Report Card Grades for Denver Nuggets' 2014 Offseason so Far
Even though the Denver Nuggets haven't made any free-agency signings, there's nothing wrong with that. Their depth is impressive as it is.
After Denver acquired Arron Afflalo in a trade with the Orlando Magic, followed by Nate Robinson and Darrell Arthur exercising their player options, 11 of the 15 roster spots are locked in for the 2014-15 season.
Who will be the last four players?
The Nuggets drafted Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic. But we can't forget that Erick Green, one of Denver's second-round picks in 2013, is having a terrific summer league and should make a push to be the third point guard.
After we dive into Afflalo and Denver's picks from the 2014 draft, we'll also examine a few players the franchise missed out on and how those moves will impact the Nuggets moving forward.
With shooting guard being one of the weaker areas on this Nuggets squad, general manager Tim Connelly didn't wait until the 2014 NBA draft to address the situation.
He brought Afflalo back to Denver after a short stint with the Magic. The Nuggets traded Evan Fournier and one of their second-round picks to get him.
This falls under the "win now" category. Afflalo posted a career-high 18.2 points on 45.9 percent shooting last season. He also shot 42.7 percent from behind the arc.
Pairing him with a more developed Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried will make this potent Nuggets offense even more lethal. According to Cody Taylor of Basketball Insiders, Afflalo thinks this team can contend for an NBA championship.
It's not a guarantee that Afflalo will start, but it's very likely. He's the most diverse scorer Denver has at the 2, provides the most length at 6'5" and has previous experience with many of the guys on the team.
Even though it's not the biggest splash in the world, it's a great trade by Connelly that will help this team greatly in 2014-15.
After the Nuggets made a trade with the Chicago Bulls that gave them the draft rights to the 16th and 19th overall picks, their first selection was Jusuf Nurkic.
There were concerns that he might stay overseas next year. However, as David Pick of Eurobasket.com reports, Denver has bought out Nurkic's contract with his Croatian team, and he will play with the Nuggets next year.
Nurkic is a perfect fit for the Nuggets.
At 6'11", 280 pounds, he's a monster to deal with but also has great mobility and can run the floor. Just by watching his game, you can envision him in a Nuggets uniform.
His ability to play in space is terrific, particularly in the pick-and-roll. But Nurkic also has a solid post game and will throw the hammer down when he uses his huge frame to establish position.
How does he fit into this rotation?
With Timofey Mozgov making significant strides last season and JaVale McGee likely to get his minutes, it's tough to say. But there are two ways this could go.
First, all three centers might get roughly the same amount of playing time for the first couple of months. This gives head coach Brian Shaw time to put the pieces together on a more set rotation.
Or, McGee plays a significant number of minutes but is traded at some point during the year with his expensive contract. This allows Nurkic to enter the picture, while Denver brings in another star or has more cap space for a future free agent.
Either way, Nurkic will get his chance and has outstanding potential to be a starting center in the NBA.
While many of the first-round draft picks are having tremendous summer-league performances, Harris might be the best steal.
Many thought he was a great choice at the Nuggets' original No. 11 overall pick, but they were able to get two first-rounders who were on their radar. When you add that they were able to trade away Anthony Randolph's contract, this was a huge win for Denver.
Harris' diverse scoring attack and ability to create turnovers have been most evident through four summer-league games. He has posted 19.3 points (95.8 percent from the free-throw line) and 2.5 steals in 33 minutes per game.
While he brings a lot to the table on offense with his long-range shooting and slashing ability, it's the perimeter defense that stands out the most and what will earn him playing time in Denver sooner than later. He's in a crowded veteran backcourt with Afflalo and Randy Foye at the 2.
But that's a good problem to have, and Harris will have time to improve in other areas. His well-rounded game should help him become a more consistent player down the road.
Still, since the Nuggets were one of the worst defensive teams last year, Harris will get some playing time one way or another. He should make a difference at times this year, but in a couple of seasons, it wouldn't surprise me to see Harris as the starting shooting guard.
As for Denver's last draft selection, Connelly went back to the international big men and grabbed Jokic with the 41st overall pick.
Given the minimal roster availability, there's a good chance Jokic remains overseas for development. This is exactly what Denver did with Joffrey Lauvergne in 2013, who recently signed with Khimki Moscow for a two-year deal in June, per Sportando.
Even though Jokic is 6'11" and 253 pounds, he's only 19 years old and has some work to do with his finesse post game. With Mozgov, McGee and Nurkic on board, it's better for Jokic to gain experience overseas than spend most of the season on the bench.
He does have legitimate upside. He sees the floor well, has solid footwork and uses impressive touch around the rim. These fundamentals will help when he gets stronger over the next few years.
Since we likely won't see Lauvergne for at least two years and the Nuggets have limited roster and financial flexibility, Jokic was the correct route to go.
Not Landing Kevin Love, Chris Bosh or Mike Miller
If you think Connelly hasn't been active this offseason, that's hardly the case.
But just because those transactions didn't happen, it doesn't mean the offseason has been a failure. The right deal simply wasn't on the table. Denver has a lot of assets to work with, and practicing patience is better than pulling the trigger just for the sake of creating buzz.
As Aaron Lopez of Nuggets.com points out, Shaw recognizes the incredible depth on this squad. It may not have top-tier talent, but Denver has one of the best collection of players from top to bottom.
The Nuggets were banged up last year. Key players Gallinari, McGee, Robinson, Lawson, Arthur, Wilson Chandler and J.J. Hickson all played a mere 310 games combined, which comes out to a 44.3 average per player.
That's about as unlucky as you can get. There's no need to rush into a questionable trade when you don't know how this team looks when healthy.
The first few months of the upcoming season represent a perfect opportunity for Connelly and Shaw to assess the Nuggets' exact strengths and weaknesses and what they should do before the trade deadline.
The Nuggets had a productive offseason, even if they didn't land a superstar. They upgraded shooting guard, added depth to the frontcourt and didn't make any additional long-term commitments financially.
By going with most of their pieces from last season, not only will the Nuggets be able to find out what works when they're healthy, but the previously injured Denver players can improve their trade value.
Sure, there's no guarantee they won't have bumps in the road next season, but it's hard to imagine they'll get that unlucky again.
The Nuggets are poised to be a competitive team in the Western Conference. Should they rack up a winning record heading into February, don't be surprised if they make a move for an All-Star before the trade deadline to try and get them over the hump.
As the team stands now, the Nuggets aren't a favorite by any means.
But they're in fantastic position to make the playoffs and perhaps do some damage.
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