Denver's roster is amazingly deep and dauntingly athletic, and with the newly acquired Andre Iguodala present to bolster the Nuggets' defense and playmaking, this team has the potential to make an otherwise solid Western Conference landscape into an all-out ruckus.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers will be incredibly difficult to unseat, but Denver looks to be among the teams that could cause either of those contenders problems, if all goes according to plan. The Nuggets were dismissed in the first round of the 2012 playoffs after battling injuries and absences for much of the season, but this year's model is decidedly more complete and has advanced within their tailor-made strategy.
Another year of running and cutting has done Denver good. JaVale McGee looked to be stepping into his game during the Nuggets' playoff series against the Lakers, Ty Lawson's game grows by the day and Kenneth Faried used his rookie year as a legitimate breakout campaign.
Account for a re-signed Andre Miller, the aforementioned landing of Iguodala and full seasons for both Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, and the Nuggets have a top-to-bottom rotation capable of exhausting even an elite opponent. There's a lot of work to be done and some schematic reinforcement to account for, but as Beckley Mason noted on TrueHoop, this team has the chance to run opponents off the floor by working hard and utilizing every bit of their tremendous bench:
The Nuggets are deep with speed. There won’t be many lineups that don’t have a decided collective advantage in end-to-end quickness against just about every team. But speed isn’t like size. Andrew Bynum is the biggest guy in the league, whether he wants to be or not, on a given night. But a fast player is only as fast as he chooses to play.
For the Nuggets to max out their ability, every player will need to commit to playing at that intense pace, because though they have loads of skill the peak talent on the Nuggets isn’t anything to shout about. This team is all about motor, about using effort level to unleash wave after wave of talented athletes toward the rim.
History suggests Iguodala can be the leader for such a team, and his new squad is chock-full of guys who just bring it night in and night out. The Nuggets will be as fun to watch as they are exhausting to face. They may not have a superstar, but few teams will put in such consistent 94-foot effort.
Luckily for Denver, George Karl is a perfect coach to maximize the effort of this particular roster—a consideration that could be a serious issue under other circumstances. Running consistently over the course of an 82-game season requires all kinds of undesirable conditioning work and an incredible discipline, but Karl is a strong communicator and motivator and has some highly motivated players to work with.
The energy that players like Lawson, Iguodala, Faried, Gallinari, Chandler and Corey Brewer draw from on a daily basis is highly contagious, as is the success that's likely to result from their collective efforts. It's not hard to sell players on the idea that the root of their winning ways is an effort worth furthering.
Provided that Denver can keep their energy and intensity up and that Karl—as is expected—goes to his bench early and often to keep his players fresh, the Nuggets have a dynamic enough offense (third in the NBA last season in terms of points per possession) and sufficient expected defensive improvement (through the addition of Iguodala, good health for Chandler and Gallinari and improvement for McGee and Faried) to make them a team to watch.
Tossing them in with the league's other contenders may be a bit hasty, but unlike so many of the league's less-promising outfits, there's no justifiable reason to rule Denver out. This is a team with a legitimate shot to make something of itself this season, and while that standing may seem meager next to the giants in LA and OKC, there's nothing at all wrong with going into an NBA season being good enough to play out the games and see what happens.