5-on-5: Player’s Ball

If there’s one thing the Denver Nuggets could hang their hats on this year, it was the players. Denver has lots of them. Most of them good, some of them marginal, a few not so marginal. Some had career seasons, while others couldn’t quite live up to expectations fans set in the summer months leading up to tip off in October. If there was anything gleaned from this season it came from the players, each and every one, good or bad. In our latest 5-on-5 we attempt to examine which of these players belongs in all the superlative categories associated with postseason analysis. Yes, this is our awards post for the 2013-14 season, if such a thing is possible after such a strenuous year of basketball. As always, we encourage you to pose your answers to the following questions in the comments section below.

1. Who was the Nuggets’ MVP this season?

Kalen: Because he was healthy the entire season, improved so much and carried the Nuggets on his back the last few months, I’m tempted to say Faried; but really, how can you pick against Ty Lawson? The dude finished second in the NBA in assists per game and put up numbers that far exceeded his previous best. Lawson isn’t a superstar but he’s the closest thing Denver has to one.

Vytis: I don’t think you can argue against Ty Lawson here. He started the season out extremely hot and was making an All-Star case for himself. He had some inconsistent stretches, but when he was injured the offense just looked like a complete and utter mess. He was the one getting everyone going and was the team’s best player and ultimately the MVP as well.

David: As it has been since Melo was traded, it’s still Lawson. Denver was not a good team this year but they were downright atrocious when Lawson was hurt. In an offense that relies so heavily on the high pick and roll, Lawson was the lynchpin.

Tom: Ty Lawson. The Nuggets were average (29-31) in games he started and was available to finish, but woeful (7-15) when he came off the bench or was injured. Ty is excellent at setting up his teammates (assisting on 38 percent of field goals when he’s on the court, good for fifth in the league) and getting to the line (.504 free throws per field goal attempt, beating both Kevin Durant and LeBron James.) He’s the heart and soul of the Nuggets’ offensive attack.

Joel: Lawson. While he has his shortcomings – notably on defense and in too often not playing aggressively enough – he remains the motor that powers the Nuggets’ offense. Things tend to fall apart for Denver when he’s off the court, as evidenced by their .350 record in the 20 games he missed versus .468 in the 62 he played. Ty led Denver in scoring, assists and steals, and was second in PER only to Faried, who gets honorable mention as runner-up.

2. Who was the Nuggets’ MIP (Most Improved Player) this season?

Kalen: I’m tempted to say Mozgov, and while he’s as deserving as anybody here, I can’t look past Faried for the simple fact that he expanded his game more than I ever thought possible — all in only one year! Mozgov benefited more from a drastic increase in playing time whereas Faried truly went outside his comfort zone and adopted a whole new set of offensive weapons. That, to me, is what true improvement is all about.

Vytis: Have to go with Mozgov. He was cemented on the bench last season, and eventually moved into the starting lineup this year. I’ve seen him play internationally and perform well, so it’s not like he improved a ton, but he certainly took advantage of his opportunity and did make some progress.

David: Faried. It’s amazing how far he went in just the span of the second half of the season. He was on the trading block to start the year, barely able to scrape starter-level minutes in the first couple of months, and then all of a sudden he was Denver’s second best player and a force in the post. Many wondered if Faried could survive in an offense that didn’t appeal solely to his athleticism and his energy. I think he answered those questions definitively.

Tom: Timofey Mozgov. He played nearly 200 more minutes this season than in his previous three years in the league combined and posted career bests in most statistical categories (per game and per minute). He became a fairly stable presence on both offense and defense. He even hit his free throws at a higher percentage than any PF or C in the Nuggets’ rotation since Juwan Howard.

Joel: Mozgov. Per MySynergySports.com, just 6.4 percent of his offensive plays last season were post-ups, and he scored a comically bad 0.25 PPP on those. With Shaw running more post plays for him this season, those numbers have shot up to 23.7 percent and 0.8, respectively. And his overall PPP jumped from 0.86 to 0.97. There’s still much room for improvement, but he’s made great strides despite challenging circumstances and low expectations (exemplified by his No. 13 #NuggetsRank last year).

3. Who was the Nuggets’ most under appreciated player this season?

Kalen: Without question, Randy Foye. From the first time he donned a Nuggets jersey Foye has done nothing but meet and surpass all expectations fans had before the season — including nearly breaking the Nuggets 17-year-old, single-season 3-point field goals made record — yet throughout the year people clamored for more Fournier. I honestly don’t remember a more under appreciated player in all my years as a fan.

