Grading Every Key Denver Nuggets Player Heading into NBA All-Star Break
- Non-statistical elements (e.g., defense, energy, diversity, leadership, improvement)
- How both areas translate to wins
After the Nuggets earned an impressive victory at the Golden State Warriors on ESPN, momentum was immediately building. They started pushing the tempo, attacking early and outscoring opponents.
But since then, Denver has lost nine of its last 13. Plus, if not for Randy Foye bailing his team out against the Los Angeles Clippers with a contested buzzer-beating three-pointer, the Nuggets' only February victory would be against the Milwaukee Bucks.
To be fair, some of that has to do with the ACL tear to Nate Robinson and the rib fracture to Ty Lawson. Denver's season has been filled with several injuries, which makes it tough on a team with a first-year head coach in Brian Shaw, who was planning on changing some areas schematically.
Nonetheless, the effort has been inconsistent, and the 24-27 Nuggets look like one of the worst defensive teams in the league at times. After the loss to the Indiana Pacers on Monday, according to Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post, Shaw mentioned their defense is a big issue:
From the beginning, we weren't stopping anybody on the defensive end. And then that was compounded on the offensive end by not making shots. Their defense has a lot to do with that. But with that being said, our defense has been a problem for us all year long, and until we start getting mad and taking more pride in our individual matchups, it's going to be a long, long year for us.
Consequently, most of the Denver players won't be receiving the highest grades, especially the ones who were expected to improve this season. There are three areas of criteria for these evaluations:
Note: All Statistics via Basketball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise.
Nuggets off the Court
While Danilo Gallinari won't be playing any games for the Nuggets this season as he rehabs from his ACL reconstructive surgery, according to Dempsey, Gallinari thinks he will be ready by the start of the 2014-15 training camp.
We don't know when he will be ready to go, but it's obviously important that he fully recovers from his injury before returning. At the same time, Denver needs its starting small forward, who scored 16.2 points in the 2012-13 season.
16.0 MPG, 7.0 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.4 BPG
From Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, JaVale McGee may join the list of Nuggets players who are sidelined for the reminder of the season. He's been resting a stress fracture in his left leg and has only played in five games.
Considering that he and Gallinari are both getting paid eight figures this season, via Basketball Insiders, this is a big disappointment for the Nuggets. McGee was one of the primary players that Shaw wanted to improve and develop as the season progressed, per NBA.com's Jeff Caplan.
Unfortunately for Denver, after a solid preseason, McGee got off to a slow start, and it appears the stress fracture was the reason. While many NBA fans miss his frequent appearances on "Shaqtin' A Fool," his energy and vigorous playmaking would give the struggling Nuggets a boost.
19.7 MPG, 10.4 PPG, 2.5 APG, 0.8 SPG
When Andre Miller decided to go on his huge rant at Shaw during the home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, some may have taken it as a blessing in disguise. It allowed Robinson to become the primary backup to Lawson, and the Nuggets started playing faster and winning games against better teams.
In a sense, Robinson was the motor off the bench, much like McGee was last season. Now, Denver has no consistency off the bench.
19.0 MPG, 5.9 PPG, 3.3 APG, 0.5 SPG
As Wojnarowski addressed back on Jan. 2 shortly after Miller's dispute with Shaw, the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors were interested in acquiring Denver's point guard. Zach Lowe at Grantland says the Washington Wizards could acquire him, but the teams are struggling to find a trade that works with matching salaries.
While multiple teams can take Miller off Denver's hands, according to the CJ and Les Show Twitter account at ESPN Denver, Miller has been working out at the Nuggets facility and trying to solve the issue.
Six weeks have passed since the incident. I believe there is a greater chance Miller gets moved before the trade deadline, perhaps packaged with another player.
Whatever that trade is, Denver needs to get a backup point guard in return.
The Nuggets have committed 19.4 turnovers in their last seven games. To put that in perspective, the 76ers turn it over an NBA-worst 17.2 times, while the Warriors are second-worst at 15.8.
It's still shocking that a veteran like Miller would lose his temper in the first place, even if he was going to not play by the coach's decision for the first time in his career. He's a competitive guy who wants to win, but there was never a doubt the start of this season would be a transition, and he should have handled it better.
Despite doing some positive things earlier in the year, when you pull a stunt like that, you flunk.
