Final First-Half Player Power Rankings for Denver Nuggets
All right, have the Denver Nuggets finally figured things out?
It's been a season filled with significant ups and downs for Brian Shaw in his first season as an NBA head coach. The Nuggets started their 2013-14 campaign by losing four of their first five contests but later won seven straight.
Then a few games later, things spiraled out of control, as Denver lost eight in a row, including an embarrassing 114-102 home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. As Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post reported, this caused Shaw to speak with the players individually and have a team meeting to allow everyone to unload their frustration.
That seemed to do the trick. The Nuggets have won their last four and knocked off the Oklahoma City Thunder, 101-88, on Thursday night.
So what changed on the court? Shaw went to a nine-man rotation, and the Nuggets are emphasizing their transition game.
Therefore, with these power rankings, we'll pay specific attention to how each player has performed over the last four outings, as a few of the guys have had major breakthroughs in the last week. At the same time, we'll factor in their seasonal statistics and what non-statistical elements they bring to the team.
All statistics are current as of Jan. 10 and courtesy of NBA.com, unless otherwise noted.
(2013-14 Statistics: 7.0 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.4 BPG)
JaVale McGee has actually made a lot of headlines lately.
Also, as Benjamin Hoffman of The New York Times points out, McGee officially launched #JUGLIFE as a business, which promotes drinking water every day and raises money for healthy drinking water around the world.
On Dec. 12, Dempsey reported that McGee has been resting and healing the stress fracture in his left tibia, but it looks like his return is a ways away.
McGee had a solid preseason of 11.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and one block in 23.7 minutes, but his injury slowed him down in the first five games of the regular season. If McGee can return at some point this season, it'll be interesting to see where—and if—he can find a spot in the rotation given the superb improvement of Timofey Mozgov.
(2012-13 Statistics: 16.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.5 APG)
A day before his report on McGee, Dempsey also reported that Danilo Gallinari was able to start jogging in practice. We haven't heard anything as far as an expected return date, but Nate Timmons of Denver Stiffs gave us a video recently of Gallo rehabbing by pushing strength coach Steve Hess on a sled down the floor of the Pepsi Center.
There's no doubt that the 6'10" Gallinari will help this year's team out with his diverse scoring ability, rebounding and defense. He'll likely ease his way back into the rotation for a couple games, but he will eventually return to his starting duties at small forward.
Remember, J.J. Hickson, at 6'9", is currently the tallest guy in the starting five. Look for Wilson Chandler to be the sixth man when Gallinari comes back.
Nos. 13-11: Andre Miller, Anthony Randolph and Quincy Miller
13. Andre Miller
(2013-14 Statistics: 5.9 PPG, 3.3 APG, 2.4 RPG)
When you look at overall production, Andre Miller has clearly done enough to be ranked higher than No. 13. However, when you are potentially on your way out the door— as CBS Sports' Ken Berger reports Miller being part of a proposed trade with the Sacramento Kings—and are no longer part of the rotation, you move to the back of the line.
Miller unleashed his temper at Shaw during Denver's loss to the 76ers, as he picked up his first DNP from a coach's decision. He hasn't played a minute since.
There's a good chance Miller's career with the Nuggets is over.
12. Anthony Randolph
(2013-14 Statistics: 4.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.7 BPG)
When Shaw was frequently tweaking his rotation, Anthony Randolph got a handful of chances to excel, including starting the first two games of the season.
But he had a tough role playing the 3 in those games and never found his groove. He wasn't hitting shots from the outside, didn't have the speed to defend guys on the perimeter and couldn't post his defender up consistently.
With Shaw condensing his rotation, Randolph will only see the floor in garbage time.
11. Quincy Miller
(2013-14 Statistics: 3.9 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.1 BPG)
Quincy Miller has spent most of his season on the bench, but he was awarded the starting spot at the 3 against the Thunder on Thursday. Chandler was sidelined with a groin injury.
While Miller was out of sync at times and threw a couple horrendous passes, he tied a career-high nine points on 3-of-6 shooting. He drew a tough defensive assignment in Kevin Durant, who scored 30 points, but Miller held the OKC star to 7-of-18 shooting, and most of Durant's 16 free-throw attempts came on fouls from other Denver players.
Once Chandler comes back, and especially when Gallinari returns, Miller will return to the end of the bench. However, he deserves recognition for his part in Denver's win over the Thunder.
10. Jordan Hamilton
2013-14 Statistics: 7.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 0.8 SPG
With how well Denver is playing as of late, you can't question Shaw's current nine-man rotation. However, Jordan Hamilton got the tough end of the deal.
Not only has Hamilton been an asset as far as shooting three-pointers and running the floor, but he's been one of the better rebounding guards in the league. He's also played some of the best perimeter defense on the team with his combination of speed and length, and he's committed fewer than one foul per game.
