Wilson Chandler to get starter minutes from Nuggets along with starter money?
Our long regional nightmare is over. Nearly a month after returning to the States, Wilson Chandler has signed with the Nuggets, who yesterday announced the completion of a five-year deal worth almost $37 million. Even though the last meaningful game he played was in China, where he spent the NBA lockout, Chandler will be available for tonight's matchup against the Dallas Mavericks.
When Nuggets General Manager Masai Ujiri decided to trade often-injured Nene to Washington last week, it was presumably to free up cash for deals like this, as well as more down the road. Chandler's pact covers the remainder of this season and the next four.
The Nuggets are now paying Chandler starter money, but the question is: Do they have starter minutes for him? Not really.
Part of the reason Ujiri felt comfortable trading Nene is the unexpectedly exceptional play of rookie Kenneth Faried. While both Faried and Chandler are listed at 6-foot-8, Faried is the more classic low-post player adept at grabbing rebounds, while Chandler is a very swingy swing-man. Faried is the more logical player to start at power forward next to Timofey Mozgov with Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo filling out the starting lineup.
As proof, consider his first start in the post-Nene era. Faried, a.k.a. Manimal, scored eighteen points, snatched sixteen rebounds and didn't miss a shot from the field or the free-throw line against the Boston Celtics Saturday night. As a statistically geeky aside, Faried ranks ninth in the league in PER, which is a statistic created by ESPN's John Hollinger that measures a player's efficiency.
It's an admittedly small sample size, but Russel Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant are among the players who rank below Faried in this category. As a writer in Denver after the Carmelo Anthony trade, I am legally obligated to note Melo is 56th in the league in PER.
Chandler's role will likely be that of super-sub. He should be the first man off the bench, as he's capable of spelling Afflalo, Gallo or Faried. Chandler would definitely be one of the best sixth men in the league. For his career, he's averaged fourteen points and five rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field and 32 percent from three-point range. He's also just 24-years-old.
Head coach George Karl could also decide to shuffle the lineup based on who the Nuggets are playing. If he decides to play small ball, he could start Chandler at small forward and Gallinari at power forward, with Faried coming off the bench. But players like to know their role, and especially with the team finally healthy and in the thick of the playoff race, Karl would be wise to cement a starting lineup that doesn't feature Chandler.
The Nuggets legitimately have thirteen players who can log quality minutes -- and that's not including rookies Jordan Hamilton and Julyan Stone, who have filled in this year for injured players without embarrassing themselves. To say the least, the Nuggets have options. But they almost have too many considering the 2004 Detroit Pistons are the only team in recent memory to win an NBA title without a legitimate star.
Karl will tell you that line of thinking is hog-wash (or some other old-guy phrase), but recent NBA history speaks for itself -- as does the Nuggets' record against playoff teams. Denver currently inhabits the seventh seed in the Western Conference and is either 0-2, 1-2 or 0-3 against every team above it in the standings.
The one thing the Nuggets have working for them is the lockout-shortened season and condensed schedule. While the insane schedule, deep bench and home-court advantage at altitude has not helped the Nuggets nearly as much as they hoped, it could pay dividends as teams become even more worn down toward the end of the season and into the playoffs.
The last time the NBA had a lockout-shortened season in 1998, the eighth-seeded New York Knicks made it to the Finals, so weird shit can happen.