2012-2013 Training Camp: Five things to watch

Training camp officially starts today, hot on the heels of media day where the Nuggets announced they’ve finalized their 17-man roster with guards Anthony Carter and Ben Uzoh.

The Uzoh addition is an interesting one. His name was one of many New Jersey Nets linked to Denver in the early days of the Melo saga. Uzoh isn’t a threat to make the roster now but the Nuggets could keep an eye on him in the future. Anthony Carter gives George Karl a veteran presence familiar with how he runs camp. If reports from last season are true, Karl has tried to recruit Carter as an assistant coach.

This training camp features a strong core of players looking to expand on roles they already have. Following them are about nine rotation guys fighting over four open spots. There’s probably about half the roster whose performances in camp could have a huge effect on their futures. Here are five storylines to watch as camp and preseason unfold.

The center position

This is a theme that could run throughout the whole season, or perhaps even the next few years in Nuggets basketball.

McGee not starting isn’t the real issue here. We know from Karl’s rotations by now that starting implies very little about an actual role with the team. The issue is trying to give confidence to your best players while figuring out how to develop everyone else too.

Karl has mentioned wanting to get both Mozgov and Koufos more involved on the court. With a healthy roster there are likely no minutes for that.  Both of these guys seem ready to take another step that only one of them will be able to make.

Ideally, either Mozgov or Koufos make a strong statement about which one is the guy next to McGee. If the Nuggets do believe McGee is their long-term man, they’ll have to give him some confidence and a longer leash. It’s a very tough balancing act and something I think the Nuggets will struggle with for a while. Making some real progress on this in training camp could remove tons of drama from the actual season.

Shooting

I have little doubt the coaches will be looking for this all week. It is the biggest question mark for the Denver Nuggets offensively. They clearly lack shooting off the bench and spot-up threats in general.

This is where Jordan Hamilton, Evan Fournier, and Corey Brewer can get themselves noticed. The best catch-and shoot player among them could have a sizable role in the offense next season. Camp is a golden opportunity for the Nuggets to explore who is getting open on Gallo and Lawson drives and who can make shots.

Anthony Randolph

I touched on it in our #NuggetsRank discussion of Randolph, but I continue to think the Nuggets may find themselves needing a player like Anthony Randolph in the rotation.

For starters, he’s the most natural four on the team. Kenneth Faried can give you 25-30 minutes of unbelievable energy, but increasing his role much beyond that is something that will require experience and more natural development in his game.

The Nuggets will use Wilson Chandler and Koufos or Mozgov behind Faried, but Randolph is the more natural fit. At seven feet tall with his mobility, he’s also perfect as a small-ball center who can help the Nuggets get faster lineups in the game.

Randolph will be handed nothing, so he faces an uphill battle in terms of standing out. If he can show enough to get a few shots at backup minutes early in the season, Randolph could be well on his way to rediscovering his career. If he struggles with basic team concepts and fitting in, it’ll be easy for the Nuggets to put him on the shelf for another year.

Bench rotation

George Karl loves the security of having a super sub off the bench – someone who can get their own shot and give the offense a new look immediately upon checking in.

This Nuggets team looks to be without that traditional spark. Andre Miller and Al Harrington formed the foundation of the Nuggets bench last year, but this year’s version lacks a true focal point. JaVale McGee and Wilson Chandler are two of the early favorites to anchor the bench, but I’m not sure either is suited to be a true sixth man, something the Nuggets have always tailored their offense around.

Leadership

The buzz around this team seems different than in previous years. The Nuggets have talked about high expectations, winning the Northwest division and making a real power play in the West this season. If the Nuggets are going to make that happen the first step is establishing accountability.

This is something coaches can’t do without the right core of players. It means getting guys to care, on a personal level, about maintaining standards whether you win or lose.  If the Nuggets are going to be a better, more consistent team it starts with leadership on the floor and in the locker room.

The question is can the Nuggets best players make others around them better? It’s perhaps the biggest mystery behind how this Nuggets roster is built and whether or not they can contend without traditional stars.

