- David Thorpe, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor's note: We asked David Thorpe of Scouts Inc. to provide an instant analysis of the debut of the new-look Nuggets -- immediately after the first game with both Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony in Denver white and blue.
"If only we could start each game by playing the Grizzlies . . ."
I'm sure that's what Denver Nuggets coach George Karl was thinking as he watched his team take apart the Memphis Grizzlies in the first quarter. The newly up-tempo Grizzlies ran as much as the high-speed Nuggets did, turning it over eight times in the process and allowing most of Denver's players -- stars and role players alike -- to feel a part of the action from the start.
As expected, Denver ran following Memphis' first make -- Reggie Evans made a quick inbounds pass to point guard Steve Blake, who fired a long bounce pass to a streaking Iverson, who took two dribbles before shooting a 17-foot jumper from the opposite wing.
That was three guys involved in a play that covered almost 94 feet and both sides of the court, in just eight seconds. That kind of pace will help to ensure enough shots for everyone, but sometimes it takes two teams to get the game at the pace the Nuggets want. Some of Denver's opponents will not cooperate the way Memphis did.
IVERSON AND ANTHONY
Based on this game, the question of how Iverson and Anthony will play together appears dead. Anthony, though a little rusty at the moment, fits perfectly with this offense and new backcourt. For instance, on Monday, Blake was terrific at moving the ball around and locking in on Anthony when needed.
Iverson plays all over the floor offensively, both in transition and in the half court, which in theory would make him difficult to mesh with. Anthony moves to primary scoring areas -- the rim, the blocks or the wings -- so it's easy for the guards to find him. That doesn't mean they're in perfect sync yet, but they should be soon.
SPREADING THE FLOOR
Karl likes the idea of Anthony posting-up on one side while Iverson is working the other, spreading the points of attack. In one first quarter set, with the ball centered high, Anthony was pointing to his wing, hoping to get an entry pass from there to his low-post position. Instead, the Nuggets swung the ball to the opposite wing for a waiting Iverson, Evans popped out to set a ball screen and Iverson badly burned Rudy Gay for the easy layup.
That spread is something we'll see much more of as it keeps the defense from locking in on one player or side of the floor. Anthony isolated in the post is potent, to be sure, but Iverson using a ball screen without having to worry about an extra defender (who is staying home on Anthony) to help clog the lanes is poison for the defense too.
Iverson too often created shots for Evans when he just as easily could have attacked towards Anthony's man. This is an area in which Iverson will show rapid improvement once he gets a better feel for where Anthony is and where he is going.
These two want to learn how to play off each other, but it takes time. Iverson did look to make the extra pass on almost every opportunity, relishing the talent he is surrounded with, and he seemed determined to get Anthony in the flow and keep him there. I thought Anthony did the same, feeding teammates when he easily could have gotten off a decent shot.
One thing is clear: this team believes it can accomplish something special now that it has two of the top scorers in the NBA along with the No. 2 rebounder in Marcus Camby. It is easier for players to accept roles when they believe something good will come of it.
Iverson and Anthony know they'll be setting the tone for the entire roster. Anthony is a huge influence on 21-year-old J.R. Smith, who must assume a new mentality along with his new role, tonight that meant coming off the bench as sixth man. Appropriately, Smith came in firing, knocking down his first four shots, including three 3-pointers, and showing no ill will towards his demotion.
A few other notes from the game:
It's not only as a pair that Iverson and Anthony will pay off. Because they play so many minutes, Karl can always keep one superb scorer in the game at all times, so his second unit will have the benefit of a "go-to guy" as the shot clock winds down.
After giving up 38 first quarter points, Memphis wisely switched to a zone and slowed the onslaught considerably. I expect teams to play more zone than they usually do against Denver, especially before this new roster learns how to effectively score and move together against it.
I didn't like much of what Denver showed defensively -- poor communication, sluggish rotations and ball hedges and often weak recognition of match-ups and shooters. As teams gameplan to slow the Nuggets' offense, it is Denver's defense that will have to keep them afloat at times.
Camby as a shot blocker and Iverson as a ball thief can help, but ultimately Anthony and Smith have to make huge strides in this area of their game. If they do, this team can knock off any other in a 7-game series.
David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for ESPN.com and the executive director of the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Fla., where he works as a personal coach for Udonis Haslem (Miami Heat), Orien Greene (Indiana Pacers), Alexander Johnson (Memphis Grizzlies) and Kevin Martin (Sacramento Kings). You can e-mail him here.
4dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann