Last season the Nuggets had all the hallmarks of a George Karl team: a fast-breaking, uptempo offense, a swarming, trapping D, and a deep rotation as Karl squeezed every last drop of matchup mojo from his bench. Unfortunately the Nuggets drew probably the worst possible playoff matchup imaginable in the Golden State Warriors and their one-man zone buster Stephen Curry sending the Nuggets to yet another first-round exit, their ninth in the last ten years.
The fallout from that loss was considerable as the team decided to part ways with both its GM Masai Ujiri, who took over similar duties for the Toronto Raptors, and coach Karl, who is still unemployed. Perhaps the most significant loss, however, was star player Andre Iguodala who signed as a free agent with those same Golden State Warriors to take over the "lead backcourt defender/all-around glue guy" role he played for Denver.
Head Coach: Brian Shaw. Former Pacers and Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw takes over head coaching duties this season. Long regarded as one of the top assistants in the league, Shaw brings the experience of a 3-time NBA champion as a player and an impressive resume as an assistant under Phil Jackson. Given his slightly guard-heavy roster it will be interesting to see how Shaw develops his own, likely shorter rotation than the one employed by Karl. One of 13 new NBA head coaches this season, Shaw has a unique opportunity to make the league sit up and take notice given that he takes over a more talented roster than his freshmen coaching brethren.
Last Season's Record: 57-25, 3rd seed in the West, lost first round 4-2 to Golden State.
Player Losses: G/F Andre Iguodala signed with the Golden State Warriors as a free agent, former starting C Kosta Koufos traded to Memphis Grizzlies on draft day.
Player Additions: Veterans Randy Foye and Nate Robinson at guard, Darrell Arthur and J.J. Hickson at forward.
The Nuggets have an incredibly deep and talented rotation at guard. The addition of Nate Robinson gives Denver a great change of pace player who can provide scoring punch and save Andre Miller's legs. I can only imagine what a Ty Lawson/Nate Robinson backcourt could do to teams. It remains to be seen if Coach Shaw will play as many 3-guard lineups as Karl did, but if he does Denver can certainly put a number of talented and tough to guard combinations on the floor given their depth.
At center the Nuggets are counting heavily (perhaps too heavily) on JaVale McGee finally becoming the player they expected when they acquired him from the Washington Wizards. A fiendishly athletic dunker and shotblocker, McGee only averaged 18 MPG last season as a bench player but as Seattle fans know well Karl had a rather unique way of using his centers, pulling the starter as quickly as possible to go small whenever he could. Considering the only two true centers on the team this season are McGee and Mosgov, McGee has to take a step forward and prove he can play starter's minutes.
At forward the Nuggets have an incredibly talented group. While Danilo Gallinari recovers from a knee injury, the expected starters should be Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried. Chandler providers 3-point shooting and is a steady defender, while Faried is a rebounding/junkman extreme in the mold of Reggie Evans. J.J.Hickson provides the same skillset as Faried and can contribute minutes at center. He was a canny acquisition for the club. Jordan Hamilton, Quincy Miller, and Anthony Randolph round out the bench.
Best Player: Wow. Tough to say on this team. Lawson probably has the highest upside but needs to show more growth and maturity as a player ... I LOVE Faried's game but he doesn't seem to be the sparkplug every night ... I'll go Andre Miller because last year he was the veteran floor general that made it all happen.
Worst Player: Hoping it's not McGee, but center is a fairly weak spot on this roster. Don't be surprised to see Shaw going with a frontcourt including Faried and Hickson out of necessity more than choice.
Prediction: This is an enviably deep and talented roster, with or without Karl. I don't see them winning quite as many games as last year, but 45-50 is not out of the question. If Shaw can assemble the disparate parts into something more, and Ty Lawson or JaVale McGee take steps forward the Nuggets look to be one of the better teams in the West for some time. On the other hand they don't have a consistent point guard or veteran floor leader behind Miller, who is running from Father Time at this point. I predict a 48-34 record, and the team advancing to Round 2 of the playoffs.
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