One reason the Nuggets might be dragging their feet…

Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony warms up at the Pepsi Center in Denver on November 16, 2010. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

I missed this tidbit from a TrueHoop post from about a week ago:

The Nuggets have a great offer on the table now, but might see some merit in stalling, too. For one thing, it’s hard to see what could happen to make the Nets’ current offer disappear. Derrick Favors has spent much of the season playing behind Kris Humphries in New Jersey, and unlikely to increase his market value drastically. Then there’s some gamesmanship surrounding the Nets’ 2011 draft pick. Very high picks like that one, used skillfully, are nearly essential ingredients to winning titles, and they’re damned hard to find. As the Nuggets root for that pick to be as high as possible, they root, of course, for the Nets to lose. And every loss matters, as a heated battle is under way for the NBA’s worst record. The 10-27 Nets have the NBA’s fifth-worst record today, but they’re a mere two games out of the 8-29 Cavaliers’ first, or last — depending on your perspective — place. Of course, the Nuggets can’t do anything to make the Nets lose more … or can they? Giving them an All-Star like Anthony may well cause the Nets to rip off some wins. It sounds a little out there, but one thought is that the longer the Nuggets keep Anthony from the Nets, the better that Nets’ pick is likely to be.

Gamesmanship, indeed.

Let’s assume that on Jan. 7 the Nuggets decided that the offer of Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and a first round pick for Melo and bad contracts was an agreeable offer. The trade deadline isn’t until Feb. 24, so during that span, the Nets would play 20 games. If the Nuggets were to trade Carmelo on Jan. 7, it would almost certainly help New Jersey’s win/loss record during that span. The Nets are currently winning at a .244 clip. Let’s make another assumption: They start winning at a .500 rate once Carmelo is on board. So that means they would go 10-10 during the 1/7 to 2/24 span instead of 5-15.

Those five wins could be very important come lottery time for the Nets’ 2011 first rounder that will no doubt be included in the Anthony trade. As an example, at the end of last season only four games separated the team with the third-worst record (Kings) from the team with the ninth-worst record (Knicks). As a result, the Kings had a 15.6% chance of landing the first overall pick while the Jazz (who had the Knicks’ pick) had just a 1.7% chance of winning the #1 pick.

So assuming that the Nets aren’t going to pull the offer from the table (and that Carmelo is agreeable to signing an extension with the Nets), Denver stands to benefit by dragging its feet as long as possible.

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Is Kevin Durant a great player?

In Friday’s post, The Kevin Durant Conundrum, TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott outlines why — based mostly on the reearch of Dallas Mavericks’ statistical expert, Wayne Winston — Durant is not helping his team.

The Thunder have, over the last two years, consistently performed worse than normal when Durant is on the floor. Any way you slice the +/- numbers, he’s one of the Thunder’s worst players.

You read that correctly. Kevin Durant, uniformly regarded as an out-of-this-world NBA player, has been killing his team.

Sometimes +/- can punish players simply for being on bad teams, but this is more than that. Mavericks’ statistical expert Wayne Winston’s in-depth lineup data shows that every one of Durant’s key teammates — Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, Nick Collison — gets better, in many cases far better, results playing with less heralded teammates Thabo Sefolosha or Kyle Weaver while Durant sits.

In fact, almost nobody on the Thunder has a +/- rating as poor as Durant’s. Winston rates Durant’s performance “in the lowest 10% of all NBA players.”

Abbott goes on to speculate as to why these numbers are the way they are, narrowing it to four different theories: 1) he plays big minutes on a bad team, 2) his teammates are bad, 3) it’s hard to play with a superstar, and 4) he’s very young and he’s likely to see his team outscored.

Durant must have heard about the column, because he fired back via his Twitter account with a series of tweets, obviously aimed at the article:

Everybody that is doubtin me as a player and my team as a whole..all i can say is that we all are tryin and workin our hardest!

What more do u want? let me be the player i am…i come to practice everyday..and push myself to my limit, God has put me n a gr8 position!!

I love all the REAL basketball fans who appreciate hardwork, passion and love for the game..and not jus “plus and minuses”…wateva dat is!

Abbott responded this morning with an open letter to Durant:

Here’s the deal: For two years, when you have been in NBA games, you have put up amazing numbers, but somehow your team has been better when you sat. When you have been out there, opponents have outscored your team pretty bad. When you sit, they don’t outscore your team as much. That’s what plus/minus is.

(The final score, by the way, is also plus/minus. If you play the entire game, and the team wins by twenty, you’re plus-20. It’s not one of those stats you want to ignore. Not when for two years it has been saying the same thing.)

In it, he discusses how Durant’s problems with the pick-and-roll, both offensively and defensively, are hurting the Thunder. It’s a good read for basketball nuts (like me).

As Abbott states in his Monday post, this is nothing to panic about. Durant just turned 21 and still has a lot to learn, especially on the defensive end. Even so, he’s still one of the best prospects in the league and has the potential to be one of the league’s true (few) franchise players. When a player is a terrific scorer (like Durant is), his faults are often overlooked. But that doesn’t mean they go unnoticed by the coaching staff or the opponent. It’s important for the Thunder to dig into these numbers and identify why they are the way they are. If they can fix the cause, it’s likely going to translate to wins for the franchise.

Oh, and the answer to the question in this post’s title is, yes, of course he’s a great player. But he still has room to grow.

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