Spotlighting and Breaking Down Denver Nuggets' Center Position

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Spotlighting and Breaking Down Denver Nuggets' Center Position
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Get ready for drastic changes at center for the Denver Nuggets.

With Kosta Koufos being traded to the Memphis Grizzlies and George Karl no longer as the head coach, Brian Shaw has some choices to make for his team's post game. JaVale McGee will be starting at the 5, but who follows off the bench?

Will Timofey Mozgov get back into the mix after spending much of the 2012-13 season on the sideline? If not, does Anthony Randolph get a chance, or will 6'9" J.J. Hickson have to play as the big man like he did with the Portland Trail Blazers?

Add that Shaw will bring some new elements to the Nuggets offense, Denver's center position will look significantly different than it has in recent memory.

 

JaVale McGee

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

If you're a fan of posterizing dunks and rejections into the stands, now is a better time than ever to watch the Nuggets. According to Aaron J. Lopez of Nuggets.com, Shaw believes that McGee should be given the chance to start at the 5, so we can expect more energizing plays that will make you jump off your couch.

McGee may not have been the best player on Denver last season, but he was one of the most important, earning a 20.8 PER—the highest on the team. His teammates fed off his energy, and McGee's 9.1 points and two blocks in just 18.1 minutes made him an effective player. 

Now he has to stop making horrendous decisions and improve in his half-court game. McGee was an impressive 57.5 percent from the floor last season, but many of those field goals came on dunks or easy putbacks.

Not only does McGee need to work on his post game, he will need to improve on his numbers outside the paint. In examining last year's shot chart from NBA.com, McGee was only 26.4 percent from beyond eight feet and he's a 58.3 percent career free-throw shooter.

However, there is a chance McGee has just been held back and can immediately improve in that department. As Matt Moore of CBSSports.com points out, McGee says Shaw wants him to work and utilize his jump shot.

On the surface, it seems unlikely McGee will start making shots from the elbow consistently, but he did stretch the defense at times when he was in college at Nevada. Plus, his form doesn't look too shabby either.

It's fair to be optimistic about McGee strengthening his fundamentals and outside shot, and it will help the perhaps most athletic big man in the game enormously. But it's going to be a work in progress, and it's going to take some time.

McGee won't shock anyone this season, but he will post some of the best numbers of his career to go with his tenacious motor. 

 Projection: 30.9 minutes, 12.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.6 blocks

 

J.J. Hickson

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Even though Hickson is more suited at power forward, there's a decent chance he will split time between the 4 and the 5. Before Hickson's arrival in the offseason, he was the starting center for Portland and averaged 12.7 points and 10.4 rebounds in the 2012-13 season.

According to Shaw in Lopez' article, Kenneth Faried has the inside track to start at power forward to assist McGee. Therefore, Hickson will be coming off the bench and serve as Denver's primary offensive post threat. 

Depending on the opponent and what kind of a bench it has, the Nuggets could go small and play Hickson at center. Hickson isn't dominant in the post, but he is diverse and contributes in multiple ways.

Hickson doesn't have the motor like Faried and McGee, but he can get up high and dunk on opponents. Just ask Los Angeles Clippers' DeAndre Jordan about this slam.

Along with being a much improved rebounder, Hickson is tough to defend because he can drive to the hoop as well as hit the mid-range jumper. Last season, according to NBA.com's shot chart, he was an impressive 49.3 percent from 16-to-24 feet.

Shot chart from NBA.com

The key for Hickson will be on the defensive end. If Denver goes small with the second unit and is up against a team with two solid offensive players down low, Hickson must step up.

It's not like he's expected to block a ton of shots, but it's more about contesting each shot and keeping the opponent from establishing position in the paint. It's smart to only play Hickson at the 5 when the opposition has a smaller lineup that has most of its offensive firepower on the perimeter.

With that in mind, expect Hickson to get a fair amount of playing time between the 4 and the 5. He won't post the statistics he had last season with Portland, but that's mainly because his minutes will be slightly down.

Projection: 25.2 minutes, 11.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 0.7 blocks

 

Timofey Mozgov

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

This is Mozgov's chance to prove that he can be a force in the NBA. In three seasons, he averages just 3.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 0.7 blocks in 12.1 minutes.

But now that Koufos is gone and Shaw mentioned in Lopez' article that Mozgov needs the chance to land the backup center position, there's good reason to believe this will be his best year yet.

When the 7'1" Mozgov checks in for McGee, he's another rim protector the opponent has to worry about. Granted, he won't make any highlight reels, but Mozgov's length and strength make him a tough person to go against in the post.

In contrast to Hickson, Mozgov's development will need to come on the offensive end. He knows how to get offensive rebounds and simple putbacks, but when he catches the ball, he's usually looking to pass first.

The more Mozgov improves offensively, and the more confidence he displays in the post, the more minutes he's going to get. He always brings the effort and runs the floor, but he must develop some more offensive skills if he wants a permanent spot in the primary rotation.

The bottom line is there are going to be matchups where Mozgov's defensive presence is needed and he will get over 20 minutes. There will also be times when the Nuggets need more offense with Hickson at center, leaving Mozgov on the bench.  

Projection: 15.1 minutes, 5.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.1 blocks

 

Anthony Randolph

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Randolph is in a tough spot. He's another player that fits more at power forward, but he might get more action at center.

With McGee as the starting center, Mozgov is the only other pure big man on the team. But at power forward, there is Faried, Hickson, Darrell Arthur and the potential of moving one of the small forwards to the 4.

Since Randolph is 6'11" and has some explosiveness of his own, it's possible he could find his way into the mix. He also has a knack for finding gaps in the defense and finishing at the rim.

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However, the Nuggets signed Mozgov to an extension worth $14 million over three years, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. It's not that Shaw will prioritize that, but the Nuggets signed him in late July after they made most of their offseason moves. Shaw likely has a role more designed for Mozgov.

For Randolph to have a chance at being more than just a guy to play when the game is out of reach or when someone is injured, he's going to have to show consistent play in the preseason. He has a limited skill set and is only 225 pounds for his 6'11" frame. 

When Randolph played solid minutes at the end of last year's regular season, he recorded 11 points and 14 rebounds against the Phoenix Suns and had 14 points to go with six rebounds versus the Portland Trail Blazers. However, between those two games he struggled against the Milwaukee Bucks with five points and three rebounds to go with five turnovers and five fouls.

Randolph will have a game here and there where he sees a fair amount of playing time, but—for the most part—he will be on the end of the bench. 

Projection: 7.6 minutes, 3.3 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.5 blocks

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