Winners and Losers from Week 1 of Denver Nuggets' Preseason
We've already seen players begin to separate themselves in the Denver Nuggets' first two preseason games.
Furthermore, head coach Brian Shaw has already brought new elements to this Denver squad. The pace has slowed down, the big men are stretching the floor and everyone is playing man-to-man defense without switching.
At the same time, even though the Nuggets have only played two games against the Los Angeles Lakers and the contests have been fairly sloppy (86 turnovers between the two teams and an absurd amount of whistles), similar trends still exist from last year's team.
They've shot 70 free throws, are plus-17 on the glass and have blocked 18 shots. However, they're only 22.6 percent from three and 65.7 percent from the free-throw line.
In awarding week one's winners and losers, we have to see who contributed most to those statistics and who made the biggest statements for playing time in the regular season.
(All statistics are from NBA.com)
Winner: JaVale McGee
Undoubtedly, the biggest winner is JaVale McGee.
Even though we haven't seen any powerful alley-oop or acrobatic dunks, McGee has been a significant asset on both ends of the floor. He's posting up in control, made some mid-range jumpers and blocking shots. He's even 8-of-8 from the free-throw line.
For someone that had been kept on a short leash the last year-and-a-half, this is an excellent sign for the Nuggets. McGee's versatility is coming to life.
In just under 44 minutes, McGee recorded 26 points on 9-of-19 shooting and grabbed 14 rebounds. Now that McGee isn't just relying on dunks and offensive rebounds for his points, that 47.4 percent shooting is a solid start to the preseason.
Defensively, McGee's impact was bigger than his three blocks. He's contesting each shot, demonstrating physicality and not quitting on plays.
To be fair, there's still room for improvement, such as using better touch around the rim, limiting his fouls and simply showing consistency. We can't have incredibly high expectations for the 7-footer.
But, it's hard for Nuggets fans to not be excited about what they saw this week. He's been the most impressive thus far.
Loser: Quincy Miller
With Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler out with injuries, Quincy Miller had a huge opportunity to impress Brian Shaw as the starting small forward.
That didn't happen.
Despite playing over 33 minutes in the two contests, Miller chipped in with a mere two points and four turnovers. He was 1-of-5 from the floor and 0-of-4 from the line.
For someone that has a non-guaranteed contract of $788,872 this season (per Hoopsworld.com), it's not a good start. Luckily for Miller, he was able to pull down seven boards, block three shots and use his 6'10" defensively at 3 spot.
He's young, but surely Miller would have liked a better performance. Add that Shaw recently complemented the 20-year-old about his talent and potential, according to Aaron J. Lopez of Nuggets.com, the timing of having a couple off-nights wasn't ideal.
Chandler, who was sidelined this week with a hamstring injury, said earlier in the week to Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post that he plans to return to practice Friday. With the next preseason game October 14 against the San Antonio Spurs and Chandler as the likely starting small forward for the regular season, Shaw should waste no time giving Chandler his preseason minutes.
Miller will get more chances over the next two weeks, but with a deep roster and everyone battling for playing time, he must step up sooner than later if he wants a bigger role on this team.
Winner: J.J. Hickson
Even though it's his first year with the Nuggets, J.J. Hickson has had no difficulty finding a rhythm with his new teammates.
With 23 points and 16 rebounds in just under 40 minutes, Hickson is making a compelling case to be the starting power forward. He was an efficient 10-of-20 from the floor, scored in the post and drained mid-range shots both off the dribble and the pass.
While he didn't start in either game, he did start the second half of Tuesday's game with McGee, Miller, Evan Fournier and Ty Lawson. This unit provided excellent balance of half-court execution, getting stops and turning them into fast-break points.
Additionally, while we've seen every big man shoot from outside the paint through two games, Hickson looks the most comfortable and is the most dangerous away from the basket. Watching him and McGee together has been the best frontcourt combination.
It's going to be an interesting battle between Hickson and Kenneth Faried for the 4 spot. The Manimal hasn't done anything to shoot himself in the foot and he's providing his usual relentless motor, but his post game and outside shot still needs to develop.
Hickson continues to prove that no matter how often he changes teams, he produces.
Loser: Randy Foye
Another newcomer, but Randy Foye can't seem to find his groove.
Foye is coming off a 41-percent season from three and is expected to improve Denver's 34.3 three-point percentage.
So far, Foye is 2-of-8 and he needed the friendly rims of Citizens Business Bank Arena to get one of those threes to go down. He's posted 12 points, two assists, one steal and a reckless seven turnovers.
It's a small sample size playing just under 36 minutes in the two games combined, but it was a mediocre opening for the former Utah Jazz shooter.
With Evan Fournier also competing for a starting spot at the 2, Foye needs to find his game. In just under 53 minutes (most on Denver so far), Fournier has 19 points, eight assists and only two turnovers. The Frenchman has also done a better job penetrating the lane and was a team-best plus-19 for the week.
Foye still has a lot more experience than Fournier and his production could easily increase next week. Nonetheless, he needs to pick up the pace to lock down the 2 in the starting five.
Winner: Ty Lawson
The numbers may not jump off the page, but Lawson has done his job in the early going.
With a new coach and a handful of new teammates, it's Lawson's duty to run the offense, connect the dots and control the tempo. He's doing just that.
Sure, Denver's 37.5 field-goal percentage is low and the 41 turnovers are high, but those numbers will get better as the chemistry builds. The players appear to understand where they're supposed to be in the half-court sets and they still have the freedom to make plays.
Lawson is getting up the floor off turnovers and converting some easy looks. He's also executing in the pick-and-roll as well as in some of Denver's other plays.
His numbers read 22 points and 11 assists, but what's surprising is that Lawson's pulled down 14 rebounds. Add that he's only committed two turnovers in just under 51 minutes, you can't ask for much more than what Lawson's displayed.
These are the kind of steps the Nuggets star needs to take in order to become a more complete player.
Loser: Andre Miller
With Nate Robinson being added to the roster in the offseason, Andre Miller's minutes were put in jeopardy.
We can't read too much into Robinson's 44 minutes compared to Miller's 18, but it's fairly evident Robinson has an edge on Miller. While Robinson provided great energy, buried a few threes and penetrated the lane, the scoreless Miller hasn't done as well.
That particularly showed up in Tuesday's game, where he dished out one assist and picked up two fouls. Miller also missed a layup on a fast break and couldn't convert an open eight-footer off the glass.
In that contest, Miller came in to start the second quarter when the Nuggets trailed 19-11, but when he went back to the bench with 5:16 remaining in the half, the Lakers were up 39-18. That was Miller's only action for the night.
Granted the Lakers' run isn't completely on Miller, but he wasn't getting it done on either end of the floor. At 37 years old in a new system, the veteran needs a solid remainder of the preseason before he fades to the back end of the rotation.
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