After news broke that Danilo Gallinari would be sidelined for the remained of the year (and well into the 2013-14 season) with a torn ACL, questions arose in the minds of Nuggets fans across the globe. There has been talk about who will step up in his place, whether the Nuggets are severely weakened and even speculation about how this will affect the team’s roster moves this off-season. In RMC’s latest 5-on-5 our writers aim to address these topics in hopes of shedding some light (and perhaps even a little optimism) on how the Nuggets will fare moving forward without their starting small forward. As always, please feel free to post your answers to the following five questions in the comments section below.
With Gallinari out for the foreseeable future with a torn ACL…
1. How much will his absence affect the Nuggets in terms of overall production on the court?
Kalen: Honestly, I don’t think the Nuggets will take too big of a hit. The one aspect of his game they’ll miss the most is three-point shooting. Without Gallo there are very few players on this team who can knock down 3-pointers with consistency. Other than that, Chandler and Brewer should be able to make up for most of his offensive and defensive production.
Matt: The offense will hurt a bit because when Gallo got hot from the outside it provided a huge threat, but I think Chandler will do well enough to make up for the scoring. Where the injury really hurts is on the defensive end as Gallo really allowed the Nuggets to get creative with matchups, especially against OKC when he would cover Durant and let Iguodala play Westbrook. That flexibility is now lost and could lead to trouble for Denver.
Tom: Gallinari has attempted and made the most free throws on the team, plus he shoots an excellent percentage from the line. Chandler, Fournier, and Hamilton can all spread the floor, and between them they can replace his rebounding and passing, but nobody else on the team can draw fouls and convert them into points at nearly the rate Gallo does. That’s the area where the Nuggets’ production will suffer most.
Charlie: The Nuggets still have enough weapons to provide a reasonable replacement for his on-court production. What we don’t yet know is how much his extended absence will affect the balance and rhythm of a rotation that’s been so key to their success. Gallo’s range and versatility have made Denver’s small-ball lineups work while masking obvious weaknesses like three-point shooting. Denver has what they need to succeed but it’s a big adjustment for coaches and players to manage on such short notice.
Joel: Moderately. Gallo’s production was already in decline from the beginning of the year (Jan. 19.3 ppg, Feb. 16.3 ppg, Mar. 13.7 ppg), including missing a few games due to injury, so the Nuggets had already been relying on his scoring less than before. Chandler seems capable of filling in some of the vacuum, and Fournier’s scoring prowess has been a revelation. Those two will need to replicate Gallo’s grit in getting to the line, especially on the road, and they should be capable of doing so.
2. Are the Nuggets chances of securing the three seed and succeeding in the playoffs now in jeopardy?
Kalen: Somewhat, only because the West is so cluttered and winning every game is so essential. In the West you basically need to have a perfect season in order to make it out alive. Finding the right chemistry with two weeks left in the season is concerning, as is the Nuggets’ remaining schedule, but I also think there’s a really good chance they surprise all of us and play even better basketball than they have been.
Matt: Sure. Anytime you lose one of your best three players things get tougher and the Nuggets schedule down the stretch is not easy. Until Lawson comes back the Nuggets are going to be in the middle of a chemistry rebuild as players adjust to new roles. That is really tough at any point in a season, especially now in the fight for the three seed and beyond.
Tom: The Nuggets’ chances for the third seed were very good before and are now only moderately good. The Nuggets currently have the advantage, but the race is tight, and one extra loss could put the team in position to face tougher matchups in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Charlie: Yes. The Nuggets are already locked in a tight race with hardly any margin for error. They are spread dangerously thin without two key starters and face a schedule equal in difficulty to Memphis and LAC, both of whom are entering their stretch runs under much better circumstances. Achieving home court is the most crucial element to the Nuggets’ chances of advancing in the postseason.
Joel: No. Three seed, no. They’ll likely keep it. The Nuggets have more home than road games remaining, and are guaranteed to clinch third even if they lose one game. Just one loss each for the Grizzlies and Clippers makes keeping the No. 3 quite probable, and since they play each other they can’t both win out. Playoff success, possibly, but if they start strong with home court advantage and the bench guys step up, anything can happen.
3. What types of numbers do you see Wilson Chandler putting up with starter minutes?
Kalen: I’m really hoping Chandler takes this opportunity to shine. He’s been relegated behind Gallo his whole career. Now is his chance to prove just how good he can be. If he stays healthy, I see Karl riding him hard the rest of the year. If he could average something like 17 points and six boards with his typical Grade A defense, that would be more than enough to make up for Gallo’s loss in production.
Matt: Right now per-36 minutes, Chandler is averaging 17.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game so he is more than capable of performing well for the Nuggets. While I assume we won’t see as much of Chandler at the four or getting quite as many shots as he did off the bench, I think he can perform somewhere just below those numbers. I will say 14 points, 5 rebounds and 1 assist per game from here on out.
