Charting so-Called Demise of the Denver Nuggets
After the Nuggets were bounced by the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs, it seemed like the only primary question heading into the offseason was if Andre Iguodala was going to return. Not only did Iguodala leave and join the team that just beat him, Denver lost its general manager, vice president, head coach and two key players in Kosta Koufos and Corey Brewer.
The Nuggets had little time to put the front-office positions together before the NBA draft and free agency. Despite not making a lot of noise in the draft, they signed a bright and rising coach in Brian Shaw and got solid pieces in Nate Robinson, Randy Foye, J.J. Hickson and Darrell Arthur.
With the significant changes, there are a wide variety of opinions on how Denver will finish in the 2013-14 season. Let's see how it all went down and what Nuggets fans should expect next year.
(All statistics are via basketball-reference.com)
So how did this whole craziness start?
Just a few weeks after the Nuggets exited the postseason, the Toronto Raptors made an offer to the 2013 NBA Executive of the Year, Masai Ujiri. According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Ujiri had been a popular target for organizations after Ujiri reconstructed Denver's roster from the Carmelo Anthony trade.
This offer was different though, since it was worth $15 million over five years coming from the franchise he was previously an assistant general manager for. Ujiri's contract with the Nuggets also expired on June 30.
After pondering his decision for a week through Memorial Day weekend, Ujiri accepted the Raptors GM position.
This was bad news for head coach George Karl, who only had one year left on his contract, according to Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post. Just one week after Ujiri's departure, the 2013 NBA Coach of the Year was fired.
Karl sat down with The Denver Post for an interview on June 13, where Karl said that he told team president Josh Kroenke that his dismissal was, "very stupid." The Nuggets are coming off a franchise record of 57 regular-season wins.
Meanwhile, Kroenke was figuring out who was going to take over as GM. One of those options disappeared right in front of him as vice president Pete D'Alessandro accepted the job as GM of the Sacramento Kings.
All of a sudden, the Nuggets lost three key personnel in just over two weeks.
Then as most people in Denver feared, Iguodala didn't like the transition and uncertainty, and he did what any other star player would do once the free-agency period started. Iguodala opted out of his contract and signed a four-year deal with an arising franchise in the Golden State Warriors.
It didn't matter that Denver offered him more money and possible five-year deals, according to Wojnarowski. Players want to win and Golden State provides a better chance at that right now.
A couple weeks after his decision, Sam Amick reported that when USA TODAY Sports asked Iguodala if Denver's shakeup in the front office had to do with him leaving, he said, "no question."
While we don't know if Iguodala would have actually stayed in Denver if Ujiri, Karl and D'Alessandro stuck around, stability within an organization is a significant asset toward success.
Despite the madness, Kroenke was very active by not just bringing people in for the front office, but for the depth of the roster as well.
Right after D'Alessandro left for Sacramento in mid-June, Kroenke pursued and landed New Orleans executive Tim Connelly as the new GM. According to Wojnarowski, Connelly is recognized as one of the top upcoming executives in the NBA.
Just a week later and three days before the NBA draft, Kroenke rewarded a patient and well deserving Brian Shaw as Denver's next head coach. Shaw spent the last decade as an assistant with the Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Lakers, and has been a popular candidate for head-coaching positions in the past, according to Hochman.
The Nuggets had a fairly quiet 2013 draft, but they weren't expected to do much since they started with just the No. 27 overall pick.
After two transactions, one with the Utah Jazz and the other with the Memphis Grizzlies, Denver acquired the draft rights to Erick Green and Joffrey Lauvergne, while picking up Darrell Arthur in the Grizzlies trade. Mark Giannotto of the Washington Post reported that Green will play with Montepaschi Siena in Italy next season, and Lauvergne is currently with KK Partizan.
However, the Nuggets stepped up in July. After not being able to retain Iguodala, they did get sharp-shooter Randy Foye from Utah, which was part of the three-team sign-and-trade deal.
Then over the next two weeks, Denver signed free agents J.J. Hickson and Nate Robinson. Both players started for their respective teams last season.
It may not sound as appealing as what the Nuggets could have had going into the 2013-14 campaign, but it's not as bad as some may think.
Positives on the Perimeter
As far as the numbers go, three-point shooting is by far the greatest improvement to this Nuggets roster. Denver made 34.3 percent of its three-pointers last season, which tied for 25th in the league.
