The 2012-13 NBA season is over for the Denver Nuggets, as they lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games during their first-round series. In turn, the Nuggets will be forced to watch the NBA playoffs from their couches from here on out.
The question is: What's next for the Nuggets after yet another disappointing first-round exit?
Denver entered this season with high hopes, having taken the Los Angeles Lakers to seven games during the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. The Nuggets backed the hype up during the regular season, finishing with the third-best record in the Western Conference at 57-25.
Denver even went 38-3 at home, which proved to be the best home record in the league.
Unfortunately, the Nuggets' high-powered offense was yet again overpowered by their putrid scoring defense. Despite ranking first in the NBA in points per game, they ranked 23rd in points allowed, and it showed in the postseason.
Stephen Curry and the Warriors shot 49.4 percent from the field and 40.1 percent during their first-round win over Denver—the Nuggets converted at clips of 43.8 percent and 31.1 percent, respectively.
This has the NBA community rightfully wondering if the Nuggets simply ran into a red-hot Warriors team or if they're just an illegitimate contender. Regardless of what the right answer is, Denver has questions to answer.
It all starts with properly executing during free agency.
The Denver Nuggets would be wise to target one of the multiple sharpshooters in the 2013 NBA Draft. With that being said, the 27th overall draft choice is rarely one that sees instant playing time, and that's what the Nuggets need.
For that reason, free agency is the best way to go about instant improvements.
According to Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio, the Nuggets are rumored to be interested in pending free agent J.J. Redick. Redick, a career 39.0 percent shooter from three-point range, would certainly offer an instant upgrade over their current crop of shooters.
Prior to being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks—a dead zone for shooters in recent seasons—Redick was averaging 15.1 points and 4.4 assists on 39.0 percent shooting from beyond the arc. In other words, he can pass and shoot.
For a team that ranked third in assists per game and 25th in three-point field goal percentage, how much better of a fit could you find?
Outside of shooters, the Nuggets must also target a reliable interior presence on the offensive side of the ball. Their half-court defense is often left without a back-to-the-basket attack, as their young bigs are under-developed in that sense.
With quality players ranging from Paul Millsap and David West to Tiago Splitter and Andray Blatche becoming available, the market is ripe for Denver to improve its team.
If that's not enough, the Nuggets need to improve their all-around defense. Andre Iguodala's Early Termination Option throws a curveball into their plans, but even if he does remain with the team, they need to improve.
Even if their culture believes otherwise.
NBA Draft: Addressing Needs
The Denver Nuggets are commonly viewed as the most powerful offense in the NBA, mainly due to their ranking first in scoring offense. The truth of the matter is, Denver is one-dimensional offensively and struggles when limited to half-court offense.
It all starts with the Nuggets' rankings of 20th in three-point field goals made per game and 25th in three-point field goal percentage.
Without the ability to space the floor and shoot, the Nuggets' high-octane offense has been limited come the postseason. That's why they shot 43.8 percent from the field in 2013 and failed to match Golden State's efforts.
It wasn't about getting hot, it was about the Warriors being strongest where Denver lacked most.
During the 2013 NBA Draft, the Nuggets will pick 27th overall. When they do come up, it's imperative that general manager Masai Ujiri targets sharpshooters.
Ideally, the Nuggets will kill two birds with one stone by landing a player such as point guard Erick Green out of Virginia Tech. With Andre Miller aging and the Nuggets lacking shooters, it's this type of selection that would address multiple needs.
Green isn't the only option, but he offers a prototype for what Denver needs most.
Can Denver Win with Karl?
Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl is widely regarded as one of the greatest head coaches in NBA history. After all, Karl is sixth on the all-time regular-season wins chart and owns 22 career postseason appearances.
With that being said, Karl has lost in the first round in nine of his past 10 postseason appearances. Eight of those losses have come with the Nuggets.
Karl is a well-respected human being and the definition of a player's coach. He's also a consistent coach in the sense that he leads virtually every team he coaches to the NBA playoffs.
When you can't make it out of the first round, however, reaching the postseason is rather meaningless.
Furthermore, Denver has ranked 20th or lower in all but one season since 2005-06. The exception to the rule was 2008-09, when they ranked 18th by allowing 100.9 points per contest.
The Nuggets' offense has been explosive and defense nonexistent, and postseason success has been elusive ever since Karl took over in Denver—perhaps name value has overtaken coaching value.
If the Nuggets feel that they can win with Karl, then that's likely to be a move well-supported by the NBA community. As previously alluded to, Karl is one of the most lovable figures in all of professional sports.
When you weigh blind resumes, however, can you really say that Karl is getting the job done?