Staking A Claim: The Future

Last night’s loss to Portland marked the exact halfway point in the Nuggets season and finally has started to make clear exactly who this Nuggets team is.

In fact RMC’s own David Walker sent me a tweet that describes the team pretty well.

“Yeah, all things equal they’re aggressively average. But the randomness at least makes a boring season somewhat exciting,” he said providing one of the best descriptions of the 20-21, 2013-2014 Denver Nuggets I have seen all year.

All-in-all this season has taught us a few things, Ty Lawson is really good on offense and JJ Hickson is the master of misleading stat lines, and left us with some questions that seem harder and harder to answer; most notably has Kenneth Faried peaked and what should Denver do with Danilo Gallinari’s injury issues still ongoing?

It is probably time to add another question to that list.

Are the Nuggets headed for disaster?

The worst place in the NBA to be is the middle and the Nuggets right now are firmly entrenched there, fighting for an eighth seed and first round exit they probably won’t get yet already eliminating the chance to tank for a potential franchise changing talent at the top of a much heralded draft class.

For some teams like the Wizards, Cavaliers and Pelicans that spot this season would have been ok, as they already have a potential or probable franchise player on the roster and are growing together as a team to the point where playoff experience can be valuable.

But the Nuggets don’t have a John Wall, Kyrie Irving or Anthony Davis on the roster. And therein lays the problem.

Denver has a lot of nice pieces like Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov but it doesn’t have THE guy, a franchise changing talent that can elevate his game when his team needs it the most and carry them to a victory like LaMarcus Aldridge did last night.

The solution for Denver the past few years was to have a bunch of really, really good players (Ty, Gallo, Iggy) surrounded by complementary pieces that fit the style of play the Nuggets wanted to achieve (Faried, JaVale, Chandler). This year those complementary pieces haven’t fit as well thanks to them either being worse players (JJ Hickson, Randy Foye) or ill-fitting pieces in the new style of play of head coach Brian Shaw (Faried).

Things would be ok if Denver had a lot of high potential players that could grow into those above average pieces they have been missing, but a look at the roster shows that for the most part there probably isn’t a ton of growth left to happen in most players. While many members of the roster may be 26 or younger they are all players that have been in the league for four or more years and don’t inspire a lot of hope for growth.

Do we really thing JJ Hickson is magically going to turn into a better player after being in the league for six years and showing no sign that he can? Same with Wilson Chandler and JaVale McGee, sure they are youngish but these guys have been around for a while and it isn’t common to see a role player magically gain a new skill in his seventh year in the league and become a star. At a certain point guys are who they are and with Denver that looks like it can be a lot of guys (Hickson, Arthur, Chandler, Foye, McGee, Randolph and Robinson).

Ty Lawson is great and has taken a leap this season but it is hard to see him playing much better than he has this year. Can that player, one who struggles mightily on defense and disappears for stretches, be the best player on a contender? It is hard to see anyone on the roster becoming a better player than Lawson so if Denver wants to win with this core, something it has basically tied itself to doing, they better hope so.

If Denver decides Lawson isn’t that guy, a likely determination despite how good Ty has been this year, they need to find somewhere to make a major move. The team is already capped out with the Kenneth Faried extension, where he has been reported to be looking for big money, looming to make things even worse leaving only trades to make a real change, which is kind of a problem because the Nuggets don’t really have any good trade chips.

Faried may be the best one of the bunch but he is due his extension soon meaning a team would be taking him on knowing they are about to invest money in a player that shoots just 43.1 percent as the roll man in a pick-and-roll, 37.1 percent when he posts up and is a general negative on defense. It is going to be very hard to get star or anything close in a package built around that.

Wilson Chandler may be available for trade and has played well this season but has played a full season just one time in his career, way back in 2008-2009 when he was a member of the Knicks. It will be hard to see someone giving up a ton for the perpetually injured Chandler, especially with his fairly significant contract.

Meanwhile it is hard to see any team jumping  at the chance to give away anything valuable for players they passed on this summer (Foye, Hickson, Robinson) players they can get this offseason without giving  up any assests (Hamilton), players Denver clearly wants gone (Andre Miller) or bad players (Randolph).

Which all leads back to my initial point; things in Denver have the potential to get ugly really fast. This team will compete for the seventh and eighth seed the next two seasons, Lawson is good enough to help his team do that, but that is probably it. There isn’t really a contenders ceiling with this core but there also isn’t really a way to make one either, especially if the Knicks sneak into the Eastern Conference playoffs and prevent Denver from landing in the top four or five of the upcoming draft, which is entirely possible with how bad the Eastern Conference is.

