STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
It’s been a while since anyone in Denver could sit back, hands behind head, and declare that their Nuggets were not only a good team, but a dangerous one with the potential to be great. The key word there is “TEAM.” We’re not about to declare these guys ready to challenge for the title, mainly because they lack the star-power it seems an NBA club needs to get the calls down the stretch in the playoffs, but if you think these guys don’t have the ability to roll up on any club in the league on any given night you haven’t been paying attention.
The new-look Nuggets improved dramatically as the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season wore on, despite injuries to key players like Danilo Gallinari and the trade of All-Star power forward Nenệ to Washington for the talented but raw JaVale McGee. The team gelled late in the season and eventually gave the Lakers all they could handle in the first round of the playoffs before bowing out after seven games. During the offseason General Manager Masai Ujiri took another chance, letting go of the savvy, but limited, Arron Afflalo and fan favorite Al Harrington to bring in All-Star Andre Iguodala. Only time will tell if this move will pan out as well as the McGee acquisition, but we have a feeling it will.
Head coach George Karl now starts a full season with one of the deepest teams in the league. Many argue that the Nuggets are ten deep, have the capability to score fast and often, and with the addition of Iguodala now have the stopper they’ve needed on the perimeter against some of the West's toughest guards. Sure, outside of Gallinari, Iguodala and Ty Lawson very few of these guys have All-Star potential, but what Ujiri seems to understand is that you must have good role players on your team; guys willing to check their ego at the gate and do what it takes to win. Guys like Kenneth Faried, Corey Brewer, Andre Miller, Wilson Chandler, and Timofey Mozgov get that, and that’s why this may finally be the year the Nuggets get past the first round and have the big boys dreading to see the powder blue on the their schedule.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
McGee will be the starting center and should see 25-30 minutes a night with Mozgov backing him up and seeing 15-20. Faried will be a horse as the club’s starting power forward getting 30-35 minutes a night, while Gallinari sees similar minutes at small forward. Iguodala will get the lions-share of minutes (~35) at scoring guard. As for Lawson, he will likely see 35-40 minutes a night as he starts at point guard and periodically moves to the two to spell Iguodala. Andre Miller be the primary back-up at the point seeing around 20 minutes a night while Corey Brewer and Wilson Chandler each see anywhere from 15-25 minutes apiece in reserve roles.
JaVale McGee: After breaking onto the fantasy scene in 2010-11, McGee solidified himself as a quality option at the pivot last season. He was once again one of the league’s premier shot blockers, swatting away 2.2 attempts per game, which ranked second in the Association. His scoring average reached a new career-high of 11.3 points while his rebounding dropped slightly to 7.8 boards. The main mark against him has been an undeveloped offensive game, but he was tutored by Hakeem Olajuwon in the offseason so there should be significant improvement. McGee remains an atrocious free throw shooter (46.1 percent) but the rest of his game is so intriguing you can almost overlook that. He will be the Nuggets’ primary option in the middle which should lead to an increase in playing time, especially if he can display refined offensive skills from his time spent with Olajuwon.
Timofey Mozgov: Mozgov started last year as the Nuggets starting center, and that experience proved crucial as he rose from project to legitimate NBA center material. The lanky 7-footer posted career highs of 5.4 points and 4.1 rebounds during the season and displayed a solid jumper out to 15-feet, a soft touch around the rim, shot-blocking ability, and physicality. He isn’t likely to start in 2012-13 with McGee having blossomed but he’ll still play a big part in the Nuggets' front court rotation.
Kosta Koufos: The young Greek 7-footer saw plenty of action in 2011-12 when injuries hit the Nuggets’ front court, and he responded by averaging career highs of 5.5 points and 5.4 rebounds over 48 games. He’ll provide the Nuggets with quality depth should McGee or Mozgov suffer injury or foul-related problems.
