Thursday, October 8, 2015

2015-16 Season Preview: Denver Nuggets

DENVER NUGGETS
[] 30-52
[] Offensive Rating: 105.1 (20th)
[] Defensive Rating: 108.7 (25th)
[] Net Rating: -3.6 (24th)
[] Last playoff appearance: 2013
[] Coach: Michael Malone

All of the signs that a full-on rebuild needs to take place are there in Denver, but it doesn't seem like GM Tim Connelly and President Josh Kroenke see them.  The Nuggets put the future further off this summer by signing Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler to contract extensions.  The veterans are certainly useful players, but they don't exactly fit with a franchise who doesn't have enough overall talent to even think about a playoff berth.  The Nuggets did get a great piece for the future when they grabbed Emmanuel Mudiay with the 7th pick in the draft.  He'll fill in for the troubled Ty Lawson, who was shipped to Houston over the summer.  His play should help the Nuggets develop an identity going forward, just as soon as the front office lets that happen.  In the meantime, Mudiay and Bosnian trash-talker Jusuf Nurkic will have to find their touches and room to develop in between the possessions that go to veterans like Chandler and Gallinari.  This year could be filled with growing pains for the Nuggets, as they don't have a clear direction, and the roster is full of odd fits, both from a style of play and long-term strategy standpoint.

Projected Starting Five

PG: Emmanuel Mudiay - 6'5, 200 - Rookie (2014-15 Chinese Basketball Assoc. stats)
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
12
18.0
18.9
29.1%
52.8%
34.2%
.207
57.4%
.255
31.8%
16.0%

Mudiay likely moves into the starting PG spot with Ty Lawson out of the picture.  It'll be trial by fire for the 19 year old from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He has more pro experience than your average rookie, but there will still be a steep learning curve.  Key things to watch from Mudiay in 2015-16: his outside shooting and his ability to limit turnovers caused by playing too fast. He could keep himself in the running for Rookie of the Year due to the amount of time he figures to spend with the ball in his hands.  Regardless of how efficient he is, I think he'll be one of the more exciting rookies in the league.

SG: Wilson Chandler - 6'8, 220 - 9th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
78
13.9
13.2
20.1%
52.3%
34.2%
.416
77.5%
.146
8.9%
9.6%

Chandler signed a puzzling four year contract extension this summer.  It's not puzzling because Chandler is a bad player, but because he doesn't really fit into Denver's long-term rebuild.  Regardless, he's a useful player who would be a much better fit coming off the bench for a contender.

SF: Danilo Gallinari - 6'10, 225 - 7th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
59
12.4
16.8
21.5%
56.3%
35.5%
.530
89.5%
.336
8.3%
9.4%

Gallinari also signed a confusing contract extension this offseason, although his was only for two years.  When healthy, Gallinari is an explosive offensive option who lacks a true position.  As long as he's healthy, he'll start for the Nuggets and most likely be their go-to scorer.  He also should hold more value to to some team other than the Nuggets, but it appears he'll be around at least for another year or two.

PF: Kenneth Faried - 6'8, 235 - 5th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
FT%
FTr
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
BLK/36
75
12.6
18.4
20.3%
54.8%
69.1%
.391
17.3%
12.1%
22.9%
1.0

Here's another Nugget who probably could see himself traded at any point.  Faried has plateaued a bit after a promising first few seasons.  That's not to say he isn't a good player, it's just that he's not the kind of guy who can carry you.  As an undersized PF, again, he may mean more to a good team's bench than he does to the Nuggets.

C: Jusuf Nurkic - 6'11, 280 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
FT%
FTr
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
BLK/36
62
6.9
14.8
20.7%
48.3%
63.6%
.345
18.7%
11.8%
26.1%
2.2

Nurkic had a few decent games in his rookie year, and his overall performance was enough to land him a spot on the second team All-Rookie squad.  That being said, he's got a lot of room to grow before he reaches his ceiling.  He only shot 44.9% on two-point attempts and struggled with turnovers (16.8 TOV%).  On the bright side, he gets to the FT line regularly and blocked more shots than you'd think for a guy who's relatively floor-bound.  Plus, he talks shit with the best of them.

Bench


PG: Jameer Nelson - 6'0, 195 - 12th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
63
8.3
12.1
19.5%
50.3%
34.5%
.512
66.7%
.071
27.8%
17.3%

Nelson's been around the block a few times, although he's not really the player he used to be, and hasn't been for a few years now.  He'll turn 34 a few weeks before the All-Star break, and if he plays well, he'll be trade bait for teams looking for established depth at the PG spot.

