Biggest Questions and Answers for Denver Nuggets This Offseason
They scored the most points per game (106.1), tied for second in pulling down the most rebounds (45) and were third in assists (24.4). The Nuggets even had the 11th-most efficient team on defense.
Yet, Denver had several weaknesses and was exposed in the first round of the playoffs against the Golden State Warriors.
These holes need to be addressed in the offseason if the Nuggets want to make a run at the NBA Finals.
Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri and head coach George Karl have a lot of talent and are close in making this team a Western Conference contender. Having said that, the right buttons need to be pushed, and Karl is entering the last year of his contract with some heat around him after another first-round loss, per Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post.
Will Andre Iguodala Return to Denver?
This isn't a question the Nuggets can ultimately answer, since Andre Iguodala has a player option of just over $16 million next season, according to HoopsWorld.com.
According to Chris Tomasson on Fox Sports.com, Iguodala is likely to opt out of that option and test free agency. Although, that doesn't necessarily mean Iggy will move on somewhere else. He said:
My main goal is, if we win here, everything will take care of itself, no matter what, ... I want to play for a team where I have an impact on the game without even scoring ... I feel like if I win (with the Nuggets), I won’t have to worry about having to prove my worth.
The truth is, Iggy had a huge impact on the Nuggets with more than just scoring last season. Along with his 13 points, he averaged just over five rebounds and five assists per game while being a solid defender on the perimeter. Andre connected the dots.
What Denver will have to do is give him a longer contract. Iguodala is entering his 10th season in the league and is still performing at a high level.
How much per year? It shouldn't be the $16 million he would receive next year, but it should be at least $10 million over three, maybe four years.
The catch is that the Nuggets are paying out three other players between $10 and $12.5 million through 2015-16. Adding a fourth player to this list makes their cap space somewhat limited in the near future.
Switching to Iguodala's point of view, while we don't know how important winning a ring is to him, the Nuggets may provide the best chance at accomplishing that from realistic options.
The Miami Heat can't afford him, and it's hard seeing their "Big Three" breaking up. The Oklahoma City Thunder couldn't keep James Harden because of long-term cap space. The New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls already have over $73 million tied up in guaranteed money next year. The Brooklyn Nets have cap-space issues and don't need another shooting guard.
For teams that do have cap space, the Memphis Grizzlies would work if they don't retain Tony Allen, but does Iguodala want to play in a slow-paced offense? Would the Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Clippers really be upgrading at this point? The Celtics have a lot of uncertainty with their stars, and the Nuggets have a lot more postseason experience than the Clippers.
The bottom line is that Iggy is effective in Denver's system and doesn't have to be the main guy every night. He has a balanced game and has the flexibility to exercise that.
Ty Lawson wants him back, according to Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. Masai Ujiri came to his defense with some strong words when Iguodala was left off the NBA’s first and second all-defensive teams, according to Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post.
The Nuggets should give Iguodala a longer deal with a small pay cut, and he should take it.
Should Denver Re-Sign Corey Brewer?
There's no doubt Corey Brewer brought a scoring burst off the bench, but is he really who the Nuggets want in their rotation?
Brewer, who will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, scored 12.1 points last season, but his three-point percentage was suspect. He shot 29.6 percent from behind the arc and his only successful spot was from the left corner (took 38.8 percent of his three-pointers from the left corner and made 41.2 percent of them).
Brewer also couldn't connect effectively from the free-throw line. Even though he shot 2.6 attempts per game, he only made 69 percent of them.
This has been a troubling trend for Brewer since his primary role on the team has been scoring. In the last three seasons, he hasn't shot at least 30 percent from three or better than 70 percent from the line.
On top of all that, Brewer is very streaky and that was evident at the end of the Golden State series. He was a miserable 2-of-19 from the field and 0-of-10 from three in Game 5 and Game 6.
The positives are that Corey's 6'9" at small forward, plays well in the fast break and generates turnovers. However, that isn't enough to keep him.
Denver shot 34.3 percent from three last season (tied for 25th) and that number has to get better. The Nuggets should shop in free agency for this role.
In terms of finding a deep threat that is reasonably priced, Denver should look at unrestricted free agent Dorell Wright. Like Brewer, Wright is a 6'9" small forward, can play in transition and is explosive. The advantage is that Wright shot 37.4 percent from three and 85.1 percent from the line last season while being a slightly better rebounder.
Wright fits in perfectly.
Where Do the Nuggets Get a Better Perimeter Defender From?
It doesn't take an NBA nerd to figure out that the Warriors guards were lethal in defeating the Nuggets in the first round. Klay Thompson shot lights out. Jarrett Jack got into the lane at ease. Stephen Curry did both of those things and more.
This was obvious, but was only a taste of why the Nuggets struggled defending on the perimeter. Denver tied for last in three-point attempts allowed (23.1), while ranking 20th in three-point percentage defense (36.3).
