At first glance Brian Shaw's first season as the Denver Nuggets' head coach hasn't been one to remember, but we'd be wise to view this season in perspective. Transition periods of this sort rarely go smoothly.
The Nuggets are all but officially excluded from the postseason, and they hardly resemble the 57-win club that threatened dark-horse contention a season ago. They've been beset by injuries, including a stress fracture that sidelined JaVale McGee for the remainder of the season after playing in just five games.
That development was especially catastrophic during a season in which the club was already without Danilo Gallinari, who tore his ACL in April 2013.
Capping things off was a messy split with veteran Andre Miller who once seemed virtually unthinkable. Shaw has been tested, as has the patience demonstrated by a Nuggets fanbase that figured on the franchise building upon last season with a deeper postseason run.
Instead, the Nuggets find themselves building for the future with a young core and a young coach—and there's plenty to like about where they stand.
When healthy, this roster is virtually the same one that claimed the West's third season in 2012-13. If anything, the addition of J.J. Hickson—who's under contract for two more years—has made the rotation even deeper.
Most importantly, this team will have ample opportunity to grow under Shaw. All of the primary pieces—Gallinari, McGee, Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler—will be around for at least two more seasons.
That's a wealth of talent should general manager Tim Connelly opt to make moves in the near future, but it's also a core worth watching for at least one more go-around. If they could gel before, they should be able to do so again.
We shouldn't read too much into its failure to puts things together amidst so much turmoil. Though Shaw would have liked to have seen more fight from his players, there's little doubt that playing so short-handed has taken a psychological toll. Beyond the injuries' impact on Xs and Os, it's hard to get up for games when so many key components are sidelined.
Much as things appear to be broken, it's too soon to start thinking about how to fix them. Time may do the trick. Shaw intimated as much this March, suggesting that more of the same could help turn things around, per The Denver Post's Christopher Dempsey:
We've kind of settled on the style we're going to play. And so these last dozen games or so that we have left, we're just trying to get better at those things and familiarize ourselves with them. ...
And I've been happy with that over the last few weeks. So when we do get to training camp in October, they are familiar with what we want and how we want to play and what I expect of them.
As Shaw and his staff continue developing in-house talent, the 2014 draft won't hurt.
Denver will select with either its own pick or the one belonging to the New York Knicks—whichever offers them a more favorable draft position. Either way, it will result in a solid prospect, thanks to what promises to be a relatively deep draft. With good depth at every position, the Nuggets can afford to take the best available talent and likely look for someone who can make an immediate impact.
There will be calls from some to blow things up, or at least to make a major move. The Nuggets don't have a superstar—unless you count Lawson—but they have enough talent to make a run at one via trade. They also have yet to see Gallinari produce on a consistently efficient basis. He isn't quite the shooter we thought he was, and the Nuggets need him to be just that.
Could a package built around Gallinari, Faried and other young talent yield a legitimate star, someone on the wing who could score inside and out? Possibly. And if the Nuggets are still struggling come the 2015 trade deadline, it may come to that.
But the front office owes Shaw some time to make this roster work. He's confronted mile-high expectations resolutely, and the Nuggets have remained a tough out, especially at home. It would be premature to ramp those expectations up once more, but counting this team out in 2014-15 is equally unwise.
These Nuggets will be back and maybe better than ever.
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