Danilo Gallinari: Last season was a bit of a disappointment for Gallinari and his fantasy owners. He seemed poised to breakout and become a legit go-to option for the Nuggets, but as has been the case throughout his career, injuries limited his production. Gallinari also dealt with back and shoulder injuries while playing internationally this summer. Considering his previous issues with staying on the court, expectations need to be somewhat tempered heading into the 2012-13 season. With the depth on the Nuggets’ roster Gallinari won’t be asked to do it all by himself, but he’ll likely still be the No. 1 option on offense so we don’t necessarily see a dip in his scoring.
Kenneth Faried: Faried surprised basketball watchers in 2011-12 when he ended up starting 39 of the 46 games he played. He wasn’t getting off the bench much early in the season, but coach George Karl was won over by Faried’s energy and work on the boards. He averaged 10.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 22.6 minutes per game, numbers that bumped up to 11.7, 8.4, 1.14, respectively, in 25.2 minutes per game after the All-Star break. Faried still has some work left to polish and extend his offensive game, but he’ll still line up as Denver’s starting power forward to start the season and is guaranteed to be cleaning glass with the best of them.
Wilson Chandler: Chandler is good enough to start on a number of NBA teams but his solid, all-around skill set will be used in a reserve role behind Gallinari at the three this season.
Corey Brewer: Another consummate professional, Brewer revived his career and reputation in 2011-12 and provides the Nuggets with another solid defensive stopper off the bench. He also proved he could hit the three with regularity last year adding plenty to Denver’s already potent arsenal.
Anthony Randolph: A true wildcard on this team that is going to have to show-and-prove in camp if he’s going to earn minutes behind Faried. It’s more than likely that the club will just choose to go small most of the time using Koufos at the four when they need more size.
Jordan Hamilton: The youngster showed flashes of his vast potential last year, but with so much depth at small forward on this team he’s going to have to have a HUGE camp if he’s going to crack Karl’s normal 8-man rotation.
Quincy Miller: The rookie from Baylor will learn a lot in camp but expect him in the D-League when the real games start in November.
Andre Iguodala: After playing on one of the 10 lowest scoring teams in the league last year, Iguodala should welcome the change of pace he’ll see in Denver. Iggy has seen his scoring numbers decline each of the past four seasons, but given the change of scenery there’s reason to believe that he should be able to plateau or exceed last season’s 12.4 points per game. Despite declining scoring tallies, Iguodala has kept up his strong numbers elsewhere, averaging 6.1 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. His athleticism, the wealth of talent at small forward on this team and the departure of Arron Afflalo should mean Iguodala will slot into the starting shooting guard role for the Nuggets despite his history at the 3.
Ty Lawson: Lawson posted career-highs in nearly all per-game categories thanks to a bump in playing time of about 8.5 minutes per game. He worked hard to improve his shot and became a legit 3-point threat by season’s end. He showed even more scoring savvy in the playoffs, averaging 19 points on 51.4 percent shooting in the first-round series loss to the Lakers. He’ll start this year with a bevy of options at his disposal to potentially increase his assist numbers, and will undoubtedly be an integral part of a high-octane Nuggets offense that could be the league’s highest scoring team.
Andre Miller: The old man came through in a big way last year when most critics felt he was probably used up. Miller was a great mentor to Ty Lawson, a calming influence, and fully bought into George Karl’s system which helped set the tone for the year. We expect to see more of the same in 2012-13, although with Iguodala around Miller might see a few less minutes than the 27 he averaged last year.
Julyan Stone: Stone saw limited action in 2011-12 and has yet to prove he’s truly capable of running an NBA team. Expect him to spend more of his year in the D-League than on the club’s official roster.
Evan Fournier: He can shoot, but he’s got a lot to learn about the NBA game and needs time to put some meat on his frail 6-6, 200lb frame. Expect him in the D-League or back overseas by camp end.
JaVale McGee: McGee already showed he has the potential to post double-doubles with 2-3 blocks a night, but we think his time with Olajuwon in the offseason is going to make him a guy you don’t want to pass up in your draft.
Wilson Chandler: Chandler has the skill-set to be a solid, consistent contributor, but with the amazing depth at small forward we just don’t see him getting enough minutes to make any fantasy impact in 2012-13.