The Denver Nuggets have enjoyed 10 consecutive winning seasons, but the team's fans are ready for more than that—postseason success.
Denver went through significant offseason turmoil. General manager Masai Ujiri moved to the Toronto Raptors, head coach George Karl was fired and shooting guard Andre Iguodala signed with the Golden State Warriors.
As we move forward and begin the Brian Shaw era, let's not forget what the Nuggets were able to accomplish last season.
- 57-25 record (.695)
- second in the Northwest Division
- third in the Western Conference
- Lost in the first round to the Golden State Warriors (4-2)
The 57-win mark is best in franchise history. The Nuggets were also the best team in the Western Conference after the All-Star Game, producing a 24-4 record.
However, it was the same old story. For the ninth time in 10 years, Denver lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Can the Nuggets transition smoothly and quickly from an up-tempo offense to a more balanced style? Will this propel them past the first round?
Key Additions: J.J. Hickson (PF, $16.15 million over three years), Nate Robinson (PG, $4.1 million over two years with second-year player option), Randy Foye (SG, $9.14 million over three years with third year non-guaranteed), Darrell Arthur (PF, $6.69 million over two years with second-year player option).
Key Losses: Andre Iguodala (SG, Golden State Warriors, $48 million over four years), Kosta Koufos (C, Memphis Grizzlies, $6 million over two years with second-year non-guaranteed), Corey Brewer (SF, Minnesota Timberwolves, $14.11 million over three years).
Under Karl, the Nuggets were primarily a fast-break team that used its depth to wear down opponents.
While Brian Shaw plans to do that to a certain degree, especially at home with the altitude, he will use more balance so the team is better prepared for the playoffs.
Denver had significant issues with its half-court offense against the Golden State Warriors in last year's postseason. The offense was stagnant, the dribble-drive motion wasn't working and there were few easy looks at the basket.
Shaw hopes to improve that with more of an inside-out offense.
This will likely take some time for everyone to get comfortable, particularly for Ty Lawson who is used to attacking a majority of the time. It'll also take time for Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler to adjust, because they haven't played in any preseason games.
Big men JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried will need to continue working on their post moves, but also their mid-range jumpers. Luckily for the Nuggets, new general manager Tim Connelly brought in J.J. Hickson and Darrell Arthur, who are used to playing at a slower pace and have proven they can hit shots from the elbow.
It's certainly a new look for the Nuggets, and there will be some early growing pains. The sooner they can get past them, the sooner they can put a winning product together.
Free-Throw and Three-Point Shooting
Between the free-throw and three-point line, Denver was one of the worst teams from outside the paint in the NBA. The Nuggets made 70.1 percent from the line and 34.3 percent from behind the arc, ranking 28th and 25th in the NBA, respectively.
But Connelly is looking to fix that with the acquisitions of Randy Foye and Nate Robinson.
Both guards are coming off season bests from three-point range, with Foye shooting 41 percent and Robinson connecting at 40.5 percent. Foye has been excellent in his career at the line making 85.6 of his attempts, and Robinson has been a solid 79.8 percent.
The likely increased role of Evan Fournier should also help those team numbers. Fournier emerged as a rookie at the end of last season, making 40.7 percent of his threes and 76.9 percent of his free throws.
Still, Denver's preseason numbers aren't pretty. They read 27 percent from three and 65.9 percent from the free-throw line. It's only preseason, but if the Nuggets want to contend in the Western Conference, they have to shoot better from outside the paint.
This is the scariest area. The Nuggets never had an elite defense under Karl, but they could win games in a shootout and rely on their speed and explosiveness.
Now that they are slowing it down and with Iguodala and Corey Brewer gone, who's going to step up?
Lawson and Robinson are under 6'0" and Andre Miller doesn't have as much speed as he used to. Foye is an average-to-decent defender and Fournier needs time to develop.
The 6'10" Gallinari has great length at small forward, but we still don't know when he'll return. Will Chandler be more defensive minded, or will Jordan Hamilton or Quincy Miller answer the call?
Arthur is a solid addition for his pick-and-roll defense, but Faried and Hickson are more liabilities than assets on defense, despite their athletic abilities. McGee, Timofey Mozgov and Anthony Randolph are great shot-blockers, but they still need to prove they can guard away from the basket and get stops consistently.
There is no elite defender like a LeBron James on the Nuggets. There isn't even a Tony Allen on the perimeter or a Marc Gasol inside.
The toughness Shaw is trying to bring to Denver will come from everyone as a group. It's about making it a priority and a mindset, not just finding new people.
We'll see if that works.
|PG||Ty Lawson||Andre Miller||Nate Robinson|
|SG||Randy Foye||Evan Fournier|
|SF||Danilo Gallinari*||Wilson Chandler||Jordan Hamilton||Quincy Miller||Damion James|
|PF||Kenneth Faried||J.J. Hickson||Darrell Arthur||Anthony Randolph|
|C||JaVale McGee||Timofey Mozgov|
*Injured. From Rotoworld.com
With Robinson joining the team, the point-guard minute distribution takes an interesting twist. Lawson is the clear starter, but Robinson's and Miller's playing time is up in the air.
