Around this time of year everyone’s doing some sort of rankings series. Pundits are ranking teams, players, players on teams (as we’ve done), coaches, general managers, mascots, they’re giving out preseason awards, they’re writing books. It’s kinda crazy, to be honest. And as you might expect from a fairly traditional sports blog, Roundball Mining Company got in on the craziness as well, in the form of our #NuggetsRank series which ran alongside ESPN.com’s larger #NBARank. But unlike most other outlets, here at RMC we like to occasionally take a step back and critique ourselves. Sure, we offer you our opinion in unbridled fashion and proclaim certain players to be “definitively” better than others, but we also realize those pompous proclamations are just our opinions. We know they’re the furthest things from facts; and so, in our latest 5-on-5 we collectively acknowledge the absurdity of rankings and immediately revoke all written analysis we may have previously stated as set in stone. As always, please join us in the comments section below to dish out your thoughts and opinions on #NuggetsRank, and be sure to let us know what we could do better next time to improve.
(Note: Our final #NuggetsRank list from last to first is as follows: 15. Anthony Randolph, 14. Quincy Miller, 13. Timofey Mozgov, 12. Jordan Hamilton, 11. Randy Foye, 10. Darrell Arthur, 9. J.J. Hickson, 8. Andre Miller, 7. Evan Fournier, 6. Nate Robinson, 5. JaVale McGee, 4. Kenneth Faried, 3. Wilson Chandler, 2. Danilo Gallinari, 1. Ty Lawson.)
1. What was the most valuable lesson you learned about ranking the players on this year’s Nuggets roster?
Joel: That this season’s roster was much more difficult to rank, given that there is still so much we don’t know yet. Among the lower cluster of players, so many still haven’t had much of a chance to prove themselves, and it’s hard to project how signs both good and bad will translate when (and if) they get more burn this season. It’s also difficult to forecast how any of these guys will adapt to Shaw’s new system.
Vytis: That it was very hard to rank the players, especially No. 6 through 11. The players in that tier could be shuffled and it would still make sense. Their ranking at the end of the season will really depend on what kind of a role they assume in Brian Shaw’s system.
David: I already sort of knew it, but it took the rankings to really drive home the fact that Wilson Chandler is the third best player on this team. I really like Chandler and think he could be a good fit with the Nuggets, but there is only so much you can expect out of a roster when he’s your third best player. Last year’s team was deep but the talent didn’t plateau so much. Now there’s a precipitous drop after Gallinari.
Matt: How different depth can be. One of the things I did after I sent in my final rankings was try to figure out where the three important offseason losses would have ranked, and I realized that all of them probably would have been in the top eight. So this team is still “deep” in the sense of having a lot of guys at the same talent level, but not like last year where the group at the top was more talented.
Kalen: From the outside looking in, we feel fairly comfortable assessing players. We know certain guys are better than others and we organize them in our minds that way. But when asked to specifically rank players from one through 15, top to bottom, you start to realize just how small the talent gap is between each guy — especially on this team. I’m hoping the Nuggets front office realizes this and does something about it in the form of a trade.
2. At the end of the season, which player will have been ranked too low?
Joel: Mozgov. Shaw looks poised to give him a greatly expanded role as the only backup center, and so far this preseason he has looked mostly solid (though not overwhelmingly impressive). With his at least semi-legit short- to mid-range jumper, it seems likely that he could be well paired with Faried, who thrives on living at the rim. And if that or other combinations bear some fruit, he should end up as one of Denver’s top 10.
Vytis: Randy Foye. Yes, he is quite one-dimensional, but a lot will depend on the minutes the players get this season. Foye is the only excellent 3-point shooter on a team that desperately needs floor spacing, so that alone will get him a lot of minutes.
David: J.J. Hickson, who may very well play more than we initially thought and might actually take the starter’s spot from Faried. Hickson has a myriad of problems — his utter lack of defense being the main one — but he might fit better in a system that uses bigs more traditionally. He can hit the midrange jumper out of a pick and pop — something Faried has yet to show any sign of doing consistently — and is not out of his element posting up around the elbow. Considering the tradeoff in defense and offensive rebounding from Faried to Hickson is nil, it’s not hard to see J.J. climbing up the rotation this year.
Matt: I think Darrell Arthur. With everything Brian Shaw has said he wants to do, I think Arthur has a real shot at playing significant minutes this season. The spacing he brings is going to be important with the offense being run through the high post, and he can be trusted defensively which is huge when you look at the other Nuggets’ power forwards. I could see him being the seventh or eighth most important player on the roster this year.
Kalen: I feel very happy saying Quincy Miller will be that guy. He’s played really well in the preseason and Shaw has said good things about him in the media, even comparing him to a young Paul George. If he could secure the backup small forward spot behind Chandler until Gallinari gets back, and do some impressive things during that time, it would do wonders for the confidence of fans moving forward.
3. At the end of the season, which player will have been ranked too high?
Joel: I’m hoping it won’t be Fournier, but I’m starting to fear that it could be. When he got his big chance after injuries pried him off the bench last spring, he exceeded all expectations. But even though he’s shown some positives this preseason, he appears to be struggling in Shaw’s offense, whereas before he thrived in Karl’s dribble-drive. If Shaw doesn’t free Evan up to play to his strengths, this season could prove onerous.
