What We Learned About the Denver Nuggets This Season

Nick Juskewycz@@NickJuskewyczContributor IIIJune 7, 2014

What We Learned About the Denver Nuggets This Season

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Through a roller coaster of a 2013-14 retooling season, there are several positive and negative aspects to digest from the Denver Nuggets.

    After posting a franchise-record 57 wins in 2012-13 that earned them the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, the Nuggets finished 36-46 and 13 games out of the playoffs this year. Many expected that this team would take a step back with several front office, coaching and roster changes but not this big a drop off.

    However, Denver was decimated with injuries the entire year and never came close to having a healthy team. Only four players logged 70-plus games, and Timofey Mozgov was the only one to play all 82.

    As we take a look back at the Nuggets' 2013-14 campaign and what we now know about this roster, we'll also see what it means for the franchise moving forward.

     

    (All statistics are from Basketball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise)

Ty Lawson Is the Real Deal

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    Ty Lawson blows by Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers. Lawson contributed with 19 points and the Nuggets won 110-100.
    Ty Lawson blows by Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers. Lawson contributed with 19 points and the Nuggets won 110-100.Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Ty Lawson has been an upcoming star for the last few seasons, but it's been tough to pin point exactly how good he is.

    He's led the Nuggets in points and assists the last two seasons and fell 0.1 assists shy in 2011-12 of it being three years in a row. He's one of the quickest guards in the NBA, has led one of the best fast-break attacks and does a great job making others better around him.

    Despite the losing record, he did some of his best work this year. Not only did he record a career-best 17.6 points, 8.8 assists and 1.6 steals, he helped his teammates throughout the growing pains and took over at times when his team needed a lift.

    The Nuggets started putting the pieces together in January when Lawson dished out 11.1 assists. They knocked off the Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers within a three-and-a-half week stretch and looked like a team on the rise.

    But in the 11 games Lawson didn't play from late January to late February (includes the matchup vs. the Detroit Pistons when he got hurt), the Nuggets' only victory came at the Milwaukee Bucks. Their 10 losses were by a margin of 16.1 points per game.

    Just like that, Denver looked like a bottom-five team in the league and were nearly out of the postseason hunt.

    Lawson may never win NBA MVP, but his value is significantly underrated on the national scale. Should he produce these numbers next year and bring home some more wins with a healthy team, he should get serious consideration for the All-Star Game.

Kenneth Faried's Ceiling Was Higher Than Most People Thought

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    Kenneth Faried stares at the crowd after making the game-winning shot at the Golden State Warriors.
    Kenneth Faried stares at the crowd after making the game-winning shot at the Golden State Warriors.Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Speaking of All-Star caliber play, that's exactly what "The Manimal" brought for his final 25 games. He put up a double-double of 19.8 points and 10.8 rebounds on 55 percent shooting.

    Kenneth Faried has one of the best motors in the league. His firepower is nonstop no matter how many minutes he's on the court, and he's always flying in transition or looking to swat a shot off the glass.

    But he lacked several fundamentals and many questioned his potential. As Frank Isola of The NY Daily News reported back on Nov. 13, the New York Knicks attempted to trade Iman Shumpert straight up for Faried.

    If that offer didn't seem ridiculous back then, it sure does now.

    Faried demonstrated tremendous improvement on the offensive end. He converted 38.8 percent of his 10-to-16-footers, added a few low-post moves and became less reliant on his teammates for offensive success overall.

    The best part for the Nuggets is that Faried can still get better from a consistency standpoint. He may only be 6'8" at power forward and not overpower his man, but as his footwork, touch and basketball IQ continues to get better, that makes him that much more versatile in regards to putting pressure on the defense.

Timofey Mozgov Should Be the Starting Center Moving Forward

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    Timofey Mozgov posted a career-tying 23 points and career-high 29 rebounds at the Golden State Warriors.
    Timofey Mozgov posted a career-tying 23 points and career-high 29 rebounds at the Golden State Warriors.Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    As the Nuggets were going through their drastic offseason last summer, one of the best under-the-radar moves was extending Mozgov's contract.

    When Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the deal was three years for $14 million, it was perplexing to say the least. Mozgov barely saw the floor during the 2012-13 season, and his best year was in 2011-12 where he put up 5.4 points and 4.1 rebounds.

    But general manager Tim Connelly recognized how Mozzy could grow under Shaw and that he would fit in a more traditional inside-out offense. Furthermore, his size at 7'1" and 250 pounds allowed him to be a solid rim protector with McGee out.

    Most importantly, Mozgov's efficiency was outstanding by racking up 15.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and two blocks per 36 minutes. He recorded a 16.7 player-efficiency rating, 111 offensive rating and a 18.8 usage percentage.

    But after Mozgov stole the show at the Warriors and went off for a career-tying 23 points and career-high 29 boards, he put the exclamation point on his case for being the permanent starting center.