G: Nick Johnson - 6'3, 200 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
28
2.6
4.8
17.4%
43.0%
23.8%
.280
68.0%
.333
6.3%
18.1%

Johnson, known more for his defensive exploits, was acquired in the trade that sent Ty Lawson to Houston.  He didn't have many highlights in his debut season, but his D-League numbers were better.  He could have trouble earning real minutes over Foye and Harris, unless he shows he can spend some time at PG.

G: Randy Foye - 6'4, 210 - 10th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
50
8.7
11.0
19.3%
51.0%
35.7%
.654
81.8%
.137
17.0%
12.3%

Another veteran who seems out of place on a squad that should be in the throes of rebuilding,  His efficiency took a hit last year, but as a spot-up shooter, it's plausible to suggest he'd be of more use to a team that more weapons.  Yet another guy who should be in trade rumors frequently up to the deadline.

SG: Gary Harris - 6'5, 210 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
55
3.4
4.9
16.6%
39.5%
20.4%
.475
74.5%
.217
5.9%
13.8%

Harris' rookie year proved to be a tough adjustment from his college success at Michigan State.  He only topped the 10-point mark four times, and his season-high was 13.  I expected Harris to struggle shooting the ball, but I didn't think he'd have quite as much trouble as he did (20.4% beyond the arc, 39.5% inside it).  I think Harris will be better this year, because he can't be much worse, but if he'll be passable is anybody's best guess.

G/F: Will Barton - 6'6, 185 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
58
6.8
13.6
20.2%
50.3%
27.1%
.241
78.7%
.266
13.0%
13.4%

The best analysis of Barton's time in Denver came from Grantland's Zach Lowe, in this article, before the start of free agency.  In it, Lowe explains that Barton's production increased with the Nuggets because their up-tempo style fit his game better than Portland's.  Lowe stated that 30 percent of Barton's Denver possessions came in transition, the league's 2nd-highest mark.  Lowe also points out that Barton has some skills as a playmaker, and the tools to be a good defender.  The Nuggets were smart to bring the 24 year old Barton back in free agency.  He's primarily a SG, but with the lack of bench options at SF, Barton could see some time there as well.

PF: Darrell Arthur - 6'9, 235 - 7th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
FT%
FTr
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
BLK/36
58
6.6
11.5
20.0%
46.6%
78.0%
.154
9.3%
5.6%
13.4%
0.4

Arthur has managed a TS% above 50 just once in his career: a 53.4 TS% in 2010-11, the year before he tore his Achilles.  Arthur hasn't been the same since then, as his game has changed a bit since the injury.  He doesn't get to the FT line or rebound the ball like he did before the injury.

F/C: JJ Hickson - 6'9, 240 - 8th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
FT%
FTr
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
BLK/36
73
7.6
14.3
19.7%
50.4%
57.7%
.438
17.3%
24.0%
17.3%
0.9

Hickson's efficiency took a bit of a dip last season as he shot below 50% from the field.  At 27 years old, Hickson is entering his theoretical prime, so he's another guy the Nuggets should be looking to move if he plays well.

F/C: Joffrey Lauvergne - 6'11, 240 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
FT%
FTr
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
BLK/36
24
3.9
10.5
19.9%
45.9%
64.3%
.315
15.5%
10.5%
20.9%
1.3

The 24 year old Frenchman came over from BC Khimki in Russia last February.  He had 24 games to get acclimated to NBA action last year, although the overall results weren't exactly impressive.  He and Jokic should battle for the backup C minutes with Hickson.

C: Nikola Jokic - 6'10, 255 - Rookie (2014-15 Adriatic League/Serbian KLS stats)
GP
PPG
RPG
BPG
FG%
FT%
3P%
38
16.5
9.7
1.0
52.5%
69.1%
32.6%

Jokic, the 41st pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, will make his NBA debut this year as a 20 year old.  He's a very skilled big man, but he may have trouble adjusting to the NBA from an athleticism and physicality standpoint.  My money is on Jokic winning control of the backup C minutes no later than the All-Star break.

Outlook

I think the Nuggets have the wrong strategy going forward, as they should be focused on developing their youth and playing for a high draft pick.  While I don't think they're going about it the right way, I still think this roster is bad enough to achieve that objective.  Emmanuel Mudiay is as talented as they come, but he's bound for his share of struggles running this team as a rookie.  They have reliable veterans in guys like Chandler, Gallinari, Faried, Foye and Nelson, but there isn't a clear-cut #1 option, and the overall depth is suspect.  On top of that, they play 52 games against the brutal Western Conference.  You don't get better by replacing Ty Lawson with a rookie, even if Lawson does take a large chunk of the Nuggets' dysfunction with him.  This looks like a 19 win team to me.

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