Enemy Lines: A rival scout sizes up the Nuggets
2012-13 Record: 57-25; lost to Warriors in Western Conference first round
Coach: Brian Shaw (first season with Nuggets)
The Nuggets went from playing some of the best basketball in the NBA in the second half of last season to essentially starting over. After firing Coach of the Year George Karl, losing Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri [to Toronto] and dealing starters Andre Iguodala [in a sign-and-trade with the Warriors and Jazz that brought guard Randy Foye to Denver] and Kosta Koufos [in a trade with the Grizzlies for Darrell Arthur], there's no way to paint their offseason in a positive light. There's no way this team is better today than it was a year ago.
Someone in management wasn't happy with them not playing JaVale McGee, so they sacrificed a solid starting center [Koufos]. Koufos doesn't have the exciting upside that McGee possesses, so I understand to some degree that McGee needs to play more. But by removing a talented big men, the type of asset that's hard to come by, aren't you removing the competition element of it? They're basically saying that they're not concerned with McGee's earning it, that they want to guarantee that he gets it. That is a little disturbing.
The people who want McGee to play see the dunks and the highlights. What they don't see are all the assignments that he missed, all the times he's not where he's supposed to be. This is a guy who's such a poor fundamental player that the splashy plays don't make up for it. He's undeniably talented, but he has to become more reliable.
Power forward Kenneth Faried is the perfect example of an effort guy. He will give you everything he has. He's undersized for his position, but his physicality, effort and nose for the ball are keys. When the Nuggets were playing well, he was the guy who did the dirty work, got the difficult rebound, made the effort play and was a nuisance defensively. He's gotten better as a player, but being an effort guy is who he is. He wears down the other team with his incessant energy and rebounding ability.
Ty Lawson was the Nuggets' MVP last season. He keyed everything they did in terms of pushing the pace and sharing the ball, which made them so difficult to defend. Lawson is as quick as anyone with the ball, but he doesn't look to pass every time. The first thing he's doing is pushing the ball up your back and if the defense isn't ready, he's already laid the ball in the basket before everyone is set.
The guy they probably ran the most plays for last season was Danilo Gallinari. That tells me they think he's their main offensive weapon. If Gallinari is your best, that's a little bit of a problem. It's not that he's not a good player, but more often than not the other team's best option is going to be better. Gallinari [who will miss the start of the season while recovering from ACL surgery] is not just a shooter. He can score in a variety of ways; he can post up, take slower-footed defenders off the dribble and get to the foul line. He's been in the NBA five years, but he's still very young  and has a ways to go with his development.
The most likely replacement for Gallinari is Wilson Chandler -- provided Chandler is healthy after having a hamstring injury during the preseason. He is a multidimensional offensive player like Gallinari, but he's not as good from three-point range. He's a threat to post up small forwards, and against power forwards he has a quickness advantage. You can run plays for him. He's an important factor, especially with Gallinari out.
Deep shooting was an Achilles' heel for the Nuggets last season. So much of their offense came in transition, and if you forced them to be a jump-shooting team, they could struggle. That's where Randy Foye's perimeter game will be a tremendous addition as the starter at shooting guard. Foye has been a solid three-point shooter throughout his career, particularly the last two seasons. Second-year guard Evan Fournier may be a more intriguing talent than Foye, but I'm not sold yet. He is a developmental player. There is nothing in his brief career that makes me think he is ready to be an NBA starter.
Calling Andre Miller a backup is almost not fair because he played close to starter's minutes last season and tended to be in the game in the fourth quarter when it really mattered. He is a throwback point guard who looks to pass first and shoot second. He's so cerebral; he really understands the game. He lacks athleticism and quickness, but his court vision, intellect and skill level are off the charts.
Denver probably got a bargain with Nate Robinson [$4.1 million for two years] after the season he had as a scorer in Chicago. It's something of an odd fit in the sense that I think he's going to play off the ball as much as he's going to play on it because when you have Miller and Lawson, there's not a lot of time to give someone else the ball.
Brian Shaw was overdue to land a head-coaching job. He deserved the opportunity after establishing himself as one of the best young assistants in the NBA. My concern is that he's following one of the best coaches in the league in Karl and when you consider what the offseason was like on the heels of a very good season, there's only one direction this franchise can go. It puts Shaw in a tough spot. One thing he'll look to do is improve their half-court play.