Denver Nuggets midterm report card: starters

Throughout Roundball Mining Company’s Rapid Reaction history we’ve had numerous readers suggest we keep a tally of each player’s grades, then add them up at the end of the season to evaluate the individual performances of the Denver Nuggets. We thank you all for the interest and have since decided to incorporate this idea as part of our blog. Being that the All-Star break essentially splits this lockout-shortened season in half we’re presented with the perfect opportunity to assess where the team, and its players, currently stand. Because these evaluations can get a bit lengthy we’ve decided to split up the series into three different sections: starters, bench players and rookies. This is the first part of the Denver Nuggets midterm report card.

Before getting started, a few things to keep in mind. First, the grade point averages (GPA) are calculated the same way most educational institutions formulate theirs. That is four points awarded for an A, three for a B, two for a C, one for a D and none for an F. Each player receives the correlating number of points for every individual game grade, those points are then added up and divided by the total number of games played to achieve their GPA. The “Actual Grade” category is the grade they receive based on their GPA, while the “Roundball Grade” is more or less the type of grades we’ve been handing out in our Rapid Reactions all year that judge players on intangibles, situational circumstances, expectations in addition to statistics. The “Assessment” and “Areas of Improvement” categories are self explanatory. So, without further ado, here are your Denver Nuggets’ midterm report cards.

Nene // GPA: 2.6 // Actual Grade: C // Roundball Grade: C-

Assessment: After starting off the season hot, Nene’s production dipped dramatically before going down with an injury. As it stands he’s averaging his least amount of points since 2007-08, his worst field goal and free throw percentage since that same year and his least amount of blocks since 2005-06. In other words, Nene’s production has plummeted across the board this season. This certainly comes as a disappointment to many fans who felt with Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith out of the picture, Nene would see a dramatically increased role and perhaps challenge for his first All-Star appearance. Granted, injuries may have affected his production, but the fact remains, Nene has yet again underachieved when the opportunity to assert himself was there for the taking.

Areas of Improvement: As always, being more aggressive and demanding his fair share of touches would do wonders for the Brazilian big man. Nene has trouble with taller, more physical opponents, but this seems more of a mental issue than anything — being Nene is no Muggsy Bogues himself. If he wants to become the 15 and 10 player we all know he’s capable of being, Nene must play with a renewed sense of physicality in the post and perhaps even a mean streak to pair with it. Also, not barking at the refs and instead getting back on defense would help the Nuggets in transition.

Afflalo // GPA: 2.6 // Actual Grade: C // Roundball Grade: C

Assessment: Afflalo has been the mirror image of Nene through the first half of the season. He started off out of shape, dazed and confused, yet steadily adapted to the offense and slowly worked himself back into the role he occupied last season. With Gallinari, Lawson and Nene out with injuries, Afflalo put up some of the most impressive numbers of his entire career scoring at least 19 points in seven of nine games leading up to the All-Star break. The real question Nuggets fans are asking is whether he can continue his fantastic scoring output once the starting rotation has overcome its injuries. If so, it’s officially time to put the “Afflalo got overpayed” argument to bed.

Areas of Improvement: While Afflalo has improved gradually in many ways since the season began, he still needs to work on knocking down 3-pointers with the type of efficiency he has in years past. Currently, Afflalo is shooting his lowest field goal and 3-point percentage since coming into the league as a Detroit Piston back in 2007-08. Additionally, Afflalo needs to improve his handle and mid-range game. Right now most of his points are coming in transition, but in tight games, these opportunities fly out the window; therefore, it’s crucial that moving forward Afflalo adds more weapons to his repertoire to avoid being made a one-dimensional player.

Mozgov // GPA: 2.5 // Actual Grade: C // Roundball Grade: C-

Assessment: Analyzing Timofey Mozgov on a nightly basis is one of the more interesting tasks of writing about the Nuggets. You’re constantly stuck between the limbo that is giving him a lenient grade based on his individual progress or scolding him for failing to execute even the most fundamental of basketball plays. Mozgov is still largely inexperienced when it comes to playing in the NBA and thus, continues to struggle on any given night much like a rookie often does. However, his frame and shot-blocking ability cannot be ignored. The fact remains: Mozgov is a young, legit 7-foot center who causes opponents to think twice about entering the lane to score. That alone is worth a lot. But for the Nuggets sake moving forward, he must evolve into more than just an 18-minute-per-night player who cannot be relied up in the fourth quarter.

