Stiffs Mailbag: Carmelo Anthony All-Time, Denver’s title chances, and Jamal Murray’s All-Star case

It’s mailbag time! If you want to join in on the festivities, share your questions with me every Monday or Tuesday on Twitter. Mailbags will come out every Wednesday throughout the offseason.

Let’s dive right in.


Ah, Melo, we hardly knew ya.

It was just prior to Melo’s eighth season with the Denver Nuggets when he requested a trade to New York. This was two years after falling short in the Western Conference Finals and a year after head coach George Karl developed cancer and was forced to sit out the rest of the season. If Melo had done exactly what he did with the New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, and even the Houston Rockets all for the Nuggets organization, he would have generated a lot of respect around the league for trying to win in one place like Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Dirk Nowitzki.

That being said, Melo’s career falls well short of those players and several others team wise. Having just one Conference Finals appearance and one separate Conference Semi-Finals appearance is a black mark on an otherwise productive scoring and solid rebounding career at forward. He ranks 19th all-time in points per game among players with 500 games played, just ahead of Shaquille O’Neal and Stephen Curry, a testament to his production. His efficiency on the other hand leaves much to be desired. Among the 57 players to average 20 points per game for their careers, Melo ranks 39th in True Shooting at 54.2%, lower than most of his modern day counterparts like LeBron James (58.6), Dwyane Wade (55.4), and even Kobe Bryant (55.0).

Melo never cultivated important skills outside of his scoring, and that will likely push him down the all-time rankings. He’s not quite a top 50 player of all-time because of it, but based on his longevity, impact on the era before the modern game, and the scoring volume, it’s safe to place him around the 60-to-100 range, right around players like Chris Webber, Bernard King, Vince Carter, and Blake Griffin. All are or will be Hall-of-Famers but never made the championship level impact to jump inside the top 50 (Griffin still has an opportunity to change that).


Last season, Mason Plumlee averaged the eighth most minutes in the Nuggets rotation at 21.1 per game, ahead of Torrey Craig and behind Malik Beasley. Many forget that Plumlee started 17 games last year due to injuries to Paul Millsap and a couple days forcibly taken off by Nikola Jokic. As a starter, Plumlee averaged 28.6 minutes per game, compared to 19.1 per game as a reserve.

If Jokic sustains an injury, then Plumlee will take his place and start most if not all of those games; however, it’s hard to project injury. Assuming full health instead, the addition of Jerami Grant and Michael Porter will complicate the rotation and likely push one of Millsap or Grant into some center minutes on occasion. Also, I’d expect Grant to start all of the games Millsap misses for obvious reasons. Grant is a better player than Plumlee and a better fit with Jokic.

Plumlee will still receive opportunities, and I don’t think his minutes will be as drastically reduced as some, but he will play less than he did before. Roughly 16 to 18 minutes per night depending on who’s available.


The Nuggets have a ton of pieces that can contribute to a playoff run, but with various skill sets that all contain a singular weakness—big wing defense—it’s difficult projecting Denver to succeed at the highest levels. Gary Harris elevated his defensive play in the playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers, proving to be a playoff caliber defender on the biggest stage. Torrey Craig was solid, as was Paul Millsap, but neither of those guys project as a player that can match the combination of athleticism and physicality from forwards like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George.

So, Denver could attempt to go one of two ways (or do both): upgrade their perimeter defense on the wing or find a way to upgrade their offense. One suggestion to upgrade defensively is Andre Iguodala, a temporary solution with championship experience and the perfect skill set for Denver’s rotation. Another suggestion to upgrade offensively is Bradley Beal, a talented 26-year-old wing who would share ball handling responsibilities with Jamal Murray with the starters and upgrade Denver’s bench offense.

Both are solid ways to improve the team, but unless a player on the roster takes a surprising leap forward, I wouldn’t expect this current iteration of Nuggets to defeat the Los Angeles Clippers or Los Angeles Lakers in a playoff setting.


This may come as a surprise, but absolutely.

Jokic was the one player on Denver’s roster who benefitted the most from the playoff matchups, going against a combination of Jakob Poeltl, LaMarcus Aldridge, Enes Kanter, and Zach Collins during his 14 playoff games. All of those players have identifiable strengths and weaknesses, and the Nuggets, Jokic in particular, was able to exploit them as the playoffs trudged on.

But those matchups weren’t the James Harden-Clint Capela nightmare pick and roll, or the pick and roll game the Utah Jazz use to surround Rudy Gobert, or the LeBron James-Anthony Davis pick and roll, or the Clippers tandem of Kawhi and PG13, or the Golden State Warriors, who still have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson (when healthy) and Draymond Green for several years.