Combining that with how poor the pick-and-roll defense was (some of that is the big men's fault too), the Nuggets need to sharpen up their defense on the outside.
Ty Lawson has the speed and agility, but he's only 5'11" and the bigger guards can shoot over him. Andre Miller brings experience and intelligence, although he's 37 years old and doesn't have the quickness he used to. Andre Iguodala is a solid defender, although he can only cover one guy and hasn't exactly been a consistent shutdown guy.
Once again, Denver should look to free agency. Tony Allen will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason and would be a spectacular addition for a small amount (made $3.3 million in 2012-13).
Some rank Allen as the best one-on-one defender in the NBA. While that can be debated, there's no doubt he's one of the best with the variety of players he can guard. He's only 6'4" but can guard point guards, shooting guards and small forwards. Perhaps most importantly if he joined Denver, he could take on defending the elite point guards in the West in crunch time.
Furthermore, Tony has developed into a good rebounder in his time at Memphis for someone with his height (averaged at least four rebounds per game the last two years). Lastly, while the Grizzlies generally like to slow it down, when Allen forces a steal, he's off to the races and can finish in the fast break.
Even though there isn't any room for him in the starting lineup (assuming Iguodala comes back), Tony Allen coming in for 25 minutes off the bench would help Denver's perimeter defense.
How Does Denver Improve at Center?
The center position was one of the most steady spots for the Nuggets in the regular season. Kosta Koufos was the starter, and JaVale McGee came off the bench as the energizer and potential game changer.
Then it became one of the biggest question marks after Andrew Bogut dominated Koufos badly enough that George Karl put McGee in the starting lineup (Koufos started all 81 games he played in during the regular season).
Going into next year, that's the path Karl should take. McGee led the Nuggets in PER with a 20.8 rating last season, and while you want to maximize his energy and only play him 25 minutes per game, putting him next to Kenneth Faried is too deadly from an athleticism standpoint to pass up.
Even so, neither center—nor Timofey Mozgov—has a high-level skill set offensively. If Denver had someone that presented a bigger threat, whether it's pounding the rock or stretching the defense to the outside, Faried's job would be a lot easier and the lane would be more ideal to attack.
One name that the Nuggets could go after via trade is Kevin Love, but do they really want to give up a minimum of two solid players on someone who is coming off two major injuries?
It's intriguing to think about what Love could bring to the Nuggets offensively, and he would certainly help stretch the defense. However, is he worth the risk? Does Denver sacrifice one of its centers and small forwards to get a guy like this to play in an up-tempo system?
For how many bidders there will be for Love, I'm not even sure that's enough to land him.
This is a deep draft class in terms of centers, and there are a couple players who could drop to Denver's 27th pick that would fit in well with the Nuggets. In examining Jeff Goodman's center rankings at CBS Sports, those players are Gorgui Dieng and Jeff Withey.
Dieng has several strengths. Offensively, he can run the floor, has great touch at the basket and can also throw down the rock. Defensively, he has a 7'3.5" wingspan, according to DraftExpress.com, and is a good rim protector and shot-blocker. Dieng is also a terrific rebounder, can rack up several tip-ins and is used to playing in fast breaks at Louisville.
Withey has similar attributes. He's used to running the floor at Kansas and combines his touch with his sneaky athleticism to go over defenders. He also has great footwork in the post for the half court. Defensively, Withey is a shot-blocking machine and consistently contests shots.
Both players should be considered for the 27th pick.
Who Should Be in the Starting 5?
Through several players getting injured last season and many shakeups during the playoffs, we saw a lot of different combinations to the starting lineup. When everyone was healthy, it was Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Kosta Koufos.
For next season, Lawson is the obvious choice at point guard. Iguodala is also as obvious for shooting guard if he comes back.
Even though Gallinari will be coming off an ACL tear, and who knows if he will be ready by the start of the season, he should remain the starting small forward if he's ready. Having a 6'9" small forward with his scoring should be on the floor for at least 30 minutes per game.
There's no reason to swap Faried out at the 4, but it's time for McGee to be the starting center. Between his 20.8 PER, having 1.99 blocks and 9.1 points in just 18.1 minutes, he's earned it.
This starting lineup has tremendous firepower on both ends of the floor and will continue to excel in George Karl's system.
Andre Miller will continue to back up Lawson at the point. Wilson Chandler will continue to do his thing. Someone like Dorell Wright can replace and improve Corey Brewer's spot. A defender like Tony Allen will help at the 2. The center draft pick and Koufos can battle it out for backup center. Evan Fournier can be the back end of the rotation and bring an offensive spark.
The depth is there and with a few adjustments, the Nuggets can improve on their franchise-record 57 wins from last season and advance further than the first round of the playoffs.