There weren't any jaw-dropping comments at Denver Nuggets media day, but there were some that raised a few eyebrows.
Plenty of offseason moves were made by team president Josh Kroenke, including the additions of general manager Tim Connelly, head coach Brian Shaw and four players ready to make an immediate impact. After winning a franchise-record 57 games and earning the No. 3 seed in the West last year, teams normally don't face this many changes the following year.
These adjustments gave media members a lot to ask Nuggets coaches and players about.
It's All About Postseason Success
After losing in the first round of the playoffs nine of the last 10 years, Nuggets fans are starving for postseason improvement. Connelly and Shaw hear that message loud and clear.
Connelly and Shaw have no set no goal for a regular season win total, focus is the postseason. #Nuggets— Raj Sharan (@Raj_Sharan) September 30, 2013
Denver has been a model of consistency as far as protecting home court and producing winning seasons, but the bar has been raised.
Ty Lawson expects more.
Lawson said season will be a disappointment if they don’t get out of the first round. The focus is postseason success. #Nuggets— Raj Sharan (@Raj_Sharan) September 30, 2013
However, Shaw does realize there's going to be a transition, and he needs to evaluate the improvement of his young players. This means a few of those regular-season wins could turn into losses.
Shaw indicated team could sacrifice a few wins to develop young players & improve 1/2 court scheme. #Nuggets— Raj Sharan (@Raj_Sharan) September 30, 2013
Obviously, a few extra defeats isn't good for a team that could be fighting for a playoff spot in April, but it's about the long-term plan, and it's a necessary step. Anyone on Denver's roster is capable of seeing minutes on a nightly basis and this year's training camp will be one of the most competitive ones in recent memory.
Half-Court Offense Is a Priority
So how can the Nuggets be more prepared for the playoffs? Through half-court execution.
Denver thrived on the fast break under George Karl and finished first or second in the league for transition points in five of Karl's eight seasons. The Nuggets will continue to emphasize this element as part of their attack, but not to that extent.
Shaw said focus will be establishing a presence inside, running an effective half-court offense, and finding a defensive identity. #nuggets— Adam Kinney (@DSNAdam) September 30, 2013
We still don't know the details of what the Nuggets will run in the half court, but we do have some pieces to the puzzle.
Shaw: Is the triangle part of me? Yes... But.. our system is going to be predicated on player movement and ball movement with a purpose— Chris Dempsey (@dempseypost) September 30, 2013
Shaw wants offense to work inside-out w/McGee, Faried & Hickson. Noted that’s not something they've been asked to do before. #Nuggets— Raj Sharan (@Raj_Sharan) September 30, 2013
We are going to see some triangle concepts, the big men stretching the floor and quick ball movement. Since the Nuggets are coming off the dribble-drive motion offense, this is a significant change.
Even though the specifics weren't revealed, there's a good chance they haven't been finalized. With everyone fighting for playing time, Shaw could easily make tweaks as the rotation solidifies.
Shaw on camp: "It's an audition, it's an open competition. There's competition at every position on the team."— Chris Dempsey (@dempseypost) September 30, 2013
Nevertheless, there is one thing we know for sure. The pace is going to slow down.
JaVale McGee Is Tentatively Starting
Again, Shaw didn't get specific, but he said a few starting spots were likely filled.
"I won't publicly say who they are, but a couple guys are penciled in for starting"— Evan Batten (@EBattenSports) September 30, 2013
We can assume Lawson has point guard locked up and Wilson Chandler should be at the 3 until Danilo Gallinari returns from his ACL injury (Shaw wouldn't give an expected return date).
But is JaVale McGee one of those players at center?
Despite being efficient in his playing time, he was limited to just 18.1 minutes last season. With Kosta Koufos traded in the offseason, McGee is the likely replacement in the starting lineup.
The 7-footer says he's making strides.
JaVale McGee happy with the progress of his midrange/post game. Sounds like he’s excited about upcoming role in Brian Shaw’s offense.— Nate Timmons (@Nate_Timmons) September 30, 2013
But apparently, we can't get too far ahead of ourselves.
Shaw wouldn't say for sure that JaVale is starting C. Remember, last Oct, JaVale was outplayed in camp by Koufos.. JaVale's gotta prove it— Benjamin Hochman (@hochman) September 30, 2013
Considering that Shaw wants more offensive diversity out of his big men, it's highly unlikely McGee would be snubbed of the starting job again. Timofey Mozgov has more offensive limitations than McGee, and putting J.J. Hickson at the 5 means the tallest player in the starting five is 6'9" until Gallinari is back.
This is likely just a motivational move and Shaw emphasizing that McGee must get better for this team to improve. McGee has two individual goals in mind.
McGee said his goals this season are to average a double-double and lead the league in blocks. #Nuggets— Raj Sharan (@Raj_Sharan) September 30, 2013
It's noteworthy that Shaw is willing to really mix things up with the rotation, but as long as the monstrous center doesn't take his promotion for granted, he's starting.
Possible Group of Leaders Instead of a Captain
We know the Nuggets have talent, but they haven't had a superstar since the departure of Carmelo Anthony. Lawson is the closest person to that status, and while he may not reach that point this season, Shaw is looking for Lawson to take charge.
"I would like for him to take more vocal leadership" head coach Brian Shaw on point guard Ty Lawson #nuggets— Evan Batten (@EBattenSports) September 30, 2013
While most would peg Lawson as the leader, that doesn't mean he'll be the only guy everyone turns to. Shaw made that clear when he was asked who the captain would be.
"If you asked me today who would be the captain I couldn't tell you" Hc Brian Shaw #Nuggets— Evan Batten (@EBattenSports) September 30, 2013
"Since we don't have a captain, maybe we need a leadership council of 3-4 players" #nuggets— Evan Batten (@EBattenSports) September 30, 2013
For a team that takes pride in its depth, this is the right move if no one separates himself. Shaw's been recognized as a "player's coach" before, and Anthony Randolph sees that quality as well.
Randolph said he is enjoying the atmosphere with the new regime and Shaw is a “player’s coach” #Nuggets— Raj Sharan (@Raj_Sharan) September 30, 2013
As for who will be in that group of leaders, training camp will give us a better answer to that. But Shaw has emphasized the importance of leadership for this team to grow.
The main takeaway from Denver's media day is that there will be balance between half-court and full-court offense. We're going to see Lawson hit Kenneth Faried in transition above the rim, but we are going to watch McGee and J.J. Hickson hit some jumpers from the elbow.
It may take some time, and there may be a few ugly outings in November, but it's going to pay off long-term. If the Nuggets want to take the next step, they will have to go through some growing pains.
Another thing to keep in mind going into training camp is that everyone on the roster has a legitimate shot to get significant minutes. Sometimes coaches say it's an open competition in order to just say the right thing, but I completely believe Shaw on this one.
When you combine a new coach, a new system and a handful of new players, anything goes. Do not rule someone out like Jordan Hamilton making a strong impression on Shaw while Gallo is out or Mozgov stepping up as the backup center with his new contract.
The two biggest things to watch for in October are the position battles top-to-bottom and the half-court offense. There will be a wide variety of lineups exercised in Denver's seven preseason games, and by then we'll have a better understanding of the short-term goals in order to achieve playoff success.
What are you most looking forward to in training camp?
Denver must prove it can play at a slower tempo and get stops on defense. Since there will be fewer possessions, there is greater responsibility in execution rather than wearing the opponent down.
Nuggets fans are about to see a different type of show at the Pepsi Center.