After ending the 2011-2012 season with one of the greatest and guttiest playoff performances in franchise history (despite exiting in the first round AGAIN), there is much to be excited about and several key questions that Josh and Masai must resolve. First, the high points of the 2011-2012 season:
1) The Introduction of the Manimal: despite being buried in Karl's rookie doghouse through almost half the season, once finally getting playing time due to injuries, Faried showed Karl, his teammates, the fans and the basketball world that he is a special talent is going to be around a long time in this League. Faried's no-fear attitude combined with freakish athletic talent make him one of the intriguing young players in the NBA.
2) The Emergence of Ty Lawson: in his first year as a full-time starter, Ty made great strides with bringing his A game each and every night. Despite sub-par performance once in a while, Ty seems destined to be a Top 5 PG in this League. His last three games against the Lakers showed that Ty seems to finally accept his role as a scorer and floor leader,and it will be fun watching him compete for an all-star game spot next season.
3) Hello Javalle McGee: Many questioned why the Nuggs would trade their franchise Center Nene for the often maligned and mistake-prone Wizard, but McGee's athleticism, size and potential quickly erased any doubts about Masai's savvy trade. Not only did the Nuggs get taller and more athletic with McGee, unloading Nene's bloated 65 million contract will give the Nuggs salary cap flexibility to add another piece (or two). As was shown in the Laker series, the Nuggets now have more than a fighting chance against the bigger teams in the West.
4) Big Al Became Buckets: Al Harrington surprised everyone by coming into this season in fabulous shape and with a rediscovered jump shot. Let's face it. Al was the Nuggets most consistent player until he injured his knee late in the season. By all accounts, