Nuggets' Slow Start May Have a Silver Lining

November 2013

In our October issue, I previewed the Nuggets’ upcoming season. The stories included recaps of the team’s offseason turmoil, but I concluded that even without George Karl, Andre Iguodala, and others, this year’s squad could be counted on to win between 42 and 48 games and secure a playoff spot.

Three weeks into the 2013-14 season, it looks like I may need a do-over. The Nuggets have been muddling along at 4-6 under new coach Brian Shaw, who has yet to settle on a regular rotation and has dealt with injuries both new (JaVale McGee’s stress fracture) and old (Danilo Gallinari’s knee).

When I spoke with Shaw for the October piece, he said his plan was to develop the low post-focused game he’d learned as an assistant with the Lakers and Pacers, and he hinted that the run-and-gun Nuggets Denver fans have enjoyed…well, forever, would be modified.

The Nuggets still can score, but their defense has regressed to the mediocre level it was before the elite wing stopper Iguodala (and to a lesser extent, Corey Brewer) left the team. This was inevitable, but the hope was that improved shooting would make up some of the difference. The Nuggets are, in fact, shooting threes much better than last season, only now they can’t seem to hit their twos, in part because their slower pace creates fewer easy shots in transition.

And then there are Shaw’s ever-changing rotations. The Nuggets currently have 13 players averaging at least 15 minutes per game; most teams have no more than eight or nine guys logging that much playing time. Having depth is nice, but it doesn’t matter much when many of your players are middling and interchangeable.

These wrinkles figure to get smoothed out as Shaw becomes more familiar and comfortable with his roster and McGee (several more weeks) and Gallinari (unknown) return. But if ever there was a time to retrench and rebuild, this year might be it. That’s because the 2014 NBA draft might be the deepest ever. (Might because of the unknown number of promising underclassmen who could turn pro.)

With their first round pick, plus any others that might arrive via trade, the Nuggets could be in a position to draft a star-quality player next spring if they miss the playoffs this year. No fan wants his team to give up on a season so early, but given the inherent difficulty Denver (the city) has in luring big-name free agents, having an off year now might be the best thing that could happen to this franchise in the long run.

Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.