For the Denver Nuggets, 2012-13 was the best of times and the worst of times. The team won 57 games, was the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and George Karl was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year. Denver was unceremoniously bounced in the first round of the postseason by the Golden State Warriors, though, and that officially marked the end of Karl’s tenure. Despite having reached the playoffs in all nine of seasons in Denver and having his best regular season with the franchise, Karl was dismissed as the team’s coach at the end of the year. The team lost in the first round of the postseason in eight of those nine years, though, and that was an obvious factor in the decision. The Nuggets will attempt a deeper playoff run under rookie head coach Brian Shaw.
Points Per Game: 1st
Points Allowed Per Game: 23rd
Rebounds Per Game: 2nd
Notable Additions: Randy Foye, Darrell Arthur, J.J. Hickson, Nate Robinson
Notable Losses: Andre Iguodala, Kosta Koufos, Corey Brewer
Point Guards: Ty Lawson, Andre Miller, Nate Robinson – Grade: B+
Ty Lawson returns as the team’s starting point guard after a season in which he averaged career highs in points (16.7) and assists (6.9). One trend the team would like to see change is his decreasing scoring efficiency. Lawson broke into the league shooting nearly 52 percent from the field as a reserve playing 20 minutes a game in 2009-10. Since he’s taken over as a starter, though, his shooting has been in decline each of his four seasons. Last year Lawson still shot a reasonable 46 percent from the floor, but it’s clear that the more he’s been asked to do, the less accurate of a shooter he’s become.
Veteran Andre Miller also returns in a backup role and with the team signing spark plug Nate Robinson, Denver is very deep here. Robinson and his penchant for scoring are a perfect fit in the Nuggets’ offense, which ranked No. 1 in the NBA last season.
Shooting Guards: Randy Foye, Evan Fournier – Grade: C-
The Nuggets are as thin at shooting guard as much as they are deep at the point. If there’s something the team will miss, it’s most likely the play of Andre Iguodala. Iggy’s scoring has dropped a bit over time, but he still averaged 13 points a game last year as a starter. It wasn’t only his ability to put the ball in the basket that will be missed. Iguodala is an all-around player and averaging more than five rebounds and five assists per game, he did a lot of everything. When you factor in that he is a solid defender (1.7 steals per game), it’s easy to see that he provided quite a bit.
The team figures to start newcomer Randy Foye at shooting guard, but he really isn’t much of a shooter. Connecting on only 39 percent of his shots last season, he’s more suited for a backup role. The one thing he brings to the table is that he’s a bit of a three-point specialist, but again, the team would be better off if he providing that as a bench player. Joining him as a backup is second-year player Evan Fournier who only played 11 minutes a game last season. He made the most of that time, scoring just over five points a game while shooting 49 percent from the field. In the playoffs, however, he became a liability in the team’s series against the Golden State Warriors. He played more minutes, but averaged fewer points, had twice as many turnovers per game, and shot a dismal 35 percent from the field.
Small Forwards: Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Jordan Hamilton, Quincy Miller – Grade: B
Wilson Chandler appears to be the starter here, but that’s likely because Danilo Gallinari is still nursing a knee injury and will be out for quite a while. Gallinari posted slightly better numbers than Chandler last year (16.2 points/5.2 rebounds per game to Chandler’s 13.7/5.2), but both will see a lot of action. There’s even chatter that Chandler could essentially line up at shooting guard to start both players once Gallinari is healthy. Second-year player Quincy Miller likely won’t play a ton but he’s next in line to get minutes here.
Power Forwards: Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, J.J. Hickson, Anthony Randolph – Grade: B
Adding J.J. Hickson to the mix in the offseason, the Nuggets have a pair of double-double machines on their hand with he and Kenneth Faried. Last season, Faried averaged 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Playing for the Portland Trailblazers, Hickson collected 12.7 points and 10.4 boards. He isn’t a likely candidate to replicate that kind of production because Faried will start, but you can be sure that Hickson will get his share of minutes. Darrell Arthur shouldn’t be counted out entirely, either. His minutes will shrink a bit with the addition of Hickson, but playing 16 minutes a game last season, he was fairly productive.
Centers: JaVale McGee, Timofey Mozgov – Grade: C-
The team shipped out starter Kosta Koufos in exchange for Arthur, so the job is JaVale McGee’s to lose. McGee should be able to match Koufos’ production given the added minutes, but whether he can be a significant upgrade remains to be seen. McGee is a solid defender and one of the most athletic 7-footers you’ll see in the league, but he’s not a great rebounder despite his size. Behind him is the unimpressive Timofey Mozgov.
Coach: Brian Shaw – Grade: Incomplete
It would be easy to cobble together all sorts of theories on what type of a coach Brian Shaw will be but with no prior experience as a head man, there’s no way to reasonably assess his abilities. Shaw has never been a head coach in the pros or college, but he does have nearly a decade of experience serving as an assistant. In addition, from 2005 – 2011, he served under Phil Jackson, one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. Shaw should be ready, but there’s no guarantee that he will be able to take the team past the heights that George Karl did.
Team Grade: B-