17.2 MPG, 5.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 0.6 BPG
When Darrell Arthur was first brought in, it seemed like a great decision for two reasons—offense in the pick-and-pop and defense. This made sense with what Shaw wanted to establish within the team.
The first asset is fading, and the other is missing.
After a modest start, when Denver started running more in January, Arthur's numbers took a hit, even though the team started playing better. December was his best month when he posted 6.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in 19.8 minutes, but the Nuggets went 5-10 in that stretch.
It's not that he isn't capable of playing in an uptempo system, but he's more utilized in the half-court scheme. He's also used to that style from playing with the Memphis Grizzlies in his first four seasons before arriving in Denver.
As for his defense, that's been the most disappointing.
Arthur isn't the biggest power forward at 6'9" and 235 pounds, but he's typically been a physical guy who challenges shots and guards well in the pick-and-roll.
There are few signs of that.
Even with him getting his first start of the season on Wednesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, he picked up five fouls in 11 minutes and didn't score. Kevin Love went for 32 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
This is just one example of Arthur's regressing season.
As Basketball-Reference.com points out, Arthur has a player efficiency rating of 7.4 and a 0.01 rating for win shares per 48 minutes.
How bad are those career-low numbers? According to John Hollinger's stats at ESPN.com, the PER average in the NBA is 15. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the win shares per 48-minute average is 0.1.
12.2 MPG, 5.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 0.6 SPG, 0.6 BPG
When Anthony Randolph is getting playing time, you know it's a bad good sign. The Nuggets are 2-12 when he plays 12-plus minutes.
He actually started opening night at small forward with Wilson Chandler out and Kenneth Faried coming off the bench, as they both were nursing hamstring injuries.
Shaw has given Randolph multiple opportunities to compete for playing time. In fact, he's been on the floor in eight of the last 12 games, and he's given as much effort as anyone on the Denver roster over that stretch.
Since he is playing more at the 3 this season, which is a transition for someone at 6'11", he's made 9-of-27 three-pointers. He was 2-of-22 in the first five years of his career.
Even so, he has mainly been a fill-in guy when injuries occur.
He struggles no matter whom he guards, whether it's a small forward using his speed or a big man taking advantage of Randolph's lanky body down low.
Offensively, he's been more effective in the past in finding gaps in the defense and attacking the rim in transition. His scoring is down in the games where the Nuggets have slowed it down.
16.9 MPG, 6.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.8 SPG
Granted, Shaw wanted to give everyone on the roster a chance to compete for minutes, but I was somewhat surprised Jordan Hamilton fell out of the primary rotation.
At 6'7" with legit speed as a shooting guard or small forward, he's done fairly well in both the half-court sets and transition. Along with being an adequate three-point shooter, he also guards his man on the perimeter a lot tighter than most of the other Denver players due to his length.
But even though he's been on the floor recently, that's likely due to the injuries piling up. He's taken a backseat in terms of playing time.
Per Basketball Insiders, perhaps it's because the Nuggets declined Hamilton's fourth-year option before the regular season started and Evan Fournier will be part of the long-term plan. It could also be that it was Quincy Miller's turn, and since Denver was playing well in January, there was no point in making a switch.
Either way, Hamilton's numbers aren't great, but the Nuggets do have a solid option to use with a banged-up backcourt.
11.8 MPG, 4.7 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.3 SPG
After the first 34 regular-season games, Miller had played in 10 of them for a total of 55 minutes. Whether ahead or behind, nearly all of that time came at the end when the game was out of reach.
But when Wilson Chandler was sidelined going into a showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder on TNT, Miller wasn't just upgraded—he got the start, putting up nine points in 20 minutes. He followed that up with a double-double versus the Orlando Magic.
Chandler later got his starting spot back, but Miller has been the backup small forward since.
Miller does have excellent size at 6'9" for his ball-handling skills, and he can play on the perimeter. His athleticism could make him a solid defender in the future too.
But again, he's only in his second season, and this is the first stretch of games in his career where he's seen meaningful minutes. There's a lot of work ahead, but it's not a bad start for the youngster.
16.3 MPG, 6.8 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.3 SPG
Evan Fournier has done an admirable job as the backup 2-guard in just his second season. He wasn't even part of the main rotation last year until Gallinari went down on April 4.