Hamilton is only averaging 17 minutes per night, so his numbers are even more impressive than advertised. In a per 36-minute average, he's putting up 15.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals.
Still, with the scoring emergence of Randy Foye and Evan Fournier, it looks like Hamilton is on the outside looking in. He'll play the next-guy-in role, much like Fournier did last season when Gallinari went down.
9. Darrell Arthur
2013-14 Statistics: 5.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 0.8 BPG
Darrell Arthur may have a low ceiling of potential, but throughout this roller-coaster ride the Nuggets have been on, he's been their most consistent guy.
Arthur has scored in every game he's played in and is easily Denver's best frontcourt shooter from outside the paint. According to his shot chart, per NBA.com, Arthur is making 43.1 percent of his shots from 16-24 feet.
However, a downside to the Nuggets running more is that Arthur has only converted 33.3 percent of his shots in January.
Arthur spent the first four years of his NBA career with the Memphis Grizzlies. Since Lionel Hollins ran more half-court sets, it makes sense that Arthur has been so successful in the pick-and-pop with Denver. The new up-tempo style is something that may take Arthur a few weeks to adjust to, but I'd expect his numbers to come back up.
Defensively, he gets a wide range of matchups. Sometimes it's an athletic 6'7" small forward who is a borderline shooting guard, and other times he must face a bulky 6'10" power forward who is built like a center.
Yet, he continues to hold his own and be a valuable multi-purpose player for Denver.
8. Evan Fournier
2013-14 Statistics: 5.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 0.8 APG
Perhaps no one has benefited more from Denver's meetings last Thursday than Evan Fournier.
Fournier was a second-unit player for the first three weeks of the year, but he started to fade to the back of the rotation after Thanksgiving. He wasn't making shots, gave poor effort on defense and simply lacked aggression on the glass.
But Shaw recently gave him the primary backup spot at shooting guard, and he is taking advantage.
During the team's four-game winning streak, Fournier is putting up 12.3 points on 51.4-percent shooting while grabbing 4.5 rebounds. He's also making 52.9 percent of his three-pointers, which has helped Denver climb its way into the top half of the league in terms of three-point percentage, per ESPN, (I know, it shocks me too).
Scoring will be Fournier's primary responsibility, but he still needs to cut down on his fouls. Granted, a couple of the whistles he received while guarding Durant were a little ticky-tack for my taste, but he's committing 2.1 fouls in 12.9 minutes for the year and 3.5 fouls in 20.8 minutes over the last four contests.
7. Nate Robinson
2013-14 Statistics: 10.2 PPG, 2.5 APG, 0.9 SPG
With Shaw allowing more freedom while shortening the rotation, Nate Robinson's production becomes even more important. Even just his hustle, energy and presence becomes more vital when the Nuggets need a boost.
Robinson had an off night versus the Thunder, but he didn't hurt his team, as he committed zero turnovers, quickly got the ball up the floor off OKC's missed shots and didn't allow any of the Thunder guards to get into a rhythm.
In the three games prior, Robinson averaged 15.3 points, 5.7 assists and 1.7 steals. With Robinson's determination and crazy motor, he should thrive in transition and have a few games where he catches fire for 20-plus points.
Here's an example where Robinson went bananas at the Staples Center on Sunday night.
Down the road, when Robinson, Fournier and Chandler have more experience playing together off the bench, we are going to see even more driving and kicking out to the shooters for three-point attempts. This is mainly how Chandler and Fournier shot over 40 percent from three last year, and adding Robinson to the mix will enhance that.
6. J.J. Hickson
2013-14 Statistics: 11.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 0.8 BPG
Similar to Arthur, newcomer J.J. Hickson has had his shooting struggles in the fast-paced offense. He was 6-of-8 against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night and scored 17 points, but he's 6-of-23 (26.1 percent) in the other three contests during the winning streak.
This isn't anything to be overly concerned about, due to such a small sample size, but we are seeing Hickson play more in the pick-and-roll and less in the inside-out style. His offensive efficiency will be something to keep an eye on moving forward.
At the same time, Hickson has great athleticism for a big man, and he has been right there with Kenneth Faried in terms of rebounding. Pulling down 8.6 boards in 26 minutes while playing center at 6'9" in the Western Conference is a respectable average.
Hickson has also had his moments making smart plays. Against the Thunder, he caught Foye's pass while rolling to the basket and then made a great extra pass to Faried for the easy layup.
Furthermore, Hickson has made 66.7 percent of his free throws in the last four games and converted seven of his last nine attempts. Unfortunately, he's still shooting a career-low 56.8 percent from the line, but if the Denver guards can turn their outside shooting numbers around, Hickson can do the same with his free throws.
5. Timofey Mozgov
2013-14 Statistics: 8.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.2 BPG
Given that Shaw has likely finalized his rotation until his injured players return, it's unlikely that Timofey Mozgov will move into the starting five. But I still think he should be upgraded.
