5-on-5: Season preview

With the 2012-13 Nuggets season right around the corner it’s time for Roundball Mining Company to introduce the first of several season previews. This one comes in the form of our ongoing 5-on-5 series. Joining Charlie, Joel, Jeremy and I to make predictions and dish out opinions on the upcoming season is loyal reader, Joe Beebe. If you’d like to participate in a future 5-on-5 article remember to follow us on Twitter.

1. What’s the one word you would use to describe the 2012-13 Nuggets season?

Jeremy: Pivotal. The Nuggets have compiled a very deep and talented team capable of defeating any other team in the NBA. However, can they beat the league’s better teams often enough to advance to the franchise’s first Finals appearance since the NBA/ABA merger? There are a lot of fans and analysts who will be pulling for the Nuggets to defeat the conventional wisdom that a team needs multiple superstars to win a title. Another postseason flame-out would be deflating.

Charlie: Opportunity. The Nuggets seem to know they can be contenders in the West with the roster Masai has assembled. There’s a genuine excitement surrounding what this team can do and expectations seem higher than normal in the recent Karl era. Fans shouldn’t be expecting a title but it’s time for this talented core to start taking significant steps toward contention.

Joel: Rebirth. Ty Lawson is the only holdover from the Melo days (though Andre Miller is a transplant), Andre Iguodala brings a new pedigree as the team’s only All-Star and Olympic gold-medal winner, JaVale McGee brings… well, we’ll find out. But whatever it is, it’s new to this team. The symbolism of the new gold skyline alternate jerseys officially harkens the beginning of a new era. The buzzwords “youth” and “potential” will (rightfully) hover over this new team all season and the unfolding of its growth and development is a drama many NBA fans (not just those of us in Nuggetsland) are looking forward to watching.

Kalen: Crucial. This team is young, this team is inexperienced, this team really has all kinds of excuses it could use to justify losing more games than it should. But what about the ones it can’t use? Like, for example, the fact that Ty Lawson is about to explode. Or that the Nuggets just picked up an All-Star/Olympian? Or that they’re probably the deepest team in the league? If the Nuggets have just another “met expectations” type of year, something needs to change.

Joe: Different. Surprise, surprise, Masai Ujiri made another big move. The Andre Iguodala acquisition is as large of a move as the departure of Carmelo Anthony. Defensively, this team is not the same. Injuries killed the Nuggets last season in the development of Danilo Gallinari and the return of Wilson Chandler in a way that should not repeat itself. Throw in improvements from Jordan Hamilton, the arrival of Evan Fournier and the preseason emergence of Kosta Koufos and Corey Brewer (did I just write that sentence?) and you’ve got something here.

2. Which player on the Nuggets roster will be most improved from last season?

Jeremy: Jordan Hamilton. Players like Kosta Koufos and Corey Brewer enjoyed fantastic preseasons but the player who will show he has improved the most will be Hamilton. Thanks to his smooth stroke from behind the arc and the Nuggets’ dearth of dependable 3-point shooters, Hamilton should get minutes. When he is on the court he will prove he is more than just a long-range sniper.

Charlie: Kosta Koufos. He’s coming off a solid statistical year in which he wasn’t much more than a fill-in big. I think this is the year the Nuggets are ready to feature him in a regular role. If McGee can ever get it together Koufos has proven to be the ideal big man to pair with him. He’s earned the coaches trust and I think he’ll continue to produce steadily in limited minutes.

Joel: Based on his preseason performance it would be tempting to go with Corey Brewer. But the smart money is on preseason games being unreliable in predicting regular-season performances, meaning Brewer should regress back to his normal career trajectory. It will be most beneficial to the Nuggets if the correct answer to this question ends up being JaVale McGee. However, I believe that given his very limited role as a rookie last season and his hard work over the summer, Jordan Hamilton is poised to make the biggest leap, as long as he can prove to Karl that his defense and decision making won’t be too big of a liability to leave him on the court for significant stretches.