Vytis: It’s sad to say this, but probably Fournier. We all ranked him quite high expecting that he would start and that Shaw would allow him to develop. That might not be the case, which is a shame.
David: Faried. He’s an energy big who derives value by beating out others in transition and gobbling up rebounds. Denver played that way under Karl but Shaw is slowing things up and that could mean Faried will be delegated from starter to a change-of-pace role player. Also, Robinson is a little high considering what he did last year for the Bulls is unlikely to happen again.
Matt: I hate to say it but I’m pretty sure it will be Faried. Through the first four preseason games he has played well once, when he wasn’t forced into the post and was instead allowed to just do energy things. One thing that has become very clear this preseason is that Shaw wasn’t being truthful during the summer when he said he still planned to run. This team will play slow and that just doesn’t fit Faried’s limited skillset.
Kalen: Nate Robinson. It’s not that his current ranking is undeserved, but by the end of the season I expect a lot of players on the lower end of the list to make a big push ahead of the starters and immediate bench players. Guys like Fournier, Q. Miller, Mozgov, Arthur and Hickson could all make huge strides this season, and unless Andre Miller gets benched, there’s just not that much room for an unpredictable 5-8 shooting guard on this team.
4. Which player in the bottom third of the rankings (10 or lower) will have the best season?
Joel: I wish I could say Hamilton (and I hope he proves me wrong), but aside from the aforementioned Mozgov, it may be Arthur. Despite sparse minutes at the four, as the only power forward who’s a competent defender and screen-setter, he should at least see limited playing time. If he does, the fact his offensive forté is shooting jumpers from the elbow should fit in well with Shaw’s offensive system, and hopefully provide McGee with some spacing in the post.
Vytis: Either Mozgov or Foye, again, depending on minutes. Mozgov was glued to the bench last year but will almost certainly have an expanded role this season. Still, I think Foye has the highest chance of making the most of his playing time. He could very well find himself in crunch-time lineups and should have opportunities to knock down some big shots.
David: Darrell Arthur. He’ll have to find his way into the rotation but if he returns to his 2011 form he’ll be a much-needed weapon. He’s the only other big besides Hickson who can hit that midrange jumper and his pick-and-roll defense can be superb when he’s fully healthy. But unless Denver wants to go huge and play Arthur at small forward, it’s hard to see where he’ll get his minutes.
Matt: Foye. While I like Arthur and his fit on this team, Foye will play so many more minutes that I can’t bring myself to put Arthur ahead of him. Foye will bring much-needed shooting to space the floor and let Lawson and McGee work inside. If he hits 100 threes, which he’ll have a great chance to do, I can’t see how anyone else in the grouping can have a bigger impact.
Kalen: Again, I would love to say Q. Miller, but I think Arthur could surprise us. As of now, I see no way Mozgov stays in the rotation all year. He’s just not that good. He never has been. And between Hickson, Faried and McGee, there’s hardly any defense to go around. I could see Arthur playing the role of a solid, reliable big man who comes off the bench, plays good defense and stretches the floor. The Nuggets need that.
5. Which player’s rank (either too high, or too low) do you ardently disagree with most?
Joel: This is tough, as I’m roughly in agreement with most of the rankings, but it’s now apparent that Hickson should probably be ranked higher. While the preseason is mostly worthless in predicting regular season performances, it has become abundantly clear that J.J. will likely be right up there with Faried and McGee as one of Denver’s three most prolific scoring and rebounding bigs. Despite his glaring defensive weakness, he looks to be one of the team’s better, and more important players.
Vytis: This is very hard, as the rankings are so close. I suppose J.J. Hickson should be ranked higher than ninth. He will get his minutes and did average a double-double last season. As bad as he is defensively, I see him matching Kenneth Faried’s offensive numbers, who is ranked fourth.
David: Andre Miller. I had him fifth in my rankings, and while I understand why everyone else had him lower, I still maintain that he’s a better NBA player (at least at this point) than Fournier, Robinson and McGee. What you’re seeing in those players is potential, and nobody gets excited for a player who’s upward growth stagnated half a decade ago. But Miller can command an offense more consistently than anyone on the team outside of Ty Lawson, and if you factor how poorly Karl utilized him, many of his biggest weaknesses go away.
Matt: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but based on what we have seen so far this preseason, JaVale McGee. Between his improvements in footwork, feel for the game and professionalism, as well as his fit in the new system, if we did this again, I would probably have him in the top three. Though, part of that is based on Chandler’s injuries already becoming a problem, and Faried’s systematic limitations which are becoming clearer and clearer by the day.
Kalen: I really can’t bicker with the rankings overall. Sure, you could make the case someone should be higher, but it’s always gonna come at the expense of a guy who probably deserves to be right where he’s at. If I had to pick someone, it would be Mozgov. I’ve never seen anything from him that suggests he should be higher than Randolph or Q. Miller. He’s been in the league for three years and still hasn’t improved.