Denver Nuggets: 3 Ways Team Can Build on 2011-12
Rarely does it happen where an NBA team trades away its "star player," but they end up a better team as a result.
However, the the Denver Nuggets have done exactly that.
Since trading Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks in February 2011, the Nuggets have compiled a 56-28 regular season record, and they've been one of the most efficient offensive teams in the league.
Denver led the NBA with 104.1 points per game this past season.
While most elite offensive teams rely on their ability to isolate its best offensive player to generate points one-one-one, Denver's production has been as balanced as it gets.
The Nuggets had seven players average at least 10 points per game in 2011, and their leading scorer was point guard Ty Lawson at 16.4 points per game.
Surrounded by several capable scorers, Lawson has developed into a solid floor general for George Karl's team. Denver surrounds the perimeter with a handful of talented shooters, most notably Danilo Gallinari, who was the key piece the Nuggets received in exchange for Anthony.
Although they lack a true "star player," the Nuggets have very few holes in their lineup.
While Lawson has successfully run the show for Denver and Gallinari has been able to stretch the floor at 6'10", shooting guard Arron Afflalo may be the most consistent member of the Denver Nuggets.
Arron Afflalo has steadily improved since coming into the league in 2007; he's always been relied upon to be a defensive stopper, but he showed tremendous improvement on offense this season as he shot almost 40% from 3-point range and averaged over 15 points per contest.
In the front court, Denver has a wide variety of talented big men. In return for Nene, the Nuggets acquired the ultra-athletic JaVale McGee from the Washington Wizards. In Denver's seven-game series against the Lakers, McGee grabbed 14 rebounds twice and 15 rebounds in game three.
A beast on the boards in his own right, McGee's frontcourt counterpart, Kenneth Faried, is often referred to as "the manimal." Faried is known for his relentless work ethic on the court, as he only knows one way to play, and that's 100%, whenever he's on the court.
Both McGee and Faried averaged just over 10 points per game last season, but the Nuggets get scoring from players off the bench as well. Al Harrington is a very talented player capable of starting for many NBA teams; although he only started one game in 2011, he has a versatile offensive game and averaged over 14 points per contest.
While they don't play as many minutes, Denver's luxury of capable big men goes even deeper thanks to Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos. Both players saw extended time in the Nuggets' starting five, and their 7'0" frames allow Denver to be versatile in how they counteract opposing post players.
The Nuggets have become one of the most exciting teams to watch because of their ability to score a lot of points despite their unselfish style of play, but one question remains—how can Denver build upon its recent success and get to the next level?
1. Maintain Team-First Approach
While Carmelo Anthony is a very talented offensive player, he's in the conversation among the league's most-overrated players. He doesn't even pretend to play defense, and in terms of sharing the basketball, he makes Kobe Bryant look like Steve Nash.
By trading Anthony to New York, the Nuggets' offensive approach changed instantly.
With Melo in town, it seemed as if filling his personal stat line on the box score was the number one objective, but with Anthony in New York, Denver's leading scorer could be anyone on the court on any given night.
If the Nuggets want to continue their winning ways and make a deep playoff run, it's essential that they keep their priorities straight and maintain their team-first approach.
Lawson, Afflalo and Gallinari are all unselfish players.
When a team's backcourt is open to sharing the basketball with each other as well as dumping it down to the bigs, the team becomes much more versatile as a result of not being too reliant on one player.
2. Add Another Perimeter Shooter
Gallinari can shoot the ball, and Arron Afflalo is now Denver's most reliable three-point shooter; however, he's just recently added that aspect to his game, and the Nuggets would be wise to add a more consistent shooter to pick up the slack when shots aren't falling.
Whether it's through the draft or via free agency, the Nuggets will have an opportunity to add a capable perimeter scorer.
If they choose to address this hole in the draft, there figures to be several options available for Denver with the 20th overall pick. Vanderbilt's John Jenkins may be the best "pure shooter" in the draft, but #20 may be a little too early for him.
Another option that should come off the board somewhere in the late first-round is Kentucky's Doron Lamb, who at 6'4" is capable of playing shooting guard and could spell Ty Lawson at point guard if Andre Miller is not brought back.
Syracuse's Dion Waiters has been considered a potential top-ten pick by some, but others project him to go somewhere in the early 20s. If he's available when the Nuggets are on the clock, he'll certainly merit Denver's consideration.
If Denver choose to add a veteran shooter this offseason, Ray Allen would look very good in a Nuggets uniform. Many have speculated about Allen potentially signing with the Miami Heat this offseason, but perhaps Allen would consider reuniting with former Bucks head coach George Karl.
3. Continue the Development of Young Big Men
At this point of his career, Al Harrington is what he is—and by no means is that a bad thing.
He's a solid big man capable of playing next to or away from the basket, and his best role is as a reliable scorer off the bench. Fortunately for Denver, that's exactly what his role is right now, and that should remain the case in 2012.
If Kenneth Faried can continue to refine his offensive skills, his value will extend further than simply as a try-hard, high-energy post player.
The same goes for JaVale McGee, who is clearly one of the more athletically-gifted big men in the game, but sometimes lacks the disciple it takes to reach his full potential.
Although they weren't always the regular starters for the Nuggets in 2011, Denver got great production from its starting five when Faried and McGee were the starters at power forward and center. Denver could benefit greatly from having Faried and McGee work together for a full offseason headed into 2012.
Scoring over 104 points per game in the regular season, Denver's problems were not on offense. If the Nuggets are an improved team defensively, then they'll become a legitimate contender to come out of the Western Conference.
Seven-footers Koufos and Mozgov will continue to provide defensive flexibility and, less importantly, cultural diversity to the Nuggets' front court. If Denver can close the lane and prevent points in the paint, the Nuggets could be a much improved team in 2012.