the team in scoring, and he'll give LeBron James a run for Rookie of the Year. Anthony can score inside and outside, and he's a much better shooter than I thought. He's a bit like Adrian Dantley: You don't know how he gets it all done in the post and on the perimeter. He's very crafty and he plays much older than he is."
Issue date: October 27, 2003