Denver Nuggets Preview 2011
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The drama that was the 2010-11 Nuggets' season started with head coach George Karl returning from a bout with cancer which was quickly followed by a dismantling of the club's front office. New general manager Masai Ujiri was given the unenviable job of trying to convince Carmelo Anthony to re-sign, a job he attempted to do for five months before the team finally grew tired of the sideshow and shipped the high-scoring forward to the Knicks along with fan favorite Chauncey Billups. In return, the club received a bevy of draft picks and players with potential emblazoned on their chests. Danilo Gallinari made an immediate impact before suffering an ankle injury that kept him sidelined until the playoffs. The starting point guard job landed in Ty Lawson's lap and he didn't disappoint, combining with newcomer Raymond Felton to give the Nuggets', arguably, the best point guard rotation in the NBA. Nene started looking like the dominant post player everyone expected him to be, especially after Anthony's exit, and posted an almost unheard of field goal percentage of 61.5. Arron Afflalo also stepped up and proved he could provide some significant offense in addition to his defensive prowess, while guys like Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith provided solid contributions almost every night. The club's 18-7 mark over the last quarter of the season helped them claim the fifth seed in the playoffs, and while they were quickly dispatched by Oklahoma City, it was clear that Ujiri and company had succeeded in putting together a very solid core for the future and a team the city was once again willing to embrace.
This offseason the club left no doubt who their point guard of the future was going to be as they traded Felton and brought back veteran Andre Miller to back-up Lawson. The club then drew rave reviews by grabbing Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton on draft day, two players who have the potential to see significant minutes this season. Then came the lockout, which saw pending free agents Kenyon Martin, Chandler, and Smith all bolt for China. Those three now find themselves in contracts they can't get out of, and their absence left Nuggets with a thin roster to open camp with, a situation that was alleviated somewhat by the re-signing of Nene and the acquisitions of Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer from Dallas. As it stands now, the club is counting on Ujiri to work his magic and get Afflalo back in a Nuggets' uniform. If he can, and some of the young bigs on the team like Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos reach their potential, this team could give others fits.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
If Afflalo stays, the starters are expected to be Mozgov at center, Nene at power forward, Gallinari at small forward, Afflalo at shooting guard, and Lawson at point guard. With so much potential depth we don't see any Nuggets seeing more than 35 minutes on a nightly basis. Nene, Lawson, Afflalo, and Gallinari should see 30-35 minutes, while Mozgov sees 25-30. Expect Chris Andersen, Fernandez, and Miller to see the most minutes off the Nuggets bench with all three averaging 20-25 minutes a night. Al Harrington, the most likely amnesty candidate on the Nuggets, could see 10-15 minutes a night if he's still around, but it's more likely that Brewer and Koufos will be splitting those minutes up front. Hamilton and Faried will be left with the mop-up minutes in blowouts.
Timofey Mozgov: It's way too early to make any predictions about Mozgov as the Nuggets' starting center, but one thing is for sure, the 7-1, 250 pound center has caught George Karl's eye and seems to all but have the starting job, even with Nene on the roster. If given enough minutes, Mozgov could be a great source of rebounds and blocks. It's worth grabbing him at the end of standard drafts based on his potential.
Chris Andersen: The lockout was positive for Andersen. He needed the extra time to get both his knee and back 100-percent healthy. Andersen has struggled with injuries the last couple of years, but if he can stay away from the infirmary, he's as good a shot-blocker as there is in the league (averaging 1.6 a game for his career) and should see extended minutes this season with Martin playing in China. We fully expect to see him put up numbers comparable to his 2008-09 stats, when he averaged less than 20 minutes a night and posted 6.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, and 2.5 bpg.
Kosta Koufos: The team is high on him. He posted 4.6 ppg and 3.0 rpg in just eight mpg through 11 games last year. Based on that small body of work, he could get minutes instead of Harrington. However, he's still unlikely to have much fantasy value this season.
Nene: The big man has re-signed, and he's projected to play power forward this season. With Karl high on Mozgov at center and Martin gone, the spot is open, and Nene should thrive there. With Smith, Billups, Anthony, Chandler, and Martin no longer on the roster, Nene should have a larger role in the offense. If the team has to lean on him more offensively, that could result in a general increase in minutes, which should result in him grabbing more boards.
