2. Denver Nuggets - Pretty Lights
Added: Coach Brian Shaw; F Darrell Arthur (Memphis); G Randy Foye (Utah); F/C J.J. Hickson (Portland); G Nate Robinson (Chicago); G Erick Green (46th overall pick, to play in Italy); F Joffrey Lauvergne (55th overall pick, to play in France).
Retained: C Timofey Mozgov.
Lost: Coach George Karl; F Corey Brewer (Minnesota); F Andre Iguodala (Golden State); C Kosta Koufos (Memphis)
2012-2013 Record: 57-25, 2nd in Northwest Division, 3rd seed in West (lost first round).
Denver lost Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri and took a risk by dismissing Coach of the Year George Karl in favor of first-year coach Brian Shaw. I understand the reason for skepticism, but if there is one thing I’ve learned about Nuggets ownership and management over the past few years, it’s just sit back and take in the entire experience. You may be pleasantly surprised at how it all comes together.
Shaw knows what it takes to win in the NBA. As a player, he won three championships with the Lakers and added two more as an assistant. Shaw most recently was part of two impressive playoff runs while working alongside Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel. He plans to slow the pace in Denver, focusing on defense and half-court execution on the offensive end – two areas that have been troublesome for the Nuggets in the playoffs.
Playing at breakneck pace, the Nuggets gave up 101.1 points during the 2012-13 seasons, and they allowed Golden State to shoot 49.4 percent from the field in the playoffs. The only team to relinquish a higher field goal percentage in the playoffs was the Milwaukee Bucks during their first-round sweep at the hands of the eventual-champion Miami Heat.
With Andre Iguodala, Corey Brewer and starting center Kosta Koufos gone, they lost three strong defenders. For the Nuggets to be successful, team defense and valuing possessions must be the top priorities. With athleticism and depth from top to bottom, they should be able to pressure the ball, help off the ball and rotate aggressively. Fatigue and foul trouble shouldn’t be a problem because the coaching staff will have the luxury of making quality substitutions at every position. The interior defense is solid. Despite averaging only 18 minutes a contest, JaVale McGee finished eighth in NBA in blocked shots last season. In an expanded role, he has the ability to finish in the top-five while playing with strong rebounders Kenneth Faried and J.J. Hickson.
At the other end of the court, Denver was the most potent scoring team in the league, averaging 105.9 points last season. Slowing the pace slightly could help budding young stars Ty Lawson, Faried and McGee. As a team, they turned the ball over 14.7 times a game, sixth most in the NBA. They are too skilled to continue making unforced errors and could remedy the problem by simply slowing down in the half court. Although a slower pace means fewer possessions, a focus on offensive execution and reducing turnovers should help improve overall efficiency.
Denver lost some key players in the offseason, but I really like the quick recovery of new general manager Tim Connelly. He added two solid young players late in the draft and acquired free agents that provide roster flexibility. There’s plenty of reason to believe the Nuggets will continue their electrifying play and reach the playoffs for the 11th straight year.