Fournier is making 40.4 percent of his three-pointers this season and occasionally provides a boost after Foye. He can be effective in transition when floating to the wings to spread the floor for Lawson.
But like several of the other young Denver players, there's plenty for him to work on.
Offensively, he doesn't attack very often and only gets to the line 1.1 times per game. He can create his own shot once in a while, but he doesn't get a lot of lift on his jumper and won't make many contested shots.
He needs to become more comfortable in the half-court sets. Fournier has a 0.8 assist-to-turnover ratio, which must improve.
Defensively, a guard who plays 16.3 minutes shouldn't be committing 2.1 fouls. When he defends someone closely, it's usually a whistle, or Fournier allows penetration.
But one good sign that you don't frequently see from young shooters is that he's never afraid to pull the trigger while taking quality shots. Consistency isn't always there, but he has good-looking form and knows when to pick his spots.
24.7 MPG, 10.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.0 BPG
Grading the "Manimal" isn't easy.
On one hand, Kenneth Faried has one of the best motors in the league. His effort is never in question.
His superb athleticism is significant when it comes rebounding and dunking over the defense. He creates several easy scoring opportunities that pay off to his 18.2 PER.
His win shares per 48 minutes rating is down to 1.35, but many Nuggets players will see their number take a hit when Denver is having its worst start through 51 games since the 2004-05 season. When Faried plays at least 30 minutes, Denver is 10-2.
On the other hand, as evident as his strengths are, Faried's defense is a huge weakness. He does make highlight-reel rejections, but being undersized at 6'8" with issues in defending away from the basket usually makes it easy for the opponent to create a mismatch.
Furthermore, while his PER is second-best on the Nuggets, that's a career low. He's also having his worst year in terms of percentages with field goals (54.4), free throws (58.8) and rebounding (16.4).
Along with McGee, the Manimal is someone Shaw was looking to develop over the course of the season. Faried's mid-range shot has slightly improved, but other than that, he has a long way to go in becoming a well-rounded power forward.
While Faried's numbers are solid and he has tremendous potential, his progression has been rather slow.
31.2 MPG, 14.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 0.8 SPG
At this point in the season, weren't you expecting a little more from Wilson Chandler?
Yes, he's battled several short-term injuries this season. He also won't put up enormous numbers when Lawson is running the show.
But we knew Chandler was going to be the starting small forward heading into the season and would need to take on a bigger role on both ends of the floor. He's playing more on the perimeter, which is ultimately a better fit for him too.
His numbers tell us that he's been quite average. He's only shooting 42 percent from the field, 36.1 percent from three and a career-low 73.5 percent from the line.
Then when you add the offensive problems Denver has had when the half-court game isn't working, Chandler has rarely taken the pressure off Lawson. Quite frankly, Robinson and Foye have really been the only other guys to catch fire and carry Denver to victory.
To be fair, Chandler is the second-leading scorer on the team and is the best at scoring in multiple ways. He's been mostly consistent the past two months.
One improvement is that he has cut down on his turnovers substantially to 1.1. That's his best mark since his rookie season when he only played 19.6 minutes.
I'll also give him some benefit of the doubt defensively. He's usually drawing tough assignments like Kevin Durant, and while he's by no means a lockdown defender, he holds his own in isolation situations.
But with the limited backcourt and Gallinari out of the picture, you would think a guy like Chandler in his prime would step up. He needs to elevate his game soon if the Nuggets still want any shot at the postseason.
20.4 MPG, 8.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.2 BPG
One of the biggest weaknesses of the Nuggets is post defense. They are allowing a 26th-best 46.5 points in the paint, according to TeamRankings.com, and that number continues to get worse.
But Timofey Mozgov is preventing that from being even worse. With his physical 7'1", 250-pound frame and willingness to go after every loose ball, he's easily Denver's best inside defender.
With he is also shooting a career-high 54.9 percent from the floor, he has a great skill set for the inside-out style of play. He may not be the best in the pick-and-roll, but with several other Denver players capable of that, he balances out the lineup.
Plus, don't overlook his ability to run the floor and finish at the rim. One minute he uses touch off the glass; the next he throws it down with authority.
He's still not playing starter-type minutes and hasn't had a good February offensively. Mozgov could use some development away from the basket on both ends of the floor.
In terms of exceeding expectations, however, he is a winner.
