By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
Posted Oct 16, 2013 8:19 AM
For the first time in a decade, George Karl won't be directing the Denver Nuggets.
There are two competing camps of thought on this. One says at last the Nuggets can get past the first round, a feat accomplished just once despite Karl taking Denver to nine consecutive postseasons. The other predicts a freefall out of the top eight minus the full-throttle offensive innovator who squeezed all he could out of this superstar-less team.
So what now? Rookie coach Brian Shaw gets his long-awaited shot to put his stamp on a team, and what is clear from the onset is that these Nuggets, for better or worse, won't be what they once were. The freewheeling days appear over -- or at least reigned in -- but what Denver will ultimately evolve into under Shaw, and how quickly it can put it all together, is one of the more intriguing mysteries of 2013-14.
"If we're fortunate enough to make it back to the playoffs in an improved Western Conference, we'd like to think we'd be a tougher out and could advance," said first-year Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly, who hand-picked Shaw. "But, I don't think we want to define anything in concrete."
The new GM, who takes over for the wildly successful and popular Masai Ujiri, now in charge of the Toronto Raptors front office, is strategically playing both sides. He's greasing the skids for lower fan expectations after last season's 57-win team that earned the No. 3 seed: If the Nuggets are so fortunate to get back to the playoffs in a tougher West...
At the same time he's selling Shaw's more traditional schematics as being more compatible with slow-it-down, grind-it-out playoff battles: He'd like to think they'll be a tougher out and could advance ... Of course, as Connelly already noted, they'll first have to be fortunate enough to make it in.
As for Shaw's gameplan, he says he doesn't want to totally suffocate the up-tempo game that was so successful with much of the current personnel, starting with water-bug point guard Ty Lawson. Yet it is clear he doesn't view the Karl model as sustainable. He is also adamant about not being boxed into one specific scheme as some have wanted to do with the triangle offense from his days under Phil Jackson as a Lakers player and assistant.
He challenged reporters at the Nuggets' Media Day to name the system Greg Popovich has run for two decades in San Antonio, or the system Doc Rivers will transfer from Boston to the Los Angeles Clippers: "Our system is going to be predicated on player movement," Shaw said, "ball movement with a purpose."
"I'm not saying we want to eliminate that [up-tempo] altogether," Shaw said. "That's one of the reasons why this team fared so well, they played to the strengths of what they had. To me, that doesn't necessarily translate into playoff wins and going deep into the playoffs. A lot of the years I was with the Lakers, the Phoenix Suns led the Western Conference in wins every year, almost averaging 60 wins a season playing an up-and-down tempo, shooting a lot of 3s. It didn't translate, to me, when they got to the postseason because the game slows down.
"Unless you go back to the Showtime days of the Lakers and Celtics, when they were battling it out in the 1980s, most of the scores are going to be in the 80s and 90s in the playoffs. When a team sits on you for seven games and can take away that tempo and take away that style, you have to be able to execute in the halfcourt and be able to defend and rebound. That's what we have to concentrate on."
Shaw will start the season shorthanded, as Karl finished it, with sharpshooting forward Danilo Gallinari out indefinitely recovering from ACL surgery. Shaw also doesn't have Andre Iguodala, who left for Golden State in free agency, in part due to the Nuggets' sudden instability in the front office and on the bench following the playoff loss. Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried will be key on a front line that is expected to undergo one significant change under Shaw with potential-laden center JaVale McGee becoming a greater focal point at both ends.
What we know is these won't be the same Nuggets.
"The style of play that we want to play is going to be a little different than what it's been over the past few years," Shaw said. "We still do want to take advantage of getting up and down the floor and the climate and altitude here. The teams I've been associated with as a player and a coach have had success establishing a presence inside, executing in the halfcourt as well as defensively having an identity and being a good rebounding team. Those are the areas we are going to focus on."
Discovering how Shaw puts it all together will be part of the fun -- or the pain.
1. JaVale McGee certainly has the ability to make coaches and fans alike palm their faces in frustration. But the 7-footer is only 25 and has plenty of raw talent to make the mouths of coaches and fans alike water. Now's he has the chance to harness that talent. George Karl played McGee 18.1 mpg last season and said he had no reason to play him more. Brian Shaw will play McGee more. With Timofey Mozgov on the roster, the minutes are McGee's to lose.
2. Ty Lawson was the perfect fit for George Karl's offense, so how Lawson adjusts to Shaw's more structured offense will be key to the overall team transition. Lawson is a master at getting to the rim and that frequency is likely to drop if the Nuggets become more of an opportunistic running team rather than flat-out hauling on every possession. More than 40 percent of his shot attempts last season came in the restricted zone.
3. The Nuggets jumped from 20th in defensive rating in 2011-12 to 11th in 2012-13. The addition of Andre Iguodala had a lot do with that. Shaw will place greater emphasis on halfcourt team defense but there will be challenges without the 6-6 Iguodala to man so many dangerous wings around the league. Facts are facts and the stats say that teams scored less and shot worse when Iguodala was on the floor.
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LAST YEAR: 57-25, 2nd in Northwest
FINISH: Lost in first round of playoffs
2012-13 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2012-13 Stats|
TY LAWSON, POINT GUARD
16.7 PPG | 2.7 RPG | 6.9 APG
New coach Brian Shaw wants to maintain a fast pace, but the ultra-quick Lawson likely will have to adjust to more structure in the half court.
RANDY FOYE, SHOOTING GUARD
10.8 PPG | 1.5 RPG | 2.0 APG
Foye is the best candidate to replace Andre Iguodala's perimeter defense, and he's the top catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter in the backcourt.
WILSON CHANDLER, SMALL FORWARD
13.0 PPG | 5.1 RPG | 1.3 APG
Nicely took over Danilo Gallinari's starting spot, and he'll be counted upon again as Gallinari remains sidelined from ACL injury.
KENNETH FARIED, POWER FORWARD
11.5 PPG | 9.2 RPG | 1.0 APG
The high-motor forward scores a lot off his hustle, but "The Manimal" can scare defenses with a defense-stretching jumper, too.
JAVALE MCGEE, CENTER
9.1 PPG | 4.8 RPG | 0.3 APG
He will have the spotlight, and maturing McGee says he has post moves and a mid-range jumper to emerge as an elite scoring big man.
|J.J. Hickson||6-9||225||F||Takes pressure off Faried|
|Evan Fournier||6-6||200||G||Out to prove future at the 2|
|Nate Robinson||5-9||180||G||Volatile off-the-bench scorer|
ADDED: F Darrell Arthur, G Randy Foye, G Erick Green, F/C J.J. Hickson, F Joffrey Lauvergne, C Timofey Mozgov, G Nate Robinson
LOST: F Corey Brewer, G/F Andre Iguodala, C Kosta Koufos
JAVALE MCGEE, CENTER
He got his contract last season and now he'll get management-mandated minutes in Shaw's scheme. The 7-footer's blooper reel gets the attention, but even skeptics can't deny his raw talent. He has the chance to make true believers.