Areas of Improvement: The most glaring weakness in Mozgov’s game at the moment, is his reaction speed. He is almost always a step behind the action — not necessarily in terms of his physical positioning on the floor, but more his mental awareness. This is most evident when it comes to rebounding, receiving swift passes from his point guards or recognizing when he has a mismatch. Mozgov has to become more aware of his surrounding a step quicker than he has been, which as a result, will prepare him for more success on the basketball floor.

Lawson // GPA: 2.9 // Actual Grade: C+ // Roundball Grade: B

Assessment: If not for injuries there’s a good chance Ty Lawson would be having an even better season than he already is. While averaging 15 points and six assists per game is neither a disappointment nor anything to scoff at, some fans (aka, yours truly) still expected a little bit more from the diminutive speedster. Being that this is his first full year as the Nuggets starting point guard, Lawson deserves some breathing room and of course, credit where it’s due. Lawson’s team-first mentality and ability to execute George Karl’s offense “on a dime” should be applauded to the fullest. He hardly ever takes bad shots, plays admirable defense and pushes the pace like no other point guard in the entire league. If he’s able to remain healthy for the second half of the season, his production should soar even higher.

Areas of Improvement: While it appeared Lawson was a better-than-advertized shooter from beyond the arc, especially after recording an NBA record 10 3-pointers in a row against the Timberwolves last year, it’s perhaps time to reassess this notion. While Lawson can knock down open threes when he has time to set his feet and shoot, this opportunity rarely presents itself in the NBA. Under duress, Lawson struggles; therefore, it’s crucial that as he progresses as a player, Lawson doesn’t feel obligated to take shots too far away from the basket that he isn’t comfortable taking. He’s much more of a threat penetrating to the basket and either finishing in traffic or kicking out to one of his open teammates. Furthermore, Lawson needs to be confident in his ability to control the pace of the game even in a half-court set. While it’s nice to see him hand the ball off immediately upon entering the front court, his speed, close proximity to the floor and incredible handle allow him to dice through defenses with ease, which he shouldn’t hesitate to do more often.

Gallinari // GPA: 2.7 // Actual Grade: C+ // Roundball Grade: B

Assessment: Of all the injuries the Nuggets have had to overcome this year, none have been as frustrating as Gallinari’s. Prior to going down with a chip fracture in his foot roughly three weeks ago, Gallinari was having a breakout season which was by far the best of his career. He was frequently scoring in the low- to mid-20s all while getting to the line (where he shot an excellent 89 percent) and playing stingy defense even when out of position. This was the season many argued was a must-have in order for the Nuggets front office to fully invest in him moving forward, which they did not hesitate to do, re-signing Gallinari to a four-year $42 million deal on Jan. 26. While his 3-point percentage is down, his overall field goal percentage is the highest it has been since his rookie year with the New York Knicks — a sign that he’s taking less shots from long distance and instead attacking the basket the way a budding star should. In addition to averaging a career high in points at 17, Gallinari is also doing so in the steals and assists categories by quite a margin.

Areas of Improvement: It’s hard to pinpoint weaknesses in someone’s game who has made such large strides over the last year, although as good as he’s been, Gallinari isn’t immune to imperfection. The one area where you’d like to see the most improvement is in the rebounding department. Gallinari is 6-10 and frequently plays power forward in Karl’s small-ball lineup, yet only averages one and a half more rebounds than backup point guard Andre Miller. If he can make a concentrated effort to hit the boards harder, Gallinari will have a chance to become the true 5-tool player that even Carmelo Anthony was not.

Stay tuned, as Roundball Mining Company’s Denver Nuggets midterm report card: bench is up next!

