Denver Nuggets training camp is still over a month away, and plenty of time remains for the front office to make additional offseason roster moves. Yet the rumor mill has gone quiet, and by all appearances it seems that Tim Connelly and Josh Kroenke have – at least for now – settled on the 15 players who will constitute the Nuggets roster at the opening of the upcoming season.
Denver has an intriguing, if in certain ways perplexing mix of players on the roster, and at this point it’s extremely difficult to foresee how the minutes and rotations will shake out. And with the coaching change, our lack of a concrete picture of the offensive and defensive systems Brian Shaw intends to implement only compounds the unpredictabllity of how things will unfold from here on out.
But despite the fact that we are facing more questions than answers, your trusty Roundball Mining Company writers now bring you, in our latest 5-on-5, our best and boldest predictions about which lineups stand to fare the best and worst, and which players stand to gain or lose the most in this uncharted 2013-14 season.
As always, feel free to play along and post your own answers to the questions, or any other observations and reactions, in the comments section below.
1) What should the starting lineup be, and who should be the first player off the bench?
Joel: Weak frontcourt defense may be the Nuggets’ biggest liability, and as the team’s best defensive big it’s tempting to suggest Arthur starting at. But that’s not very realistic, so I’ll go with Lawson-Fournier-Chandler (for now)-Hickson-McGee, with a Faried-Mozgov tandem first off the bench. Given his asthma, McGee will likely sit early. And though Hickson-McGee may not be much better defensively than the dreaded Faried-McGee, J.J.’s range should at least compliment JaVale better offensively, and Faried can be an energy spark off the bench.
Kalen: Lawson, Fournier, Chandler (then Gallo when he’s healthy), Faried and McGee. First off the bench should be Jordan Hamilton. The Nuggets have veterans like Foye, Hickson and Robinson who will be fine options off the pine, but Karl reportedly got fired for ignoring youth and Hamilton has the most promise of anyone outside of the starters. Relegating Hamilton to third-string anything would be contradictory and counterproductive for the growth of the team.
Matt: Lawson/Fournier/Chandler/Faried/JaVale to start the season with Foye off the bench. Once Gallo gets back I think letting him ease into things as the sixth man makes sense. I took Fournier over Foye because with the loss of Andre Iguodala this offseason Denver has to fill the secondary creator role and Fournier’s 15.5 assist percentage in limited minutes last year is significantly higher than the career high of both Chandler (12%) and Gallo (13%) who both have rarely broken 10.
Vytis: The starting lineup will presumably be Lawson-Fournier-Gallo-Faried-McGee, with Chandler starting while Gallo recovers from his injury. Personally I’d prefer a smaller lineup with Chandler and Gallo starting and bringing Faried off the bench, but assuming that my projected starting lineup is correct, either Foye or Robinson will probably be the first guy off the bench.
Tom: Lawson, Fournier, Chandler until Gallinari is healthy, Faried, and McGee should start. These are the Nuggets’ best players and management has committed to several of them long term, so the Nuggets will go as they go. It will be up to these players and their coaches to deal with the deficiencies this lineup brings. First off the bench should be Hickson, in order to keep Faried’s minutes down and his energy and effectiveness up.
2) Limiting it to lineups which will plausibly play significant minutes, which lineup do you think will be most effective?
Kalen: When Gallo’s healthy, and if Fournier or Hamilton get extended minutes at shooting guard, I could see the starting lineup being pretty dangerous. At the same time, a bench unit with Hamilton, Chandler, Hickson and Nate Robinson would be explosive as well. Whatever lineup has Lawson, Faried and Gallo will likely be the most potent since they are the best players on the team.
Matt: If Gallo can get back to close to his normal self I think the Lawson/Fournier/Gallo/Chandler/Faried lineup can be pretty good. No matter what combination of bigs Denver plays there will probably be some defensive problems but this lineup should give Denver advantages on the other end of the floor especially with Lawson/Chandler pick-and-rolls. If he doesn’t return to form this year I would replace him with either Foye or Arthur since I just can’t bring myself to trust JaVale enough.
Vytis: To be honest, it’s really hard to predict which lineups will play significant minutes as there is so much wiggle room to plug and pull players and run different combinations. Personally I think a lineup of Lawson-Fournier-Chandler-Gallo-McGee would likely be the most effective. I love playing small and I don’t see McGee working well with either Faried or Hickson on both ends of the floor.
Tom: Lawson, Hamilton, Chandler, Gallinari, and McGee. This is a versatile, athletic lineup that can shoot the ball, get to the rim, rebound, block shots, generate free throws, and score in transition. Sure, there will be some blown rotations and bad decisions on occasion, but as players gain experience and maturity, the positives will begin to overwhelm the negatives.
Joel: Lawson-Fournier-Chandler(/Gallo)-Arthur-McGee. Denver now has no shortage of guys who can score, but overall efficiency is a two-way street. And with Iguodala and Koufos out of the picture, the contribution that guys like Arthur and Fournier might bring on defense could elevate their value relative to ostensibly “better” players like Hickson, Faried, Robinson and Miller. It’s a weird prediction, but the imbalance of the roster makes it unlikely that the team’s five best players can comprise its best lineup.
3) With the same qualifier, which lineup scares you the most?
