STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
At first glance, the 2012-13 Denver Nuggets' season looks like a resounding success. They finished with a franchise best 57–25 record; head coach George Karl received the NBA Coach of the Year award; and their general manager, Masai Ujiri, was named the Executive of the Year. This all sounds like a young team on the way to building a contender, right? Not quite. While regular season records and awards are nice, the goal is always to win a championship, and unfortunately, their season also included another first round playoff exit. That last part was enough to nullify all of the other positives. Thus began the ensuing shake up. Karl was fired; Ujiri jumped ship to the Raptors; and his potential in-house replacement, vice president of basketball operations Pete D'Alessandro, left to become the new GM of the Kings. The organization went about replacing these vital positions by bringing in a first-time general manager and a first-time head coach. To replace the departed Ujiri, the Nuggets hired Tim Connelly. The 36-year-old Connelly previously served as the assistant GM in New Orleans under Dell Demps. After the general manager spot was filled, Brian Shaw was targeted as the new head coach after his exceptional player development work with the Pacers.
While much of the offseason revolved around non-player personnel changes, there were a number of important alterations to the members of the organization who actually see the court. The biggest of which would be the failure to re-sign free agent Andre Iguodala. This resulted in a sign and trade to the Warriors, part of a three-team deal that brought Randy Foye to the Nuggets. Other moves included: trading center Kosta Koufos to the Grizzlies for Darrell Arthur, signing free agents J.J. Hickson and Nate Robinson and the departure of free agent Corey Brewer to the Timberwolves. With the Iguodala move outstanding, none of the other transactions should affect the starting lineup; however, they will help shape the different rotations and playing time distribution for the upcoming season.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Lawson will start at point and be good for around 35 minutes per game. Andre Miller and Nate Robinson will be battling for time at backup point guard with both coming close to 20 mpg, but Robinson is more likely to come away with more. With the departure of Andre Iguodala, you have the recently acquired Randy Foye and second-year man Evan Fournier battling for the starting two spot. I expect Foye to get the initial starting nod playing around 20 minutes per game with Fournier receiving about the same and eventually making a push for the starting spot. Robinson will fill in the remaining time as needed. With Gallinari (knee) possibly out until around midseason, the small forward minutes will go to Wilson Chandler. He should log around 25 mpg with Jordan Hamilton seeing the primary backup time. Once Gallinari returns to the lineup and is at full strength, he should be counted on for 20 to 25 minutes per game, pushing both Chandler and Hamilton's minutes down in the process. Kenneth Faried will start at power forward and should be looking at around 25 to 30 mpg. Look for J.J. Hickson and Darrell Arthur to contribute in this spot as well with Hickson receiving the lion's share of the playing time behind Faried. JaVale McGee will be the starting center, expecting to get 30-35 mpg Timofey Mozgov will be his primary backup but don't be surprised if the Nuggets also use Hickson or Arthur at this spot in an attempt to get both players more time on the court.
JaVale McGee: After trading Kosta Koufos to the Grizzlies, McGee is now the undisputed starting center in Denver. McGee has always been a good source of blocks and a consistent rebounder throughout his career. With a potential increase in playing time, he should continue to be a solid contributor in both categories.
Timofey Mozgov: The native Russian signed a three-year extension this summer to be the backup center in Denver. While the new contract is a positive, the additions of Hickson and Arthur should restrict him from expanding his role much, if at all, from last year.
Wilson Chandler: With Danilo Gallinari (knee) on the shelf and Corey Brewer in Minnesota, Chandler will get his opportunity to start at the three spot for the Nuggets. If he can stay healthy, Chandler should be a solid offensive contributor. Unfortunately, that is a big if. Chandler has only played all 82 games once during his seven-year career and is only one year removed from a torn ACL. The minutes are there, he just needs to stay on the court.
Kenneth Faried: Coming into his third season, Faried is the Nuggets projected starting power forward. Last season, he led the Nuggets in rebounding and was a double-double machine, collecting 31 over the course of the season. Faried needs to show some improvement on the defensive side of the ball, but the energy he brings to the offense and on the boards is undeniable. The addition of J.J. Hickson is one to keep an eye on as he could cut into some playing time and potentially even take his starting job. However, this would take a spectacular training camp from Hickson combined with a horrific one from Faried. The starting spot is Farieds' to lose.