Danilo Gallinari: He's no Carmelo Anthony, but Gallinari may have the highest super-star potential of anyone left on Denver's roster. We expect him to breakout this season and become a premier fantasy threat. Like Nene, Gallinari should benefit heavily from the absence of Smith, Chandler, and Martin and could potentially be the club's No. 1 option on offense.
Corey Brewer: He's a stout defender, but his marginal offensive game is going to keep him on the bench most of the time unless the club fails to re-sign Afflalo which would force Fernandez to spend most of his time at the two, opening minutes behind Gallinari.
Al Harrington: Harrington has been a perennial disappointment, at least from a fantasy perspective. He has the ability to shoot, but he doesn't do much else and he had a hard time earning minutes last season. The team could use its amnesty clause on Harrington, and that might be the best way for him to find consistent fantasy minutes this season.
Jordan Hamilton: Many think Hamilton will end up being the steal of the draft, and he could very well prove that this year as the absence of Smith and Chandler have left an opportunity for the 21-year-old to show his goods. We think he'll get minutes but not enough to make him fantasy worthy in most formats at the beginning of the season.
Kenneth Faried: He's a monster on the boards. It's likely he'll develop into a solid power forward down the road, but the club has a lot of size up front so it's going to be tough for Faried to crack the rotation.
Chukwudiebere Maduabum: Maduabum was drafted by the Lakers in the second round of this year's drafted and moved to the Nuggets in a draft-night trade. He's a project player and could spend most of his season in the D-League.
Ty Lawson: Lawson finally got a chance to prove he was capable of handling the starting point guard duties last year, and he performed admirably. In the 31 games he started last year the diminutive guard averaged 14.7 ppg, 6.7 apg, 3.5 rpg, and 1.4 spg in 32 minutes a night. With only an aging Andre Miller backing him up and an increased need for scoring, we don't see any reason why you won't see increases across the board in most statistical categories for Lawson. We're not saying he's Chris Paul or Deron Williams, but you could do worse when looking for a starting point guard after the first couple tiers of guards are off the board.
Arron Afflalo: As Denver's starting shooting guard last year, Afflalo shot 42.3 percent from downtown on the way to a career-high 12.6 ppg average. He also chipped in 3.6 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.5 bpg, and 0.5 spg. If he stays in Denver, it is very possible that he'll be asked to do even more on the offensive end. He was injured shortly after Anthony got traded to New York, limiting the time he had to try and shine in a larger role.
Rudy Fernandez: With the athletic and dynamic Fernandez on board, the club may have found Smith's replacement, and if Afflalo doesn't re-sign, Fernandez could be looking at his first chance to start and get close to 30 minutes a night in the NBA. He's big enough and versatile enough to play both shooting guard and small forward, so even with Afflalo back on the roster we should still see Fernandez getting significant minutes. It's worth drafting him on speculation in the later rounds of drafts, and if the team announces that he'll be playing a larger role, Fernandez could become a significant force in fantasy this season.
Andre Miller: We're not real sure what to expect from Miller. He came into camp out of shape but is saying all the right things and seems content to back-up Lawson. Karl loves Miller. The aging guard will get plenty of minutes off the bench, but his lack of a well-rounded statistical game limits the impact he'll have in fantasy. He's a great handcuff for Lawson owners in deeper leagues this season.
Arron Afflalo: If Afflalo re-signs, he should be the team's starting shooting guard again. With Smith and Chandler stuck in China, he'll have a lot more opportunities to carve out a larger role in the offense this season. People have already jumped on this bandwagon a little, so Afflalo isn't going terribly cheap in drafts; however, based on his potential, we think he's worth a pick any time after the seventh or eighth round of drafts. If Afflalo doesn't re-sign, Fernandez could breakout in a huge way. He was jerked around in Portland, so nobody really knows what he can do with a consistent 30 minutes a night. We think he'd do a lot.
Timofey Mozgov: It's not that he's going to be a train wreck, he's just a work in progress who is going to make mistakes, get few offensive touches, and won't give you anything else outside of modest rebounding and a blocked shot now and then.