NBA Season Preview: Denver Nuggets

Kenneth Faried
After shining for Team USA, Kenneth Faried looks to break out this season. (AP)

Projected Record: 38-44 (10th in West)


Kenneth Faried
After shining for Team USA, Kenneth Faried looks to break out this season. (AP)

Head coach: Brian Shaw
Projected record: 38-44 (10th)
2013-14 record: 36-46
2013-14 ORtg: 103.3 (T-16th)
2013-14 DRtg: 105.4 (21st)
Players in: Arron Afflalo, Erick Green, Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic
Players out: Aaron Brooks, Evan Fournier, Anthony Randolph, Jan Vesely
Projected Starting Lineup: Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Javale McGee

Last year, the Denver Nuggets lost their star GM, fired the incumbent Coach of the Year, and then went to assemble one of the most disparate rosters in the NBA. For their efforts, the team dropped 21 games in the standings.

The team’s top-five rated offense fell out of the top ten, and a surprisingly above-average defense – rated 11th in the league – fell to 21st. Injuries hurt: Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Javale McGee, and diminutive sixth man Nate Robinson missed roughly 200 games combined.

If you’re a Nuggets fan, you’re probably encouraged. Kenneth Faried, once a potential cut from the USA men’s national basketball team, performed better in FIBA play than just about anyone not named Anthony Davis.

Better yet, the team expects to come to camp healthy.

The Nuggets took advantage of a penny-pinching Bulls franchise to swap the rights for their 12th pick, Doug McDermott, for two picks in on the deepest drafts in recent history, nabbing Bosnian center Jusuf Nurkic and former MSU shooting guard Gary Harris. They then reunited with Arron Afflalo, only parting with struggling prospect Evan Fournier and the team’s 56th overall pick, well below Afflalo’s market value.

But still, the team does not make sense.

Their draft picks lack a chance to grow. Afflalo joins a loaded wing position that includes the returning Gallinari, multi-talented Wilson Chandler, and sharpshooting Randy Foye – likely burying Gary Harris. Nurkic stands behind McGee and Timofey Mozgov, two bonafide shot blockers, on the depth chart.

At power forward, the similarly skilled Faried and J.J. Hickson expect to share time, except Faried delivers far more than Hickson, for a fraction of the price.

Nate Robinson offers scoring punch off the bench but sits on the depth chart as a backup point guard, a position where he remains derelict at the required duties.

A starting five of McGee, Faried, Gallinari, Afflalo and Lawson seems balanced. The bench, in particular the versatile Wilson Chandler, has some talent. But, even if healthy, do you think this roster can crack the top-10 in an ultra-competitive Western Conference? Me neither.

They won’t always be an easy win; particularly off back-to-backs and extended road trips. This is a team that can run you off the floor with Faried and Lawson able to wreak the most havoc. (The team ranked 2nd and 3rd in terms of pace the past two seasons.)

Faried and Hickson can also feast from time-to-time on the offensive boards while visiting teams struggle to take in the thin Rocky Mountain air.

The team can space the floor: Gallinari, Afflalo, Foye, Lawson and Robinson are all respected beyond the arc. It has legitimate rim protection: McGee and Mozgov are both They have multiple players who can lead the team scoring on any given night.

But that’s the best-case scenario. The team lacks a big respected from 18 feet and out, players like McGee, Hickson and Robinson are notorious for uneven play, and certain bench units will struggle. Lest we forget, they play out West.

The Brooklyn Game projects this team to compete, but with scant chance at the playoffs, putting them at 38-44. The record may dip some of the team decides to sell off some of its more attractive contracts. Look for Chandler, Mozgov, Afflalo and Foye on the block near the trade deadline. But with this team, 38 wins seems about right.