  • Logan

    I agree with everything! Great article!
    I think that JaVale McGee will be our future at center because it doesn’t matter who starts, it matters who finishes and he will get the most minutes and will produce the most.
    I think Gallo will become more like the Gallo in New York as a great 3-ball shooter as well as J-Ham could get playing time if we need that shooting/scoring spark off the bench.
    I think Randolph will see minutes as the back-up 4 because that is his most natural spot and has the potential to produce there and it is a position of need.
    I love Wilson Chandler. He can score by attacking the rim, off the jumpshot, and on open 3’s. He also is are second best perimeter defender on the team. I think he will get major minutes and could become a 6th man. I would love to see small-ball as Ty, Iggy, Chandler, Gallo(Stretch Four) and either McGee, Mozzy, Koufos, or even Randolph as the center!
    Lastly, I think the leaders are obviously Miller’s veteran leadership and Ty will be the floor general, run the offence, and have the ball in his hands a lot!
    Super Pumped!

    • dynamo.joe

      I’m cornfused. In what sense is that small ball?

      • Evan Woodruff

        In terms or raw height, it does not. But playing a 3 at the 4 position and a 2 at the 3 position, does kind of mean small ball. Maybe think of it in numbers of true position, opposed to height. =D

        • Ryan

          Nugs fans this is driving me crazy! Get it in your heads! Igoudala is a 2 not a 3. He played out of position in Philly. He is small for a traditional 3 player. Lol it’s probably not as big a deal as I am making it out to be but it drives me crazy when people try to say he is a 3.

          • CJP32

            I agree with you, Iggy is a 2 and should be a 2 in Denver. We already have a logjam at the 3. This system is built for guys like Iggy who can play perimeter defense and can run. He shot well from the three point line last year, so hopefully that will continue.

        • dynamo.joe

          So, now Chandler is a 2?

          • DH

            I think it’s mostly because a SF (Gallo) would be playing PF (although he’s actually a lot taller than Faried). And I guess if Randolph (a natural PF) is playing C, that qualifies, too. Let’s call this Tall Small Ball. ;)

  • CJP32

    Nice write up Charlie and there are certainly question marks around this team in regards to the starting 5, the 3 Point shooting and leadership.

    I believe that McGee is better suited off the bench, for Mozzy/Koufos can play the first 6 mins and hopefully play tough defense. This allows an energised McGee to come in and dominate opposite fatigued centres/2nd unit centres.

    Off the bench, Im expecting Brewer/JHam to battle for that 15-20mpg backup SG/SF position. Wilson is probably the 6th Man right now but will be playing mins at the 4. I’m not sure where and if AR gets mins immediately.

    I would see Iggy/Dre as the captains of this squad, purely because they have been leaders in the past, and hopefully Ty steps into that role as well.

    • magster

      The few games McGee started last year, he always got in early foul trouble. Seemed like McGee always wanted to “set the tone” of the epic center matchup of that particular game which led to him trying to do too much.

  • JEDean

    It’s a pretty interesting case the nuggets have right now, they have a logjam at every position but the point with at least 2 players competing for each. It’s a great thing because the best, hungriest, hardest working guys will get the minutes and all the others are on affordable contracts. It’s clear that the first 4 months till the all star break is gonna really be an audition for this nuggs team. a trade needs to be made at either the break or next summer. i think one of koufus or mozgov get traded with something like a brewer, randolph, + picks for a starting 4 like Josh Smith. A Ly Lawson, Iggy, Gallo, Smith, McGee Lineup with Miller, Hamilton, Chandler, Koufus bench would be real nice.

    • CJP32

      I agree with you that a trade needs to be made/will be made by the All Star break. There are 3 guys ‘auditioning’ for a new contract and/or extension this year:

      Brewer – this is his final year of his 3 yr deal he signed with Dallas, only a portion is guaranteed. He will be battling to stay in the rotation against the likes of Gallo, Chandler, JHam. The guy is a winner and would be a cheap SF that plays with crazy energy. Up to 14 teams wanted him 2 years ago when the Knicks released him.