27.8 MPG, 11.7 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Even though J.J. Hickson isn't averaging a double-double on the year, he will be when the regular season concludes. He has put up double-digit points each month, but he's done it on the glass too since his playing time was bumped to 30-plus minutes in January.
He was brought in to play power forward, but with the McGee injury, he was forced to play out of position like he did with the Portland Trail Blazers. Therefore, you can't fault him too much when he gets his shot blocked or gives up an easy bucket on the low block here and there.
Considering that and his height at 6'9", his rebounding is especially impressive when you see him pull down 24 boards at the Warriors (second in rebounding) or 16 at the Detroit Pistons (seventh). His physicality and athleticism are great attributes for what Shaw wants from his team.
Free-throw shooting is a completely different story, though. Hickson is shooting a career-low 55.1 percent from the line, and his next-worst season comes at 64.2 percent.
It may not sound like a big deal, but when you shoot the second-most attempts on the team at 3.9 times, it adds up. Each time he makes his first attempt, you pretty much expect him to clank the second off the back iron.
As ESPN's Marc Stein reported on Tuesday, the New York Knicks are again attempting to negotiate a deal for Faried. If the Manimal is moved before the trade deadline, a Hickson-Mozgov combo is an intriguing starting frontcourt.
While I'm not a huge proponent of that trade, it could bring more balance to the starting five. Hickson would have more opportunities to use his mid-range jumper and attack off the dribble, and he'd have more success posting up guys his size.
For now though, he deserves a respectable grade.
27.8 MPG, 11.7 PPG, 3.0 APG, 0.7 SPG
Through the first two months of the season, Randy Foye had great difficulty in finding a rhythm. In fact, as far as healthy players go, he was trending at being the biggest bust of the season.
But once his minutes were increased and the Nuggets starting running more, everything clicked.
In December, he posted 7.3 points, a 32.1 field-goal percentage, 27.8 three-point percentage, 1.7 rebounds and two assists in 21.1 minutes. He even lost his starting spot for three games.
In January, he put up 16.7 points, a 46.9 field-goal percentage, 40.6 three-point percentage, 3.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 33.4 minutes. Those stats have remained steady in February.
You also have to tip your cap to his efforts since Robinson went down. Granted Foye is a combo guard, but he started playing backup at point and then had to run the show for a majority of the road trip with Lawson's injury.
Yes, the results aren't great when that happens, but he played 37.3 minutes in the last eight games and that number would have been a lot higher if Denver wasn't blown out in its last four contests. Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post also reported yesterday that Foye has been battling an ankle and a hamstring injury, and Foye even said after the Minnesota loss that he is "extremely banged up."
So before people question his decision making and that he's committed 4.6 turnovers in the last seven games, remember he's hurt, playing out of position and doing it with guys he's had minimal experience with.
Foye should take a hit in his grade for his slow start. But considering his value in the January turnaround, recent toughness and his absurd buzzer-beater on a broken play against the Los Angeles Clippers, he should be rewarded.
35.6 MPG, 18.0 PPG, 8.8 APG, 1.5 SPG
We all knew Ty Lawson was the most valuable player on the Nuggets. But this valuable? Probably not.
They got away with two wins without Lawson at the 76ers and Washington Wizards in December. Both teams were involved in losing streaks at the time.
But to close out January without their starting point guard, the Nuggets couldn't defeat the Bobcats or the Toronto Raptors at home. Then, if you include the game where he suffered his rib injury in Detroit, Denver has lost its last three by 27.7 points.
Lawson's 18 points, 8.8 assists and 1.5 steals are career highs. He averaged a double-double in a month for the first time of his career in January with 18.2 points and 11.1 assists.
Shaw lets Lawson dictate what the Nuggets should run depending on the flow of the game, what mismatches can be exploited and whether he should attack quickly in the shot clock. There's no doubt he is making his teammates better.
His defense has quietly improved too. Within an 11-day stretch in January, he held Stephen Curry to 24 points on 4-of-13 three-point shooting, Isaiah Thomas to 22 points on 7-of-21 from the field and Damian Lillard to 11 points on 0-of-4 three-point shooting.
While Lawson's shooting percentages are down slightly, that's understandable when Denver has switched styles of play multiple times. With that and the Nuggets being under .500, it's hard to criticize him elsewhere.