With a healthy roster, Denver could be a surprise team out West.
Last season was in large part a wash for the Denver Nuggets, as injuries crippled a team capable of making the playoffs. It started with Danilo Gallinari’s torn ACL back in April 2013, which kept him out all of last season, and things got worse from there. JaVale McGee only played in five games due to a stress fracture in his leg, new-signee Nate Robinson underwent surgery in January to repair an injured ACL, Ty Lawson and Wilson Chandler missed 20 games each, and J.J. Hickson missed 11. With so many key players out, it is somewhat impressive the team finished 36-46, and while it may appear that a healthier lineup will largely turn things around, questions remain about Denver’s ceiling.
Coaching – 18/25
It was a tough first year for first-year head coach Brian Shaw. Highly respected as an assistant for a number of years, Shaw was inheriting a talented lineup before injuries ruined the season. Shaw can’t be blamed for everything, though his handling of Andre Miller’s final season in Denver was far from ideal. Still, credit has to be given to Shaw and his staff for making the most of the hand that was dealt to them. At times last season, the team had no healthy point guard, which forced it to play shooting guard Evan Fournier in a rather uncomfortable position. Denver wasn’t given much chance to survive, but 36 wins in the West isn’t all that bad considering everything that transpired. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff utilizes a healthy lineup along with the new players.
Free Agency/Trades – 22/25
Denver drafted Doug McDermott and traded him to Chicago (along with Anthony Randolph) in exchange for picks 16 and 19, which became Jusuf Nurkic from Bosnia and Gary Harris from Michigan State. Evan Fournier was dealt to Orlando along with the 56th pick, which became Roy Devyn Marble, for Arron Afflalo. Denver also drafted Nikola Jokic with the 41st pick.
They made no free agent signings, but both Nate Robinson and Darrell Arthur exercised their player options.
The big addition is obviously the return of Afflalo, who arrives a much better offensive player (he shot 43 percent from 3 last season) after being primarily a defensive player for Denver years ago. He will be a strong upgrade as the starting two-guard and allow Gary Harris to create a niche for himself as a shooter off the bench.
Denver’s offseason moves were successful in upgrading the overall roster, but improving its record will mean staying healthy.
Draft – 20/25
Gary Harris should be a solid contributor off the bench, and again, the trade for Afflalo eases the pressure off Harris and makes his selection a good fit. At 7-foot, 280 pounds Jusuf Nurkic will add a lot of size and depth to Denver’s frontcourt. Jokic, on the other hand, will likely be stashed overseas. Harris or Jokic won’t make an All-Rookie team, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make positive contributions this season.
Current Player Core – 22/25
When healthy, Denver has a strong lineup. Lawson is one of the best point guards in the league, Gallinari is one of the better small forwards and McGee is a great rim protector. Wilson Chandler has been steady his entire career, as has Hickson. Kenneth Faried is one of the best rebounders in the league, and Nate Robinson supplies instant offense off the bench. There is clearly plenty of talent in Denver, especially with the addition of Afflalo, but the key will be keeping everyone healthy. A healthy Gallinari will provide much needed scoring from the small forward position, giving Brian Shaw an option he didn’t have last season.
Franchise Outlook – 82/100
There are a lot of good players on Denver’s roster, and Shaw should have an easier time in his second year. The main long-term concern for Denver is the lack of a true superstar. Lawson is the closest thing to a star the team has, but the rest of the squad consists of a strong collective rather than one or two other All-Stars surrounded by role players. Now, a star-centered team may not be needed considering the team wasn’t overly successful in the playoffs the last time it had a superstar, but even if Denver makes the playoffs, its chances of making it out of the first round will be difficult.
Still, if Shaw gets a healthy roster and maximizes the strengths of his players, Denver could be a surprise team in the West, much like Phoenix was last season.