      Mozzy – With Koufos locked up for at least another season, Mozzy must have a break out year to be in Denver next year. Either he steps up, or watches KK replace him for good. He is a capable starter, as long as he plays to his own strengths and catches the ball. The Olympics would have helped him and his confidence.

      Stone – starting the season injured doesn’t help him, and he has Fournier right behind him wanting his spot. I’m not sure this kid will last in Denver.

      One thing is for sure though – injuries happen. And right now, Chandler has a big question mark above him. can he remain healthy enough to be an impact off the bench, or will Brewer/JHam get his minutes?

      • dynamo.joe

        Stone is a pure PG. Fournier is a SG, who didn’t look particularly comfortable playing the point in summer league, how are these guys in competition? Well, aside from the limited number of roster spots.

    • DH

      I know what you’re saying, but you can’t trade a bunch of bench guys for someone like Josh Smith, no matter how many of them you include. The draft picks don’t help much either, since it’s pretty obvious they will be late in the first round. I think that to get a quality starter we would have to give up a quality starter. So I don’t expect a trade this year – especially not a major one.

      • Waylon

        Did you see what Orl. got for the best center in the NBA? Just my two cents, I think they trade for a 2 guard that comes off the bench and can make three’s.

  • jim

    nuggetsrank #17 post for ac please. Watch out for errant passes in the first ten rows!

    Jk – lotsa love for ac. Could be interesting as a coach. Are all the coaches from last year back?

    • Ryan

      Just don’t let Anthony Carter draw up any inbounds plays…

  • Jeff

    I think Wilson Chandler will be the first guy off the bench, and play similar minutes to how Al Harrington did last year. If he can create his own shot he will be a great 6th man.

    • CJP32

      WC will easily play 24-28 mpg and yes he should be the 6th Man (unless Ty is in foul trouble first and Dre is needed)

      WC is more than capable of creating his own shot and can drive or hit the three. Not sure if he is a great runner though?

      • Jeff

        To me unless you’re a big 270 pound center or a declining veteran, you can run up and down the court.

      • dynamo.joe

        We are in big trouble if Chandler is playing significant minutes. While I actually agree that he can create his own shot, he then fails to convert that open shot. He is absolutely atrocious at the 3 pt line (32% Career). I will also agree that he can drive, but he too often settles for that midrange shot that he can’t make.

        This is from his best shooting season ever;
        http://vorped.com/bball/index.php/player/shotchart/1030-Wilson-Chandler/season/2010-2011-REG

        Anything in that chart below about 1.1 and you shouldn’t be shooting. He actually was good at corner 3’s. So where did he take his 3pt shots from? Everywhere else.

        He took 57% of his shots from areas where he couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn. That is not good basketball.

        He has the physical ability to be a good basketball player, but in 5 seasons he has never played good basketball.

        • KW

          This.

          I’ve never seen Chandler have a good game. I’ve never seen him have an impact.

          And with regard to Anthony Carter…yuck. Can we get him to be ‘Inbounds Against The Lakers’ Coach?

        • DH

          I like Chandler as a defender. I like the fact that he’s versatile. And I think he has a lot of ability. But when people talk about him “creating his own shot”, I cringe. When he joined the team last year, it seemed like he thought he was being paid by the shot. There wasn’t a shot he wouldn’t force. I’m hoping that was just a residual effect from being “the man” in China. And I’m hoping that GK’s apparent intention of playing him at the ‘4’ at least part of the time will change his shot selection for the better. I guess we’ll find out. At least we know we have all kinds of options on the bench if he doesn’t fix his shot selection.

          • Jeff

            We haven’t really seen enough of him to really judge yet, in my opinion. At least, I haven’t seen enough of him. Knicks fans might be more informed. But I recall right after the Melo trade, Gallo got injured, Mozgov didn’t play, Felton, wasn’t great, and Chandler looked like the best player coming over from NY.

  • Thomas

    I am very excited for the season – it will be fun to see our team play every night. It’s great basketball to watch.

    Besides these 5 things to watch, my main concern is GK and his ability to make this team a real contender. The evidence, unfortunately, is stacked against him.

