Ask A-Lo Mailbag - Summer Edition
Starting lineup, rookie plans and expectations among questions for Denver Nuggets
Heading into the offseason, the Denver Nuggets had a relatively short to-do list.
They started by adding three intriguing young players in the 2012 NBA Draft and followed that by re-signing free agents JaVale McGee and Andre Miller, along with free-agent big man Anthony Randolph.
With that, they could have called it a summer and quietly prepared for the start of training camp on Oct. 2. Instead, the Nuggets made news by participating in the biggest trade of the summer, acquiring Andre Iguodala from the Philadelphia 76ers as part of a four-team deal that sent Dwight Howard from Orlando to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Barring another bold move, Denver’s roster is training-camp ready with 14 players under contract, but there are plenty of notable storylines to ponder in the weeks ahead.
Who starts at center, McGee or Timofey Mozgov?
What does the short-term future have in store for draft pick Evan Fournier?
How does newcomer Randolph fit into the picture?
Those were among the popular questions I received via Twitter, so let’s get started with the summer edition of the Ask A-Lo Mailbag.
What are realistic expectations for the Nuggets this year?
Going into last season (their first without Carmelo Anthony), the Nuggets were picked by many experts to compete for one of the final playoff seeds in the Western Conference. After a hot start, Denver struggled with some injuries during the shortened season before rallying to finish sixth in the West.
With Iguodala, an All-Star and gold medal Olympian on board, expectations – both internal and external – are higher for 2012-13.
Coach George Karl firmly believes the Nuggets can be a top-four team in the West, which is key to earning home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder are the two favorites in the West, but Denver has the depth and talent to make a push for No. 3.
Who do you think will start at center, Mozzy or McGee?
This is perhaps the most interesting conversation of the offseason.
After being acquired from Washington last spring, McGee started only five of 27 games (including the playoffs) as Karl opted to play him alongside the veteran point guard Miller as part of a potent second unit.
McGee accepted the role without complaint, and then signed a four-year deal to return to Denver in July.
Here comes the tricky part: With McGee earning a starter’s salary, can Karl still bring him off the bench for the greater good of the rotation?
Mozgov enjoyed a great run with Team Russia at the London Olympics, averaging 10 points and earning a bronze medal, but McGee also was productive while spending several weeks with Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon.
For better or worse, starting lineups are a big deal to NBA players and NBA fans, so there undoubtedly would be some eyebrows raised if McGee started the season coming off the bench.
Karl values fourth-quarter lineups much more than starting lineups, but my gut says that McGee gets the starting nod when the Nuggets open the season in Philadelphia on Halloween.
How much playing time does Evan Fournier get during the season?
As a talented 19-year-old with a bright future, Fournier probably gets a lot of playing time this season – though the bulk of those minutes could be with the Iowa Energy of the NBA Development League.
With depth at every position, the Nuggets have the luxury of bringing Fournier along slowly. I could see him playing in the D-League early in the season and then returning to work with the Denver coaching staff when the Nuggets play 15 of 18 games at home starting Jan. 1.
Under such a scenario, Fournier – drafted 20th overall – would have the chance to get valuable playing time against quality competition and spend time learning the Nuggets system during practice.
In the meantime, the Nuggets plan to start Iguodala at shooting guard, backed by a group of athletic wings such as Corey Brewer, Wilson Chandler and Jordan Hamilton.
For the record, Fournier is under contract and will account for one of the 15 roster spots even if he spends time in the D-League.
What’s the ceiling for Anthony Randolph now that he’s around a good veteran team? He showed potential at the end of last season.
Anyone who was at Pepsi Center (or watching the telecast on Altitude) on April 11 saw just how good Randolph can be. He scored 28 points on 11-of-16 shooting and nearly helped the Minnesota Timberwolves overcome a 24-point deficit.
Not only can Randolph score inside, he has a nice mid-range shooting touch and he’s an excellent shot-blocker who can also rebound and run the floor.
The biggest challenge will be finding minutes; Randolph will open training camp behind fellow big men McGee Mozgov, Kenneth Faried and Kosta Koufos on the depth chart.
An injury or two could yield an opportunity for playing time, but Randolph will have to be patient early on. For what it’s worth, he’s been working with Denver’s coaches at Pepsi Center this summer and attended Tim Grgurich’s prestigious NBA camp in July.
All in all, Randolph is a nice insurance policy.