Per 36 minutes, Mozzy is putting up 16 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. His 18.0 PER is the third highest on the team.
But more importantly, he's a plus-3.2 when he's on the floor, which is the best on the team.
Why is that? Part of it is that Denver has one of the deepest benches in the league, but it's mostly due to Mozgov's abilities. Mozgov's length and size cause problems for the opponent, whether it's big men trying to post up or perimeter players attacking the basket.
Sure, Mozgov can have big games where he scores 20-plus points against the Lakers. He is Denver's biggest threat on the low block, but he can surprise you when he runs the floor and snatches one on the offensive glass. Simply put, he is effective even when he doesn't have a monster game statistically.
Mozzy only scored seven points and pulled down four rebounds versus the Thunder, but he was a plus-14 because he protected the rim, kept Durant from driving to the basket and ensured that not one OKC power forward or center scored in double figures. Consequently, the Thunder were limited to 36 points in the paint.
Mozgov is the most well-rounded big man on the Nuggets and should be starting at the 5.
4. Wilson Chandler
2013-14 Statistics: 12.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.0 SPG
After a slow return to action, Wilson Chandler has put together a solid last month of basketball. He's scored in double figures in 14 of his last 15 games.
But he's also scoring in multiple ways and has done a respectable job on defense when given tough assignments. His free-throw and three-point shooting numbers are also coming around (85.7 and 40 percent in January, respectively).
The Nuggets need this kind of consistent effort from him if they want to make it back to the playoffs. Gallinari will help take the pressure off when he comes back, but playing that sixth-man role on both ends of the floor will be a key in the shortened rotation.
Chandler missed Thursday's contest with a left groin injury, but given that he's had a problem with his left leg in the past and has only played in 79-of-183 regular-season games over the last two-and-a-half seasons, he shouldn't rush back.
3. Kenneth Faried
2013-14 Statistics: 10.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 0.9 BPG
The Manimal is back.
During the Nuggets' eight-game losing streak, Kenneth Faried left at the beginning of the Los Angeles Clippers contest with an ankle injury. Not only did he miss the following two games, but his minutes were limited in the three games after that, which interestingly enough were the final games of the losing streak.
In the last four games, he's averaging a double-double of 15.8 points and 11.5 rebounds. Shaw has also increased his minutes to 30 per game during this stretch.
There are many things to point to as to why Denver was struggling to close out 2013: lack of defensive effort, bad shot selection, better opponents, etc.
But Faried's presence has a remarkable impact on this team. When you combine his passion with his athletic talents, his 19.9 PER speaks to how valuable he is.
He's still a work in progress defensively and has an odd-looking shot that causes him to shoot 59.8 percent from the line, but it still doesn't take away how much of a pain he is to deal with for opponents. This is particularly true when the Nuggets are flying down the court and the guards are looking for the Manimal to get behind the defense and put down the alley-oop.
No one should enjoy the recent scheme change more than Faried.
2. Randy Foye
2013-14 Statistics: 10.0 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.3 APG
To be fair, I've given Randy Foye some harsh rankings and grades this season, but since Shaw let him back in the starting five, he's been on quite the hot streak.
It's safe to say that Foye's shooting slump is over, but it's not because he's scored in double digits in each of the last seven games.
It's due to the fact that he's put up 18.5 points on 56.5 percent shooting and 58.6 percent from behind the arc in the last four games. Against the Thunder, Foye put on a clinic, whether it was off the pass or the dribble, and nailed six of his nine three-point attempts for a season-high 24 points.
Whether Foye's turnaround comes from the meetings that took place last week, the change of pace or the fact that he's getting more minutes that allow him to find a groove, there's no doubt that Foye's scoring helps Denver establish big runs and extend leads.
If this continues, it's going to help create driving lanes for Ty Lawson from the top of the key and put Foye's defender in a tough spot with help defense from the wing.
1. Ty Lawson
2013-14 Statistics: 17.8 PPG, 8.6 APG, 1.5 SPG
That's now five-straight double-doubles for Ty Lawson. In January, he's putting up 17.6 points, 12.4 assists and 1.8 steals.
You think Lawson is enjoying the fast-break game?
Lawson deserves a lot of credit for grinding through the ups and downs of the half-court sets. He's done a great job of getting everyone involved and trying to develop chemistry.
But December was his worst month of the season, where he averaged 14.2 points on 39.2 percent shooting to go along with 7.4 assists. As a result, Denver had a December record of 5-10, and Lawson didn't even play in two of the team's wins.
Lawson's skills are on full display when the Nuggets run. His speed breaks defenses down, whether he scores or finds the open man.
If he keeps producing like this and Denver continues to win, Lawson will make a strong case for a bid to the All-Star Game, especially if the injuries to Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook keep them out of the contest.