One significant reason for that was Iguodala and Brewer, combined, shooting 7.3 three-pointers per game at 30.6 percent. By bringing in Foye and Robinson, Denver has two players that fired a combined 9.5 three-pointers per game at 40.8 percent in 2012-13.
Granted the offense will look different and Robinson doesn't play small forward, but both new Nuggets players proved they can make a high percentage of threes when taking a high volume of attempts. They will add to the respectable percentages of Wilson Chandler (41.3), Evan Fournier (40.7), Danilo Gallinari (37.3) and Ty Lawson (36.6).
If the Nuggets establish more of a deep threat, it balances the one-two punch of Lawson and Robinson getting into the lane. It will also give Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee more room to operate down low.
Positives in the Post
When the Nuggets traded Koufos to the Grizzlies and started heading in the direction of starting McGee, the explosiveness off the bench appeared to be declining.
However, by signing Hickson, who averaged 12.7 points and 10.4 rebounds as a starter for the Portland Trail Blazers last season, there is still substantial bench power.
At 6'9", he isn't the rim protector like McGee, but Hickson can still still fly through the air and attack the rim. He also has a mid-range shot that the Nuggets post game didn't have last season.
Meanwhile, the addition of Arthur benefits the Nuggets defensively. As someone who can defend inside as well as guard some players on the perimeter, he's an ideal fit for pick-and-roll defense.
That was something that vitally hurt the Nuggets against Stephen Curry and the Warriors in the playoffs.
There's going to be an adjustment period and chemistry will need to develop, but Denver addressed some of the glaring issues from last season.
Negatives on the Perimeter
The biggest question mark heading into the 2013-14 season is the perimeter defense.
With a 6'6" Iguodala and a 6'9" Brewer missing, Denver loses its two best lockdown defenders and a combined 3.18 steals. Iguodala also played a team-high 34.7 minutes and Brewer had the most steals per 36 minutes with 2.1 takeaways.
Robinson and Foye don't have the necessary defensive skills. Robinson provides great energy and isn't afraid of a challenge, but he is 5'9" and a mismatch waiting to happen. Foye can play the 1 or the 2, but he doesn't have the speed to keep with the point guards of the West and his 6'3" frame is iffy against shooting guards that can post up.
Someone is going to have to get better. Maybe it'll be Wilson Chandler or second-year player Evan Fournier, but the Nuggets will continue to give up three-pointers and fail to keep guards out of the lane if Shaw can't improve his outside defense.
Speaking of penetrating the lane, that could also be an issue for the Denver offense from the wing.
Without Iguodala and Brewer attacking the basket, it will likely have to be Chandler and Fournier who need to step up. Robinson and Foye can both play at the 2 offensively, but again, their heights limit their effectiveness and Robinson is better at getting to the basket from the point.
Furthermore, Lawson will still be able to do his thing, but Andre Miller isn't getting any younger and Danilo Gallinari is coming off his ACL injury. The options are limited.
Denver's staggering 57.3 points in the paint will likely be taking a hit.
Negatives in the Post
Even though the Nuggets added a few pieces to their frontcourt, they have no one that can take over inside.
Yes, Faried and McGee are electrifying playmakers and can jump over the defense, but they lack fundamentals and don't have many go-to moves. Plus, they aren't strong with their left hands, can't score outside the paint and lack passing skills.
With Hickson and Arthur, they can stretch the defense somewhat, but they are both only 6'9" and aren't dominant forces. Timofey Mozgov and Anthony Randolph are still on the roster, but are limited offensively and make a bigger impact on the defensive end.
The Nuggets will continue to provide monstrous dunks and wicked rejections, but when they need a basket in crunch time, they better look to someone on the outside.
Denver was in a better situation heading into last season compared to this year, and it's going to take some time for everyone to adapt.
However, the Nuggets will manage and I expect Shaw will do an excellent job as Denver's head coach. It just may take a couple years to eventually see the results.
As a player and a coach, Shaw is a five-time NBA champion with the Lakers and had a primary role in turning the Pacers around. There's no reason why he can't get the Nuggets past the first round within his first few seasons.
Nevertheless, the loss of Iguodala is substantial and it will hurt. His 13 points, 5.4 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.74 steals have to be made up by committee, because the Nuggets don't have anyone with a well-rounded game like him.
With other teams in the West improving, there will be a minor setback in 2013-14, but the Nuggets will make the playoffs for the 11th-consecutive year.
Prediction: 44-38, No. 7 Seed