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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA Worst to First Previews and Predictions: 19. Denver Nuggets

Overall Win/Loss Record :  36-46,  fourth place Northwest Division

2014/2015 Projection: 42-40, third place Northwest Division, eleventh place Western Conference

Preseason Rank

Last season’s Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 104.4 (9th)
  • Points Allowed: 106.5 (28th)
  • Team FG%: .447 (19th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .457 (15th)
  • Team FT%: .726 (27th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .358 (15th)
  • Rebounds per game: 45.4 (2nd)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 43.8 (26th)
  • Turnovers per game: 15.4 (28th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 13.9 (15th)

Returning Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): Ty Lawson (17.6)
  • Rebounds per game:  JJ Hickson (9.2)
  • Minutes per game: Ty Lawson (35.8)
  • Assists per game:  Ty Lawson (8.8)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Kenneth Faried (.545)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  Darrell Arthur (.850)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Randy Foye (.380)
  • Steals per game: Ty Lawson (1.6)
  • Blocked Shots per game: Timofey Mozgov (1.2)

Projected Opening Day Starters Based on Past Performances and Potential Impact:

Key Reserves Rank Based on Past Performances and Potential Impact:

  1. Timofey Mozgov (C)
  2. JJ Hickson (F/C)
  3. Wilson Chandler (F)
  4. Nate Robinson (G)
  5. Randy Foye (G)

Last season saw the end of the Nuggets' remarkable ten year playoff run as the team  battled through an injury plagued year and now marks a year where the team comes into 2014/2015 season will a roster at full strength.  Sadly, it will not be enough as Denver has the rather woe-some fortune of being stuck in the heavily loaded talent pool with its unbreakable ceiling otherwise known as the Western Conference.  Despite sporting a roster that is essentially two players deep in all five positions as well as enough size and length to make any NBA team green with envy, Denver still does not even have enough to even crack the eighth playoff spot.  There is simply not enough room for Denver to squeeze through as they have done before as six of the eight post season berths in the West have all been spoken for and the Nuggets having to battle six other teams for the two remaining playoff spots.  The best that Nuggets fans can hope for is that Lady Luck finds favor with their team as Denver is simply trapped between a rock and a hard place--stuck between either being at best a marginal playoff team or low lottery team that is simply not bad enough to garner the chances to get a top pick.

In most cases a team that has such depth in its roster as the Nuggets would be considered a great strength, but sadly that is not the case as it has almost become a hindrance for the team.  Here is a team that is virtually log-jammed in every position without enough touches or minutes to go around thus stunting both the development and impact of every player in the lineup.  Individually, each player could be the missing ingredient for a team with championship aspirations, but together, they are just simply a group of somewhat average players who do not necessarily stand out among each another.  None of them can be seen in any respects of having any All Star potential whatsoever thus leaving the Nuggets essentially with a team of primarily role players without a true leader to rally behind as they did with +Carmelo Anthony three years ago.  At first, it did not look as if Anthony's departure had affected them too much as they were capable to continue their winning ways; however, now that the Nuggets find themselves looking to climb back into playoff contention after stumbling last season, the need will certainly be more apparent.

Nuggets fans will certainly disagree with this view citing the team's previous successes without a recognized star such as Anthony, but that was a different team back then.  Back then, Denver was coached by George Karl who essentially maintained the same consistency allowing the team to go about business as usual; plus, at the same time, face of the Western Conference was entirely different as new teams have come into the fray making it even more difficult for the Nuggets to reclaim its foothold among the West's elite.  Back when Denver was a playoff contender, neither the +Los Angeles Clippers, +Golden State Warriors, +Portland Trail Blazers or +Houston Rockets were among the Conference's elite at the time; however, now they join already established powers of the +San Antonio Spurs and +Oklahoma City Thunder.  Now the Nuggets find themselves on the outside looking in as they fight for whatever craps are left against two strong opponent with strong post season credentials in the +Dallas Mavericks and +Memphis Grizzlies, as well as three up and coming teams in the +New Orleans Pelicans, +Phoenix Suns, and +Sacramento Kings.  Add the +Los Angeles Lakers, who plan to redeem their franchise worst 28 home season with a deeper and healthier roster, into the equation and Denver will be fighting with six other teams who are essentially equal to them in every way for the last two playoff spots in the West.