Kalen: Kosta Koufos. Here’s the thing: Jordan Hamilton, barring sufficient playing time, might have the biggest jump in production but it doesn’t mean he was the most improved. He just didn’t play last year. If he had, people would have realized how talented he really is. Koufos on the other hand — he actually got playing time and while he played well, he wasn’t spectacular by any means. That could all change this year. Koufos looks on pace to have a true breakout season — perhaps similar to the one Nikola Pekovic had last year with the Timberwolves.

Joe: There’s two answers here: the one that you’re searching for and the obvious one. An improved Javale McGee could make the Nuggets a major player for a title this year. That said, it seems like we’ll see more of the same, which could be great if you like “Not Top 10″ type of publicity. The clear choice is Corey Brewer. He’s over 40 percent from the 3-point line this preseason and has been the best player on the court in many of those games. I’m interested to see how Karl will work his rotation and if any personnel decisions will be made if Brewer continues to surprise.

3. Which player on the Nuggets roster is the most critical to the team’s overall success?

Jeremy: Danilo Gallinari. The players who would be most difficult to replace are Ty Lawson and Andre Igoudala, as no other players on the roster can duplicate their abilities. However, my answer is Gallo. When the Rooster is scoring efficiently the Nuggets are much more difficult to beat. Gallo can also be one of the team’s best passers and defenders and Denver will need his contributions in both of those areas. Most importantly, he must stay healthy, as last season he struggled to return to form after recovering from injury.

Charlie: Danilo Gallinari. The Nuggets are still a team that gets by with offense and they need their most dynamic scorer to be effective. Gallo can make plays with his passing and defense but he’ll be counted on as the primary source of scoring and shooting from the wing. Whether Gallo finds himself as a scorer this year is up in the air, but he needs to be more consistent either way. The Nuggets can’t afford the frequent duds Gallo has become known for in his brief Nuggets career.

Joel: Ty Lawson. By now, the evidence is clearly in the books (nowhere more vividly than in the last playoff series against the Lakers) that this Nuggets team pretty much lives or dies by Lawson. When he asserts himself as a force to be reckoned with — attacking the rim and using drives to set up easy scoring opportunities for his teammates — Denver’s offense is at its best. When he concedes the helm and defers too much to his teammates the Nuggets’ sense vitality seems to wither on the vine. Lawson owning his responsibility to pilot this team is a prerequisite for it to break through to the next level.

Kalen: McGee and it’s not even close. The NBA is all about size. You dominate with height first, then on down the ladder to other positions. Lawson, Iguodala and Gallinari should all have good seasons; everyone is expecting that. But what if McGee finally turns the corner? His combination of length, athleticism and size — if used correctly — is something very few of his counterparts in the league can tame. McGee has the potential to be a dominate force up front, similar to Andrew Bynum. If Denver has an Andrew Bynum on its roster, its an entirely different team. 

Joe: This answer is the broken record of broken records. Ty Lawson is the key to making this team a contender. He has unrivaled speed and a great ability to get in the paint and make things happen for himself and his teammates. He also tends to take quarters over. However, it never seems to be in the fourth quarter and his effort seems inconsistent on a nightly basis. I think Lawson has the ability to go get 20 and 10 if he can keep the turnovers down and shoot more consistently. Look for the Nuggets to go only as far as Lawson takes them.

4. Are the Nuggets being overrated by the national media, who regularly has them finishing as a top two seed in the West?

Jeremy: Regular season success and postseason success are two completely different things. If Denver stays healthy and George Karl can concoct the best rotations to maximize Denver’s depth and talent, I would not be surprised to see the Nuggets toy with 60 wins. I do think some of the prognostications are aided by wishful thinking. Who does not want to see this Nuggets team succeed?

Charlie: It’s a little too much for me. Now that Oklahoma City has arrived I think there’s a natural inclination to think they’re done getting better. OKC is clearly a cut above the rest in the West even if the Nuggets are a worthy challenger. I just cannot bet that an improving OKC core finishes with a worse record than Denver. I like the Nuggets’ chances to challenge for the division but too many things need to go just right in order for them to be better than OKC.

Joel: Definitely. While it’s not entirely out of the question that fortuitously simultaneous development jumps from Lawson, Gallinari and McGee will combine with injury and/or chemistry troubles for the Thunder and Lakers — it is improbable. The good news for Denver is that its formula of bench depth, youth and an altitude-driven homecourt advantage adds up to a product custom made for regular season success. But the team from the West in last season’s NBA Finals (OKC) and the the Lakers, who’s starting five has four guaranteed Hall-of-Famers (not entirely out of their prime), must still be regarded as the favorites to win the top two seeds.

