Each time it seems like the Denver Nuggets take a step closer to being completely healthy, another player goes down. This time, it's JaVale McGee.
According to the Nuggets' official Twitter account, McGee has a stress fracture in his left tibia and is out indefinitely.
While McGee struggled in Denver's first five games by averaging seven points and 3.4 rebounds in 16 minutes, his loss is significant regardless how long he's out. With his combination of athleticism and rim protection, he's a playmaker and draws attention from the opposition.
This is a tough task for head coach Brian Shaw. Given the Nuggets are off to a 3-4 start, aren't close to establishing a specific rotation and McGee is one of the players he most wanted to develop, an injury like this is the last thing Shaw needed.
However, the Nuggets do have significant depth in the frontcourt with Kenneth Faried, J.J. Hickson, Timofey Mozgov, Anthony Randolph and Darrell Arthur. Each player is averaging at least 15 minutes per game.
How does Shaw address the situation going forward?
Hickson or Mozgov Starting at Center?
In the two contests Denver has played without McGee, Hickson has gotten the start at center. Even though Hickson is 6'9" and is more suited at the 4, Hickson started at the 5 in all 80 of his games played last season with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Despite Hickson's experience, Mozgov is making an outstanding case to be the starting center.
The Nuggets took care of business against the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday evening, thanks to Mozgov tying his career record of 23 points. He also pitched in with nine rebounds and four blocks.
Here's how the 2013-14 numbers break down between the two Denver big men.
|J.J. Hickson vs. Timofey Mozgov|
Mozgov needs to be the starter. He's a better complement to Faried.
The Manimal has great energy and is a terrific rebounder. However, he's not a great defender and while he can make some incredible blocks at times, he doesn't have the length to protect the rim and contest shots consistently.
At 7'1", Mozgov has those assets. With Hickson on the floor, Denver is undersized in the frontcourt, and we saw Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol take advantage of that with their 43 points and 27 rebounds combined.
With Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic leading the Minnesota Timberwolves into Denver Friday night, Mozgov's presence is crucial.
The one downside in Shaw going with Mozgov next to Faried is that they have limited shooting range. But with Wilson Chandler back and the versatility he brings, it shouldn't be a huge concern.
Wilson Chandler Is Currently the X-Factor
Denver's most fragile position so far is easily small forward. One minute Shaw is starting Randolph at the 3, the next he has all three point guards on the floor together.
Chandler made his season debut against the Lakers, finishing with 12 points, five rebounds and two steals. His explosiveness isn't there yet, especially when he mishandled a potential dunk when he first entered the game, but that will come back soon enough.
With Danilo Gallinari still out, Jordan Hamilton more fitted as a shooting guard with his spot-up shooting and no sign of Quincy Miller in the regular season, Chandler is the one pure small forward the Nuggets need to help them take the next step.
Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post reported in the early part of training camp that Chandler would play more on the perimeter this season. While Chandler should be doing that, given McGee and Gallo are both absent, Chandler should be playing some in the paint.
If you can match him up against a shorter forward on the block or a big man with limited mobility on the elbow, Chandler can exploit that. His health is a concern since he's only played 51 games in the two previous seasons combined, but until Gallinari is back, Chandler's diverse game is needed in all areas.
So, while Hamilton has done a nice job stepping in and he should be me part of the primary rotation for now, it's time for Chandler to be in the starting five. Chandler's value is too high and given he missed the entire preseason, he needs the experience in Shaw's system.
Plus, if Shaw starts Chandler against the Timberwolves, that'll give him a shot at going against former teammate Corey Brewer.
The Spotlight Is on Faried
With McGee out, the athleticism takes a hit. This means Faried's relentless motor must be consistent.
Faried's averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, but so far you don't know which Manimal is going to show up. Faried had a superb night against the Lakers with 21 points and 13 rebounds, but he also had a rough outing at the Phoenix Suns with three points and five rebounds.
Obviously Faried won't be on his game every night, but Denver can't afford to have him bring in performances like the one at Phoenix. His teammates feed off his energy and for a team that isn't defending well, the Nuggets need all the help they can get.
Furthermore, according to Frank Isola of The New York Daily News, the New York Knicks were trying to acquire Faried by sending Denver shooting guard Iman Shumpert. Although, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Nuggets refused the offer.
Wojnarowski also added there has been a high level of interest in Faried.
Even though Wojnarowski said Faried isn't likely going anywhere in a simple player-for-player deal, there is a lot of attention on him. Faried has had an important role on the Nuggets, but the pressure is much higher.
Without McGee, Faried's going to get extra minutes and his playmaking ability is more important. Add that he's new to NBA trade rumors and has work to do in improving his half-court offense and overall defense, that's a lot to handle.
But when pressure comes, an opportunity presents itself.
Faried's in his third season. If he wants to become a star in the league, the Manimal can't just be an energy-type player.
Shaw has a history of developing young players, and this is the time to help Faried improve his game.
Offensively, Faried needs more than just a short right-handed hook shot in the post. Defensively, he has to be better in the pick-and-roll and prevent the taller power forwards from establishing good position on the block.
If successful and Faried starts recording double-doubles on a nightly basis, the Nuggets will be able to get past the McGee injury.