Which Denver Nugget Has the Highest Upside?

Jamal Collier@@JCollierDAnalyst IIIFebruary 22, 2013

Oct 1, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets center JaVale McGee (34), executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiriand and guard Ty Lawson (3) pose for a portrait during media day at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri didn’t make any moves at the NBA trade deadline on Feb. 21. He’s the GM of the third-youngest team in the Association. The Nuggets are 24.7 years old on average with a 34-21 record.

Without Andre Miller’s 36 years of age factored in, Denver’s top-five Western Conference record comes from a roster of guys who are 23.9 years old on average and oozing with upside.

Perhaps that explains why Ujiri didn’t feel that a move was required, but it could also be that he already made his deadline deal—six months ago—by trading for perimeter stopper Andre Iguodala. As the deadline passed, he told the Associated Press (from SI.com):

I think normally a point was made, normally you would see big deals being made. We cannot forget, Andre Iguodala, that deal was made in the summer. That could have potentially been a trade deadline move […] Harden was traded right before the season started. That could have been a potential trade deadline move. Rudy Gay was started a couple weeks ago. There was some cleanup before this date. Apart from a couple guys who were out there all the time in terms of big names, it just went by. I can't explain it. 

Iguodala was the only Team USA representative that the Nuggets can now claim as their own. The 29-year-old is handling his business on the defensive end of the floor—including accumulating 1.5 steals and 0.6 blocks per game—but his offense has been lacking. He’s shooting 44.1 percent from the field, 31.0 percent from three-point range and 59.3 percent from the free-throw line in addition to 2.6 turnovers per game.

Still, Denver has very little to gain from trading him for an injured Pau Gasol:

Gasol is on crutches and will be out until March or April. Only two players in the Nuggets’ deep rotation are outscoring Iggy this season: Offensive cornerstones Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari. Each has struggled offensively to begin this season, but neither is over the age of 25.

Lawson is flashing his immense talent again, too. While riding a four-game streak of scoring 26 points or more, he’s averaging 22.5 PPG on 54.0 percent field-goal shooting, 48.3 percent three-point shooting and 81.5 percent free-throw shooting in February. In those eight games, he’s added 8.8 dimes and 1.9 steals per game.

Gallinari, a 6’10” forward with coast-to-coast ball-handling skills, was a lottery pick (No. 6 overall in 2008) and is putting up 19.7 points per game this month in six games.When his shot selection—an area in which he has already improved since Denver’s playoff series loss to the Los Angeles Lakers—becomes more consistent, he has a chance to shoot better than 42.4 percent from the field. 

But the Denver Nugget with the most upside plays closer to the basket: A few other frontcourt candidates wear Nuggets colors, including Anthony Randolph, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee. Randolph bounced around the league a bit in part because of his potential that has yet to be realized.

The 23-year-old power forward has already played for four NBA teams since 2008.

He has a career field-goal percentage of just 45.6, but his per-36 numbers are impressive: 17.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 1.3 steals. Faried is already putting up 12.2 PPG and 9.8 RPG in 29.5 minutes per game this season. That translates to 14.9 points and 12.0 rebounds—plus 1.1 blocks and 1.3 steals—per 36 minutes for the rebounding maven.

Faried is three inches shorter than Randolph, but his athleticism is as obvious as his energy is infectious. The Manimal was even invited to participate in the NBA’s dunk contest over All-Star Weekend and put up a 50 with an off-glass, between-the-legs slam at 6’8”.

Even he’s not the player with the most upside on the Nuggets roster; that honor goes to McGee.

We’re going to need another basketball term to describe JaVale’s ability. A legit seven-footer with McGee’s 7’6.5” wingspan and 31.5-inch vertical has talents that most mortals just don’t have. He is capable of not only drawing plenty of attention via his triple-dunk finishes, but embarrassing professional basketball players defensively.

How would you feel about being bloarded or reblocked—watching in horror as your attempt to gain two or three points via a field-goal attempt is simultaneously denied and forcefully snatched out of the air—by McGee?

The 25-year-old is scoring 9.9 points, rejecting 1.9 shots and pulling down 4.8 boards per game in 18.7 MPG in 2012-13. On a per-36-minute basis, JaVale’s numbers are outstanding: 19.1 PPG, 9.2 RPG and 3.7 BPG. His play is still somewhat inconsistent, but big men are usually allotted more time to develop in the NBA—especially when they’re as physically gifted as McGee.

He still has yet to play a full season under veteran head coach George Karl; he’s played 72 games in a Nuggets uniform. With more experience, McGee could be their best player and gain positive attention outside of Denver as well.


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