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Kalen Deremo

Kalen was born in Durango, CO, in 1988 and graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2013 with a degree in journalism. He's now an itinerant hoping to travel as much as possible before eventually succumbing to the "real world." Aside from writing Kalen likes movies, music, spicy food and the great outdoors. Edward Abbey is his current idol.
  • jaybark7

    Thanks for this breakdown! Very well done. It feels like it is tough with Nene and Gallo to really assess them at this point when it has been so long since they’ve played. Yet, at the same time don’t want to make excuses for them either.
    I’ve seen some flashes from Nene where he took the ball at the rim aggressively and definitely needs to do that more. You are right that he struggles sometimes against bigger guys. Which is why I think one of my favorite things about this year’s nuggets is that we can go so big: 7’0, 6’11, 6’10 (and that continues on the bench with K2, Al, Birdman for now, and Faired a little shorter but plays big). Nene should rarely be forced to bang around with a big guy every play down the court.

    We can be both big and stay athletic and able to run the floor, and I think that is where our strength is, more than playing small.

  • heykyleinsf

    I wonder how much Mosgov, Nene and Affalo deserved to start for the first half of the season. Karl stuck with Affalo all the way, and yes, it does look like he is finally coming back to himself. But following the over/unders… Nobody seemed to be a stiff and a sieve like Affalo. I wonder how this affects team dynamics and why they don’t get benched.
    I think that Karl’s midseason grade is no better than C.
    We did start off with a roar, and have a terrible injury bug and a grueling schedule.. but it would seem all the more reason for rotation. I don’t completely understand why Karl isn’t looking for fresh rotations to wear out teams, especially at home.
    And Birdman.. say what you want about him.. but I see him contributing. He has one of the best games we’ve seen him ever play here.. and then poof… he’s gone again.
    I can’t be the only one scratching my head about Birdman.
    I was at the Kings game here in Sacramento.. and I noticed Birdman far off to the periphery during a huddle.
    It seems like there is a tiff between Birdman and Karl.

  • Hi

    Id have to disagree with the fact that he thinks Lawson isn’t a great three point shooter. He should be comfortable taking those threes he’s been around 40% his whole college and pro carrear. This year all around the league 3 point percentage is the lowest since the last lockout season. I think as long as he continues to stay healthy hell end the season in that 35-40% mark from behind the arc

  • SmokinNugs

    Nice writeup. I’m mildly disappointed that none of the Nuggets starters were able to break the 3.0 realm. The grades indicate Lawson is our best player followed by Gallo and I’d definitely agree with that. It was so nice seeing Ty back in the lineup against Portland and that we were able to get the W. Looking forward to having Gallo back and we’ll be complete. What about Nene? EXACTLY!

    2012 Averages
    Nene – 30.6 min/ 7.8 reb/ 2 asist/ 1.2 stl/ .8 blk/ 13.4 pts
    Faried – 17 min/ 6.3 reb/ .4 asist/ .5 stl/ 1.1 blk/ 7.6 pts

    That is DISGUSTINGLY close for a rookie and a vet we just locked down long term. Also did you notice Faried is doing it in HALF the minutes? I’m glad we have other options at C and PF to rotate with Nene for those nights he doesn’t show up.

  • Luckydmh12

    Great breakdown. At what point do people start to realize that Nene isn’t worth the money Denver as paid him for his career. Give him an extension and a lot of money and he gives us an injury and misses half a season! Look at his track record and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Year after year the media and game anouncers talk about him not stepping up when he there is no one else playing good, if we have to keep saying it, then don’t you think he isn’t going to perform by this point in his playing career? Nene has to be one of the biggest busts for the Nugs.

  • Connor P.

    I can’t help but feel the nuggets made the wrong choice by resigning Nene. There is no way he is playing at a level that commands the type of money they gave him, and he’s fallen back into his old ways as far as sitting out almost as many games as he plays. It’s really a pity, because I figured he would finally take over as the leader of the team this year with Carmelo gone.

  • Andrew

    Hey, Connor. I respectfully disagree with you on Nene. As Kalen mentions in his report, Nene seems to struggle against bigger men, but I think that is mostly Karl’s fault for using Nene at Center during his “small ball” experiments early in the season.

    I really hope that Karl has seen the light regarding how much more effective the Nuggets can be with a legit Center playing (Koufos or Moz), and when Nene returns, I think you are going to see Nene at his most effective when he has one of the big men helping him in the post and keeping him on PFs instead of Centers. When I see Nene on the court, I can’t help but thinking his listing at 6’11” is about 2″ off. Doesn’t he look closer to 6’9″ than 6’11″????