What should the Nuggets do: More minutes for Johan Petro, or a deadline deal?

[Note: Originally Posted 02-11-2010 at 04:32 AM by DenButsu]

Okay, I finally just watched the Dallas game. And I have to say that I was pretty much floored by how well Johan Petro played.

I mean, he played really, really great.

And I know it would be foolish to read too much into one game (or even a few games, throwing in a couple others like last year when he did real well vs. Dwight Howard when the Nuggets won in Orlando). But after watching that Mavericks game, I can’t help but feel two things:

1) Frustration.
Petro clearly should have been getting more minutes up to this point in the season, and it’s a travesty that he didn’t. They wouldn’t have even needed to be risky minutes. He could have spotted Nenê and other bigs to keep them out of foul trouble at the end of first halves and other critical moments. And there were a lot of garbage time stretches where he was not put on the floor, but easily and safely could have been. But obviously the dude has at least a modicum of potential to make a meaningful contribution to this team, and it sure seems like those minutes he never played are lost opportunities to maximize his pace of development and get a better understanding of where his ceiling might be at and what his value to the team (in real game situations) might actually become. So it peeves me that he’s been deprived of the experience of playing more, partly because we also have missed out on seeing him play.

2) Ambivalence.
I’ve been pretty firmly on board the “let’s make a deal for a big by the deadline” train from the get go, but now I’m having mixed feelings about whether that would be best or whether the Nuggets would be better off just playing Petro more and molding him into that reliable 4th big they have been missing. I mean, he really showed a pretty wide diversity of skills in that Dallas game.

He has a pretty solid short range jumper. He can dump it in with a nice little spin>hook move off a pick and roll. He’s not so much in the way of posting up, but it seems like if he receives the ball near the rim he’s a pretty reliable finisher with some solid layups and dunks. All of which is to say that his offense, while not great, is also not non-existent or one-dimensional. It’s mediocre, perhaps, but we don’t really need greatness from the player playing that role, we basically just need not-****ing-up-ness. And he did fumble a pass here, maybe blow a set play there, but often those are wrinkles that get ironed out through more game-time experience.

Meanwhile, his defense looked very solid, much more so than his offense. He does a good job staying in front of his man and not biting too much on head fakes (yeah, I’m looking at you, Birdman), but he also manages to make his height and his presence felt near the rim with some nice shot altering and the occasional block. On the defensive team play he doesn’t seem to show any of the confusion he sometimes exhibits on the other end. He stays with his assignments, doesn’t get lost on switches. And more than anything else, it looks like he just plays really damn hard. He hustles, he runs. He doesn’t really have the bulk to do much heavy duty battling in the paint, but he seemed to do a pretty decent job of boxing out and going after the boards.

So the ambivalence results from the fact that while we can see these flashes of promise, so many questions remain:

-How consistently would he be able to play as solidly as he did against Dallas, given the opportunity? Was that performance a flash in the pan or a sign of the player he’s on the verge of becoming?

-How quickly (or slowly) is his development progressing, and what does that bode for the postseason. At 24, he’s still really young, and with so little non-garbage-time NBA experience, he’s, well, inexperience and completely unproven. Could he be trusted with meaningful minutes in the high-pressure, high-stakes playoff basketball environment?

-How would bringing in “THE 4th Big” in a deadline deal (effectively shoving Petro aside into that 5th spot where he’d never play) impact his confidence and his growth? It’s not every day (or every season, for that matter) that the Nuggets acquire a legit 7-footer whose youth leaves plenty of room for further development and who might actually be able to carve out a niche in the team’s future. Proper cultivation of such an asset should be a serious consideration.

If I were given the power to decide whether Denver pulled a deadline deal which would effectively sideline Petro for the remainder of the season, or instead stood pat, increasing his minutes and his role (and, potentially, his future value for the franchise), right at this moment I honestly don’t know where I would come down – partly because, as Johan Petro has been deprived of minutes, we fans have been deprived of the ability to understand just exactly what kind of player he is now and might become down the line.

But what would you do?

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