Denver Nuggets' Impressive Depth Will Trump Injury Woes Come Playoff Time
The Denver Nuggets are one of the hottest teams in the Western Conference, and they're somehow still limping their way into the postseason.
Danilo Gallinari, the team's second-leading scorer on the season at 16.2 points per game, is lost for the season with a torn ACL he suffered on April 4.
His 6'10" frame allows him to seamlessly transition between either forward spot. And although he's best known for his perimeter game (36.9 three-point percentage for his career), he's a better creator off the dribble than he's given credit for.
Rebounding savant Kenneth Faried (9.2 in 28.1 rebounds per game) has since joined Gallinari on the inactive list. He sprained a ligament in his left ankle during Denver's 118-109 win over the reeling Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday. His injury doesn't sound as serious as it could have been, but it's still bad enough to keep him out of action for the Nuggets' final two games of the regular season (via Ben Golliver of SI.com).
Ty Lawson recently returned from a battle with a torn plantar fascia in his right heel that had cost him eight outings over a nine-game stretch. Although he's yet to show any signs of rust since returning on Friday night (12.5 points, 6.5 assists and zero turnovers in his two games back), he still faces the daunting task of getting healthy during the postseason.
It's a damaging enough predicament to sink most teams in the league.
But Karl's Nuggets aren't like most teams. They're a fully loaded, high-powered squad with enough bodies to plug any vacated spots.
Karl's replacement options for Gallinari run three players deep.
Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer will see the lion's share of the minutes that Gallo left behind.
Chandler is the embodiment of Denver's athletic supremacy. A chiseled 6'8", 225-pound menace capable of unleashing his wrath on either end of the floor.
Slashing, not surprisingly, is a key component of his offensive game. But he can torch a defense from the perimeter (41.0 three-point percentage) or bully his way to buckets on the block.
Brewer is longer (6'9") and lankier (199 pounds), but equally menacing defensively. He has the quickness and instincts to crowd his man and the next-level springs to bring help from the weak side.
He hasn't been quite as reliable of an offensive threat (43.2 field-goal percentage, 30.1 three-point percentage), but is hardly a player defenses can afford to overlook (12.3 points per game).
Andre Iguodala, Denver's versatile wing man, is already operating with a heavy workload (34.6 minutes per game).
But his ability to fill a number of roles for this team (scorer, stopper, creator, finisher) allows Karl to lean even heavier on him come playoff time.
At the point guard position, veteran Andre Miller gives Karl a reliable stand-in if Lawson's heel problem flares up during the postseason. Miller has been to the postseason eight times over his 14-year career, including each of the last five seasons.
He brings a steady hand to the initiate the offense (6.0 assists against 2.2 turnovers per game this season) and is well-versed in Karl's system. He has the vision to identify any available passing lane and the talent to slip passes between the slightest cracks in the defense.
If Karl has to find help for Faried, he has a couple different options.
First-year Nugget Anthony Randolph may be in line for a major boost in playing time (he's averaged just 7.9 minutes over his 37 games). He has the size (6'11", 225 lbs) to play the position and the athleticism to thrive in Karl's above-the-rim system.
Chandler is another possibility in a smaller, quicker lineup. If Karl's looking for overwhelming size, he can pair the athletic JaVale McGee with either of his other 7-footers, Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov.
Denver's lack of a superstar player has been its biggest knock during the post-Carmelo Anthony years. Analysts question this team's ability to manufacture offense in the clutch without an identifiable go-to scorer when the points and quality of possessions matter most.
It's a legitimate concern, or at least one forged with a basis in logic and reasoning.
But this team has always been greater than the sum of its parts.
The Nuggets were built for exactly this type of situation. Funny isn't, considering that superstar presence that analysts wanted for this team would have ruined its ability to keep its season alive in the face of injuries.
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