The point is, Jokic lucked out on both sides of the ball with matchups he could exploit. Against the Spurs, Jokic was a monster on both ends, making life difficult for Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan in the pick and roll, but those guys are limited and scheme-able, even for Jokic. Some matchups just can’t be accounted for, and the matchups listed above could all give Denver, Jokic specifically, problems in the playoffs. Will Jokic and Denver overcome those issues? It’s very possible, but Nuggets fans could certainly receive a quick shock if Denver can’t adjust to the extra speed, athleticism, and skill of the above matchups.


The Nuggets are capped out for the 2019-20 season, and current projections for Denver’s salary cap in 2020 have Denver committed for roughly $97 million in 2020-21 and $102.8 million in 2021-22. That leaves little wiggle room for players like Jerami Grant, Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Mason Plumlee and eventually Monte Morris and Jarred Vanderbilt in 2021 free agency. Denver will re-sign as many of the players they think deserve to be back that they can afford, but there will be casualties given Denver’s current monetary structure.

Gary Harris’ situation, if he returns to health, shouldn’t impact that discussion at all. If he returns to the player he was in 2017-18, he will be worth the money Denver is to pay him for the next three seasons. 17.5 points per game on a 59.7 TS% (his 2017-18 numbers) and his impactful playoff defense from this season is equivalent to a top 10 shooting guard in the NBA. The only reason to move Harris at that point would be to upgrade the roster, but very few players in that mold exist that Denver could afford anyway.

The salary cap though? That shouldn’t affect Denver’s stance on Harris unless he struggles to put together another healthy season.


If it were up to me, I would explore the idea without giving up a first round pick. After giving up a 2020 first rounder to acquire Jerami Grant, Denver can’t afford to relinquish another pick for Iguodala, who will turn 36 in late January and is on an expiring deal. While he would certainly be helpful at the highest levels, that price point isn’t worth another first rounder.

Denver would certainly benefit from having Iguodala on the roster though, for his skill set, intelligence, and championship experience would shed some light on how Denver can strategically operate against the best teams in the NBA. In order to acquire him, Denver would have to give up something, and the most reasonable package I can think of is one of Will Barton or Mason Plumlee, one of Malik Beasley or Juancho Hernangomez, and one of Jarred Vanderbilt or Bol Bol. Denver has so many players, and the Memphis Grizzlies, who currently roster Iguodala, should be in talent acquisition mode. It’s a match made in heaven if no team is willing to send the Grizzlies a true first round pick.


To understand what Murray must achieve, we must first understand the competition.

Last year, the guard selections in the Western Conference were as follows: James Harden, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, and Russell Westbrook. Four guards must be selected, and two wild-card spots can help raise that total to six, but I expect five to represent the West again this year. There’s no reason to doubt that Harden, Curry, and Lillard will make it once again. All three are in their respective primes as the first option on playoff teams. The last one to three spots are up for debate. Westbrook’s move to Houston and Chris Paul’s move to Oklahoma City may neutralize each of their cases. Klay Thompson will be out with a torn ACL.

Where the competition really gets fierce is with the young crop of guards attempting to break through. Murray will be joined in his pursuit for a first All-Star appearance by De’Aaron Fox, D’Angelo Russell, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, and Luka Doncic (if classified as a guard).On top of that, a veteran group of Jrue Holiday, Mike Conley, CJ McCollum, Buddy Hield, and DeMar DeRozan should receive attention as well.

For Murray to separate himself from that group, it would take a true break out season with the Nuggets at or near the top of the West to justify including him. He will have the opportunities to be a scorer and secondary playmaker in Denver’s offense, but what will really set him apart is becoming more efficient. His True Shooting % dropped from 57.6 in his second season to 53.8 in his third. To stand out as a lethal offensive weapon, guards like Harden, Curry, Lillard, and Irving combine scoring volume with shooting efficiency at or above 58%. Among qualified West guards, only Booker and Hield DID NOT make the All-Star team, and Booker was on a terrible team while Hield was entirely off-ball.

If Murray put together a first half of the season averaging 21 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds per game while shooting above 58% True Shooting with Denver leading the West, it would be difficult to say no to him as an All-Star. That would involve an improvement in nearly every category for Murray, but it’s certainly possible.

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Ryan Blackburn
DistinctAthlete.com is an entertaining sports site. The site specializes in viral sports content. Content includes controversial and original opinions, news stories, off-beat stories, humorous videos, entertaining photos, exclusive interviews, and witty banter between the writers and commenters. Distinct Athlete was launched in May of 2012 and has been featured and/or cited on several prominent sports sites.