Denver is coming off a franchise record of 57 regular-season wins and 38 home victories, while returning most of its deep and talented roster. The Nuggets also led the league in scoring with 106.1 points per game, 57.3 points in the paint and 19.7 fast-break points.
Nevertheless, Shaw has a lot of work to do, and the Nuggets have shown that just making the playoffs isn't going to cut it after letting George Karl go.
The Nuggets front office is still trying to sign Andre Iguodala in the middle of this free-agency madness, and starting center Kosta Koufos is now a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. Add that Danilo Gallinari (ACL) may not be ready for the start of the regular season and a few new faces will be on the roster—Shaw has several pieces to fit in the puzzle.
Get Erick Green Involved Early in the Season
If Denver doesn't get its wish and Iguodala signs elsewhere, the Nuggets will lose one of their elite backcourt members, and someone will need to take his place.
The Nuggets could still find someone else in free agency or a trade, but the loss of Iggy should mean increased minutes for rookie Erick Green. Green led NCAA Division I in scoring last season with 25 points per game at Virginia Tech.
Through much of Green's career with the Hokies, he was essentially just a scorer. That changed in his senior season, when the Virginia Tech star added different methods of scoring and increased his rebounding and assist production (25 points, four rebounds, 3.8 assists).
This increased versatility is exactly what the Nuggets need. His blazing speed allows him to play at Denver's high tempo. He can play at point guard in the pick-and-roll when Ty Lawson is resting. He can take over at the 2 and hit jumpers off the curl or from three-point range.
Most importantly, Green can get penetration and create his own shot. This is something the Denver bench struggled with significantly at times, and the dribble-drive motion offense became an issue when Lawson, Iguodala and Gallinari weren't in the game.
Furthermore, according to Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports, veteran Andre Miller could be traded in the near future.
Source says Nuggets guard Andre Miller could be traded this summer. Doesn't fit in long-term future & George Karl, who loved Miller, is gone— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) July 2, 2013
If a trade does occur, this opens the door even more for Green.
While we don't know what kind of offense Shaw will install, Green will help Denver offensively, particularly in two areas. The Nuggets were 70.1 percent from the free-throw line (28th) and shot 34.3 percent from three (tied 25th). In 36.4 minutes in his senior season, Green shot 8.3 free-throw attempts at 81.6 percent and 4.9 three pointers at 38.9 percent.
It's crucial that Shaw gets the rookie involved early and has him adapt to the speed of the NBA and develop chemistry with his teammates. It's too early to tell where Green should fit in the rotation considering the roster isn't finalized, but expect Green to be playing between 15 and 20 minutes per game.
Keep Pushing the Ball While Implementing the Pick-and-Pop
Surely there will be new wrinkles to the 2013-14 Nuggets, but at the same time, why change something this successful?
Denver ran teams out of the Pepsi Center with its athletic playmakers and has led the NBA in transition points the last two seasons. The constant burden of making teams with shorter benches get back on defense over 48 minutes takes its toll and is a main reason why the Nuggets were the best in fourth-quarter scoring at 26 points.
What Shaw needs to do is find a way to stretch the defense, and the newly acquired Darrell Arthur is the answer. According to NBA.com/stats, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee were a combined 11-of-43 (25.6 percent) from outside 16 feet last season.
Arthur was significantly better.
The best way for Arthur to get involved is on the pick-and-pop with Lawson. Normally when Faried sets the screen for Lawson, the big-man defender only has to worry about the roll to the basket and can help more effectively on Lawson. With Arthur, it forces the rim protector to make a choice when he rotates to the elbow and makes life easier on Lawson at getting to the basket.
Now with the increased chance that both Faried and McGee will be in the starting lineup together with Koufos gone, it will be even more dangerous when Denver runs the floor with two lethal frontcourt players who can go over the defense. Then when Arthur comes in, it gives Denver a new look that it hasn't had in quite some time.
Find a Way to Have Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee Play Effectively Together
Assuming the Nuggets don't add any other big men, Denver is looking at Faried starting at the 4 with McGee at the 5. Then Arthur and potentially Timofey Mozgov, who is currently in negotiations with the Nuggets according to RealGM.com, would come off the bench.
I think it's a mistake to have both of your motor players in the starting lineup, but given the options, this is the best choice. Plus, new general manager Tim Connelly is a McGee supporter.
#Nuggets exec Tim Connelly was in Washington when the Wizards drafted JaVale McGee: "I’m a big JaVale McGee fan. I expect a lot from him."— Denver Nuggets (@denvernuggets) June 20, 2013
It should ultimately be Shaw's call on who plays, but considering that one of the reasons George Karl was fired was that he didn't play McGee enough minutes according to ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne, JaVale will be starting in 2013-14.
It's going to be a lot of fun watching these two electrifying players and could be right there with Lob City and the Los Angeles Clippers, but the key is going to be managing the minutes. How much energy is in the tank for both of these players if they are both starters?
Faried is entering his third season and played 28.1 minutes last year, while McGee saw just above 27 minutes in his last year-and-a-half with the Washington Wizards. McGee only played 18.1 minutes in 2012-13 with Denver.
The Manimal should get around the same amount of minutes or a slight increase from last season, while JaVale's should go back up to about 25 minutes. The Nuggets still have one of the deeper teams in the league, and it's important both of these players don't run out of gas when the postseason comes around.
As for the post game itself, this is where the coaching staff needs to get improvement. Both players crash the boards and add extra possessions, but they need to become more dominant threats.
Faried needs to be able to add a mid-range shot as well as finish stronger without having to dunk it. McGee needs better footwork and to play with more control when he uses his big body to establish position.
Get Past the First Round of the Playoffs
How the Nuggets wrap up free agency will help determine people's expectations for the organization next season, but the bottom line is: A simple playoff appearance is no longer acceptable.
Just ask Karl.
How will Denver finish in the 2013-14 season?
Brian Shaw has done an excellent job winning three NBA titles as a player with the Los Angeles Lakers, working as an assistant coach in bringing more championships to L.A. and helping revive the Indiana Pacers as a threat in the East.
The new Denver head coach has the knowledge to do the same with the Nuggets. But after the Nuggets were bounced by Mark Jackson's Golden State Warriors in the first round last year, Denver fans will expect success from Shaw sooner rather than later.