Kalen: Without question. Unless Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Kobe or Durant goes down with a serious injury I don’t see any scenario in which the Nuggets can finish as a top two seed in the West. And what happened to the Spurs? Last I checked they still have their big three intact as well as one of the smartest coaches in NBA history and have finished as the top seed in the West the last two years. The Clippers got better and still have two perennial All-Stars. Until the Nuggets can prove they can hang with the big dogs, I will remain skeptical.

Joe: Although many see the Nuggets as a top-seed candidate, very few expect playoff success. I have argued in the past that much of the reason the Nuggets can’t get out of the first round is that they do themselves no favors. Finding ways to play the Spurs, Lakers or Thunder are not ways to give your team confidence. Given the lack of continuity on many of the contenders in the West and the style of play the Nuggets work with, I do believe that it is possible to be the top seed if all goes right. However, I think it is more likely to see the Nuggets fighting the Clippers and Spurs for that 3-5 seed range.

5. The million-dollar question: How many games will the Nuggets win in the regular season and how far will they go in the Playoffs?

Jeremy: I expect the Nuggets to set a franchise record for wins with 56, which will secure them the third seed in the conference. They will demolish some poor team like Dallas, Utah or Minnesota in the first round before losing a war of a series against the Lakers. If things shake out a little differently and the Nuggets face off with the Thunder in the second round, it will be very interesting. This Nuggets team is built to compete with OKC.

Charlie: I have the Nuggets winning 51 and falling short of a first-round playoff series without home court. I think at least one trade is pretty likely as the Nuggets face a ton of adversity early and often throughout the schedule. Denver really needs to do something special with this group and break the franchise record for wins to land in a top playoff seed like they want to. This team has more than enough pieces to do it but the lack of consistency from the bigs makes for little to no room for error.

Joel: I predict that the Nuggets, barring serious injuries, will accomplish no less than winning 53 games, taking second place in the Northwest Division and advancing to the second round of the playoffs. I’ll also add that this is a really tough team to make predictions for. There are so many variables regarding player development, chemistry, possible midseason trades and importantly, how well this squad can weather the brutal season opening 17 of 23 games on the road. Quite honestly, anywhere from the first to seventh seeds wouldn’t be shocking. Anything less than a fourth seed and a deep playoff run should be considered disappointing considering the talent this team has accrued.

Kalen: People forget: The West is stacked. Yes, the Nuggets improved, but so did everyone else. We still can’t count out the possibility of another big trade which could shake up team chemistry. The Nuggets have an incredibly tough schedule to start the season off. And every year the Nuggets lose about three or four games that make you shake your head in disgust. I’m as excited as I’ve ever been about this team, but I’m also no spring chicken when it comes to tempering my expectations. I say 53 wins, the fifth seed in the West and another bitter first-round defeat in the Playoffs.

Joe: There is no question that the Nuggets are a better team this year. There is not one game on the schedule that they can’t win which has not been the case in previous years. Andre Iguodala is the catalyst to a likely culture change on defense that fans like myself have been waiting for years to see. I see Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried taking significant steps forward in their careers and making highlights in the process. There are weaknesses though. The center position is a huge question mark and the West has evolved in ways that are impossible to predict. I see the Nuggets as a 55-win team. A second-round matchup with the Lakers or Thunder will be troublesome. Otherwise, I see them advancing to the Conference Finals.

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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.
  • CJP32

    Nice preview guys, great to see lots of different opinions and views, all in all, its going to be an exciting season. My 2 cents:

    One word – Momentum – proving that last year wasn’t a fluke, that they are better, bigger and faster this year and will continue to grow

    Most Improved Player – Kosta/Brewer – both have turned heads in PS play, and either one could qualify for MIP in the league if given 20-25 mins

    Most Critical – Lawson – needs to become the leader of this group right now, not half way through the year

    Media Love – too much, but maybe its time we got some?