Lawson continues to get better each season and is coming off season high in points (16.7) and assists (6.9). At the rate he's improving at and if Denver continues to win, he could be an All-Star candidate this year.
Robinson brings great fire power off the bench and should give Denver a few extra wins when he catches fire. Miller may not be as dynamic, but he can post up, is an excellent passer (10th in NBA history in total assists) and has great chemistry with the big men on the lob passes.
The big issue is on defense. Lawson and Robinson are have the height disadvantage, and Miller is slowing down at age 37. Stopping Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Stephen Curry will be a challenge to say the least.
Even though Miller is ahead of Robinson on the depth chart, I expect Robinson to be the main backup as the year progresses. His offensive talents are too valuable, and he'll be the back end of a speedy one-two punch with Lawson.
Grade: B +
Exit Iguodala, enter Foye.
Denver has the option to play Hamilton at the 2 or move Chandler down when Gallinari returns, but Foye and Fournier are the true shooting guards on the roster.
Foye not only has the starting experience, he's also used to making an immediate impact with a new franchise. As he enters his eighth season, Denver is the fifth-different team Foye has been on, and he's never scored fewer than 9.8 points.
However, Fournier has the greater upside and is a more diverse player. Along with being a good long-distance shooter, he has greater length at 6'6" and attacks the basket well.
Even though that both guards are capable of having big nights, Foye is far from consistent, and Fournier must prove he can play 20-plus minutes against the better teams in the West. Neither are high-end defensive players either.
Foye has started every preseason game and will likely get the nod when the Nuggets open their regular season against the Sacramento Kings on Oct. 30. Although, I wouldn't rule out a switch to Fournier at some point during the year.
With his ability to shoot the three, drive to the hoop and post up at 6'10", Gallinari is a dynamic small forward. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, we still don't know when the Italian star will be ready to return from his ACL injury.
According to Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post, Gallinari said he's trying for late November. However, Dempsey later tweetejd at the beginning of October that Gallinari wasn't running yet, and he doesn't know when he'll start doing so.
Like at the end of last season, Chandler steps in to start at the 3. But, Chandler hasn't seen any action in the preseason yet because of a hamstring injury. According to Dempsey, Shaw is playing it safe and making sure Chandler is 100 percent before returning.
We know what Chandler can do in terms of creating his own shot and finding multiple ways to score, but it's Jordan Hamilton's chance to step up. He has a great form on his shot, ran the floor well in the preseason and started the last two preseason games. But, he's also turned in some poor preseason performances.
There's also Quincy Miller, who Shaw thinks has a bright future, according to Aaron J. Lopez of Nuggets.com. However, he still doesn't have a guaranteed contract for the upcoming season (per Hoopsworld.com).
Challenging him for the 15th and final spot is Damion James, who has been very active on the glass in the preseason.
Since Quincy Miller has played more minutes in the preseason, was on the roster last year and has caught the eye of Shaw, who likes his upside, he should have the edge over James.
There is a ton of offense at small forward for the Nuggets, once they're healthy. If Gallinari was ready to go right now, I'd give this a higher grade. But, he's not.
This is Denver's deepest position.
Faried and his ridiculously active motor are back, but the additions of Hickson and Arthur bring solid balance at the 4.
Hickson, who averaged 12.7 points and 10.4 rebounds last season with the Portland Trail Blazers, is also capable of playing center, but he's more suited at power forward. He doesn't have the energy like the Manimal, but he has flashes of athleticism, can post up and knock down 18-footers.
Arthur is someone who can also hit the mid-range jumper and fits well in the pick-and-pop. More importantly, though, he's an effective defender against the pick-and-roll, something the Nuggets struggled with all of last season.
All three power forwards should get a fair amount of playing time. I'd expect Faried and Hickson to get around 25 minutes per game while Arthur receives just under 20.
Anthony Randolph is also on the roster. The lanky forward kicked his game up a notch in the last two preseason games and has been taking a fair amount of three-pointers in the last month. He could play some at the 5, but given the crowded space in the frontcourt, his playing time should be fairly limited this season.
Even though Faried is at the top of the depth chart, Hickson has the most balanced post game. Plus, we've seen Hickson work well with McGee in the starting five during the last four preseason games.
It makes sense to have Faried bring the energy off the bench in a similar manner to McGee last season.
Grade: B +
With Karl out of the picture, McGee has the green light. In 23.5 minutes, McGee is averaging 10.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in the preseason.
But more importantly, it's not all highlight-reel plays for McGee. He's being patient in the post, knocking down jumpers and converting 83.3 percent of his free throws.
Combining an improved skill set with superb athletic talents makes McGee somewhat frightening, in a positive way of course. If McGee can play this consistently at 30 minutes per game, he's going to be one of the most improved players in the league.
With Koufos gone, Mozgov enters the picture as the backup center. Mozgov found himself at the end of the Denver bench for most of last season.
