Which Denver Nuggets Player Has the Most Upside?

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Which Denver Nuggets Player Has the Most Upside?
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

This has been a disappointing and injury-prone year for the Denver Nuggets, but one positive has come from it: Head coach Brian Shaw has been able to evaluate his entire roster.

Because of injuries and trades, 14 Nuggets players average more than 11 minutes per game, and that's not including Jordan Hamilton's and Andre Miller's 17.2 and 19 minutes respectively before they were traded.

Furthermore, five of those 14 players are in only their fourth year in the NBA or are less experienced. Those are Kenneth Faried, Timofey Mozgov, Evan Fournier, Quincy Miller and Jan Vesely.

With Denver pretty much out of the playoff picture, it's important to assess which Nuggets player has the greatest upside. Considering Denver's injuries, including not getting Danilo Gallinari back this season, Shaw hasn't even come close to establishing a set rotation.

Along with playing hard, showing improvement and contributing to wins, whoever has the greatest potential on the young Denver roster will have the best chance to play a substantial role next season.

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Vesely is a bigger project than Faried or JaVale McGee, and he's played only four minutes in the last three games combined. Since Vesely becomes an unrestricted free agent in the offseason (per Basketball Insiders) and Denver traded Andre Miller (guaranteed at least $2 million of his $4.625 million next season according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports) along with a second-round pick for him, this was likely just a cap-space move.

As for Quincy Miller, in an article by Aaron J. Lopez of Nuggets.com on Oct. 2, Shaw said, “He is really, really talented. At 6-10, he can handle the ball. When he gets his feet set, he can shoot it well from the outside."

While that is true, he's very inconsistent, has a lot of improvement to do in just about every department and is not getting any meaningful playing time now that Denver finally has 12 healthy players. There's upside, but not enough signs to think it's very significant.

Let's take a more in-depth look at the other three guys.

 

Kenneth Faried

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

From a general production standpoint, Faried is having another solid season—11.3 points per game on 54.4 percent shooting to go with 7.6 rebounds. His per-36 numbers across the board are fairly similar to his previous two seasons.

But the difference this year is that "Manimal" is finding more ways to score.

That's particularly true when it comes to his mid-range shot.

Faried's Field-Goal Percentages from Different Distances
Year 0-3 Feet 3-10 Feet 10-16 Feet
2011-12 68.6 41.3 26.3
2012-13 66.2 38.7 27.7
2013-14 68.0 40.6 48.8

Basketball-Reference.com

He still needs to work on his 63.4 percent free-throw mark, but as Faried continues to hit shots from just outside the paint, defenses can't play as soft on him. This opens the door for him to dribble in and use his vertical leap to dunk on the opponent.

Furthermore, considering that Faried dealt with an ankle injury earlier in the year, Ty Lawson has missed 13 games and Andre Miller lasted only the first two months of the season, Faried has had fewer high-flying Manimal dunks and more traditional low-post moves this season. Shaw has also slowed the tempo at times and played more of an inside-out style depending on who is in the game.

Given that Faried's field-goal percentages from around the basket have remained steady, he's starting to show improvement on both low blocks without throwing the hammer down.

There's still room for improvement and consistency, and he's not going to beat the bigger power forwards with his physicality since he's only 6'8". However, he's adding more balance to his game, and he's on the right track.

The biggest area needing development is his defense, both down low and on the perimeter. He can fly in transition and swat away shots. But he has issues guarding the pick-and-roll, playing his man tight outside without letting him go by and keeping his man from establishing good position in the post.

In Denver's 115-110 win over the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday night, Shaw elected to have Wilson Chandler guard Dirk Nowitzki a majority of the time. Sure, that didn't work at times and Faried would have given up some height as well. Shaw instead put Faried on the less versatile Shawn Marion, who still scored 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

Despite already being an effective player, there's still a high ceiling for Faried.

 

Timofey Mozgov

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

When the Nuggets were recently in the middle of losing 11 of 12 games, Shaw made a change to start Mozgov at center. This was a well-earned promotion for the Russian center given his advancements on both ends of the floor.

But Mozgov, who has played 20.4 minutes on the season, has actually had his playing time reduced to 19.1 minutes in the five games since the switch. "Mozzy" does get to play against the opponents' first unit more frequently this way, but his boundaries aren't really being tested.

