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NBA Season Preview: Denver Nuggets Team Preview


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Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.


The Denver Nuggets are looking for vengeance after coming off of a 36-46 season in 2013-14. Writer Drew Creasman analyzes the Nuggets’ outlook for the upcoming season.

Most Important Player: Danilo Gallinari

I don’t know who the best player on the Denver Nuggets is – I’m not even sure they know. But the only player with the physical characteristics and basketball skills required to create his own opportunities has been Danilo Gallinari. He is one of the few guys on the team who can get to the foul line consistently and who doesn’t require copious amounts of assistance from his teammates in order to be successful. Both Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried are good, bordering on great, players but without a seismic shift in attitude for Lawson or a drastic leap in technical ability from Faried, both players remain excellent cogs without a driving engine. If Gallinari can recover from his incredibly bizarre injury problems from last season, he could emerge as the glue that allows the Nuggets to win games even when the run and gun transition style isn’t working. In order to do more than sneak up on people during regular season games, the Nuggets will need to be able to execute in the half court, and Gallinari is the most important piece in making that happen.

X-Factor: Health

I suppose every team in professional sports could list “health” as their X-factor, but last season’s Denver Nuggets proved that this team cannot afford to sustain any kind of lengthy injuries to any of their main contributors. The Nuggets are made up mostly of above average to well above average role players. When they all fit together it makes a nice puzzle where everyone fits and can focus on doing their own job. Unfortunately for them, they do not have the talent either at the top, or the bottom, of the roster to pick up the slack should Gallinari, Lawson, Timofey Mozgov, or anyone else should really miss significant time. JaVale McGee could prove to be vital insurance at the big-man position, but he is also just as likely to break as anyone on the roster.

Rotations: The starting five should be Lawson, Aaron Afflalo (welcome back!), Gallinari, Faried, and Mozgov. There are decent options off the bench as well with Nate Robinson, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Darrell Arthur, J.J. Hickson, and McGee along with draft pick Gary Harris. None of those names light the world on fire, but as a bench unit it can be pretty strong. The Nuggets will just need to make sure that none of these bench players (with the possible exceptions of McGee and Harris) see the court for too long, which means keeping the starters healthy.

What Needs to Go Right: Apart from general health, if this team is going to be anything more than a fringe playoff contender and potential spoiler, Lawson, Kenneth Faried, and head coach Shaw all need to take steps forward. Shaw and Faried especially seemed to be getting a better feel for how to meld their two opposing styles (wanting to run versus wanting to work in the half-court) and if the team gets off to a good start it could be key to getting guys like Faried to buy in. Shaw seems to have wisened up a bit in terms of still taking advantage of the running game at times but without sacrificing too much. He has to play the personnel he has, which means getting out into transition from time to time. It seems like someone says this every year, but if Lawson can figure out how to be a leader and develop some kind of killer instinct, he could take this team to heights that would surprise many around the NBA. He has the talent, one wonders if he will ever get the attitude.

It’s Really Bad If: They are who we thought they were. Lawson continues to be maddeningly streaky; unstobbable at times, completely invisible at others, Gallinari can’t stay healthy or get into any kind of rhythm with the jump shot, giving the team the only option of scoring off of easy buckets which good teams prevent. If there is any kind of significant injury, or if the team simply does not coalesce around Brian Shaw early, you could easily see either a last place finish in the division and/or some massive changes to the roster by the trade deadline. If something doesn’t emerge, this team will likely look very different heading into next season.

Bold Prediction: For now they will see how this cast of characters blend, and I see some decent luck in their future and am therefore boldly predicting a fifth seed. With all the pieces available, the Nuggets are supremely deep and that causes a ton of problems for even good teams during the regular season. A healthy version of this team will feast on sniping teams on the second night of back-to-backs and during four games in five nights stretches. Kenneth Faried will use his olympic experience to grow into more than just an energy guy and by mid-way through the season, the Nuggets will be the team no one wants to play because who knows what could happen.


Arron Afflalo, SG
Strengths: Nice to have the defensive minded, sharp-shooting Arron Afflalo back in the Mile High City. His presence could be big for this team as the inconsistent play from the two spot last season really hurt them at times. Afflalo’s defense won’t slump which provides a nice security blanket on the perimeter, and he also has a rapport with many of the Nuggets already, meaning there should be little transition time. Afflalo is an upgrade at a need spot and may also prove to be the prefect tutor for Gary Harris.
Weaknesses: Afflalo isn’t quite big enough for his defensive skills to allow him to match-up against the games most dominant offensive forces like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony. His wirey frame and relative lack of size and strength also limit his ability to consistently score around the basket.
Season Prediction: Afflalo will have a good year and his defense and leadership will be given much credit for a surprising Nuggets run.

