The Denver Nuggets were one of the most intriguing teams in the NBA last season, winning 57 games despite having a roster without a true star. Unfortunately, Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL, and the team lost in the first round of the playoffs. Gallinari will be out until at least December. Making matters worse, Denver lost Andre Iguodala in free agency. Iguodala was their most important player, and it will be nearly impossible to replace him.
Denver returns much of the same roster from last season, but there are major concerns about the ability of this team to repeat its success. The team hopes newly hired coach Brian Shaw can get something extra out of the team, particularly in the development of Ty Lawson and JaVale McGee.
Here is my projection for the Nuggets’ final 15 man roster:
Point Guard: Ty Lawson, Andre Miller, Nate Robinson
Shooting Guard: Randy Foye, Evan Fournier, Jordan Hamilton
Small Forward: Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Quincy Miller
Power Forward: Kenneth Faried, J.J. Hickson, Darrell Arthur, Anthony Randolph
Center: JaVale McGee, Timofey Mozgov
If the Nuggets are going to get a star, it will be Lawson. The lightning quick point guard set career highs last season with 16.7 PPG and 6.9 APG, and the team wants even more out of him. Lawson will have to be the catalyst for everything this team does, especially pushing the pace in transition. The veteran Miller will provide a more traditional backup, and he is still a very solid player.
The addition of Robinson seems to give the team a surplus, but he came cheap. Robinson’s performance in last season’s playoffs will not be repeated, so lower your expectations. He provides some bench scoring and can be unstoppable when he gets hot, but that’s not something a team can bank on.
The loss of Iguodala leaves a gaping hole at shooting guard. Foye and Fournier will battle for the starting job, but the veteran Foye will probably win because of his three point shooting. Fournier is still developing, but he has a ton of potential. He will see plenty of minutes, and he is clearly Denver’s future at the position.
Chandler will start at the 3 while Gallinari is out, and he is a solid all-around player. Chandler fits in perfectly in the Nuggets’ up tempo system, and he provides very good wing defense as well. He will have to be even better defensively without Iguodala around. Hamilton and Miller provide depth on the wings, and while both young players have some potential, neither is a lock to make the team.
Up front, fan favorite Faried will look to build on an impressive sophomore campaign that saw him average 11.5 PPG and 9.2 RPG. Though undersized, Faried more than makes up for it with pogo-stick hops and relentless effort. The Manimal still has a lot work to do to refine his offensive game, but that will come in time. It is for that reason that Hickson was brought in, and he is by far the Nuggets’ best low post scoring option. He is also a very good rebounder, and he will be the primary backup for both Faried and McGee.
Speaking of McGee, where do we even begin? McGee is very talented and absurdly athletic, but his mental mistakes are the stuff of comedic gold. He is a very good shot blocker, but it is essential that he become more disciplined and stay on his man instead of trying to block every shot. Offensively, his skills are developing, but he still isn’t very useful more than 7 feet away from the rim. The sky is the limit for McGee, but it’s far from a guarantee he’ll reach it.
Mozgov and Arthur provide some stable veterans in the front court, and they will play when McGee and Faried raise Shaw’s blood pressure to dangerously high levels. The Nuggets are the latest team to try to maximize Randolph’s incredible physical gifts, but there is no reason to believe they will have any more success than the other three teams who tried and failed.
The Nuggets are going to be a lot of fun to watch, but they are going to take a major step back in the win column. This is not the same team as last year, and they are going to be in a battle for the 8th spot in the West.