Granted 15.6 minutes was his previous career high when he started 35 games in the 2011-12 season, but we don't know if he can maintain his respectable per-36 minute numbers over a longer stretch. Those statistics include 14.9 points (career high), 10.4 rebounds (0.1 less than his career high) and 2.1 blocks (0.1 less than his career high).

Given that Mozgov runs the floor fairly well for his 7'1" 250-pound frame, he's improving in the pick-and-roll and he's the most fit player on the roster to post someone up in the half-court offense, he's showing he has legitimate upside.

In addition, Mozgov's plus/minus per 100 possessions figure, a career-high plus-4.7, is evidence of his growing defensive presence. To put that into context and show how he's flourishing under Shaw, Mozgov was a minus-9.8 in 2011-12.

Still, Mozgov is hardly a go-to guy when it comes to scoring, and he needs more consistency with his touch off the glass when finishing with contact. 

Given his size, his rebounding efficiency is poor, even if he's next to Faried or J.J. HicksonHis passing needs work as well.

So even though Mozzy keeps making progress, there's a lot he can do to get better.

 

Evan Fournier

Gary Dineen/Getty Images

If you look at Fournier's per-36 minute numbers, you'll find he's declined in nearly every statistic.

But Fournier deserves a partial pass for that. He's a second-year player who didn't get meaningful playing time until the end of last season. In addition, it's tough for a youngster to improve when the rotation and style of play are changing. 

Not only that, he was asked to play a decent amount of point guard in February when Denver's point-guard issues occurred. While Fournier spent time at the point overseas before the Nuggets drafted him, his game translates more effectively at the 2. He has more of an opportunity to succeed there with Lawson as the floor general.

The bigger concern for Fournier is his half-court game.

Last season when the Nuggets were flying up-and-down the court, Fournier was able to attack in transition, float to the wing for the open three-pointer or just have more freedom to take it to the rim.

This year, he's been more constricted to decision making or creating his own shot away from the basket.

Consequently, this has led Fournier to take only 25.6 percent of his shots from within three feet of the basket this year compared to last season's 40.8 percent. It's also why his three-point percentage has declined from 40.7 to 38.8.

Like pretty much every other Nuggets player, his defense needs work too. He may have developed an unfair reputation in getting dinged with several ticky-tack fouls, but his defensive rating of 111 is tied for the worst on the team with Randy Foye. 

At the same time and granted Fournier may not have the potential to be an All-Star, he has the game to be a starting 2-guard for the Nuggets. Nate Timmons of Denver Stiffs made a case for the Frenchman to be a starter back on Oct. 12.

Having a guy who can shoot, drive to the basket and essentially score from anywhere on the floor is a big positive. By building on that, playing next to Lawson and gaining more experience, he could be a legitimate threat to put up 15 points each night.

 

Conclusion

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Even though he's already shown he's a dangerous weapon, Faried has the most upside right now.

If you told me before the season what injuries the Nuggets would have sustained and that Faried would be playing only 25.6 minutes, I'd say his production would take a massive hit. That hasn't happened, and he's quietly made improvements in his game through this tough season. 

Faried's 18.5 player-efficiency rating is second best on the team. With his motor, we know he's a big-time playmaker with his offensive rebounding, transition game and ability to win 50-50 balls.

Since his offensive game is making strides, he'll become incredibly lethal when there's a set rotation and he's playing alongside Lawson, Gallinari and McGee. With all the attention they will draw, imagine how much easier it will be for Faried to make things happen.

Which Nuggets Player Has the Most Upside Right Now?

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The defense is a concern, but it's fixable. With Shaw's coaching experience developing players on both the Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers, there's no reason to think he can't continue doing the same with Faried.

He probably won't be a shut-down defender for small forwards like Kevin Durant on the outside, nor will he have the body like a Dwight Howard to guard the big centers in the post. But with his athleticism, work ethic and a supporting cast, Faried can be more of an asset than a liability on that end of the floor.

Does Faried have Blake Griffin potential in the sense that he can single-handedly carry Denver on his back? No.

But does the Manimal have All-Star potential? You bet. 

 

(All statistics via Basketball-Reference)

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