While the 3-on-3 articles have become a popular series here at Roundball Mining Company, every now and then we like to get you, the reader, more involved in the process. Thus, 5-on-5 is born. Though we encourage everyone to give their own opinions on the following questions in the comments section below, a select few who follow us on Twitter have been invited to become an integral part of the article itself. This time around, Nuggets fans Joe Beebe and Mitchell Carroll will join Jeremy, Charlie and I to weigh in on the second half of the 2011-12 Nuggets season. Be sure to follow us on Twitter to ensure the next time we go looking for fan participants, you’ll be there to answer the call.
1. What are the roles of the Nuggets’ rookies moving forward and which player’s minutes will be cut if Karl decides to utilize them more?
Jeremy: The only way the rookies will see consistent minutes for the Nuggets this season is if they continue to be decimated by injuries. With the potential of having a complete roster available and the fact the most physically taxing portions of Denver’s schedule have past, the rookies may be back to cheering from the padded folding chairs. I could see Faried getting some minutes here and there to spark the team, and Stone has shown he could be effective in offensive or defensive situations late in games as a defender. Of course, Karl has shown very little tendency to go that route.
Charlie: Faried is the only one I could see carving out a meaningful role this season. We’ve already seen Birdman’s minutes reduced and it seems like the next step for Faried is to earn that responsibility of backing up Nene full-time. I still doubt Birdman is traded and I think the rest of the season will see him split time with Koufos or Faried depending on the in-game situation. Stone and Hamilton won’t play when the team gets healthy but with Faried’s emergence this month I believe Karl will have a hard time keeping him glued to the bench going forward.
Kalen: Being that Karl recently proclaimed Faried has earned a spot in the rotation, I have no reason to believe otherwise. This should eliminate Birdman almost entirely from the Nuggets rotation, and thus, increases what urgency there is to trade him. Hamilton and Stone, on the other hand, are intriguing for the simple fact that both have shown promise at different times, however, with Fernandez and Miller still around it’s hard to see either of those guys relinquishing their role for a rookie. If the Nuggets continue to falter, Stone and Hamilton could be in line for a few more minutes than they’re used to seeing.
Mitchell: For Faried, being Sixth Man Extraordinaire or the starting power forward at the expense of Birdman, Mozgov and Koufos is possible. The “Manimal” is a double-double machine waiting to happen. As for the other two, I see Julyan Stone playing far more minutes than Jordan Hamilton, and for one reason: depth. Andre Miller won’t be here long (let’s be honest), and Stone is a perfect back-up to Ty Lawson. Jordan Hamilton, unfortunately, plays behind Gallo, Wilson Chandler (when he gets here), Harrington and Corey Brewer, and thus will remain at the end of the bench, a la former Nuggets, Sonny Weems and Gary Forbes.
Joe: I think the Nuggets rookies are in three completely different roles with George Karl. Kenneth Faried is a sure-fire rotation player. Look for Karl to put Nene back in the center spot and utilize Mozgov and Birdman less and less as he develops. It’s unfortunate Julyan Stone is backing up Andre Miller because Karl barely knows anyone else exists at the point guard position. Jordan Hamilton’s shot selection and lack of defensive intensity will continue to hamper his playing time but we’ll see if Karl can coach him up, because as we saw in the Clipper game, he’s a real talent.
2. What lies ahead for the Nuggets on the other side of the All-Star break, more struggles or a return to its winning ways?
Jeremy: I fully expect to see Denver get back to playing the kind of ball that had them as the second best team in the West over the first two months of the season. The good news is they are playing hard, just not particularly well. Once their offensive weapons are back, their defensive shortcomings are not as costly, at least until the Playoffs arrive.
Charlie: I don’t believe the Nuggets are going to return to the team that was 14-5 to start the year. My main concern is the defense which has been spiraling downward as the season wears on with no evidence to suggest it will improve. The Nuggets are struggling to win at home and I don’t see them flipping a switch and reverting to dominance overnight. Realistically I think the Nuggets will play a little better than .500 ball the rest of the way and fight a close race down the stretch for one of the final playoff seeds.
