As time continues to pass on the Nuggets offseason and people start looking ahead to the coming season one ideal seems to be carrying the belief that the Nuggets will make the playoffs and be successful there; the Nuggets are just too deep to fail.
After all the team is full of good proven players like Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, and healthy Danilo Gallinari and led by a really, really good player in Ty Lawson.
Next to those proven players they have even more guys, like Evan Fournier and Jordan Hamilton, who at the moment are unproven but have shown tools that lead to the belief they can join the ranks of the good.
And just to make things even more complicated, rounding out the roster are the polarizing JaVale McGee, Nate Robinson, Andre Miller and JJ Hickson. Players that have led to a series of debates, especially on this site, as to whether or not they are actually good.
Realistically someone could say that the Nuggets will be anywhere from 10 to 13 deep with good players once everyone is healthy and it wouldn’t bring much of an argument.
But when you start looking at realistic combinations of those players that depth gets murkier.
After all what good is having a bunch of good players if those players can’t translate into productive lineups?
As I have looked at some possible lineups trying to figure out what rotations will look like, I keep finding myself pondering a not so simple question.
Are the Nuggets deep or do they just have a collection of good players? Is there a difference?
After all three of the four big men likely to see the most minutes for Denver this year have the potential to cause horrific defensive problems.
We already know that Faried and McGee proved to be a disastrous combination on the defensive end last season and now JJ Hickson, who may be the worst of the three defensively, is bound to play significant minutes.
Offensively, the starting bigs have no real way to score points outside of directly in front of the rim and neither can consistently create their own look there.
Things don’t get any easier in the backcourt where the potential for Lawson/Robinson, Lawson/Miller or Robinson /Miller lineups exist.
All three groupings would be defensive nightmares, though the Robinson/Lawson lineup has the potential to be a dynamic offensive pairing.
Even on the wings are things a bit uncertain.
Jordan Hamilton will enter the season as the favorite to get minutes backing up Wilson Chandler but can he do enough to earn them?
Some people are clamoring for Darrell Arthur to start the season as the backup three but realistically it doesn’t seem to make much sense.
Arthur has played at least 1 percent of the Grizzlies minutes at small forward just one time in his career and will clearly struggle with the athleticism of those he would have to guard at the position. On offense Arthur would end up floating on the perimeter, cramping Denver’s spacing unless he magically becomes a capable three point shooter after never taking many threes before.
Combine that with the fact that he is really the only big man on the Denver roster that can be trusted defensively and taking his minutes and moving them to the three doesn’t make much sense.
Will Denver move Evan Fournier down to the three for stretches where he would play alongside Randy Foye even though both are known to have defensive problems.
All of this takes into account things before Gallo returns from injury. Once he does that what happens to other player’s minutes?
Does Chandler move to the four for stretches? Which of Fournier and Foye loses minutes as time at the three for Fournier disappears? Does Darrell Arthur lose minutes at the four to Chandler?
But the Nuggets biggest problem isn’t necessarily the regular season.Lawson and their amazing home court advantage will help them win their fair share of games.
The Nuggets biggest problem is the playoffs, where depth at the 7-10 spots is significantly less important as rotations get shortened and stars play more minutes.
So ultimately does it matter how good players 8-10 are when they see a combined 15 to 18 minutes a game come playoff time?
And in the Nuggets case for this year how much of a problem is it that those players 8-10 may be as good as those players 4-7?
Because as Matt Moore and Zach Harper talked about recently in their Nuggets offseason review podcast the Nuggets don’t stack up so well in regards to their best player compared to teams projected to be in their range this year as LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, and Kobe Bryant are all better players than Ty Lawson.
It doesn’t stop there though. Take a look at the Blazers starting five of Damian Lillard, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum, Aldridge and Robin Lopez compared to what combination the Nuggets may start when healthy.
Yes Lawson is better than Lillard, but Matthews and Aldridge are both clearly better than both Foye/Fournier and Faried. Batum and Gallinari are about as close as two players can be and Batum is entering the year healthy so the edge goes to him. At center Lopez won’t be as flashy as JaVale but is a sound team defender and rim protector that can be trusted unlike Mr. McGee.
So when a team is that much better in the starting lineup does it matter that Wilson Chandler is better than Mo Williams? Especially when Dorrell Wright and Thomas Robinson are close to the non-starter of Foye and Fournier and Hickson?
Things aren’t any different when comparing the Nuggets starters with the Wolves who are better at shooting guard with Kevin Martin, power forward with Kevin Love and center with Nikola Pekovic, all by substantial margins.
In the end that matters. As much as people want basketball to be a team oriented game how good your best players is obviously very important.
Will the Nuggets players 2 through 7 be good enough to bridge the gap between Lawson and their opponent’s best player?
Is it good that the Nuggets don’t have a clear number two player with Lawson out?
Can the Nuggets even field a lineup of their five best players that makes sense?
That group would probably be Lawson, Foye, Gallo, Chandler and Faried, a small lineup with undersized players at both big positions and weak defense at three of the five positions.
Does that lineup scare any contender, especially away from Denver?
All these questions seem to garner one of two answers and both answers seem like stretches.
First that Denver is gearing up for a trade.
As I have mentioned before, while the roster seems to make it look like a trade is coming the logistics of an actual trade don’t make sense.
Gallinari probably won’t garner anything close to his full value until he returns from his injury and proves he can continue to grow as a player.
Lawson is the team’s best player and seemingly the one they want, and should want, to build around.
Foye, Hickson, and Robison can’t be traded until December 15 and Mozgov is unable to be moved until January 15 thanks to rules in place in the CBA.
McGee and Chandler both are the only starting caliber players at their positions on the roster right now leaving Denver almost forced to keep them for the time being.
Which leaves Faried, the two Millers, Arthur, Fournier, Hamilton, and Anthony Randolph as the assets Denver potentially can have moveable this season.
While Faried on the surface would bring back the most assets what he would realistically bring back is questionable.
After all his skills are his high motor, incredible athleticism and excellent rebounding. But he is also going to be due a contract extension soon and if a team wonders if he ever develops beyond what he is right now, still a big question mark, will they really be willing to give up a lottery pick for him?
Which leaves contenders to vie for his services, meaning no currently valuable player will come back in the trade.
So is it worth it for Denver to move him for a late or protected first round pick?
If not what does a package built around one of the guys left get you?
Even if the answer is waiting until December, why should it be expected that the same teams that were not interested in Hickson, Robinson and Foye when they were free agents will suddenly become willing to give up valuable assets for them?
So looking for a trade to clear up a logjam doesn’t seem viable.
Then the other answer comes into play.
Brian Shaw will fix it.
I like Brian Shaw a lot. I think he has a chance to be a really good coach one day.
But asking him to create a great defense without more than one good defender to start the season is hard enough.
Asking him to do that and keep players who probably aren’t going to play as much as they want is even harder.
Asking him to do both and win 50 plus games in an incredibly deep Western Conference like some fans expect may be impossible.
After all even good NBA coaches can struggle at first. Doc Rivers, considered by many to be one of the best coaches in the game today, got fired once and almost a second time. Sometimes it just takes time.
Maybe Shaw doesn’t need it. Maybe he is one of the special ones that it clicks right away for, but no one knows yet.
So on an offseason full of questions for the Nuggets it may be time to add one more to the list.
Is depth, depth when the pieces don’t seem to fit?