Kenneth Faried, PF
Strengths: Energy and attitude. There is an promising history of guys returning from team USA and taking their games to another level. Faried even started to emerge at the end of last season as a guy who at least wants to do more than just provide energy production. He may be the single most fascinating player on the roster in terms of his range. He may ultimately just be one of the best energy guys in the league, but if he can improve on his technique, he could emerge as one of the best power forwards in the game.
Weaknesses: Lack of touch and skill in the paint. He makes up for being slightly undersized with his supreme athleticism, but Faried’s main foe has been mastering the finer aspect of the game.
Season Prediction: He won’t be the star of this team but will be the heart of it. His rebounding numbers may go through the roof, but I still expect his offense to be pretty raw around the edges when he isn’t leaping over people.

Randy Foye, SG
Strengths: Shooting.
Weaknesses: Anything other than shooting.
Season Prediction: Foye was miscast as a starter on a team with hope but is now set in a much more reasonable role as a shooter off the bench. Foye should be employed only in ways that don’t rely on him (and his utter lack of defensive ability) for too long. His ability to catch fire from behind the arc occasionally is more suited for his current role.

Danilo Gallinari, SF
Strengths: Creating his own shot and getting to the line. At times, he can be deadly from long range.
Weaknesses: Not an excellent defender, and generally inconsistent play in his past. Most recently, whenever it looks like he is going to get into rhythm, he gets hurt.
Season Prediction: Is he Carmelo-lite? Is he better than that? Worse? He will need to stay on the court for the whole season (or at least most of it) for us to reach any kind of conclusions on these questions. I predict this will be Danillo’s coming out party. Look for him as a sleeper late-round pick in fantasy leagues.

Gary Harris, SG
Strengths: Shooting and (please, please, please!) defense?
Weaknesses: What is he like 12?
Season Prediction: Who knows what Gary Harris will bring. Since George Karl is no longer around, there is some hope that the rookie might actually play. Some of that will of course depend on the health and production of the guards in front of him, but hopefully he is the future at the two-guard spot in Denver.

Ty Lawson, PG
Strengths: Lawson is stupidly talented to the point that it is frustrating. He is among the fastest players in the NBA, he can weave through defenses with spectacular ease, and when he is making pull-up jump shots he is a nightmare to guard.
Weaknesses: Maybe he’s too nice of a guy. There are times on the court he reminds you of Allen Iverson – the smallest guy in the building controlling everything – but his propensity to dissappear and defer to others leaves a leadership gap for the Nuggets. It has been said before, but remains nonetheless true; if Ty Lawson can play at his highest levels consistently he will be among the best Point Guards in the NBA and a Top 20 player. He hasn’t done it yet.
Season Prediction: He will.

JaVale McGee, C
Strengths: He is a physical freak.
Weaknesses: He may be so physically freaky that his body can’t exist in a realm meant for mere mortals.
Season Prediction: The one guy with a wider range of potential outcomes than Kenneth Faried. I wouldn’t be surprised if McGee barely plays this year due to injury. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is traded. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he came out guns a’ blazing and reminded the NBA world what a dominant force he can be and was against the Lakers in the playoffs two years ago. Nobody in the NBA can match his size and athleticism combination. Nobody in the NBA can match his odd mentality. I would be no more surprised to see McGee fall out of the league in the next few years than I would to see him usurp the starting position from Mozgov and even become one of the top Centers in the game. I’d lean more toward the former, though.

Timofey Mozgov, C
Strengths: Mozgov is an underrated defender and rim protector. He had the biggest breakout season of any Nugget last year and looks to build on that momentum. The silver lining to JaVale McGee missing the vast majority of the season is the confidence inspired in Timofey Mozgov. He hopes to follow in the Marc Gasol tradition of being guys who turned out to be good after their names were laughed at in blockbuster deals for more well-known players.
Weaknesses: Assertiveness and strength inside. He challenges a lot of shots but nobody is really afraid of Timofey Mozgov. We will see how “Mozzy” responds now that he is likely a part of opposing teams game plans.
Season Prediction: More people will know his name by the end of the year, but I expect there to be more talk about his fellow big men.

Nate Robinson, PG
Strengths: Nate the Great is a confounding player but one you don’t mind having on the bench when losing by twelve and needing an injection of offensive fury. As long as you aren’t relying on him for anything, Nate Robinson remains a variable that other teams have a hard time accounting for. In current role, he remains a valuable weapon for the Nuggets off the bench.
Weaknesses: He is undersized, not a good defender, and can go cold while being the last person in the building to realize it.
Season Prediction: Nate gonna Nate.

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