After a long, tortuous summer filled with sunny days and absolutely no NBA news of any importance, the 2013-14 season is set to kick off. This means the leaves will change, the cheeks will redden, and 400-some NBA players will ready those aching knees to play for the right to work all the way to June.
The minds at Ball Don’t Lie – Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine, and Eric Freeman – have your teams covered. All 30 of ‘em, as we countdown to tipoff.
Kelly Dwyer’s Palatable Exercise
To drop double-figure or even 20-plus games between seasons simply because you lost your head coach and best (if not All-Star) player seems like a bit of a stretch, especially when these Nuggets played so well in 2011-12 without the services of Andre Iguodala. Denver won 57 games last year with Dre and former coach George Karl, and the equivalent of 48 games the year before without Iguodala, so why the major pessimism heading into 2013-14?
A coaching neophyte, for starters, even if new head coach Brian Shaw was an associate head coach in Indiana (one that co-worker Frank Vogel called a “coach of the year” candidate even before he’d taken on a top job) and Phil Jackson’s suggested replacement as Lakers coach in 2011. Then there’s the question marks surrounding Danilo Gallinari’s return from an ACL tear – was the original delayed surgery a success, and is it possible that he’ll have to punt most of the 2013-14 season?
Then there is this team’s makeup. Athletes, everywhere, but frighteningly-poor decision makers on the interior on both ends, alongside a guard in Ty Lawson that is going to have to carry a heavy burden, and a bench that seems less than formidable a year after acting as one of the league’s best.
Shaw was credited by Vogel as the architect behind Indiana’s top-ranked defense last season, and it’s important to remember that not only was Indiana the best defensive team in the NBA last year, they were the best defensive team by far. These new and lasting Nugget names, though – these are not people you want guarding the fort.
Lawson, Andre Miller, Nate Robinson, Anthony Randolph, Evan Fournier, and J.J. Hickson? Yikes. Darrell Arthur has struggled to move side to side since an Achilles tear suffered nearly two years ago, and while big men JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried put up fabulous rebounding and shot-blocking numbers, neither is even close to average when it comes to guarding their man, or making consistently mindful decisions on that end. Toss in a possibly step-slow Gallinari when he returns, and you could have a real sieve on your hands.
(Again: J.J. Hickson.)
What’s most frustrating is Denver’s decision to keep the band together, even after losing Iguodala. It’s true that Andre’s departure isn’t anything close to what the Cleveland Cavaliers went through with LeBron James in 2010, and that Dre disappointed offensively in his lone year in Denver, but re-attempting this no-superstar ideal a year later without Dre and Karl, and with a host of defensively-lacking performers reeks of a mistake in the making.
Unless new general manager Tim Connelly and president Josh Kroenke (the real boss, ‘round ‘ere) are taking a slow approach in rebuilding, thinking that teams are going to line up in a single-file queue to deal for Lawson, McGee or Gallinari and their eight-figure a year salaries, or give up tons to pry a potentially unhappy Andre Miller away from Denver. I don’t buy that, but then again that recent GM survey gives hope for potential mistakes down the line.
It’s just an odd situation. Sort of par for the course, I reckon, when you dump both the 2013 Coach and Executive of the Year just weeks after they took in their awards. You can understand those moves in certain ways, Karl was cranky as a lame duck coach and former GM Masai Ujiri may have put together a team that was at its peak (one that would have had to feature four eight-figure players on the roster had Iguodala stuck around), but the response to that overhaul? To not overhaul the roster? Again, odd situation.
A fun one, to be sure. Even Shaw can’t stop this team from running, there will be plenty of lobs, Ty Lawson’s derring-do and Nate Robinson’s endearing antics. Still, with that rotation it’s hard to see this team getting the stops it needs unless Brian Shaw completely turns the careers of McGee, Faried, Hickson and others along the way.
Shaw probably has it in him, eventually. Just not in his first year.
Projected record: 35-47
Tune In, Turn Up with Dan Devine
While only a handful of NBA teams each season harbor serious hope of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy come late June, all 30 come equipped with at least one reason to keep your television set locked on their games. Dan Devine shares his suggested reasons for the season ahead.
Tune into the Nuggets for … the chance to find out if convention can spark success where creativity fell short.
