'Melo, Iverson will need to improve perimeter game
Posted: Tuesday January 23, 2007 12:53AM; Updated: Tuesday January 23, 2007 4:25PM
Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson combined for 51 points and 13 assists in their first game together in Denver.
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We're not sure if Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson can act as a duo for the ages, or even if that would mean a Nugget championship should they put it all together, but you have to be convinced of the fact that it will be an entertaining run toward symbiosis.
Against the lowly-but-also entertaining Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night, the Nuggets raced out to a 20-point first quarter advantage -- dishing 11 assists and notching 17 fast-break points in just 12 minutes of work. Anthony and Allen both started, and were excelling in finding the open man without appearing to be stepping on each others' toes, but the rhythm let up after an initial burst. Denver was able to keep an overmatched Grizzlies group at arm's length, but the Nuggets were only +1 in the first half with Iverson and Anthony on the court together, even though they entered halftime with a 12-point lead.
The perimeter game, as it has long been for Anthony's Nuggets, was the problem. Both Iverson and 'Melo (especially) are going to have to refine their spot-up stroke from 18 feet and out. Both scorers will be getting open looks off ball movement created by the other -- whether it's Iverson having to hit an open jumper after Anthony passes out of a double team and someone like Marcus Camby hits the swing pass, or Anthony hitting a jumper after Iverson drives and dishes from inside the lane. But they need to hit on a good percentage of high-archers.
And the Nuggets won't thrive if we see what we saw tonight -- either AI and Carmelo missing jumpers off would-be assists, or either of them passing on open jumpers to re-drive the same lane the other superstar just finished penetrating. The latter is more damaging, because it results in potential charge calls, or lane violations on bigs like Reggie Evans, who are camped out in the paint waiting for a rebound.
While conventional wisdom leans toward the idea of having J.R. Smith as a scorer off the bench to spell the duo, coach George Karl may be forced into starting Smith and dumping Steve Blake as a starter by the end of the year. If Blake continues to miss jumpers (he was 2 of 8 from the floor Monday, 35 percent from long range on the year), he'll hurt this team more than his live dribble and transition instincts will help. Smith is shooting 39 percent from long range this year, and the team would probably be better served at running AI at point guard to start games, then bringing Blake in to let Iverson (who is playing an absurd amount of minutes as it is) run at off guard when 'Melo and/or Smith sits.
It wasn't until Anthony, Allen and Smith started nailing jumpers midway through the fourth quarter that the Nuggets pulled away. After a -1 third quarter with AI/Carmelo on the floor, Denver was actually playing even with Memphis when their two superstars were on the court together, even as they entered the final frame with an 18-point lead. But in the fourth, with the duo's act finally clicking, the Nuggets were +8 with Iverson and Anthony in the lineup -- taking a 14-point lead up to 22 before the two sat for good with 4:11 left. The perimeter touched open lanes up for two Anthony jams off Iverson assists, giving the Nugget coaching staff ample game-tape fodder to build on.
Give Karl credit for having fun with what is supposed to be a game played for a bit of fun. Even though he would have been aware of the chemistry issues that Anthony's return would pose, somebody like Larry Brown would have quit by halftime after watching Iverson and Anthony freelance in the early going. A healthy dose of perspective is going to be needed for this squad, which has 44 games before the playoffs to get it right. Attitude won't be a problem, as the Nugget particulars know just how special this team can be. It's that open jumper that remains the worry.