After a while teams that hang around the eighth seed do one of two things. Start trading young players for veterans to continue that “playoff push” and stick around that area or completely fall apart and become one of the worst teams in basketball. Sometimes they do both.

Trust me I have seen it both with the Bucks, which is why I worry about what this Nuggets core is going to become.

Because this direction seems awfully familiar; and I don’t mean that in a good way.


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  • ny nugs fan

    i think ty lawson should get one of the subs to the ASG; he has proven himself ever since he came into the league as a really good player certainly worthy of making his first ASG

    last year he had as good as numbers than a lot of other guards, including curry and lillard, westbrook and any others

    i think he’s improved his game, including his 3 point shot; as we saw last night he isn’t afraid to get to the paint and finish in traffic

    b. shaw said something very important and that’s the fact that he’s given the reins over to ty, so he has much greater responsibility and has held the ship down well given the absence of GK and changes to the roster

    i like lillard a lot but if it came down to ty and lillard then i’m thinking lillard shouldve been in the sophomore game; he plays on a much better team and has less responsibility (though you cant take anything away from his game)

    if you go back in the history of the game you’ll see multiple examples of players who earned an ASG berth a year or even two years after the time they should have made it and for putting in work over time (see david lee circa asg 2013)

    with the new format the asg has become and is becoming just a popularity content, but the only equalizer is that the coaches have a say in subs when guys like c. paul, westbrick (sorry couldnt help that), and others go down

    and since we’re on the subject i dont think c. paul should be able to come back just so he can make the ASG… no way man

  • slugdugg

    I wouldn’t jump the gun on McGee. Although he is a bonehead, bigs can take a long time to develop. Tyson Chandler and Jermaine Oneal were busts after their first 5 years in the league.

    • Pickles1731

      This is Javale’s 6th season in the NBA. He only has about one more year left before he is what he is, a 10 point and 7 rebound center. Sadly, those are what we get from Mozzy already. I see more Chandler in him than O’Neal, but his individual defense still needs a lot of work.

    • MattRMC

      The biggest difference between JaVale and those guys is that Chandler and O’Neal entered the league as 18 year olds straight from high school. JaVale entered after two years of college. So those guys had two extra years to learn that JaVale doesn’t. I know it takes bigs longer but at a certain point time also runs out. For every Chandler and O’Neal there is a Robert Swift or Tyrus Thomas.

      • gimpcom187

        Youve hit the key but analyzed incorrectly. The difference is those guys came in at 18 and mcgee at 21. They had developed significantly by 22 (chandler had the foot issues that set him back but his last 2 seasons in chicago and 1st two in noh he was 85% as good as he is now). The other main difference is that both chandler and oneal have great defensive iq and had it in their early 20s. Mcgee has bottom 5th percentile iq. His crappiness is so beyond the norm that his value cant be assessed by traditional or even rate stats. Hes done. Sorry.

  • Trevor

    Sounds like what a few of us this past summer were saying and getting blasted for.

  • Ckwizard

    The problem with this “Nuggets” team vs last years team is this team has glaring Weaknesses. Faried is the best at one thing and it isn’t shooting, defense, rebounding, or passing, or blocking out, or dribbling, or any fundamental basketball related skill… Heck Faried isn’t even the second best player at any fundamental skill so the idea of him being the best player of any bunch of basketball players little loan NBA players is the opposite of a “love for the game.”

    Aldridge is a strength for his team for our beloved Nuggets Faried and Randolph are weaknesses. Hickson blah he is an undersized center that shouldn’t be starting at center when you have a competent Mozgov on the roster. Can Hickson be a better “Four” than Faried who knows but he sure as he’ll is a major “Weakness” at the “Five”

    While I like our Point Guards and I am glad to see Miller leaving they are a Defensive Weakness. The Shooting Guards and Small Forwards are meh ok.

    But here is the thing about this team, If you Upgrade the Defensive talent at the Four make it a strength then this team with the coach has the talent and skills to be good and really good. For all the love of Faried’s energy, passion and intangibles if he is to stay on this team it needs a better center, shooting guard, and point guard and all three need to be great defenders. But hey Nuggets fans love the little things, the intangible things, the things that can’t be coached…. You shoot free throws every day because you love the game and you honor the game, you practice fundamentals for the love of the game. But some times you play hard because you love the game and sometimes you have to play hard simply because you are outmatched.

    Right now the Nuggets are simply out matched.

  • googergieger

    Nuggets have put themselves in a situation where they can’t really win. They have to come out losers in trades, but that is what they have to do in order to rebuild. You never know. Portland was able to rebuild rather quickly. Charlotte as well. Orlando is doing it pretty quickly. Get whatever picks you can get(this year or next year, or even the year after that?), pretty much. If that means one or two bad contracts that expire in a year or two, well, don’t really have any other options.