Kalen: It all depends on injuries in conjunction with Wilson Chandler. If the Nuggets continue to remain banged up, even with Chandler, wins will be hard to come by. However, if the team can somehow manage to regain its health, then add Chandler on top of what is an already dangerous lineup, I suspect wins could pile up rapidly in March and April. Sadly, in order for this to happen the Nuggets must virtually win the lottery considering how bad its luck has been this year.
Mitchell: The Nuggets will trend upward unless for some reason injuries continue to haunt the team. With close losses lately, the addition of Nene and Gallinari can only help the Nuggets chances in tight games. Adding Wilson Chandler will benefit the Nuggets greatly, and if Masai Ujiri can package Miller and Birdman for an athletic big (perhaps a Jason Thompson type), the Nuggets will finish the season as the contenders they were at the start of it.
Joe: I think time is the best remedy for the Nuggets woes as we can tell this team is worn down. Al Harrington CANNOT be the best player on the court for a playoff team so when Gallinari, Ty, and Nene regain strength, the team will as well. You’ve got to look for positives as we’ve seen some great upside from Afflalo and Faried recently. I believe by the end of March, this Nuggets team will be more and more recognizable from the team we saw start on such a hot streak.
3. If re-signed, what type of deal do you see Wilson Chandler receiving from the Nuggets and how will he fit in upon his return?
Jeremy: At this point I believe it is a 50-50 proposition that Chandler will sign with Denver this season. I have believed a middle-of-the-road deal such as a three year, $21 million contract makes the most sense for both sides. Should Chandler sign, he will start at small forward as long as Gallinari remains out. And while I would like to see him playing shooting guard in a big lineup, most likely he will be a power forward in a small one. He is not as good of a scorer as Gallinari, but can surely provide a more well-rounded backup role once he returns.
Charlie: I think a three-year deal for Chandler is the most likely as it will allow him to get back to the league now and keep his options open going forward. In a long-term sense, Chandler’s addition replaces the need for Harrington and opens up minutes for the talented young bigs. In the short-term, I think he’ll cut into Rudy and Brewer’s minutes primarily as Karl adjusts to the team being healthy again. He should work fine next to Harrington for now and he’ll help Karl ease Gallinari back into the rotation and perhaps rely on him less, especially in the ultra-small lineups where Gallinari has struggled.
Kalen: As Masai Ujiri stated just a few days ago, the Nuggets are only interested in a long-term deal with Chandler. By long-term, I’m thinking roughly four years at around $32 million. This is basically what Chandler is worth on the open market and unless Ujiri can somehow manage to get Chandler and his agent to give in to a cheaper deal (not likely), this is probably what he’ll get. If he does return, it’s hard to imagine him fitting in perfectly right away. He’ll have some adjusting to do, but within a few weeks, he should settle into a solid backup role.
Mitchell: Wilson Chandler is exactly what this Nuggets squad needs: defense and scoring. For salary cap flexibility in the future, I would imagine Chandler would get a deal somewhere in the realm of three or four years at around nine or 10 million per year. As well as Brewer has played, I like Chandler better in almost every aspect of the game, except maybe energy. It will be interesting to see the internal competition for playing time on the wing moving forward. A five of Ty, Chandler, Gallinari, Faried and Nene would be tough for any team to match up with.
Joe: Wilson Chandler is my soft spot. I believe he is worth six-to-eight million a year but the Nuggets have no reason to panic with the price tag. Every team with interest (Toronto) can only sign him to a cheap deal which is a STEAL for the Nuggets, especially when you realize Birdman would have to be amnestied. Look for Wilson to either sit the season out and play the restricted market, or for the Nuggets to lock him up for a great, inexpensive price. Wilson Chandler can make his own shot, defend four different positions and be a stud in the role Al Harrington is playing now.
4. What is the one thing George Karl can do (besides magically cure his players’ injuries) to ensure the Nuggets get back to winning basketball games?
Jeremy: Hold them accountable to high expectations. The primary weapon a coach has available to him is playing time. It is difficult to sit a player down for not doing what is expected of him when everyone needs to play due to the injuries. We have seen instances where Birdman or Faried has been removed from the game and not reinserted, but on a team with depth and versatility more players need to know, if I do not do what is expected of me, I may not get back in the game. It is a difficult line to hold as you do not want players looking over their shoulder at the coach every time they make a mistake, but they need to know if they are not getting the job done, someone else will.