    Wins and Playoffs – if healthy, 35-6 at home, 23-18 on road = 58 wins, good enough for 2nd seed, and make the 3rd round in Playoffs

  • dynamo.joe

    1. One word: Potential. Someone said “potential means you haven’t done anything, yet”. While I understand that there are many fanbases that would love to have the Nuggets record over the last decade and league-wide relevancy over the last few years, it seems like we haven’t done anything since Chauncey’s 1st year back here. And who is left here from that team?

    2. Most Improved Player: Kenneth Faried. In terms of total impact on wins produced, Kenneth – Al = giant leap forward in minutes and wins produced. Also Faried is at an age where leaps in abilities occur. The same could be said for Koufos, but it assumes GK won’t give minutes to Mozgov and I’m not ready to assume that.

    3. Team MVP: Probably Iguodala. As the teams best player and the guy most people expect to lead the team defensively as well as the guy who is going to be co-leading the team offensively (see pre-season assist totals). We probably go as far as Iguodala takes us.

    4. Over-rated? No, not really. I think I have said here before that I was afraid of the Thunder because of their talent and the Spurs because of Pop. Well the Thunder took a step backward, in my opinion. Even before the Harden trade, I thought those 3 teams were 1,2,3 in the west in some order.

    5. Over-Under: I have it at 56-57 wins, so I guess to distinguish myself from Jeremy I’ll go for 57. I think I said in the last day or 2 that they would lose the WCF in 6. Given the dearth of playoff experience, I’ll stick with that prediction.

  • finazzAus

    great read everyone.
    the biggest thing that has me concerned this season is the tough start, if we can get though the first month with a good win/lose ratio then we are in a really good spot and could truly go 55+ in wins. BUT….. sadly what i can see happening is having a tough start to the season with a few L and then the team dropping there heads and then conferdence drops and the season unravles from there. i beleive our season will be determaned by mid Dec.i hope im wrong.
    good to see BBall back

  • Nugznazty

    My prediction after watching our pathetic preseason which saw every player except brewer and jham taking a step back, we will be lucky to get around 45 wins. McGee was garbage, lawson was garbage, iggy was ok, galo was ok, chandler got his wisom teeth out, k2 was ok, timo was garbage, faried took a step back on his rebounding. We looked completely out of sync, even in the wins.
    Before the preseason I was eating the hype up like crazy, but now… At least with my low expectations now if we are awesome I will be more happy about it :D

    • Evan Woodruff

      You know the heat just lost to the Hornets in the preseason. James had 19 pts, and wade had 15!!

      wow the heat must suck too!

      Oh wait…
      IT’S PRESEASON!!

      The good players aren’t playing, and when they are they’re letting the other players get better, or trying new things. McGee and Faried for example were trying the new moves they learned instead of playing their game. Iggy was feeling out the offense and practicing his shot. Galo was practicing his shot, not driving as much…

  • Trip

    I love the straight forward answers you guys give about playoff results. It is way to easy to be a fan of a team, and have a too biased opinion of their successes.

  • Matt

    If we “shouldn’t be expecting a title” then why the hell are we even watching?

    • Andrew K

      Exactly. The logical side of our prediction may leave the Nuggets flat before the WCF; however, the fan side of us HAS to believe that the Nuggets might still win the NBA finals.

    • Evan Woodruff

      Idk.. Charlotte sold some tickets last year I think.

    • dynamo.joe

      So, you are just a bandwagoner who roots for whoever is in the lead? You might want to try soccer, not much scoring so you don’t have to flip-flop in game so much.

      You can hang out with my 8 yr old nephew, he’s a front runner too.

    • Nugznazty

      I’d say entertainment! We’re a top 3 most entertaining team in the league, if not #1

  • EWilson

    My take:

    One Word–Focus. If this team shows that it can maintain its intensity night in and night out, particularly through the brutal opening schedule, they will be a threat through the playoffs. They need to understand that they absolutely need to work every night to ensure they win every game that is there for the taking. This is where I hope Iguodala shows the way. Because, for most of the past decade (short the one season where Chauncey Billups brought attitude), the Nuggets have not shown the consistent ability to bear down.