Tom: When Chandler gets starting minutes, he can be expected to produce around 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists. He has a tendency to shoot and pass better when he’s on the court for extended minutes as well.
Charlie: There’s no reason Chandler can’t maintain his averages and continue his solid season provided the Nuggets manage his minutes accordingly. He’s dealt with a complicated recovery from hip surgery and a recently separated shoulder to boot. Chandler in a starting role is an easy adjustment but I’m not sure he can be counted on to fulfill the same long stretches of play Gallo routinely did. Fatigue has bothered Chandler before and the Nuggets need to be weary of it.
Joel: The best of his career. From 2008-09 to the first half of 2010-11, Chandler started in over 80% of the games he played for the Knicks. During that time he averaged 15.2 pts, 5.5 reb, 2 ast, 1 blk and 0.8 stl in 34.4 minutes. So the baseline of what he’s capable of is solid to begin with, but now it comes with improved efficiecy, as he’s shooting 3-pointers better and getting to the line more often than he ever has.
4. Which deep bench player (Fournier, Hamilton, Stone, Randolph, Q. Miller, Mozgov, etc.) should George Karl utilize most?
Kalen: I think it should be a combination of Fournier and Hamilton. As I said above, the Nuggets will miss Gallo’s 3-point shooting more than anything. As good as Fournier has played recently, Hamilton is still perhaps the best long-distance shooter on the team. The Nuggets will need to spread the floor in the playoffs and Hamilton gives them the best opportunity to do so.
Matt: Honestly, none of the above. One of the biggest changes come playoff time is that rotations shorten and the Nuggets still have an eight-man rotation that should get the majority of the run in the postseason. For the rest of the season I see no harm in using Hamilton, but once the pressure ratchets way up it’s not fair to ask him or Fournier to provide quality minutes after not playing much all season.
Tom: I’d like to see a combination of Fournier and Hamilton pick up the slack. Both can spread the floor adequately. Hamilton should be used in weaker rebounding lineups, while Fournier should be used in lineups with less playmaking.
Charlie: There are two that have stood out and proven themselves capable of reliable spot minutes. Randolph should see any available front court minutes and Fournier looks like the best fit when guard depth is needed. As the playoffs approach it’s much more important Denver’s current rotation players step up and get healthy because the time for a bench guy to come in and prove himself has pretty much come and gone.
Joel: Fournier, who overnight made a case for an expanded role after Lawson went down. He’s a rookie in name only; the polish and poise he displays is that of the pro he was in France. He brings specific skills Denver may miss from Gallo: driving, getting to the line, floor-spreading range, very good defense. And his fearlessness is exactly what the Nuggets will need when they hit the big stage.
5. How will the Nuggets approach the 2013 offseason?
Kalen: This changes everything. I didn’t think it was a given that Ujiri would try and move Chandler in the off-season; now it’s hard to imagine him even exploring the idea. I also thought, even as good as Brewer has been this season, that the Nuggets wouldn’t move heaven and earth to try and re-sign him. Now, I can’t see how they’d let him go. This injury likely puts major roster transactions on delay for an entire year.
Matt: It makes bringing Iguodala back imperative. I think the Nuggets should have brought Iguodala back even before the Gallo injury, but now it’s about as big a must-do as possible. Without Iggy next season the Nuggets would be down their two best defenders and playmakers outside of Lawson. It would also keep the versatility to stay big or go small that the Nuggets like. What was a should-do situation just became a must-do.
Tom: I didn’t expect the Nuggets to make any major moves this offseason, and I still don’t. Most of the rotation will return. It’s possible Brewer will walk and the Nuggets will pursue a better shooter like Kyle Korver as a replacement. There might be a little bit of tinkering with the end of the roster, maybe involving Mozgov and a pick. The major action this offseason will be with team doctors and trainers, working on getting the whole team healthy and having guys in game shape for the start of next season.
Charlie: It’s business as usual for Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke. The first order of business remains securing Masai’s future as GM, the draft and then free agency. Gallo’s injury is awful but not nearly serious enough for Denver to reconsider any offseason goals. Long-term personnel decisions should be made strictly on a long-term basis, and this changes nothing in regards to that.
Joel: The short, simple answer: No differently than if Gallo hadn’t been injured. They will attempt to re-sign Iguodala if, as he’s suggested, he opts out. Most likely Brewer as well. They’ll keep the core intact (including Gallinari), but perhaps tinker around the edges in order to bring in a shooter such as Kyle Korver. But their swingman depth alleviates the need to make panic replacement moves for Gallinari, whose injury won’t change their team building plans.