Checklist for Denver Nuggets to Get Back to the NBA Playoffs Next Season
In their first season in the post-George Karl era, the Denver Nuggets won 21 fewer games than the year before and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
The disappointment appeared to be due in large part to a coaching change the players never appeared to get used to, the loss of Andre Iguodala and, of course, injuries.
That's not to say the season was a total failure, though. Denver did still show some flashes of the old, exciting Nuggets. And if the team can manage to stay healthy next season, it should be able to improve on the 36-46 record posted in 2013-14.
That will be just one item on Denver's checklist for how to get back into the playoffs.
Just look at the Nuggets players who missed 20 or more games this season: Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler, Nate Robinson, JaVale McGee and Danilo Gallinari.
Those last two were the most devastating.
Gallinari was the Nuggets' second-leading scorer in 2012-13, and he didn't play a single game this season while recovering from an ACL tear. McGee made over $10 million and appeared in just five contests.
Hopefully, both have taken full advantage of extra time off by working hard and strengthening their lower bodies.
Gallinari appears to have been doing just that, as The Denver Post's Christopher Dempsey says, "...he's running now. And jumping. And dunking."
According to Dempsey, Gallinari said, "It felt great just to grab that rim."
Nuggets fans are hoping both he and McGee will be doing a lot of that in actual games next season.
Shore Up Perimeter Defense
Last season, the Nuggets had the league's 11th-best defensive rating, giving up 102 points per 100 possessions. In 2013-14, they slid all the way to 21st, posting a defensive rating of 105.4.
Obviously, you can't pin that much of a difference on just one factor, but losing Iguodala's perimeter defense didn't help.
He was Denver's undisputed leader on that end, often stymieing the opposition's best guard or wing, making it difficult for them to initiate any offense.
Iguodala's efforts were recognized after the 2013 season ended, as he received five first-place votes for Defensive Player of the Year.
The Nuggets needed someone to fill that role after Iguodala bolted for the Golden State Warriors, and it simply never happened.
They may not find another player with the kind of defensive skill and versatility of Iguodala, but it's something they should at least attempt in the draft or free agency.
Keep Up the Pace
Part of the reason for Denver's early struggles this season was the players had a hard time adjusting to a different style under new coach Brian Shaw.
He was brought in to emphasize defense and playoff-style basketball, after Karl had success with run-and-gun for years.
It didn't take the players long to realize they needed to speed things up, and they wound up finishing third in the league in pace, averaging 100.7 possessions per 48 minutes.
The altitude in Denver is the reason that kind of up-and-down game favors the home team. If you're not used to that thin air, you run out of oxygen much faster.
I can attest to the truth of that. After growing up in Wyoming, I lived in Virginia for just a couple of years. Upon my return to the great mountain west, I found myself gassed within the first few minutes of any sort of exercise or pickup basketball.
The Nuggets have a distinct home-court advantage that most teams don't. They need to keep taking advantage of it.
Emphasize Ball Security
Lots of coaches love to quote John Wooden, and I can't tell you how many times I've heard this gem, "Be quick, but don't hurry."
The Nuggets often failed to heed the second part of that advice, mistaking recklessness for speed. For that reason, they averaged 15.7 turnovers per 100 possessions, giving them the eighth-worst turnover ratio in the league.
Denver could use another backup point guard in that mold who could provide a change of pace from Lawson.
If the team can't find that kind of player, adjustments from the guards already there will be necessary.
Unleash the Manimal
After the All-Star break, Kenneth Faried showed that his energy and athleticism can be sustained in extended minutes as he put up franchise-forward numbers.
Before the break, he averaged 10.4 points and 7.6 rebounds in 24.7 minutes. After, he was good for 18.8 and 10.1 in 31.2 minutes.
It wasn't just extended minutes that led to the boost in production. Shaw finally started gearing his offense toward Faried. Getting him the ball became a priority, and the big man rewarded his coach by relentlessly attacking the rim.
He needs to have that same role for the entirety of next season. When he's dominating inside, defenses will have to collapse inside, opening things up for the guys on the perimeter.
When that happens, Denver's entire offense will pick up.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.