  • Richard Pesicka

    Nuggets have to trade up with cash or trade off. Why in the world they signed who they signed with all the money they’ve spent is beyond me. You can only spell dumb one way. Nuggets management have to spend money wiser and smarter. Get Aaron back. Spend the money on players with great work ethics. Players who can be counted on to make the tough shots down the stretch. Do it, for the fans sake, just do it..

    • alex47666

      Miller Faried maybe mcgee for a first round pick to try to get wiggins or randal, or if embiid comes into the draft get him.

      • Richard Pesicka

        Most teams build around somebody. Whose that somebody on this team? Ty? Maybe..

  • GRRR

    This might take a few years, but 2016 draft early predictions are good, and Nuggets can switch picks with the Knicks. Here’s to hoping that Melo leaves setting the knicks back 5 years.

  • heykyleinsf

    This year… I don’t think anyone really saw Portland coming.. now halfway through the season.. they are still around. That can be us next year or in the near future. I don’t like this year’s prospects at all with the massive turnover and new regime plus the injuries. I’m not as depressed as some people are.. disappointed.. but knew a transition was happening. This week’s news of Gallo being gone for the year took most the air out of my sails. I still want Javale back soon.. so we can crap or get off the pot with him. Growing pains. We’re still a team with potential. Just not this year though. I’m a little frustrated with Shaw’s lack of adjustments.. but it’s also ridiculous to give up on him this soon.

    • Richard Pesicka

      I agree with your assessment. Javale is big big bucks. He will have to get ready to play, or become an overpaid guy on the sidelines wearing a suit. As subpar as the nuggets are, they can’t afford to have overpaid guys on the sidelines. It’s time coach Shaw, stand up and be heard, get a tech or two called. What the hell could it cost.

  • Wes

    Since they’ve been in the league, the only pro franchise to never play in the championship or have the #1 draft pick, middle is were the nba wants them for almost 40 years

    • MattRMC

      Well that just isn’t true. Besides the idea that the NBA is purposely keeping a team stuck in the middle neither the Grizzlies or Timberwolves have ever had the #1 pick. or appeared in the finals and that is just in the NBA alone.

  • The Truth

    Yeah, when a team starts to get into a fourth quarter losing habit – watchout. The good thing is this reveals the improvement has to come with the mental side of things. This is better than simply not having enough skilled or talented players.


    -Ty still hasn’t developed that in game compass that the best PGs have. This was the brilliance of Billups and less athletically gifted PGs like Kidd and Mark Jackson.

    -I thought Shaw would remedy this but he hasn’t yet. Shaw has felt the pressure to allow the indiscriminate running and gunning. He needs to stick to his plan, maybe he’s taking his time.

    -Nate doesn’t need this as much as Ty. But Nate is like JR in the way he’ll get you a lead and blow it just as quick. He should be more savvy by now.

    -Mozzy still has no clue how to play solid D without fouling, or not allowing himself to be pushed under the rim when trying to get a rebound.

    -Position – intelligence in action – is everything for a solid defender and rebounder. All of our bigs rely on their size or jumping ability to their detriment, and the detriment of the team.

    Maybe these things can’t be taught? If so, the team may not have hit bottom with the home Philly loss.

    I agree that their still an entertaining bunch. I like this squad overall.

  • etlord1

    I’m not a fan of tanking. I see teams stock-up on draft picks, and it takes a very long time for teams to be competitive again. It depresses revenues and hurts the value of the franchise. George Karl said it best on ESPN radio a couple weeks ago. Coaches hate potential because potential puts everyone’s jobs at risk if they don’t develop potential, which kills a team’s continuity. Denver needs to win as soon as possible. That brings me to my next question ( and it might sound crazy). Denver’s rim protection is atrocious. Why don’t they grab Andrew Bynum? His best years were in LA when Shaw was an assistant. He was arguably one of the best offensive centers (and solid defensive) a few years ago, and he’s only 26. He would add tremendous size in the low post. What would Denver have to lose? They have plenty of assets to be competitive during the trade deadline as well.

  • tsraider08

    What are your thoughts on a trade of Wilson Chandler/Faried and a few other assets to the Pistons for Greg Monroe? The Pistons are shopping him, already have a PF-C combo for the future with Drummond-Smith, a PG heavily invested in (Jennings), and a promising SG (Pope) – they really just need a good SF and some depth.
    I think it fits for both teams – we need a bruising post up big man to pair with McGee/Hickson and need to offload Faried before he commands big bucks. Plus, more playtime for Quincy would help his development, and we have Gallo back at the 3 next year.