And earning one of the final available playoffs is not exactly the fantastic prize that it is slated to be as both the seventh and eighth seeded teams usually find themselves bounced out of first round as quickly as they entered the series making it even less desirable.  At least if a team does not make the playoffs, there is still the lottery where they will be placed in a draw for a chance the win the first overall pick in the NBA Draft; however, unless a team finishes dead last in the league, there is little or no chance for the Nuggets to get that franchise changing number one pick.  Sadly, this is the place where the Denver Nuggets will most fall this season--between being at best a marginal playoff team not good enough to win a series or even worse, a team that barely misses the post season and have nothing to look forward to but having a low lottery pick come draft night.  Even with all the salary cap space in the world, there is no way that Denver can attract the marquee talent needed to return to their one time elite stature or even keep the talent that it actually has as most of them will seek greener pastures rather than stay on a team that is virtually going nowhere.  What is even more disheartening for Nuggets fans is that the players that their team has managed to hold onto are players who they neither need or want, as they had fallen from grace and will more than likely be stuck with them unless painfully remove--like a mole or a tumor.

JaVale McGee is a prime example of a player whose supposed potential and upside earned him a fat contract extension, but has yet to live up to the value that they team had placed on him when signing him to his deal worth approximately 44$ million over the next four years.  Two years an almost 22$ million dollars later, McGee has yet to show the All Star talent that he had promised playing just 82 games, averaging just a shade under eight points per game while playing under 20 minutes per game. After this season, which will pay him around 11$ million, he will have one year left on his contract and most likely no team will want to take on his contract leaving Denver essentially stuck with him until his contract expires.  McGee joins past failed experiments such as JR Smith and Kenyon Martin, who the Nuggets paid fat contracts in the tens of millions of dollars whom the team's front office thought would prove their value, but failed miserably forcing both the teams and its fans to swallow their poor judgement.  Danilo Galanari is also on his way to joining this sad group as he was locked down to a lucrative deal as well, but has so far failed to live up to the hype missing all of last season due to injury while providing decent, if not unspectacular, performances when he did play.

And that is not the worst of the extremely poor judgement calls that the Nuggets' front office were responsible for as they continued to make one misstep after another dooming the team to remain in mediocrity for the next four to five years.  Last season they signed JJ Hickson to a rather decent and justifiable four year 28$ million deal, provided that he is a solid forward who can both rebound at a high proficiency as well as score in the paint; however, too bad Denver already had another player like that in Kenneth Faried who showed just as much if not more upside that Hickson would possibly ever had. Hickson's presence essentially limited Faried's impact on the court as he ate into his minutes while at the same time giving the team a severe handicap against their opponents as he was placed in the starting lineup alongside Faried giving the Nuggets a rather undersized lineup for the entire season; however, the Hickson signing was not nearly as terrible the deal that followed. Kosta Koufos was arguably one of the best back up centers in the league and even at times outsined than the team's starter, JaVale McGee.  So to assure that they get the maximum value of McGee's they shipped away Koufos for pennies to the dollar in exchange for another power forward, Darrell Arthur; however, upon opening tip off, McGee gets insured and would be lost for the entire 2014 leaving Denver, who one time had one of the most imposing front courts in the league, severely handicaps with an undersized roster and a huge logjam at the power forward position.

So thanks to a mix of questionable judgement calls and extremely rotten luck, the Nuggets are stuck between a rock and a hard place with a roster that consists of bloated and untradable contracts as well as the rather unsettling prospect of remaining trapped between being marginal and medicore. Many Nuggets fans want to think that a fully healthy roster will catapult their team back in relevancy, but that will actually hinder the team more than help it because of all the severe logjams in the roster, save for the point guard position which has been rather competently manned by Ty Lawson; however he is far from being this team's savior.  Despite leading them in scoring, assists and steals last season, Lawson is in no way All Star material as he would be least likely start for a Western Conference Playoff team, let alone put up the same numbers as he currently has for the last couple of years.  Just like those previously mentioned, Denver rewarded Lawson with the same high priced extension that is reserved for an elite caliber player and hopefully unlike McGee and Galanari before him, Lawson will at least prove to finally worth the money that was given to him instead of falling well short off the mark like his predecessors.  Nonetheless, even if he does prove to be worth every penny of his contract extension, the Nuggets need much more than Ty Lawson if they want to be even considered as viable contender in the Western Conference.

With the team it has, it is not a forgone conclusion that Denver will be headed to the lottery once this season draws to a close, but it is a near certainly considering the odds that the Nuggets face plus the myriad of poor off season moves over the years that has essentially anchored them to status of barely hanging on in the merciless gauntlet known as the Western Conference.  At least Nuggets can hold solace in the fact that whether or not they do or do not make the post season, at least they will have firm hold of third place in their division regardless of the outcome.  Both the +Minnesota Timberwolves and +Utah Jazz expect to finish among the bottom in the league leaving the Nuggets to claim the Northwest Division's Bronze Medal behind Portland and Oklahoma City unless something unlikely and cataclysmic occurs, such as one of those two team--let's say the Thunder--were to lose both their star players within the first week, thus giving Denver a light window to gain some ground and grab second place; however, the chances of such a terrible thing happening would be little to none, right?