Denver: Carmelo Alchemy

Me: Did anyone see the post-trade Nuggets coming?
Henry Abbott: No. Not even the Nuggets.

The new Nuggets are great in a way that defies our basketball knowledge. I say “our,” because their proficiency is a truth that everyone needs retrospect to rationalize. The best basketball writers are fixing current efforts on conveying a success they couldn’t foresee. After the trade, cognescenti consensus posited an instantly worse Nuggets roster. The Nuggs could live larger longer term, the thinking went. But dramatic improvement wasn’t predicted, not this soon.

Conventional thought shouters were even further from the truth, closer to Melo worship. In their view, Denver’s buttresses were tied to Anthony’s shoes. His exit meant implosion, visible in the rear view.

I’ve long considered myself in the upper 1% percentile of anti Carmelo Anthony sentiment. Thought him overrated, hated the trade for the Knicks based on salary concerns. And even I didn’t see these Nuggets coming.The stat geeks, the writing pundits, TV guys, the NEW YORK MEDIA, everyone, everyone, everyone was surprised by the outcome. Well, I shouldn’t say “everyone.”

Back in February, my friend Carlos Rojas predicted a better Denver. These days, he’s reminding me with increasing frequency. “C-Los” is not prone to crazy enthusiasm–far from it. Though his laughter is often, it’s often a cackle. He’s cynical, distrustful of institutions, embracing of a negative frankness. Carlos deemed me “a bad person” with unnerving sincerity. Last weekend, he greeted me with, “You’re getting fat.”

An artist and architecture major, Carlos could create clay animal statues on cue–in less than a minute. Back in college, I’d toss him a clump, yell, “tiger!” and be shocked to instantly return the creature’s gaze.

C-Los trusts an acute visual memory to smooth basketball’s deepest wrinkles.This guy is completely uninterested in advanced statistics and doesn’t peruse NBA punditry–though he reads my stuff out of some sick friendship obligation. Half an upbringing was spent in Guatemala, where soccer is the national obsession. Carlos’s desire to understand 1-0 games meant a journey for knowledge in the absence of data. It’s a saga that, at times, can only be informed by an eye’s mind. In the United States, he watched hoops with that same observational intensity.

Carlos once remarked on how Carmelo tipped-in his misses with a zeal that couldn’t be found elsewhere in Anthony’s game.This was not a compliment. It was meant to lampoon Melo’s singular scoring focus, his tunnel vision that always funneled towards a rim. I can’t be sure if Carlos’s soccer instincts led him to indict Anthony’s focus, his ball-stopping, or laud Denver’s particular kind of talent infusion. But I have my suspicions.

I also have my suspicions about us and about our ability to understand this sport. Why didn’t we guess these Knicks players would strengthen the Nuggets? How did we get beaten by a stat-shunning Rojas?

Centuries ago, a new age sprung up when some craftsman blithely combined iron with carbon. “Steel” was easily replicable, immensely valuable metallurgy. The knowledge spread quickly and changed the world. Either this Denver miracle is steel, or these golden Nuggets are the result of an inscrutable alchemy that we’ll never learn from.

Follow @SherwoodStrauss on Twitter

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