Year-End Grades for Every Key Denver Nuggets Player
How do you know what grades to give the Denver Nuggets players?
It's easy to be harsh due to their recent struggles. They've lost four straight, are a mere 7-6 at home when they usually own one of the biggest home-court advantages and have only managed to defeat two teams with a winning record.
But while the injury bug continues to hit this team, they're still above .500 and are finding multiple ways to win. Denver's depth helped create a seven-game winning streak and someone is always stepping up offensively.
Through these inconsistencies, let's take a look at each Nuggets member from the first and second unit. Grades will be determined by statistics, how the player fulfils his role and what skills the player brings to the table.
Evan Fournier hasn't been given many opportunities to expand his role this year. After playing at least 18 minutes in eight of the final nine games last season, Fournier is only logging 11.9 minutes and normally comes in with the second unit for only a half.
But even when he is given a chance, he's not making the most of it. Not only was he 2-of-7 shooting against the Phoenix Suns last Friday, he was 1-of-7 versus the Philadelphia 76ers, the 30th-ranked team in defensive efficiency.
Shooting is usually Fournier's strength, but he's making 36.2 percent of his shots from the field and 33.3 percent from behind the arc.
Defensively, he has trouble preventing the opponent from getting to the rim. Plus, it makes sense he only forces 0.1 steals given his lack of playing time, but he's committing a disastrous 1.8 fouls.
While head coach Brian Shaw has favored the dual point-guard lineups, that's been the correct decision.
When is Randy Foye going to start making three-pointers consistently?
After Foye's rough start early on, he found his groove over an 11-game stretch from late November until early December, where he scored in double figures nine times. In the last five games of November he nailed an impressive 40.6 percent of his three-pointers, just under his 41-percent average from last season.
Now he's shooting an atrocious 28 percent from deep in December and 28.7 percent from the field. Foye's also 3-of-22 from behind the arc in Denver's last six games. He hasn't made a field goal in the last two contests though he logged a combined 26 minutes.
Averaging 8.9 points, 1.9 assists and just 0.7 steals in 24.3 minutes, it's no wonder why Foye's PER is only 9.4—the second-lowest of the team, according to ESPN.com.
If he doesn't get it together soon, Foye could easily find himself coming off the bench. Shaw has shown he has no problem shuffling his lineup and, even though Jordan Hamilton is in a minor slump himself, he has shown enough promise in shooting and defense to possibly take Foye's starting spot.
We know Andre Miller won't be making many more highlight reels in his NBA career, but he's still providing assistance in the backcourt.
When you have the guy who has dished out the ninth-most assists in NBA history and is playing 19.8 minutes against younger second units, there's a great advantage in finding passing lanes and creating favorable one-on-one opportunities.
Not only are the Nuggets third in bench scoring at 43.5 points, their bench is also the second-most efficient offense. Even though Miller only averages 6.3 points and 3.6 assists, his ability to call the right sets, get the ball to Nate Robinson when he's on fire and allow Timofey Mozgov go to work against the smaller centers, has been vital to Denver's successful depth.
But Miller does show up at times statistically when he's given the minutes. Against the Golden State Warriors, he put up 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go with eight assists. Versus the Utah Jazz, he posted 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting with seven assists.
Plus, while Miller continues to post up smaller guards, Miller is shooting a remarkable 52.9 percent from three. He doesn't take a lot of attempts and he wouldn't shoot at that rate if he took several three-pointers a game, but that percentage is staggering since 28.3 percent was his previous best season in his 15-year career.
So, even though he won't beat many people with his speed and he lacks size to defend some players at the 2 when Robinson is at point, Miller does more than advertised. He can't be graded purely on his condensed role.
Somewhat similar to Miller, Darrell Arthur doesn't impress on the stat sheet with his 5.6 points and 3.1 rebounds, but his defense and mid-range jumper are two elements the Nuggets wouldn't have in the frontcourt without him.
While Kenneth Faried and J.J. Hickson have greater athleticism and Mozgov has more height and a bigger body, Arthur is the best big-man defender on the perimeter and in the pick-and-roll. His 235-pound frame can also handle the physicality of the stronger power forwards.
Since Hickson has been living under the basket at center while JaVale McGee is still out with his foot injury, Arthur has been the go-to guy to play the stretch 4. According to NBA.com, Arthur is making 45 percent of his shots from 18-24 feet, but he's burying 53.3 percent from that same range at the elbows.
This is a tribute to Arthur's ability to make shots out of the pick-and-pop, which has ultimately made it harder for defenses to specifically focus on Ty Lawson driving to the basket.
Even though he's playing just 18 minutes per game, Arthur's attributes are needed and he should continue to get playing time the rest of the season.
Here's the good news about Kenneth Faried—he does things very few people in the league can do. His motor, athleticism and rebounding skills are extremely valuable in making plays and providing great effort each night.
Even though he still can't make shots outside the paint consistently, Faried is posting 9.8 points and eight rebounds in only 23.5 minutes. His 19.6 PER reflects how valuable he is to his team.
But that only goes so far. The bad news is that his defense continues to be a deficiency.
The Nuggets are tied for 28th in defensive efficiency from the power forward position. Faried is mostly responsible for that, such as when Serge Ibaka scored the first 11 points for the Oklahoma City Thunder last week.
Although, it's been a rough December altogether for the Manimal. He's only recording 8.5 points and 6.6 rebounds, and he suffered an ankle injury at the beginning of the Clippers contest. According to Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post, Faried is questionable for Friday's game against the New Orleans Pelicans.
While it's believable that Faried will get back to posting double-doubles each night, it's hard to imagine his defense getting any better before the season ends.
