Biggest Mysteries for the Denver Nuggets Heading into Training Camp
So now that Brian Shaw is the head coach of the Denver Nuggets, what changes will we see in training camp?
Shaw inherits a fair amount of young talent from last year's team that finished third in the Western Conference. He's also done a fantastic job developing young talent as an assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Indiana Pacers.
But now he must push the right buttons to have Denver take the next step. There will certainly be some modifications to the 2013-14 Nuggets in terms of what offense they will run, what the starting five will be and what the rotation is.
There are still no specific answers to what those modifications will be. Some hints have been dropped throughout the summer, but nothing is set in stone.
So, what should we look for?
Style of Play
One of the biggest questions Nuggets fans want to know is if Denver will continue emphasizing the transition game. The Nuggets ran opponents out of the Pepsi Center last year to a franchise-record 38 home victories and an NBA-best 19.7 fast-break points.
In an interview with NBA TV during summer league, Shaw said he plans on using Denver's speed in the full court. It fits well with Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson flying down the court while finding Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee for the slam.
However, the Denver head coach did mention he wants improvement in half-court execution. While he added he doesn't want to run the triangle offense since it would take away from Lawson's skills, Shaw wants to use some triangle elements.
Shaw didn't get too specific, and it's hard to when training camp hasn't started, but here's a possibility.
Shaw wants Lawson in the pick-and-roll since his speed is what makes him tough to stop. He wants to utilize this as his first option and see if Denver can get a quick basket or a good look.
If not, he wants to make the defense work and use some triangle motion and spacing. This has two positive effects.
The first is making the defense spread out and move. By making the opponent use more energy in the half-court sets and adding that to the Nuggets transition game, it will wear them out over 48 minutes, especially in Denver's altitude.
The second is trying to get more rhythm in the half-court offense and get some cleaner attempts through better ball movement. Denver, particularly its bench, was stagnant several times last season and settled for contested shots.
It's tough to fully dissect what Shaw really means about the triangle spacing while he knows Lawson needs the ball in his hands. There's going to be some kind of unique combination, and since we don't know who will be in the starting lineup, it'll be interesting to see how it comes together.
Who Will Start?
We all know Lawson is starting at point guard, but what about the other positions?
Yes, there are some spots that seem like obvious choices, but it's not crystal clear. Luckily, Shaw gave Aaron J. Lopez from Nuggets.com some insight on who the starters would be as of now:
"If we started training camp tomorrow, the starting lineup would probably be Ty Lawson, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee."
Even though it could easily change at some point in October, this makes the most sense. The two players other than Lawson who are almost guaranteed starters are Chandler and McGee.
Chandler is essentially forced to play at the 3 since Danilo Gallinari will still be sidelined with his ACL injury until at least December, according to Benjamin Hochman at The Denver Post, while Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer are gone.
As for McGee, Shaw told Lopez the 7-footer needs a chance: "JaVale McGee has to be given an opportunity to show that he’s a starting center in this league and can be a force on both ends."
Furthermore, according to Hochman, previous Nuggets head coach George Karl said he was fired partially because he didn't play McGee enough: "Continuity, consistency, togetherness all are so much more valuable than what they have on their priority list of playing JaVale McGee or the young players."
Chandler and McGee are essentially in for the start of the season. But when Gallo returns and if McGee doesn't show improvement, things could change.
In either case, this leaves power forward and shooting guard.
Faried seems like an easy choice at the 4 given his 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds last year, but now with J.J. Hickson in the mix, it may not be that obvious. Hickson has more starting experience, can stretch the floor and has some explosiveness of his own.
Plus, does starting Faried and McGee, who are two motor-type big men, make sense? Should Shaw have one guy in there at a time to balance out the rotation like last year's squad?
It makes sense in theory. Here's Shaw's remarks in Lopez' article.
Faried, with his energy, has earned (the chance) to start, but there’s competition. Darrell Arthur’s a solid player. J.J. Hickson is a solid player that can play the 4 and 5. (Timofey) Mozgov, we have to give him a chance at backup center to show what he can do.
It sounds like Faried is the guy, and the Manimal is clearly capable of starting. He has great chemistry with his teammates and plays every minute like it's his last.
Although the question is, will the bench post play suffer having Hickson, Arthur, Mozgov and Anthony Randolph? It's not just about who the best player is at the 4, but what's ultimately best for the team.
I can see Faried coming off the bench in a similar role that McGee did last season, but Faried still has the edge to start. We'll see how much Shaw mixes up the lineups in preseason and see what fits.
As for shooting guard, it likely comes down to Foye and Evan Fournier.
Despite Fournier playing well at the end of last season when he filled in for the injured Denver players, Foye's starting experience and three-point shooting is what the Nuggets need right now. With the Utah Jazz, Foye shot 41 percent from behind the arc last season on a career-high 5.3 attempts, while Denver was just 34.3 percent.
This is a position that will be debated among the Denver fanbase, but Foye brings more to the table at this point. Fournier turns 21 years old just before the regular season starts, and he needs some time to develop, particularly on the defensive end.
Who Will Step Up off the Bench?
In talking about bench players who will show improvement, let's keep this to players who were on the team last season and received little playing time. This means Jordan Hamilton, Quincy Miller, Mozgov and Randolph.
There are two guys that stand out, and it's partially based on position needs.
Jordan Hamilton is the first one. Until Gallinari returns, Denver is thin at small forward.
Hamilton took advantage of the four summer league games and scored 15.8 points on 44 percent shooting from three and 85.7 percent from the free-throw line. This came in just 26.8 minutes, and he also recorded 1.5 steals and 5.8 rebounds.
Granted it's just the summer league, but the numbers are encouraging, and Hamilton will get a chance to impress the coaching staff. He's also a guy that can play at the 2 and take some of the burden off of Chandler.
Who will start to begin the season?
The other guy is Mozgov. The Nuggets signed the Russian center to an extension in the offseason worth $14 million over three years, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.
This move was a bit odd considering that Mozgov hasn't averaged more than 5.4 points in his three NBA seasons, but Denver clearly sees something in him. Mozgov is 7'1", started 35 games of the 2011-12 season and started five of the seven games against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2012 playoffs.
There aren't any numbers that jump out about Mozgov and he doesn't block shots like McGee, but he does defend in the post and contest shots. By playing Mozgov a modest 15 to 20 minutes and having him complement a more offensive-minded Hickson or electrifying Faried brings Denver a deeper frontcourt bench that it didn't have last season. Plus, the opponent has to worry about playing against two 7-footers.
Again, there are a lot more questions than answers heading into training camp, but we at least have some ideas on what to expect or what to look for.
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