What is Denver's Ceiling in 2012?
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What is Denver's Ceiling in 2012?

The Western Conference's Northwest division is going to be a battleground all year. Surprisingly, the Denver Nuggets have risen from the Carmelo Anthony ashes to become one of the league's best up and coming teams. Their main contender in the conference, right now, is the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder have been contenders for a year now, and were predicted to become as such long before that given the monstrosity that is Kevin Durant (and now Russell Westbrook). The Nuggets, however, were supposed to be a team in transition from superstar to middling team in need of a superstar. But perhaps they can buck the need for a superstar. Or, perhaps they have a future superstar in Ty Lawson. Regardless of how or why, the Denver Nuggets are here and are raising eyebrows.

At 14-6, the Nuggets have yet to play their Northwestern rivals. Among notable teams that they have beaten are the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat. They have also dropped important games to division rivals Portland and Utah, as well as to conference rivals L.A. Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, and Los Angeles Clippers. If the Nuggets continue their pace, though, they'll be the four seed in the West and likely face Utah or Portland in the first round. At worst, they'll face the Lakers if they ever make a surge. The question remains, though, about what it is that makes Denver successful right now when other noteworthy teams are struggling (namely, the Knicks, Celtics, Magic, and Lakers). I think it's that the Nuggets are perfectly constructed for post-lockout basketball.

First, they are deep at Guard. They often play Ty Lawson and Andre Miller together and have a cadre of productive bench players like Afflalo, Brewer, Al Harrington, and the Birdman Chris Andersen. Beyond that, though, statistically they dominate their opponents. They are fourth in the league in terms of margin of victory, which stems from being the most offensively efficient team in the league, ranking no. 1 in Offensive Rating. They also play better than average defense, coming in at no. 13 for Defensive Rating. Playing smart defensive while being the fastest team in the league in terms of pace allows them to get good shots off early in the shot clock. The Nuggets are shooting extremely well this year so far, coming in at 8th in the league in Field Goal percentage. They also average the third most free throw attempts per FG attempt. Considering the Oklahoma City Thunder are 28th in the league in shooting (at 41.8%), the Nuggets may yet prove to be the team which can withstand the most punishment throughout the season. The two teams meet three times this season and the first will be on Feb. 19th, which is one of those Sunday Showcase games. Basketball fans everywhere should watch that one closely, as it will be a barometer for which to measure the Nuggets lasting potential and ceiling. If they can steal a game from the Thunder on the road (they play there twice), and win their home game against them on March 15th, the Nuggets should have great confidence heading in to the post season.

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