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.