Matt: Anything that has two of the three of Faried, McGee and Hickson. We already know Faried and McGee is a defensive disaster but Hickson may be the worst of the three. Combine the countless blown rotations with the fact that a Hickson/Faried grouping would leave Denver undersized at center and it becomes hard to find how anything short of a minor miracle will prevent Denver giving up a ton of points at the rim.
Vytis: Anytime McGee shares the floor with either Hickson or Faried it’s probably best to look away, unless you enjoy watching blown rotations and just overall horrendous defense. Similarly, I really hope that Shaw doesn’t play Robinson and Lawson at the same time. Both players prefer to have the ball in their hands and would form the most undersized backcourt in the league.
Tom: My biggest fear is a lineup with any two point guards, Foye at the small forward spot, and Faried and Hickson in the frontcourt. I see an endless stream of opposing wing players shooting lightly contested threes, and Foye trying to create midrange looks for himself late in the shot clock because the paint is clogged and the other guards can’t get a clean look.
Joel: Lawson-Robinson-Hamilton-Faried-McGee. While I hate to keep beating the same drum, defense will inevitably be Shaw’s most flabbergasting rotational dilemma. With Gallo likely out until 2014, J-Ham should get his shot at some SF minutes. Ty and Nate will definitely share some minutes. There’s zero chance they’ll combine for a mutually exclusive 48 or fewer at PG (with Miller at zero). And Faried-McGee 2.0 will surely be retested. So if all these stars align, prepare for a defensive nightmare.
Kalen: A lineup with Foye, Miller, Hickson and McGee. This Nuggets team is talented and deep, but there are lots of players on the team that have glaring achilles heels. Miller is incredibly slow and selfish, Foye is incredibly one dimensional, Hickson can’t play defense and McGee has enormous mental lapses. Playing any three or four of these players together could be catastrophic.
4) Among returning players, who will benefit the most, and who will lose the most by Denver’s offseason moves and the shift away from Karl’s system?
Vytis: The Nuggets will presumably run a lot more halfcourt sets and a pick-and-roll heavy offense, so I think Ty Lawson being in the center of it all will definitely give him an edge. In terms of losing most, it’s hard to say, but probably Faried. His offensive numbers are not fantastic and he has mostly lived through Denver’s excellent transition offense, which might not necessarily be the focal point anymore.
Tom: JaVale McGee, Evan Fournier, and Jordan Hamilton will be given the most additional time. With Fournier as a possible starter who played sparingly until the end of last season, he will see the biggest overall benefit. Andre Miller will likely be relegated to spot minutes as faster guards who can shoot take over his minutes.
Joel: With Koufos gone, minutes and touches should increase for both Nuggets centers. And with Shaw indicating a shift to a more half-court focused offense, McGee and Mozgov should play more prominent roles under his system. On the flip side, I’m worried that Fournier’s role could be more limited than I’d hoped. Lacking the size to play SF, he’ll now have to compete for minutes with more well established players like Foye, Robinson and Miller in Denver’s now very-crowded backcourt.
Kalen: All the young players will benefit most. Guys like Hamilton and McGee, who need guidance instead of scolding, will likely thrive under Shaw. Conversely, this could be the last we see of Andre Miller. Karl loved his favorites and Miller was at the top of the list for reasons we’ll never begin to understand. Shaw will bring a clean slate, which means no more favorites and a leash the same length for all players.
Matt: I think Lawson has a chance to really thrive. Letting him use more pick-and-rolls and shooting more midrange J’s should make him even deadlier offensively. I think Faried may be in trouble. Shaw said he wants to still play uptempo, but what happens if things don’t go well early? If he slows the game down (the way his two stops have) the limited offense of Faried becomes basically non-existent, which isn’t good for a player who already struggles defensively.
5) With Gallo likely out until 2014, who will emerge as Denver’s second option after Ty Lawson?
Tom: Late last season, Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer took over the bulk of Gallinari’s shots. With Brewer gone, Chandler will have even more opportunities. Fournier will be right behind him as the third option.
Joel: Chandler was highly efficient last season in the nine games he played with Gallo out. Averaging 30.8 minutes per game, he scored 18 points on an eFG% of .576 and a TS% of .590, with 5.4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.2 3-pointers. It’s a small sample size, but both in Denver and in New York Wilson has demonstrated the capability to step up (in the regular season, at least) when given a larger role. And his defense and versatility should help keep him on the floor for big minutes.
Kalen: It’s tough to say. I’d lean towards Chandler but I wouldn’t count a surprise player like Fournier or Hamilton out either. Both Fournier and Hamilton have an innate scoring talent that a lot of the other veterans simply don’t possess. If either of them gets 25 minutes per game or more I could easily see them becoming a go-to scoring option when Lawson’s sidelined.
Matt: I think Chandler will be by default. Looking at the roster Denver only really has a few people, (Lawson, Robinson, Fournier, Chandler and Miller) who can create offense for themselves or others. Robinson can’t play with Lawson so his minutes are limited, Miller seems like the odd man out of the guards and Fournier will split time with Foye. That leaves Wilson as the man who will have to shine if Denver wants to stay afloat until Gallo returns.
Vytis: Well, Chandler will certainly have the opportunity as he will not have to compete for minutes with Gallo, but I’d love to say Fournier. I really hope Fournier starts and gets a lot of touches this season.