Denver, CO. It has now been almost three months since the Denver Nuggets lost a tough game 7 in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. All too often throughout the past decade, a first round exit has been very common for Denver, and the 2012 post-season was no different. But this off-season has had a little bit different vibe than recent years. The scare that the Nuggets put into the Lakers back in May made the NBA world open their eyes to a young team in the Rocky Mountain state who really came into their own. This young team saw what they could do, and have to realize that they do have the talent to play with anyone in the NBA. With every major contributor coming back from last year, this team can hit the ground running when the season opens in Philadelphia on Halloween. The question will be, with such a talented, deep pool of players to choose from, who will George Karl give the majority of minutes to?
Ty Lawson is gradually turning into the leader of the Denver Nuggets. He is truly on the cusp of becoming an All-Star caliber player, and it could happen this coming year. His speed and quickness is matched by very few players in the league, and his shooting continues to improve as well. Danilo Gallinari, when healthy, is an extremely versatile guy who can slash to the basket, but still nail an occasional long jumper. Health has been the concern so far with him, as a few different things have curtailed his development somewhat. If he can avoid the injury bug, “Gallo” could blossom very soon. Kenneth Faried had a marvelous rookie year, and provided huge boosts of energy at times for the team last season. What this guy could become in the next few years is exciting. If he can continue to work hard on his post game and jump shot, look out. “The Manimal” really is an NBA monster in the making. A critical move the team made was signing restricted free agent JaVale McGee to a long-term deal. When he arrived in Denver back in mid-March, he made his presence known very soon. He quickly showed his ridiculous athleticism with countless dunks and blocked shots. McGee is yet another player who must work hard to improve his game and refine his offensive game, more specifically. His instincts are already there, but he must develop a mid-range jump shot to compliment his inside game. Arron Afflalo is a very important piece to this Nuggets puzzle, and is typically the guy who defends the other teams best shooter. Arron can really do it all….drive to the basket, pull up for a transition “3″, or put the clamps down defensively on any given night. At 36 years young, Andre Miller will be back after signing a new three-year deal. Miller proved to be such a valuable steadying force last year, especially during the playoffs. His veteran leadership calmed the waters so many times, and he will continue to provide a nice touch off the bench. Al Harrington had a nice 2011-2012 season, and showed his toughness during the Lakers series, playing with a torn meniscus. Al can rebound pretty well, and when he is hot from three-point range, his scoring can come in bunches. The two-headed monster at the center position of Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos will man the middle. Although neither is overly athletic, they bring some much-needed size when Denver has to play teams like the Thunder, Spurs, or Lakers. The Nuggets are also planning on big things from Wilson Chandler, who had a tough 2011-2012. Chandler began by playing overseas during the lockout, then came back and signed with Denver, only to injure his hip as he was then out for the rest of the year. Chandler is another very versatile guy who has the size to play at guard or forward. Denver recently signed Anthony Randolph, who at just 23 years of age, has already played in 5 NBA seasons. Randolph is a 6’11″ forward who has averaged 8.5 pts/game throughout his career with Golden State, New York, and Minnesota. Second year man Jordan Hamilton will also be looking to crack the lineup, as he played very well during the summer league last month. Corey Brewer could still continue to be in the mix, but may find playing time difficult because of better overall players around him.
I don’t know if you were counting, but I just mentioned 12 players who are going to be vying for meaningful minutes on the court. With so many options for Coach Karl, the thought here is that he will simply give to the guys who earn it. He will also tinker with various lineups and see who plays well with who, and what kinds of chemistry certain guys have with each other. A great example of this is when it became obvious that Andre Miller meshed really well with JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried, as the timing Miller had with those two on lob passes for dunks was outstanding. Simply put, playing time will ultimately be up to each player and if they want it badly enough. This deep roster will be a huge key at the start of the season, as 17 of the first 23 games are on the road. Can this Denver Nuggets team contend with the likes of Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and the Lakers in 2012-2013? Hard to say, as a few more years of experience may be necessary. But I do know one thing….come the spring of 2013, exactly zero Western Conference teams will be overly excited to face this squad in the playoffs.
Denver Sports by J Simp