Throughout September and October, we’ll be examining all 30 teams in the NBA and previewing the 2013-14 season through the lens of each particular organization. I’ll be going through each team’s roster and expected outcome for the upcoming campaign in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the worst team in the NBA. At the bottom of each preview there will be a table with each division that will link to already-completed previews.
The 2012-13 version of the Denver Nuggets was a perfect blend of everything that we’ve come to expect from good, quality NBA play. From their ridiculous depth to their league-best home court advantage to their lack of a super-star, the 57-win Nuggets were a League Pass favorite and quite simply, one of the best teams in basketball last year.
But after an off-season of sweeping changes, the new edition of the Nuggets looks decidedly different. Gone is one of the league’s best general managers, after Masai Ujiri bolted for the chance to start his own rebuild in Toronto. Gone is reigning NBA Coach of the Year George Karl, along with the Nuggets’ best player from last season in Andre Iguodala.
Denver also sent starting center Kosta Koufos to Memphis in exchange for Darrell Arthur, opening up the five-spot for the confounding talents of Javale McGee. The Nuggets re-made their roster on the fly, picking up J.J. Hickson, Randy Foye, and Nate Robinson in free agency.
After all of the shuffling in the off-season, the Nuggets are still a very deep team. But they went from having one star (and a top-five defender in the NBA) to none. (Unless, of course, Kenneth Faried is finally given the minutes he deserves after averaging just over 28 minutes per game last year under Karl’s tutelage. And no, I wouldn’t count Ty Lawson as a star, but he’s close, and easily the best player outside of Faried.)
Add in Danilo Gallinari’s continued recovery from knee surgery, and this Nuggets’ squad is not as good as last year’s version. Their home court advantage remains huge, but the combination of free agent signings is puzzling. Sure, Robinson had a nice season (on the cheap) in Chicago, but is that small resurgence simply his peak? And they already had a three-guard rotation of Lawson, Foye, and Andre Miller, not to mention second-year guard Evan Fournier and the still-promising Jordan Hamilton.
And the Hickson signing? He did have the best year of his career thus far in Portland last year, but why would you sign another player that will directly compete for minutes with an up-and-coming star like Faried and a player that you just traded your starting center for in Arthur?
It felt like the new regime in Denver was mindlessly throwing money at the most middling free agents they could find. Good players? Sure, for the most part. The fit? Not so much.
Denver will win a handful of games simply from the their incredible home court advantage/altitude, but they won’t sniff the 57 wins they compiled in 2013-14. The loss of Iguodala may not seem like much to the casual fan, but the havoc he brings defensively is somewhat difficult to quantify. Throw in the losses of Koufos and bench wing Corey Brewer, and this year’s Nuggets may very well disappoint the folks in Denver.
Best Case Scenario
The Nuggets should still have a shot at squeaking into the playoffs, depending largely on the overall performance of the rest of the mid-tier teams in the West. While there are a handful of teams that could take a leap or a dive depending on a variety of factors and variables, Denver looks to be in a significantly less fluid situation.
This team is solid, and should probably challenge the .500 mark. It’s difficult to see them winning more than 42-45 games.
Worst Case Scenario
At the same time, it’s equally tough to see this season bombing too spectacularly for Denver, barring a rash of unexpected injuries to key players. The Lawson and Faried duo, together with solid players like Wilson Chandler and Miller and a possible late-season return of Gallinari will still be enough to win 60-70% of their home games. Let’s call their worst case 32-35 wins.
Most Likely Outcome
This is a pretty easy one to peg, as far as these extremely scientific and clairvoyant team previews go. This team will see a big drop-off in wins, but will remain respectable. The toughness of the Western Conference must be factored in, as should the likely development of players like Faried, Lawson, and (maybe) McGee.
The 41-44 win range is where they’ll end up, but the more I think about it, the more I think that number may run a little high. Ultimately, it woudn’t shock me to see Portland sneak by them in the final standings.
|Toronto Raptors (22)||Cleveland Cavaliers (17)||Washington Wizards (19)|
|Boston Celtics (24)||Detroit Pistons (18)||Charlotte Bobcats (26)|
|Milwaukee Bucks (20)||Orlando Magic (27)|
|Denver Nuggets (15)||Los Angeles Lakers (23)|
|Portland Trail Blazers (16)||Sacramento Kings (25)|
|Dallas Mavericks (21)|