Vytis: I feel like Darrell Arthur is a top candidate for this nomination. When he was on the floor the Nuggets’ lamentable frontcourt defense was actually pretty solid. He was the team’s best and most versatile frontcourt defender, so I feel he was overall under appreciated by both the fans and even Brian Shaw.

David: Randy Foye. Maybe it’s because Denver hasn’t really had a gunner I liked since Al Harrington, or maybe it’s because Foye running the point was the lone bright spot in the black hole of February, or maybe it’s because he was likely Denver’s only consistently healthy good player, but Foye was my favorite Nugget last year. He was fifth in the league in 3-point attempts per 36 minutes, and he hit them at a good clip. That alone seals it for me.

Tom: Nate Robinson and Randy Foye. The pair were signed for a combined salary of less than the MLE and were mostly either ignored or criticized in offseason discussions by media and fans. Yet both were solid contributors as long as they were healthy, providing the Nuggets with outside shooting, decent but unspectacular playmaking, and more defensive effort and toughness than they got credit for.

Joel: Foye. Understated in both style of play and personality, he largely flew under the fans’ radar. But he quietly led the team in minutes played, and his 189 3-pointers were the second most scored in franchise history. His ability to spread the floor was critical in helping to draw defenses out and give Lawson and bigs in the post more room to operate. And although his defense was up and down at times, he was one of Denver’s most consistent, reliable and hard-working players.

4. Of the players who logged significant minutes this year (15 minutes or more per game), which impressed you the least?

Kalen: This is a tough one. Although Wilson Chandler underwhelmed yet again, he was also injured most of the year (yet again) and I feel guilty holding that against him. For me, I expected a lot more from Fournier. He got ample playing time to prove himself yet was wildly inconsistent, inefficient and averaged less than three assists and one steal per 36 minutes. If Denver drafts a shooting guard in June, Fournier could be in trouble.

Vytis: No question J.J. Hickson. He puts up numbers but he is one of the worst defenders in the league, and for every offensive rebound he grabs on one end, he makes up with a blown rotation on the other. He did quite well coming off the bench, but having him in the starting lineup in the first place was just terrible.

David: The easy answer here would be J.J. Hickson, but my expectations were already at rock bottom. No, I think this has to go to Evan Fournier. I had lowered my expectations for what I thought he could be after he came back to earth in the playoffs last season but I was never this pessimistic. He’s a nice spot up shooter but he’s a sieve and can’t really handle the ball as the secondary option.

Tom: I expected a lot more out of Wilson Chandler than he actually produced. He’s shown the ability to be an above-average shooter with a good midrange game, a solid defender in man-on-man and help situations, and a pretty good rebounder. He was none of those things this season.

Joel: Fournier – unfortunately. After his explosive breakout following Gallinari’s injury last season, I had high expectations for him to pick up right where he left off, coming out strong and continuing to build upon his surprising success months earlier. Instead what we saw was a setback, as he struggled to regain the confidence and competence he’d shown previously. He did improve from the start to the finish of the season, but still fell short of the potential he’d promised.

5. Of all the Nuggets’ free agents (Vesely, Arthur, Robinson, Brooks and Miller), which would you like to see retained the most and which would you like to see depart the most?

Kalen: I greatly enjoyed watching Aaron Brooks play basketball the last few months of the season, and although I’d like to see him come back most, the Nuggets already have Lawson, Foye and Robinson (who will almost certainly exercise his player option) to play the point; therefore, I’d take Arthur for his defense. Robinson is a bit too reckless and inefficient for me, so seeing him depart wouldn’t kill me.

Vytis: I’m going to cheat here. Since Robinson and Arthur both have player options, I assume both will opt in, and from what they’ve shown this season I’d like them back with the team next year. Brooks is also an interesting player and he did very well, but if Nate is healthy I don’t feel there is much of a need for another point guard. Miller and Vesely departing wouldn’t really change anything.

David: It’s hard to see Robinson and Arthur turning down their player options so I think they’re locked in regardless. I’d most like to see Vesley gone. He was fun and played hard but, to put it bluntly, he’s not an NBA player, no matter how cheap Denver could get him. I’d like to see Miller back because his contract is really cheap, even once guaranteed, and he remains a low risk, medium reward prospect.

Tom: Nate Robinson needs to stay. He’s the perfect backup to Ty Lawson. Arthur and Brooks are both legitimate NBA players worth keeping around. Vesely is slightly better than Quincy Miller right now, but Miller is two years younger with more upside and a cheap team option on his contract. If the Nuggets want to free up a roster spot, Vesely is the one who should go.