J.J. Hickson: Hickson signed with the Nuggets this offseason for three years and $15 million. He had a solid season in Portland, averaging 12.7 points and 10.3 rebounds, but in Denver, he will find himself competing for minutes at power forward with Kenneth Faried and for time at center behind JaVale McGee. Both are projected starters, which leaves Hickson in the more likely role of contributing as a backup for both positions. If he can continue to be versatile and play both the four and five spot, he should be able to find enough minutes to contribute in a meaningful way.
Jordan Hamilton: While Wilson Chandler appears to have the starting spot locked up, Hamilton has a great opportunity to expand his role this season. After ave raging less than 10 minutes per game last year, look for him to make a potentially significant jump in playing time. He played well during the summer league in Las Vegas and small forward is a position of relatively little depth on this team. Couple that with the injury prone Chandler and Hamilton's value could see a significant increase. New head coach Brian Shaw has already stated that he would be relying on Hamilton in the rotation this year, now it is just a question of whether or not he takes advantage of this opportunity.
Darrell Arthur: After coming over from the Grizzles in a trade this offseason, Arthur will be battling for playing time at both power forward and center. Arthur will be in a backup role, but if he can be a versatile player for this Nuggets team, he should be able to find the minutes to contribute somewhere.
Anthony Randolph: He averaged under 10 minutes per game last season, and with the additions the team has made to the frontcourt this offseason, it appears unlikely that he will be receiving anymore time than that this year.
Danilo Gallinari (Knee): He is expected to miss at least the first month of the season after tearing his ACL last April. Once he returns to full strength, he should be welcomed back into a starting lineup that is fairly week at small forward. His exact return date is still unclear, so the release of any official timetable could change things.
Ty Lawson: He is the starting point guard and the closest thing to a superstar the Nuggets currently have on their roster. Lawson averaged 16.7 points and 6.9 assists per game last season, solid numbers for the fourth-year guard. This upcoming season, it would be nice to see him take a step forward more as a leader than anything else. The production is there, and we have seen his ability to take over a game as he did in game three of last season's playoff series with the Warriors where he dropped 35 points and dished out 10 assists, albeit in a losing effort. His pending legal matter with his involvement in a domestic violence case is something to keep an eye on. No action has yet to be taken by the league, but depending on the outcome of the case, there could be repercussions from the commissioners' office in the future.
Andre Miller: The 37-year-old point guard had another productive season last year. However, at this age, he should only be slowing down, and with the signing of Nate Robinson, the point just got a lot more crowded. Miller will continue to contribute, but it seems likely his role will be diminished.
Nate Robinson: After only one season with the Bulls, Nate Robinson came to the Nuggets as a free agent on a two-year deal. The signing bolsters the point guard position for Denver as Robinson has always brought energy off the bench. He will be battling for primary backup duties with Andre Miller, but given Miller's age, I would give the nod to Robinson.
Randy Foye: Foye was the consolation prize Denver received when they were unable to re-sign Andre Iguodala. While he is no Iguodala, he will be a solid contributor to this Nuggets team and a potential starter at shooting guard.
Evan Fournier: The second-year pro from France is looking to make a big jump this year. While Randy Foye currently has the inside track to the starting shooting guard job, Fournier will be given every opportunity to wrestle it away. Do not be surprised if Fournier is starting and taking the bulk of the shooting guard minutes by the end of the season.
Quincy Miller: He played well during his summer league games but Miller is looking at scraps when it comes to playing time, and that is if he even makes the team.
Jordan Hamilton: Right now, his biggest competition is Wilson Chandler. Hamilton is one inevitable Chandler injury away from starting.
Andre Miller: He has remained remarkably consistent in his advanced age but this year is when the wheels will finally fall off. The signing of Nate Robinson combined with 14 NBA seasons under his belt finally put an end to what has been a remarkable run of consistent productivity.