The pace stayed frantic, the early road trouble turned around in a major way, the points and wins piled up ... and the Nuggets went out in the first round, again, for the fourth straight year. As Our Fearless Leader wrote at the time, it seemed “like a silly exercise” to judge a Denver squad that performed up to some lofty preseason expectations by winning 57 games based on a six-game nightmare against an opponent made different and more dangerous by injury, especially when they entered that series without their starting small forward and with their power forward and point guard coming off injuries, but that’s pretty much what happened.
The Executive of the Year? Gone. The Coach of the Year? Gone. Last year’s major offseason addition, who led Denver’s defense to its best finish in four years? Gone. Judgments were made, and changes were made, and now Denver fans are going to have to deal with a different kind of “different” than the one they’re used to -- a kind of different that, if the new power structure has its way, might wind up being pretty similar to everyone else.
Denver’s got a new GM with great bloodlines, but whose opening personnel gambits included swapping a quality starting center (Kosta Koufos) for a decent backup power forward (Darrell Arthur), paying a third-string center (Timofey Mozgov) more than said starting center, and then paying another backup four-five (J.J. Hickson) to add more of what was already on hand. They’ve got a new head coach with a great pedigree, solid taste in stuff to yell from the bench and a decent flow, but who is trying to slow down a roster built for speed and may not be the world’s biggest fan of double-double machine Kenneth Faried. And they got Randy Foye and Nate Robinson, who won’t make anyone forget the perimeter defense of Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer. (Sing it, Andre.)
On the plus side, Foye and Robinson can shoot, which should help a Nuggets team that struggled from deep last season -- Denver finished 20th in 3-point makes, 19th in attempts and 26th in percentage -- and improve floor-spacing while Danilo Gallinari recovers from knee surgery. (Which, thankfully, might not take as long as we first thought.) Ditto for a full season of Wilson Chandler, who missed two months last year with a hip injury but averaged just under 20 points and 6.5 rebounds per 36 minutes on 50/43/80 shooting splits after the All-Star break, and should give Shaw lineup versatility at both the three and the four, provided he – like Faried -- can shake a nagging hamstring injury.
The combination of Robinson and a step forward from second-year off-guard Evan Fournier should help ease the loss of Iguodala’s secondary playmaking, too. With dynamic pick-and-roll facilitator Ty Lawson back at the controls, the Nuggets should continue to score at elite rates; whether Denver can successfully complete Shaw’s intended shift toward a half-court-focused, Pacers-esque, “grind-it-out” style with JaVale McGee standing in for Roy Hibbert and the Faried/Hickson/Arthur group doing a David West impersonation, though, remains very much an open question. Its answer is likely to tell us an awful lot about how close the new-era Nuggets are to surpassing the previous regime’s achievements ... or perhaps how far away Denver is from matching them.
Honorable mentions: Nate, who’s a pretty fun dude; JaVale, who’s a pretty fun dude; the eventual return of “the Italian celebration” after a Gallinari 3; Miller still periodically schooling dudes, even at age 63.
Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion
NBA analysis typically thrives on certainty, a sense that a trained expert sees the truth and points fans towards the key issues and most likely outcomes. Yet, as any seasoned observer of the league knows, events often unfold in unforeseen ways, with players performing against predictions or outside of the realm of presumed possibility altogether. In fact, it may sometimes make sense to dispense with the pretense of predictive genius and instead point towards those issues that as yet provide no simple answer. In Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion, we investigate one player per team whose future remains vague.
By most accounts, joining the Nuggets and George Karl’s coaching staff was the best thing to happen to JaVale McGee’s career. After escaping a very bad situation with the Washington Wizards, McGee had the chance to unlock his vast potential and turn his career into something special. Yet, while there have been high points over his short tenure with the Nuggets, as well as a lucrative contract extension, JaVale in many ways remains the same player he was in DC. He still doesn’t log major minutes, still blocks shots at a very impressive rate, still could stand to rebound more effectively, still needs to grow his post moves.
New head coach Brian Shaw has served as an assistant on teams with elite big men before, and there’s hope that JaVale can become the next player on that list. But we also must be realistic. At a certain point, McGee will stop getting spoken of in terms of potential and simply be the player he is. At 25 years old and entering his sixth season, he’s probably close to that moment. While JaVale may have seemed like a potential All-Star as a draft prospect, a player can only build on what already exists.
Right now, McGee is an inconsistent player prone to highlight reel plays and lapses in judgment. The easiest way to not be that player and improve would be simply to become more consistent. Whether or not that makes him an All-Star seems beside the point.
Read all of Ball Don't Lie's 2013-14 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Bobcats • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards