It’s been a strange time to say the least as all of us try to get a handle on how life will be for the next few weeks or even months. Yes there are bigger things going on than the lack of live sports on our TV’s and radio stations but the nation could sure use a healthy distraction, perhaps just briefly. Many of us in the business are going to what we do best; argue points that can and will never be proven like “who had the better career; Jordan or Brady?,” or “who is the best QB of all time?,” or, what this post is all about, “Who is the greatest Nugget of all time?”
Let me be clear, I do not actually think Carmelo Anthony is the greatest Nugget of all time. I think he’s close. However, I am beginning to think he is one of the most under appreciated Nugget of all time. Was he a headache for Georg Karl? Yes, Karl says as much in his book. ‘Furious George.’ But to deny Melo’s greatness with Denver based on his attitude is a bit unfair. What he did for one of the laughing stocks of the NBA for 8 seasons is hard to ignore. That does not mean I am somehow diminishing what other great Nuggets did for the organization. I did not have the opportunity to watch Alex English, David Thompson or Dan Issel in real time as I was born in 1986. To many, that somehow disqualifies my legitimacy when it comes to this debate that will never be solved. No, I did not get to witness some of the greatest Nuggets players of all time but on the other hand, I DID get to watch some of the greatest Nuggets of all time and I have access to past records, stats, clips and basic history. The internet is a beautiful thing. When doing these type of debates I look at 3 important factors: Stats, Wins/losses, and playoff/championship success.
Who meant more for the Nuggets? Who should be considered top 3? To leave Carmelo out of that mix is absurd. Let’s look at what he did for Denver compared to some of the best players to sport a Nuggets uniform.
David Thompson: Sensational. Michael Jordan loved the guy and that’s saying something. Thompson is like the Floyd Little of the Nuggets. He legitimized Denver. He, perhaps along with Issel, was the FIRST great Nugget. His first year with the Nuggets was in the ABA era, a season that saw Thompson average 26 points per game while leading Denver to the playoffs and a first round victory. In 7 seasons, Thompson helped Denver earn 5 trips to the NBA playoffs but only one of those years would see a trip to the second round. Yes, the playoff structure was different at the time with 10 to 12 teams in the tournament in the mid 70’s but there were also less team in the league back then. Thompson was a key figure in Nuggets history no question. During his time in Denver he averaged 24 points per game, over 3 assists per game and just north of 4 boards per game. 5 trips to the playoffs and one first round victory.
Alex English: Most fans, young and old alike, know the name Alex English. He was a crucial piece to one of the most successful stretches in Nuggets history. His first two seasons, however, weren’t all that memorable. His numbers were solid but Denver failed to get to the playoffs and won just 30 games in 79/80 and 37 in 80/81. However, the rest of English’s career in Denver resulted in a trip to the playoffs and they advanced past the first round 4 times. The most successful run came during the 84/85 season, a year that saw Denver reach the (NBA) Western Conference finals for the first time in their history. Like Melo’s Nuggets, Denver lost to the Lakers, keeping them from reaching the finals. During his time as a Nugget, English averaged nearly 26 points per game, 2.7 TO’s, 4 assists and just under 6 boards per game. If you want to say he’s the greatest Nugget of all time….it’s hard to argue.
Carmelo Anthony: For 8 seasons, the Denver Nuggets were a forgotten team in the NBA. From 1995 to 2003, the Nuggets failed to reach even a .500 record and had 3 seasons where they had less than 20 wins. Those were dark times. Enter standout from Syracuse, Carmelo Anthony. Upon drafting Melo, a former national champ, the Nuggets improved instantly; going from 17 wins pre-Melo to 43 during his rookie season. The Nuggets never missed the playoffs while Anthony was on the roster and advanced to the Western Conference Finals for only the second time ever, losing to the Lakers 4-2 in 2008. Unfortunately, 2008 was the only season Melo and company made it past the first round and the organization ultimately traded Anthony for a handful of players. The value Denver received for Anthony helped keep them relevant for a few seasons post superstar. During his time as a Nugget, Anthony averaged 25 points, 3 TO’s, 3 assists and just over 6 rebounds per game. All 8 seasons in Denver yielded playoffs and one trip to the Western Conference finals.
Dan Issel, Dikembe Mutombo, and Fat Lever are some HUGE names when it comes to Denver Nuggets history but when it comes down to identifying the true greats, we have to look at the impacts on the team at the time. English and Thompson are Nuggets greats accroding to fans that grew up watching them and it’s hard to disagree. BUT you can’t just stay in the past. You must put Melo in their company based on the impact on the team upon arrival and individual numbers.
I could argue that Anthony meant more to the Nuggets than David Thompson because of the amount of playoff berths, the instant improvement in 2003 and his Olympic reputation. Thompson, like Little with the Broncos, has the luxury of being the “first” great player and that tends to carry a lot of clout, as it should. But to diminish Carmelo as one of the greats because he wanted to be traded, or was difficult to coach cannot simply erase what he accomplished on the floor for 8 seasons.
Nikola Jokic will be the greatest Nugget of all time very soon, but for now, the debate continues and to leave Melo out simply because he was not a “team” player is irresponsible.