    I think we will live and die by the two-PG line-up (Lawson and Miller). Personally, I don’t see us making it to the western conference finals if GK continues to give heavy minutes to that line-up (particularly 4th quarter minutes).

    Our chance is if we can establish a clear 8-man rotation by March, with defined roles and a certain style. It is ludicrous to think that we can play a certain way with Lawson running the show (with AI) and suddenly end a game on a higher note with Miller running things (and being exposed once again on the defensive end).

    I am skeptical of GK by nature after seeing him for so many years. I doubt he can make Hamilton a significant part of this equation as he simply does not trust young guys and doesn’t allow them the time they need to develop their confidence and game. I am skeptical that he will give 30+ minutes per game to Faried – without I don’t think we have a chance.

    I am skeptical of GK and his excuses and low bar expectations. It has started already, “if we can win X games by X date we will have a shot” or like last year “if we win 2 out of 5 on the road its a good trip”. You just can’t have a winning attitude with this kind of leadership.

    I would prefer if we don’t make a lot of changes in our line-up all the time and establish the starting five: Lawson-AI-Faried-Chandler(Gallo)-Mcgee. I would give most bench minutes to Brewer, Hamilton and Koufos. Come garbage time (in blowouts and lost games), I would give Fours all the experience he could get.

    I would package Miller, Mozgov and Randolph for a good shooter, when available later in the season. If Gallo doesn’t show progress, I would trade him while he is worth quite a bit.

    • DH

      I’m just curious, who would play backup PG – especially in the playoffs – if we trade Miller? Would you use Stone or someone else?

      • Thomas

        Yes, I would give back-up duties to Stone. Worst thing that can happen is that after a month you know much better if he handle the job and you can decide what you do. The guy seems to takes good care of the ball, won’t shoot much and sees to play solid D. That’s exactly what we need, in my view. We only need him to give Lawson a breather here and there.

        If AC comes back, I stop watching. Fool me once, no way fool me twice (or would it be the third time around that he comes our way?).

    • Jeff

      Actually, targeting a reasonable number of games to win on a trip is good leadership. It’s easy for people who have never coached to say “oh we just have to go out and try to win every game.” But coaching doesn’t work like that. If you’ve been around a team as a player or a coach you learn that teams can get in really weird funks and the effort simply cannot be there every game.

  • http://Denverstiffs.comSlader Richard Greenslade

    Great article, Charlie!

    I would add that we have heard a lot about defense being the key this year, what with Iguadola and all. In that vein I predict that good defender Brewer will show up with a 3-ball reliable enough to keep him ahead of JHam at the 2 behind Iggy.
    I do hope Hamilton gets some minutes, but I don’t think he can cover the quicker 2-guards. Time for GK to show off his creative lineup skills.

  • SmokinNugs

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not EVER bring Anthony Carter back!

    I really cannot emphasize that enough! Veteran or not, he is not a winner and I still blame him for losing to the Lakers a few years back. KEEP HIM AWAY!

    • DH

      Man, until you said this, I never really considered this as a serious possibility. I guess they could release Stone and bring back AC. I think you just ruined my day. Nah, they wouldn’t do that, would they?

      • Zack

        Oh god this would be AWFUL! I’d much rather have Stone (that is injured and cannot even play) than AC anyday.

        Yikes this scares the crap out of me now. Uzoh and AC shouldn’t make the roster. We have our 15 guys (including Stone).

  • jake

    Been reading some other NBA blogs out there…. it’s really nice not to have to go grammar Nazi on you guys. Thanks for reading and spell checking your posts. It’s a much more favorable read.

  • jake

    Also, I share the genral sentiment toward Anthony Carter. Although I do believe it was George Karl that threw those games away in the western conference finals, AC is the goat. Don’t bring him back! He was too slow then, too old then. Assistant coach? Sure. Player? Maybe he has a great attitude but his on the floor presence is like that of cancer.

  • Aaron

    DONT BRING AC BACK!!!