But, we've already been reminded of what the big man can do. He has his limitations offensively, but he's already blocked 10 shots, altered several shots with his 7'1" frame and outworked the opposition on the glass a handful of times during the preseason.
McGee is a huge factor in determining the success of the Nuggets. Given that McGee already has good form on his shot, he's learning how to slow the game down in the post. I believe McGee's poised for his best year yet.
Still, I want to see McGee get stops consistently on defense and not completely rely on swatting shots into the stands. Then, there's also room for Mozgov to get better on offense.
(For a look at the Nuggets player power rankings for 2013-14, click here)
What to Watch for
Breakout Player: JaVale McGee
If McGee doesn't improve this season, when will he? It's his time.
McGee is entering his sixth season, but he hasn't been a full-time starter since he was with the Washington Wizards. Now that McGee has a better supporting cast and isn't given a limited role, everything is in place.
He's got all the physical capabilities. He just needs to make good decisions and avoid his frequent appearances on Shaqtin' A Fool.
Team MVP: Ty Lawson
This is a no-brainer.
Since Carmelo Anthony left for the New York Knicks, Lawson has been the best player on the Nuggets. Even though McGee will greatly influence how far the Nuggets can go, Lawson is the most valuable.
His versatility and all-around game is what makes him so dominant. His speed can't be matched, he's much improved in running the pick-and-roll and he can shoot from anywhere on the floor.
This season, we'll see how great his leadership is in getting everyone on the same page with Shaw's new system.
Most Disappointing Player: Kenneth Faried
To be fair, this is more of a numbers game than anything.
Faried is coming off a season of 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds, but I don't see how he's going to match those numbers this year. With the increased role for McGee in the post, the additions of Hickson and Arthur and Denver slowing the pace down, Faried's numbers and offensive role will take a hit.
He's still an important piece to the puzzle, will provide great energy and grab rebounds that will raise your eyebrows. But until he improves on his overall post game, I don't see Faried putting up more than 10 points and eight rebounds per game this season.
Player Most Likely to be Traded: Andre Miller
While I think Miller is still a underappreciated asset for the Nuggets, the writing is on the wall. By bringing in Robinson along with several other offseason moves, Denver is in transition mode.
Even before Robinson was acquired during the free agency period, Chris Tomasson of Fox Sports Florida reported that Miller was on the trading block. According to Hoopsworld.com, Miller is in the last year of his $5 million guaranteed contract.
Miller's passing and the chemistry he has with his teammates brings great value to Denver. There's a reason why he's always been a coach's favorite.
But as the Nuggets start to put the pieces together for another playoff push, Miller is a likely candidate to be shopped before the trade deadline. Perhaps Denver could get another guard to help its perimeter defense.
Biggest Rivalry: Oklahoma City Thunder
Even though there aren't enormous expectations for 2013-14, that doesn't mean the Nuggets aren't shooting for a Northwest Division title.
The Thunder are the biggest obstacle at accomplishing that.
Denver won three of the four meetings last season, including the home contest in which Lawson hit the game-winning jumper with 0.2 seconds remaining. The Nuggets fell just three games short of first place in the division and in the Western Conference overall.
The Nuggets' first showdown with the Thunder this season is in Oklahoma City on Nov. 18.
While we don't know the return date of Russell Westbrook—and Denver would have a better chance at winning by not having to face him—hopefully he can come back to 100 percent for as many of the games as possible. The duels between him and Lawson are a joy to watch.
Best-Case, Worst-Case Scenarios with Predicted W-L Record
We still haven't seen the Nuggets at full strength in the preseason, but making it to the second round of the playoffs is the best this team can do. With a first-year head coach, several new players and a change in style, the other top-tier teams in the West will have too big of an advantage in a seven-game series.
If this happens, their youth comes to life early in the season, and the players begin to flourish under Shaw's inside-out offense. While improving on their outside shooting, they should become more effective in the post.
By playing at a slower pace, the team plays with greater physicality on defense. The Nuggets put an extra emphasis on fast-break points at the Pepsi Center and continue to have one of the best home records in the league.
Denver's streak of 10 consecutive playoff appearances is snapped.
The Nuggets' poor shooting from the preseason continues, and Shaw spends the first couple months just trying to figure out what the rotation should be. On top of that, Gallinari doesn't return until late in the year, and his offensive production is missed.
Lawson struggles finding a rhythm in the new scheme, McGee and Faried don't develop and Denver ultimately can't get open for easy baskets. Defensively, Shaw can't get across to the team the physical mindset he wants them to adopt, and the Nuggets are eventually forced to make several roster changes.
Projected W-L Record: 45-37, No. 7 Seed, First-Round Loss
How many wins will the Nuggets get in 2013-14?
Denver has enough talent to make it back to the playoffs, but it's going to be another first-round exit.
The Nuggets will get off to a slow start, but expect them to find a hot streak after the All-Star Game. It won't as hot or as extensive as last season, but the same pattern of strong late-season play will occur.