J.J. Hickson is capable of having huge games with his explosiveness and aggressive nature. Posting 11 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds in just 24.9 minutes isn't too shabby either.
Heck, sometimes it seems like Hickson is the second-best player on the Nuggets. He's dominated the Thunder in both matchups with a combined 38 points and 33 rebounds.
He's even got a mid-range jumper that isn't often used because he's playing the 5 in an inside-out offense.
But similar to Faried, Hickson gets punished in the post.
It's not completely fair since Hickson is more of a 4 being asked to play the 5, but what about last game? With Faried out against the Warriors, Hickson slid down to the 4 and got pulverized by David Lee's 28 points and 10 rebounds. Plus, Hickson only managed seven points and eight rebounds.
We're also still waiting for Hickson's continuously declining 55.9 free-throw percentage to turn around. His worst season before this was in 2011-12 where he made 64.2 percent.
Hickson has been solid, but there's definitely room for improvement.
Despite Jordan Hamilton having a rough last couple games shooting the ball, let's not overlook the overall numbers. He's averaging 8.1 points in 18.7 minutes, and he's tied with Lawson from behind the arc (minimum one attempt per game) shooting at 36.8 percent.
It originally looked like their issues shooting from distance had been solved, but unfortunately for the Nuggets, they're back down to 34.7 percent, which is 21st in the league. If it weren't for Hamilton's improvement in his increased role, they would be near the bottom.
But Hamilton's defense has really been a significant key in the Nuggets being the second-most defensive-efficient bench team in the league. He's creating 1.1 steals and often taking on the most prolific and diverse scorer when he's on the court.
It's also admirable for a young player like Hamilton to not let a bad shooting night also translate to his defense. Despite making only 1-of-14 shots the last two games versus the Warriors and Clippers, Hamilton pulled down nine rebounds, forced seven steals and blocked two shots.
Before the regular season started, Hamilton's fourth-year option for the 2014-15 season wasn't picked by the Nuggets, according to Hoopsworld.com. While we haven't seen Hamilton play a major bench role like this in the past, given his improvement, it looks like that was a mistake by the front office.
Wilson Chandler has picked up the pace by scoring in double digits the last eight games at 46.2 percent.
However, he's shooting 43.2 percent on the year, 32.7 percent from three and 68.3 percent from the free-throw line. Those numbers are far worse than last year's 46.2 percent from the field, 41.3 percent from behind the arc and 79.3 percent from the line.
For a team that desperately needs to improve its 34.7 three-point and 72.2 free-throw percentages, one of its best shooters can't be under the team averages.
Given that Chandler is starting to make more shots, didn't get any preseason action and missed the first six regular-season games because of a hamstring injury, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for now.
It's a new system for him and he's starting each game, which he hasn't consistently done since the 2010-11 season. Just like Robinson, it took some time for Chandler to find a rhythm.
While every guy has an important role in creating one of the best second units in the league, the enthusiasm and scoring of Nate Robinson is what the Denver players feeds off of. With McGee out and Faried and Hickson starting, it's particularly vital.
Robinson is putting up 10.9 points in just 20.3 minutes. Despite a slow and inconsistent start to the season through the first nine games, Robinson has scored in double figures 15 of the last 18 contests.
He's only dishing out 2.6 assists, but Robinson is doing most of his damage as a shooting guard, in isolation or in transition. He won't have the 4.4 assists he had with the Chicago Bulls when he was running the point a majority of the time.
Also to Robinson's credit, while being undersized at 5'9", his fieriness continues to prevail and is playing solid defense.
Anyone else on the bandwagon for Timofey Mozgov starting?
Mozzy is playing an eighth-most 19.3 minutes and producing 8.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. He's also shooting 52.5 percent from the floor, is the best pure post player on the team and wears opponents down in the paint with his 7'1" 250 body.
Most importantly, he gets to the free-throw line 3.4 times, the same amount as Hickson and 0.8 more times than Faried. But Mozgov is converting 70 percent of his free throws, whereas Faried and Hickson are both making under 60 percent.
Furthermore, with McGee out, Mozgov is the only true center left.
The Nuggets have one of the worst frontcourt defenses in the league by giving up 43.9 points in the paint, which is tied for 23rd in the league, according to teamrankings.com.
But that's primarily due to the lack of size the Nuggets currently have in their starting five and that neither Faried nor Hickson can defend effectively at the 4 or the 5. By having both of them out there might be an advantage when it comes to energy and rebounding, but it's a disservice when it comes to rim protection and physicality (just ask the Portland Trail Blazers by adding Robin Lopez).
Mozgov isn't the second-best player on the team, but with his consistency and how he would compliment the other power forwards for 25 minutes, that would help Denver get off to better starts. The Nuggets have trailed in all but the Phoenix matchup for December games after the first quarter, and they lost that one too.
Ty Lawson's numbers are slightly down in December (12.4 PPG, 6.9 APG), but there isn't too much of a reason to be concerned. According to Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post, Lawson was battling the flu before the Phoenix game and suffered a hamstring injury during the Boston Celtics matchup that caused him to miss two games.
Still, Lawson is putting up career and team-highs of 17.5 points and 7.8 assists. His 1.3 steals are also a team-high, which is crucial since Denver's defense has been average at best and Hamilton is the only other Nuggets player forcing more than one steal per game.
As the man who makes the engine run, Lawson did a great job improving the half-court offense and connecting the dots. His game continues to evolve, and he still does an excellent job using his speed in getting to the rim.
But now it's time to apply the consistency and end this minor drought that he and the Nuggets are currently on.
Otherwise, his grade is coming down at the next evaluation.