    Most Improved–Whoever steps it up DEFENSIVELY amongst the youngters, particularly on the perimeter, because that’s the person who will get the playing time. This makes Corey Brewer the logical choice. Hamilton is still young and has a ways to go, but he’s a long-term solution on the wing. Fournier is a year behind Hamilton in all respects. If Manimal can make a huge leap defensively, then he will get the award.

    Most Crucial–Danilo Gallinari. If Gallo continues to develop his game, he has the most versatile offensive game, which will be key in the playoffs when the pace of the game slows down. Gallo must become a threat both inside and outside, so opposing teams must adjust their defense to account for him. He clearly works hard, so it’s time for him to become THE GUYS offensively.

    Are the Nuggets over-rated?–Yes, until the pieces come together, it’s hard to predict where they will end up. Sure, there are questions among all the top teams in the West, but the Lakers and Spurs are veteran groups who know how to cope, while the Thunder has recent experience to fall back on. Denver has only the last few game of last year’s Lakers series for experience.

    The Big Question–I think the schedule lays out badly for a young team trying to integrate a big new piece (Iguodala) and tighten up their defense. I can see the Nuggets making a strong rush in the second half of the season to secure, say, a 5-seed. Give them 49-51 wins. I actually think, though, that if they get the Clippers or Grizzlies in the first round, they win that series and push whomever they get in round two before losing.

  • Guy

    I agree with Kalen. When talking about the Nuggets people tend to pretend that the Nuggets play in a vacuum and that other teams aren’t also improving. I see no really weak teams in the West and one must remember that we had a losing record against every Western Conf. playoff team and we lost 2 games a piece to NO, Portland and Golden State.
    Every team with the exception of Houston should be at least as good if not better than last year and that includes Phoenix. I did not like what I saw in the weekends 2 preseason games. Although it was only preseason, I didn’t see improvement in anyone with the exception of Brewer and Hamilton. There’s not one aspect of the game that we did well. From what I see so far I can’t possibly see how we finish any higher than 5th behind the Lakers, Clippers, Spurs & OKC.

  • park hill

    I’ve rarely ever watched preseason ball so I have no true barometer. With that said, and after watching preseason ball I think this team is overrated. The chemistry is nil and the defense seems hampered by the same things that allowed us to let teams go off from 3. Hopefully, this team gets hot late and makes a deep playoff run. I don’t see a top four finish and they surely aren’t the fifth best team in the league as nba.com just ranked them. Luckily, a lot of teams will need to work through some chemistry issues. But none of these teams lost their two leaders as we did. Not saying it wasn’t a good trade but we lost the heart and soul of the squad.

    • Nugznazty

      yeah, the chemistry is just not there at all, and all players have regressed on defense

  • Nuggz2

    I believe once the season starts we’ll see the run and gun Nuggets once again. That will translate into plenty of regular season wins but they need to get better in their half court defense before playoff time. In the playoffs things slow down. We have plenty of wings so I think they should try and trade for a good experienced defensive 4. This would keep manimal fresh and energetic allowing him to do what he does best. It would also protect the wings defensively so they can get out on the perimeter and defend better. But no matter the wins or playoff success… GO NUGGETS!

  • NuggLove

    Kalen does have a point: “The Nuggets improved, but so did other teams in the West”.

    But looking back at last season, these young Nuggets (and George Karl) did not have the luxury of time for practice so they did not gel in immediately. They showed some glimpses that they can play with the big boys (e.g. 108-91 win over the Bulls). My realistic expectations are that the Nuggets can finish with homecourt advantage and finally mix it all together (like the ’04 Pistons did).

    Hopefully next season, those glimpses are no joke.

  • Mark from Charlotte

    We will see what this Nuggets team can do on the road when they play the SIXERS, MAGIC, AND THE HEAT.

  • Jim

    Lots of really great points here. Interesting to think about what losing aaa and big al will mean, too. Many will say “not much” but that is disingenuous. They brought a lot of heart and leadership, regardless of Karl’s goading of aaa as seen on the association.

    I love manimal but he’s in year two (1 1/2?) and we traded nene and Harrington in some part because of his promise. If he can’t progress with added minutes I think this year could be really frustrating. I don’t get the roles for chandler, hamilton, Randolph, mosgov, or McGee yet and I haven’t seen any improvements to our defensive scheme at all and we may be dealing with weird Lawson contract shit. Not sure why I feel negative right now. I feel too happy we get Philly in Philly with no Bynum. Not feeling badass yet.