Charlie: Tighten up the execution in close games. I can think of at least three or four times off the top of my head where the Nuggets have given up a layup late in a game where one stop seals the win. Offensively they aren’t much better as almost every game winning attempt has ended in some kind of isolation with the guards taking forever to get things moving. Improving the defense must be the focus going forward and I think Karl has to realize that — even if it means reduced roles for his “trust” guys in Miller and Harrington.
Kalen: Stop making excuses. I’m tired of always hearing why the Nuggets lost. To fans, it doesn’t matter why they lost, it’s the simple fact THAT they lost! It seems with the Nuggets right now, winning and losing (the entire goal of playing sports in the first place) have become a bit blurry. There are far too many “moral victories” that are being passed off as actual victories. Karl needs to get his team’s mindset back to winning by any means necessary. This requires playing defense, executing plays and finishing games like a professional basketball team — not a pickup squad.
Mitchell: Keep doing what he’s doing no matter what the media says. This team was as hot as any early in the season, but a rash of injuries coupled with a tough schedule made for a couple of rough weeks for Nuggets fan. Once this team is healthy, and if they can keep on running and stay focused on defense, it can, and will, get back to winning ball games.
Joe: George needs to forget his allegiances. If I see Harrington and Miller dominate the ball for 15 seconds every shot clock, I’m not going to be surprised when the Nuggets lose. George needs to put guys on the floor who can move the ball and let the hot hand take over. Much has been said by Nuggets fans about Karl’s deficiencies but to say he hasn’t made this young roster better even with minimal practice is a lie. He just needs to let the young guys have fun again and implore less dribbling.
5. In the end, where do the Nuggets end up being seeded come playoff time and how far can they go depending on that position?
Jeremy: I think it will be very difficult for Denver to get a top four seed with the way Oklahoma City, Dallas, San Antonio and the Clippers are playing. Still, all it would take is one injury for the tables to be turned. Ultimately I expect to see Denver finish fifth and lose in the first round, although they would give any of those teams a difficult series.
Charlie: I’m no longer sold on the Nuggets making the playoffs. There’s been about five or six games where the Nuggets have completely failed to show up and never had a chance at winning. I’m not sure those habits and the poor defense can change overnight. The other thing to worry about is another stretch of bad luck and adversity derailing the team all over again. It’s going to be very close and run down to the wire but assuming the Nuggets do stay healthy they’ll compete for the seven or eight seed. Playoff basketball seems to be Kryptonite for the Nuggets style this year and I think they need more time and experience to win in that slow-down, half-court style of play. A series win as a low seed is out of the question.
Kalen: Like I said, it all depends on injuries and Wilson Chandler, although if I had to bet, I’d say the Nuggets make a strong push for the Playoffs in the second half of the season and ultimately end up being seeded anywhere from eight to four. As long as the Nuggets can get healthy come Playoff time and avoid either the Spurs or Thunder, I think anything is possible. HOW-EVA… if you want my honest opinion, I see the Nuggets once again drawing the Thunder or Spurs and being bounce in the first round — for the millionth time.
Mitchell: The Nuggets need to avoid that dreaded eighth spot at all costs. A first-round matchup with the Thunder will most likely result in a sweep. The Nuggets just cannot match up with them at all. However, I could see them beating a team like the Clippers or the Mavericks without home-court advantage. A visit to the second-round would be overachieving for the team at this point.
Joe: The Nuggets, as constructed, are a playoff team. Whether they achieve this goal is all based on health. At 100 percent (including my boy, Chandler) they are a top four seed in the West. Unfortunately, that promises you nothing in the Playoffs. The Nuggets half-court offense is like watching paint dry and every bit as exciting. Good teams will make you beat them with your offensive sets and force your defense to stop the pick-and-roll which the Nuggets can’t. I unfortunately see an early playoff exit unless we see a major development cycle which is all up to Karl who needs to re-earn his respect with the front office and fan base.