PACE #2 98.0
OFFENSE: #1 109.5
DEFENSE: #17 104.8
The Denver Nuggets are coming from a season in which they had two completely different teams! They were one of the most talked teams in the league, but not for the good reasons as “the Melodrama” soap was a big distraction in the first half of season.
Nevertheless, with Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets had a 32-25 record and they were the most efficient offensive team in the league. The problem was on the other side of the ball where the Nuggets were a “bad” defensive team. I just need to name two games to illustrate how pathetic the Nuggets defense were during that stretch: in Indiana, they allowed 144 points including a 54-points in the quarter in which the Pacers hit their first 20 shots of the quarter and in Sacramento, where they allowed 69 points in the first half against the Kings in a 20-pts blowout loss. When the trade was made, the Nuggets lost their starting Point Guard and Small Forward but they some nice underrated players in Felton, Gallinari, Chandler and Mozgov. Obviously they couldn’t keep the same offensive effectiveness, but they were still ranked #6 in offense after the trade.
However, the Nuggets were a tremendous defensive team after the trade and even the diehard Nuggets fans weren’t expecting such incredible defensive improvement! The sample is just 25 games, so we should be careful in making this a great “thing”, but the Nuggets were the best defensive rebounding team in the league, they forced more turnovers (Felton is really good in this department) and they simply stopped sending the opponents to the Free Throw line (rank #7 vs #18 before the trade).
In the playoffs, the Nuggets were the lower seed that nobody would want to face but against the Oklahoma City Thunder their lack of a real superstar player hurt them down the stretch as 3 of the Thunder’ wins were by 4 or less points.
The only certainty from last season is that Head Coach George Karl besides being a great coach, he also knows how to prepare and coach a team in a short span and that’s exactly the script for this season!
In this offseason, the Nuggets front office did a terrific job as they signed both high prized free agents Nene Hilario and Arron Afflalo. Note that these two players ranked first and second in true shooting percentage last season respectively. Nene will likely get a higher usage for the future because he is now unquestionably the most skilled offensive player of the roster. Nene was never a good rebounder and George Karl solved this problem with his defensive scheme last season, so this won’t be a problem for the Nuggets this season.
The Nuggets have Chris Andersen, Timofey Mozgov and Al Harrigton to complement Nene and despite the fact that they aren’t a top frontcourt unit, they all offer different things to the team and Karl knows how to use these players.
We are still waiting a breakout season from Danilo Gallinari and this might be the right season for him. Gallo was almost exclusively an one/dimensional perimeter player, but last season with the Nuggets, Gallo was way more aggressive and established a career best 7.2 FT/game. He also grabbed a career best 5.4 boards per game, so playing more near the basket was a good thing to see from Gallo and this will open up his offensive game.
The Nuggets backcourt isn’t for sure the most talented unit of the league, but I really doubt that any team have more depth than the Nuggets have for this season.
Ty Lawson’s speed and effectiveness was remarkable last season. As a starter, Lawson averaged almost 15 points per game while shooting 50.9% from the field and 44.2% behind the arc! He also had a good A/TO ratio with 6.7/2.1, so Lawson is improving fast and furious! The Nuggets traded Raymond Felton for Andre Miller, so Miller will return to “home”! Obviously with Miller on the court, the Nuggets won’t be a run and gun team like they are with Lawson, but Miller is one of the most underrated players in the league which is weird to say this because he is a 35 years old veteran player. Few would call him the X factor of the Blazers last season, but the Blazers were much better offensively with Miller on the floor (109 points scored per 100 possessions) than with him on the bench (99) last season. And while they were on the floor with Miller, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, Wesley Matthews and Brandon Roy were all more efficient scorers.
Aaron Afflalo is a solid defensive player that knows how to spot his right shots - shooting almost 50% from the field and 42% behind the arc will prove this and the Nuggets also added Spanish player Rudy Fernandez. I’ve always been a fan of Fernandez, but he has never played his best basketball in the NBA, but truth must be told, he never got the proper confidence from his teams and it looks like the Nuggets like him or they wouldn’t trade for him.
There is some uncertain about JR Smith and Wilson Chandler, but if these guys can find a way out of China and join the Nuggets, then we are talking about arguably the deepest team in the league. A loaded roster could be the reason of why the Nuggets will make the playoffs this season. They don’t have a real superstar, but they will compete in those terribly physical spots just because they have the proper depth unlike 90% of the rest of the league.