Joel: Since Arthur, Nate and Miller all seem likely to return, I’ll key in on the other two. Between them, Vesely would be the better option for retaining. He still has some potential for marginal improvement, and his energy, effort and scrappiness off the bench can be valuable. I don’t necessarily want Brooks gone, but being that he’s essentially a poor man’s Nate Robinson anyhow, he’s the odd man out and the Nuggets will need his roster spot for their draft pick.

  • gimpcom187

    just in case you are wondering it is a myth that Faried has increased his play significantly since the previous year. He wasn’t effective at the beginning of this season for whatever reasons you want to say and he was much more effective the last 6 weeks of the season for whatever reasons you want to say. There is nothing in his statistical or anecdotal profile that suggests he has made marked improvements.

    For the year he is up 1.3 in PER from previous season (which can almost exclusively be related to his increased usage while maintaining the exact same TS%). It is down 2 points since his rookie year. His WS/48 (basketball reference) is actually slightly down (suggesting his overall value per minute is slightly down for whatever reasons you want to give).. In addition I have seen people try to suggest his low post game is somehow new or more effective. It’s clearly not new as he was working on it previous year. More effective is questionable though probably slightly. That is natural progression for a 3rd year player. If someone has access to Synergy stats they could probably give accurate stats to support or refute my anecdotal thoughts by looking at post up stats for faried.

    His defense is really no better. He’s a nice ballplayer who has some really valuable talents (offensive rebounding, energy, finishing skills) and some difficulties on the defensive end and shooting that will keep him from being even a good starter unless he increases his skill in those areas.

    • Daniel Winston

      Did you watch the games?

      • gimpcom187

        Yeah apparently you didnt watch the last 2 years if you disagree with me. Have you heard of sample size?

        • Daniel Winston

          I understand your concern with the sample size. I was just very surprised with what I saw from Faried after the first two years of minimal improvement. Those last three months of the season were pretty encouraging. We will see if he can build on it.

          • gimpcom187

            Yeah that’s my issue with the revisionist history. He was beyond minimal improvements in his game from year 1 to 2 (he was exclusively a finisher/rebounder in year 1. Started to develop his jumps hooks and dribbling in year two and was developing a mediocre 10 foot jumper usually from the foul line area) He refined them to a degree but they are not stellar. He hasn’t added off those things. And really it was late February through the second to last week of April. 3 months is a much longer time than 6 weeks. Hence sample size. In addition last year’s teams had numerous players that initiated the offense more effectively as opposed to this season hence most of his improvement is due to usage.

            My point is that he REALLY looked like he regressed the first 3-4 months of season and then returned to his previous skill level with somewhat increased efficiency to usage ratio for the remainder of season. Progression within season outside of rookies or players who have had very little playing time in previous seasons is usually a sample size issue. See Ty Lawson November/December 2013 All-star talk and the rest of his season spent regressing to his mean.

  • heykyleinsf

    MVP Ty
    MIP Mozzy with a nod to Manimal for a monster season, and Brooks.
    Biggest disappointment.. Chandler.. but you guys were too rough on Fours
    No breakthrough season by any means but still no atrocity. He was inconsistent,
    but he did come through once in a while. Too early to give up on him.
    But players aside.. all the injuries were easily the biggest disappointment this year.
    Especially Gallo not returning. Anthony Randolph was no picnic either this year.
    Most unappreciated – Manimal. Everyone wanted to trade him. I think he was a hero for playing through what he did and growing so much. I just don’t see much in Foye. I’m sorry.. I don’t like the idea of him as our starting 2.
    Please come back.. Brooks,
    Thanks but no thanks to… Floor Wolf. Clumsy isn’t the word.

  • Erlingur Grétar Einarsson

    MVP: Ty Lawson. Should be a 2015 All Star, barring an injury.
    MIP: Mozgov. He got more minutes and more responsibility and handled it well. Dude had the best rebounding game in the whole NBA this year, and had several more monster games in between gradually settling in as a good starting center who will hustle and rebound and set screens.
    MUaP: Andre Miller. Just kidding. Randy Foye surprised me, and should, if nothing else, have raised his trade stock.
    LVP: JJ Hickson. Not even close.
    Keep: Aaron Brooks, Nate Robinson, Darrell Arthur
    Drop: Quincy Miller, Jan Vesely

  • Richard Pesicka

    With the management we have now, I wouldn’t count out any major trades. Remember, It’s a business. As long as you keep that in mind, then it becomes statistics and dollar signs. Stats down, trades are imminent, versus less playing time. Over rated and over paid players are something the Denver Nuggets cannot afford. Management needs to make the necessary changes to this team to assure the organization and the fan base that they can and will become a winning franchise again.

