The Denver Nuggets look like a legitimate contender entering the season, but their road to the playoffs will be far from easy. The Nuggets have the misfortune of playing in the NBA’s Northwest Division, easily the most formidable division in the league.
Outside of the Nuggets, the Northwest Division is comprised of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz. Every one of those teams has the talent to compete for a playoff spot, and they should not be underestimated.
Fortunately, the Nuggets are more than capable of competing with their fellow division rivals, especially with a revamped roster that looks to be one of the best Denver teams ever.
The Nuggets’ depth chart looks as follows:
Point Guard: Ty Lawson / Andre Miller / Julyan Stone
Shooting Guard: Andre Iguodala / Corey Brewer / Evan Fournier
Small Forward: Danilo Gallinari / Wilson Chandler / Jordan Hamilton
Power Forward: Kenneth Faried / Anthony Randolph / Quincy Miller
Center: JaVale McGee / Kosta Koufos / Timofey Mozgov
After several seasons of mediocrity, the Timberwolves finally look like a legitimate playoff threat heading into 2012-13.
Though question marks abound regarding the health of key players Ricky Rubio and Brandon Roy, Minnesota’s frontcourt of Andrei Kirilenko, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic should be enough to keep the team afloat until Rubio’s return from a torn ACL.
Denver’s biggest challenge in facing the T’Wolves will be, of course, finding a way to slow down the league’s top power forward in Love.
Despite his average athleticism, there’s little Love cannot do on the basketball court and he alone gives Minnesota a distinct advantage over Denver in the paint.
Fortunately, Denver can compensate in other areas. Rubio is a phenomenal distributor. but no better overall than Lawson and despite Minny’s upgrades on the perimeter, Denver’s wing trio is simply too solid—unless Roy magically returns to his previous All-Star form.
Denver also has a distinct advantage in chemistry. The Timberwolves have a largely reconstructed roster that will need time to mesh, while Denver brings back mostly the same group—aside from rookies and new team captain Andre Iguodala, who should only help in the locker room)
Minnesota will be much improved this season and should not be underestimated. However, Denver still has the overall advantage and should place substantially higher at the end of next season.
The Thunder made the Finals last season and seems to improve every year. They will, without a doubt. be the greatest threat to Denver in the division, and the Nuggets will need more than raw skill to contend with the Western Conference champs.
The addition of Iguodala should help Denver contain Kevin Durant (to the extent at which that is possible), and a full season of McGee gives the Nuggets a clear advantage over OKC at the center position.
The combination of Gallinari and Chandler should be able to match the contributions of James Harden, and the ever-improving Faried has the ability to out-hustle Serge Ibaka. But if Denver is to have any real chance against the Thunder, they need to find a way to slow down the superstar tandem of Durant and Russell Westbrook.
That is neither easily said nor done, as Lawson cannot hope to keep up with the size and explosiveness of Westbrook and Iguodala. Although Lawson's a premier stopper, he cannot hope to neutralize the unstoppable scoring of Durant.
The Nuggets won’t be able to stop Oklahoma City’s offense, so their only real chance is to attack aggressively in transition and hope that a balanced attack can somehow enable them to outscore the Thunder’s big three. Throw in scrappy play from Iguodala, Faried and Lawson and this is one series that would be impossible to miss.
The Nuggets match up very well against the fallen Trail Blazers, who, despite some key rookie additions, still seem unlikely to contend for a playoff spot.
The Nuggets equal or overmatch the Blazers at every position, but power forward. And while the lengthy and versatile LaMarcus Aldridge will cause matchup problems for the undersized Kenneth Faried, Denver’s depth and defensive strength can help to cover for this weakness.
The Blazers have a collection of solid perimeter players in Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, but the Nuggets simply have a greater arsenal of options at the perimeter positions. With Lawson leading the charge and Iguodala, Gallinari and Chandler available on the wings, Denver should have little trouble outscoring this Portland team.
The Blazers have a ways to go before becoming relevant again, and the Nuggets have the tools to overpower Portland at just about every turn. The Blazers look like the favorites to bring up the rear in the Northwest Division and Denver should make quick work of them in the season series.
Jazz-Nuggets games tend to be very exciting affairs, and this season should be no exception. These two teams represent an opposition of not only divisional rivals but also basketball styles, as the run n’ gun Nuggets must contend with the more methodical Jazz, who prefer to focus on a half-court offense focused on post play.
The Jazz have added some talented perimeter players since last season, but their greatest asset remains in their arsenal of big men. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter combine to form one of the most dangerous frontcourts in the league, and Denver’s big men will be pushed to the limit in attempting to contain that dangerous quartet.
Utah clearly has the advantage in the post against Denver, but that advantage is just about the only one they have. Ty Lawson should have little trouble handling the aging Mo Williams and Utah’s wing players can’t hope to contend with the size and athleticism of Denver’s perimeter trio.
And while the Jazz are a fairly deep team, they lack a quality backup point guard to run the second unit. With Andre Miller manning the point, Denver’s second unit should easily overpower Utah’s.
The Jazz will be a threat to make the playoffs this season, but Nuggets fans shouldn’t sweat too much over Denver-Utah matchups.