    Funny Fact Here! AC is The Only NBA Player Ever That Has Played Over 50 Games Ever That Hasn’t Even Scored 10 Points in Any Game! That’s Just Pathetic.

    • Jeff

      He’s scored at least 10 plenty of times. He just hasn’t averaged 10 points a game.

      • Aaron

        O My Bad…Never Trust The Internet!

      • SmokinNugs

        I think he was saying AC has 50 games played in which he hasn’t scored a point.

  • nugswin

    Even though the chances of it happening are slim to none (and slim = 0) I’m going to put this out there again:

    GK should start Moz at C — or KK if he decidedly outplays Moz in camp — and McGee at PF while bringing Faried off the bench. Faried can still get his 25-30 min and GK can adjust the 7-footers minutes according to game situation, foul trouble, etc. The combo of McGee and [insert other 7' guy here] would immediately pose match-up problems for opposing teams who would then have to adjust (something that they will not have to do for Faried in the lineup). That gives the coaching staff the advantage of tooling the substitutions to the situation rather than having to react to what the opponent will show. Plus, having the two big guys patrolling the paint can only make the addition of Iggy and his excellent perimeter defense (contagious we hope) all that much more effective.

    But, since this isn’t going to happen, I’ll just say that I’m confident AC isn’t going to be on the final roster and that he’s being groomed for some coaching duties. I refuse to lose sleep over this!

    • dynamo.joe

      C’mon, I don’t want AC here anymore than the next guy, because I believe Stone is better in every single way. But AC wasn’t horrible for the Nuggets, merely mediocre.

      • nugswin

        I agree. But now he is three years removed from being merely mediocre and most certain to be very close to horrible.

        I wouldn’t mind seeing him on the bench in coaches attire though.

      • SmokinNugs

        I disagree, he cost us 1 if not 2 games due to back in bounds passes. Then we had to foul Kobe and lost the games at the line.

        AC is bad, not mediocre, he is flat out bad.

        • SmokinNugs

          Bad* in bounds passes

  • John

    AC is almost exactly what George Karl loves in a backup PG. He loves ‘scrappy’ PGs… AC just has one too many letters, or he’d be perfect. :-D

    • michael

      AC wouldn’t be terrible IF we didn’t already have dre. it doesn’t make sense to have a 37 year old man as a 3rd point guard-a spot which is almost always used for developing a future pg

  • Haig

    The PF position is really the only one where we have questions. Sure, Faried earns his minutes but behind him are Randolph (an unknown quantity), Chandler (a SF who has no business banging inside), and maybe Koufas (who is turning heads in camp so far).

    If these questions don’t get resolved with success in the first half of the season, I’m all for packaging Mozzy and Chandler for Josh Smith. We might need to give up Gallo instead of Chandler in that deal but at least we’d have a legit PF and Chandler would be cemented as the SF (with Brewer, Hamilton and Iggy behind him). Koufos then becomes the backup C and we’re still 2 deep at every position.

    • dynamo.joe

      Well, anytime you can pay $13M for mediocre, you got to do it!

      I am not a big fan of AynRand, but I would much rather pay him $2M than overpay Josh Smith by $10M.

      Don’t misconstrue what I am saying, Josh Smith is a better player, but in no sense is he an all-star/max contract type player.

  • parkhill

    Randolph is a big addition to the team. He’s here cuz he killed us over the last two years. His offense is needed and he will play a bigger role than most expect. This is the best, deepest and most flexible front court the Nuggets have ever had. Moz and Manimal can bang when needed. McGee, KK and Randolph can score when needed.

    I really don’t understand all this stress over the starting 5 and who gets what. I understand this is the NBA and politics are involved but Karl should have the freedom to go at this like a high school coach out to when by any means necessary given the dynamics of the opposition and who is playing well at the time.

    I hear talk about a solid 8 man rotation and just think of the recent flame outs, burn outs and inability of those 8 to handle the run and gun style deep into the playoffs. Plus, we haven’t gone into the playoffs with 10-11 guys ready to contribute. That’s how you win it all, not depending on 8 ordained, worn out, politically and contractually advantaged players.