  • Len Nunes

    So many questions!!

    1)McGee showed he was a square peg being shoved into a round hole – – how does he work back into the equation?

    2) Will Gallo comeback strong. bigger question, will he stay healthy long enough for it to matter?

    3) You hear Faried is the face of the franchise but can the Nugs really go through another season of Faried/Hickson on the floor together?

    4) I’m ready to give up on Wilson Chandler…are you?

    5) Is Mozzy really ready to be a starter?

    • Daniel Winston

      ….And
      -Can McGee improve like Mozzy and Faried?
      -Who do we get in the draft?

      -Do we make any major trades?

      I don’t think Chandler will ever be anything more than he is. A talented, underachieving, injury prone player. I would say trade him but I don’t know if he has value around the league.
      I think it was a horrible idea to ever start JJ. He played much better when relegated to the bench and that should be his role moving forward. This reduces his on the court parings with Faried.
      I’m very interested to see who ends up winning the starting center spot next year. Hopefully McGee improves and puts up a fight because right now Moz is a higher quality option.

      • gimpcom187

        Answers: not nearly as much as mozgov which was good improvement from nice backup to borderline starter. As was proven before faried made minor improvement. Mcgee would have to go to the wizard of oz for a new brain to make marked improvement.

        Draft?: if they dont end up top 3 which is highly unlikely they end up with a nice guy who develops into a nice starter hopefully.

        Major trades are what? They have 2-3 good players and 2-3 other tradeable guys with medium value. If by major trade you mean a trade for a non all star making 15+ million then there is a shot… think eric gordon

        • Heisenberg

          I’m not a Gordon fan, but if trading for him meant getting rid of McGoof, I’m all for it. Let that bonehead be someone else’s problem.

    • heykyleinsf

      I just think Chandler is a reserve, not a starter. I think he could help us off the bench. But agree.. no way a starter. Terrible year for him. But also he has been good off the bench.

      • gimpcom187

        I agree he is a very nice and versatile backup. Wow we agree on something. Miracles do happen. ;-)

  • Heisenberg

    MVP: Lawson. Not even a discussion, really.
    MIP: Mozgov, but that is pretty much by default. Faried’s a decent player but can’t play D due to his size. I shudder to think what Aldridge and Dirk would do to him in a playoff series. Both of their post fadeaway moves are UNSTOPPABLE, especially when you give them a 4 inch height advantage.
    Under Appreciated: I’ll cheat a bit here and pick Andre Miller. Hey, he played some games for Denver this year. His game is ugly, but damn effective. Can’t pick Foye since his defense is garbage.
    Least Impressive: Chandler or Hickson. Take your pick, they both sucked.
    None of the FA’s change much either way.

  • Furious_Stylez

    MVP: Tie between Lawson and Faried. Lawson carried the team for the first 41 games, Faried carried them the last 41. I really liked Lawson’s improved passing this season, while not toning down his offensive game. Faried didn’t necessarily improve his game, but was a beast and gave every opponent something to worry about.

    MIP: Mozgov. He proved that when given the minutes, he can anchor the middle. Shaw really hurt the team keeping JJ as the starter for so long and it showed when Mozzy got PT and crushed it. At around $3m per year, he’s a huge discount.

    MUAP: Foye. Nobody expected much when he got here, but really came through when the injuries piled up. If he can contribute like that when the team is healthy, he’ll become a really good asset next season. I hammered on him early on, but his good play made me appreciate his skills.

    Dissapointment: Fournier. Hickson was an issue, but he was undersized at his position and should’ve never started at C. Fournier really needed to step up this season and didn’t. He had a few nice games, but never showed the “it” factor. He had a big opportunity this season to turn some heads in the league and squandered the chance. He’s just another weak Euro player that lacks aggressiveness.

    FA: Resign Brooks. Pray someone offers Nate and Arthur better deals. Let Vesely walk. Give Miller 41 more games. If he’s not a solid contributor, send him to the DLEAGUE and move on. Buyout Randolph… like yesterday. Throw every available dollar at Sefolosha and draft a scoring wing.

  • heykyleinsf

    Here’s a peace offering to gimp, Nugman, Poz, Heisenberg, lbj, Goog and all the guys here I’ve gone rounds with this last year. I don’t want you to think I don’t appreciate you and I do realize we all are on the same team and want that team to win. Have a great summer you guys.