Early Win-Loss Predictions for Denver Nuggets Next Season

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Early Win-Loss Predictions for Denver Nuggets Next Season
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The Denver Nuggets went through as much turmoil this offseason as any other franchise in the NBA. This includes hiring a new general manager, assistant general manager, head coach, assistant coaches and signing several players.

Coming off a franchise record of 57 wins and the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, it's tough to imagine the Nuggets matching those marks in 2013-14. With Brian Shaw as the new leader and no Andre Iguodala, Kosta Koufos or Corey Brewer, there are a lot of starting-lineup and rotation questions heading into next season.

On the other hand, the Nuggets return a solid core of their team while adding some pieces that should help their bench. The key will be developing chemistry and each player finding his respective role to keep the transition period as smooth as possible.

What should Denver fans expect next season?

 

Strengths

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After leading the NBA in offense with 106.1 points per game, Denver brings back most of its potent attack, led by Ty Lawson. Lawson averaged a team-best 16.7 points and 6.9 assists last season, and, with those numbers being the highest of his four-year career, they should increase next year. 

Danilo Gallinari won't be ready for the start of next season because of the partially torn ACL he suffered on April 4. But with a little bit of luck, he will be back by December, according to Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post. Wilson Chandler, who did an excellent job replacing Gallinari in the starting lineup at the end of last season, will most likely fill the same role in November.

The frontcourt is where the Nuggets will see an improvement. Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee will be back flying above the rim and chasing down every rebound on both ends of the floor.

With the new faces in Denver, Darrell Arthur will help offensively and defensively in the pick-and-roll and can stretch the defense with his mid-range shot. J.J. Hickson will also hit shots outside the paint while bringing the athleticism to throw the hammer down and block shots.

Darrell Arthur's shotchart from the 2012-13 season (via NBA.com).

There's more balance in the frontcourt rotation. 

As far as who will replace Iguodala at the 2, Randy Foye makes the most sense considering his starting experience, three-point shooting and is the best option as a perimeter defender. He's no Iggy, but Foye makes up for some of his production.

Then, earlier this week, the Nuggets added more fire power to their offense by signing Nate Robinson to a two-year deal, according to ESPN. Robinson is somewhat of a wild card, but he can go off offensively at any point, plays with a Faried or McGee type of motor and can change the momentum of the game.

Just ask the Brooklyn Nets about Game 4 of the first round of the playoffs last year. 

With last year's NCAA Division I leading scorer Erick Green, second-year player Evan Fournier and veteran Andre Miller also in the picture, Denver has an abundance of energy that can lead to another explosive offense. Once Shaw puts the pieces together and the players gain some experience with each other in a new system, the Nuggets will be tough to slow down.

 

Weaknesses

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The biggest question comes on defense, particularly on the perimeter.

Iguodala was easily the best defender on the outside and Foye will likely have to take on players like Kobe Bryant, James Harden and Klay Thompson. Fournier has skills offensively, but he struggled on defense in the playoffs and was burned multiple times in the Las Vegas summer league.

It gets tougher at point guard.

Lawson has the speed to keep up with any guard in the league, but at 5'11", stars such as Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook can shoot right over him. Miller is 6'2" and has been able to defend a variety of guards, but at age 37 he doesn't have the speed like before. 

Robinson has the same problem as Lawson at 5'9", despite his superb vertical and effort that can lead to blocked shots on the NBA's best.

At the 3, even though people may think of Brewer as a scorer, he forced 1.44 steals in just 24.4 minutes last season, which was easily the best ratio on the team. Gallinari and Chandler have the height at 6'9", but they don't force a lot of takeaways and aren't exactly shutdown defenders in isolation. 

In the post, the Nuggets have their rim protectors in Faried and McGee. Arthur will help against the power forwards that can play outside the paint, and Hickson's long arms and athleticism provide more defense around the basket than the stats show. 

The problem is that McGee is the only player above 6'9" (unless Anthony Randolph is in the rotation or Timofey Mozgov re-signs with the team) and until McGee becomes more disciplined and can actually defend diverse centers like Marc Gasol, the Nuggets will have trouble against the more polished big men.

There are also some offensive weaknesses from last season that could linger into 2013-14. Denver was tied for 25th in three-point shooting at 34.3 percent and 28th in free throws at 70.1 percent.

The losses of Iguodala and Brewer shouldn't hurt too much percentage wise, but the additions don't look like they will help much either. Foye shot 41 percent from three with 5.3 attempts last year and will help, but his career 85.6 percent from the line has been utilized fewer than two attempts per game the last two seasons.

Robinson shot a career-best 40.5 percent from three last year, but his deep-ball stats have been a roller-coaster ride since he entered the league in 2005. Nate also shoots just under 80 percent from the line in his career, but he is only taking 2.3 attempts. 

Hickson hasn't shot above 70 percent in a season, and Arthur has only attempted more than one free throw per game in one season of his career.

So while the percentages are a concern, Denver's third-best 26.2 attempts from the line will likely be taking a hit as well.

 

Competition and Prediction

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With teams like the Golden State Warriors signing Iguodala and the Houston Rockets obtaining Dwight Howard, the West will be stronger at the top compared to last season. Even the Memphis Grizzlies keep their starting five while adding Koufos and Mike Miller, per Royce Young at CBS Sports.

The defending Western Conference champions San Antonio Spurs will keep their entire rotation, with the possible exception of Gary Neal, also according to Young. Even so, the Spurs landed Marco Belinelli and should have no setback.

However, the one good thing for the Nuggets is that the other teams in the Northwest division are going through some lineup changes. The Oklahoma City Thunder lost Kevin Martin to the Minnesota Timberwolves in free agency and are banking on Jeremy Lamb to pick up his production.

How many wins will the Nuggets get in 2013-14

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Speaking of the Timberwolves, they are going to have a different look without Andrei Kirilenko and Luke Ridnour plus the additions of Martin and Corey Brewer. Even if this is an improvement and Kevin Love stays healthy, it's still not enough for the Timberwolves to make the postseason.

The Utah Jazz are likely heading into a rebuilding year without four of their top-five scorers from last season, which include Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. The Portland Trail Blazers are hoping that Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson will assist LaMarcus Aldridge and the backcourt to get them back to playoff contention. Although, I don't see it.

The Nuggets will have a solid record in the division, but with a growing process ahead and other top teams in the West improving, the Nuggets will make the playoffs, but also make another first-round exit.

 

2013-14 Prediction: 44-38, No. 7 Seed

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