    Biggest positive of last week or so – we waived ac, so somebody is paying attention.

  • http://ascreamingcomesacrossthecourt.blogspot.com ascreamingcomesacrossthecourt

    I do like the Nuggets, and Iguodala, but I feel like people don’t know how to rate JaVale McGee. For his size, ridiculous length, and some of his stats, you’d think he was a positive force, but he was on a terrible team and they appeared to play better *without* him.

    There’s a chance he turns it around and modifies himself into a real professional basketball player, but I wouldn’t bet on that. Some people are projecting Denver near 60 wins. I don’t see that. Why?

    Nene was extremely underrated. Great inside scorer, and in recent years he played pretty good defense with some stellar +/- numbers. I guess we’ll see how good he actually was. I’m probably in the minority here, but in terms of winning actual basketball games unless McGee substantially changes Nene wins by a mile.

    More details here:
    http://ascreamingcomesacrossthecourt.blogspot.com/2012/10/denver-nuggets-2012-13-preview.html

  • Herman VanNess

    A George Karl coached team with expectations is worrisome to me. I think he’s a good underdog coach. His teams tend to self destruct whenever there’s any type of expectations placed on them.

    Hopefully there will be enough leadership and commitment from the players that they can survive the inevitable rough patches and more than anything take care of their home court. This team cannot afford the inexplicable losses at home to the lesser teams if they plan on getting a top 4 seed.

    For the regular season, the only team I really fear out west is the Lakers. Nash, Kobe, and Pau are just really smart basketball players. After the Lakers, I actually fear the Grizzlies and Clippers more than I do the Thunder or Spurs.

    In the playoffs it’s going to come down to matchups. Do the Lakers really care what seed they get? Do the Spurs? My fear is Denver will end up in a 4-5 matchup or even a 3-6 matchup with the Clippers or Memphis and get bounced in the first round.

    The West is brutal and once the benches get shortened in the playoffs and strategy and coaching come in to play I feel the Nuggets’ lack of a true offensive star in combination with a lesser emphasis on depth will be the Nuggets’ downfall.

  • EMF

    We’ve got loads of talent and potential, but I am worried about the factors that make teams click; cohesion, commitment, accountability, and leadership. I just don’t see it right now (yes, it’s pre-season, I am aware, I just think we have a few too many ‘projects’ and are lacking on-court smarts and leadership).

    We could win anywhere from 42-56 games, imo. I’ll be optimistic and say 51, but if things get tough and the team doesn’t come together, I wouldn’t be surprised to get a 44-45 win season either.

    I think next season, possibly with a trade happening between now and then for a bit more on-court stability (and another year of growth for our youngins), is where we start to make some noise.

  • Tom

    Basketball Prospectus and John Hollinger both predict 58 wins and the 1 or 2 seed for the Nuggets. I think that’s a decent prediction. Before injuries, the Nuggets at the start of last year were on a 60+ win pace (over an 82 game season). Their point differential was the best in the league after 15 or so games, before Gallo and Nene got hurt, and that was with Afflalo playing the worst he has ever played for us. Gallo, Koufos, McGee, Brewer, Chandler, and Hamilton will all for sure have better years (barring injury). The only player who should start dropping off is Andre Miller, due to age. If the other guys just play like they did last year, the Nuggets will be a great team. I’m going to predict 60 wins, assuming relatively good health. If there are a bunch of injuries, then somewhere around 50-55 wins is more reasonable.

  • chronicnugs

    51 wins, 6th in the west. Injuries and inconsistency on the front line keep this team down once again.

  • Ryan

    Koufos playing similar to Pekovic? Most people probably didn’t notice, but before his season was cut short due to injury, Pekovic was absolutely dominating, with several 20 and 10 games once given regular minutes. Koufos has about the same skill set as Pekovic, minus the strength, quickness, tenacity on defense, scoring ability…. oh wait, they’re on two completely different levels. Koufos = Pekovic just may be the textbook definition of wishful thinking