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.
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.
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.
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.
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.