    McGee may have more athleticism and upside in the long run, but Mozgov's physical presence on both ends of the floor proved to be a huge asset in the paint.

    Furthermore, putting Mozgov next to Faried will bring more balance to the starting five. Then allowing McGee to come off the bench will provide the energetic one-two punch with Faried like the Nuggets had during their 2012-13 season.

The Defense Still Needs a Lot More Development

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    Omer Asik of the Houston Rockets throws down a dunk against the Nuggets defense.
    Omer Asik of the Houston Rockets throws down a dunk against the Nuggets defense.Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    If there's one thing that deserves the most criticism, it's Denver's defense. The franchise allowed a 28th-ranked 106.5 points.

    There are a few reasons for this.

    First, without Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer to guard on the perimeter, Danilo Gallinari to handle the dynamic forwards and McGee's acrobatic rejections, Denver was fairly limited for players who could force turnovers.

    Then, according to Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Postthe team was having trouble grasping the new defensive concepts. After Shaw simplified a few things for them schematically, the team started getting more stops and missed fewer assignments.

    Lastly, it's important to remember the Nuggets ran a second-most 102 possessions per game. According to TeamRankings.com, the Nuggets ranked 20th in defensive efficiency, so there's a little optimism to think they were just slightly below average.

    Nevertheless, it's a problem. How to fix it?

    Health, a more set rotation and experience under Shaw will help. Denver gave little effort on the defensive end in February, but it started to turn it around in the final weeks and should carry over some to next season.

    The combination of Mozgov and McGee at center, alongside Faried, J.J. Hickson and Darrell Arthur at power forward should make the frontcourt at least decent.

    However, the Nuggets will need to address their backcourt defense in the offseason.

    Lawson and Nate Robinson are under 6'0", while Randy Foye and Evan Fournier are inconsistent. Gallinari and Wilson Chandler have had several injury issues in their early careers.

The 2-Guard Needs Improvement

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    Randy Foye goes against Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards. Foye finished with 17 points and the Nuggets won 105-102.
    Randy Foye goes against Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards. Foye finished with 17 points and the Nuggets won 105-102.Associated Press

    To be fair to Foye, he had a better season than most gave him credit for. Denver brought him in to improve its three-point shooting, but his laundry list of things to do each night kept growing as the season went on.

    Once his role is more condensed, the streakiness should diminish and the efficiency should increase. But as Foye will be entering his ninth season next year and has already hit his peak, he would fit best as the backup shooting guard for the future.

    A lot of people had high expectations for Fournier after his late emergence during his rookie year. For his last nine games of the regular season, he recorded 12.3 points on 51.9 percent shooting.

    While he gained valuable experience this season, his shooting percentages and efficiency all took a hit. He has plenty of time to develop, but with a team that has Lawson and Faried peaking, the Nuggets need someone who can play both sides of the ball immediately.

    Gary Harris is that guy.

    The Nuggets have the 11th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft and Harris is projected to be selected around that time. Bleacher Report's Tyler Conway has him No. 10 on his big board, Tyler Lashbrook of SB Nation ranks him at No. 11 and DraftExpress.com puts him at No. 13.

    Harris may not be able to replace Iguodala's impact instantly, but he can be plugged into Denver's system right away. He often guarded the opponents' best player at Michigan State, was a "team guy" first and played effectively with and without the basketball.

    This is the kind of player Denver didn't have last year and Shaw would love to have. He also worked out with the Nuggets this week. 

Injuries Gave Denver No Chance at Playoffs

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    Nate Robinson tore his ACL on Jan. 29 against the Charlotte Bobcats. He missed the final 38 games of the season.
    Nate Robinson tore his ACL on Jan. 29 against the Charlotte Bobcats. He missed the final 38 games of the season.USA TODAY Sports

    As far as making the postseason, there was simply no chance the Nuggets were going to succeed. Here's a list of who suffered lengthy injuries and how many games they logged.

    PlayerInjuryGP
    Danilo GallinariACL0
    JaVale McGeeTibia5
    Nate RobinsonACL44
    Ty LawsonRib, Ankle62
    Wilson ChandlerHamstring, Groin62
    Darrell ArthurHip68
    J.J. HicksonACL69

    What's most devastating about this misfortune is that each player was expected to have a role in the primary rotation. Even if everyone stayed healthy, they were going to get minutes every night.

    It wouldn't matter who was on the sideline, but having a first-year head coach installing a new system didn't help. Trying to find chemistry in a transition period is a near-impossible task when you constantly have a different active roster.

    The only way the Nuggets were making the playoffs is if they were in the Eastern Conference and clawed out a couple of extra wins. The West was just too deep and talented for a beat-up team to contend.

    It's reasonable to think that Denver needs to make a few substantial moves to be a contender in the West. However, with the development Brian Shaw started getting out of his players down the stretch, this team has legitimate potential when healthy.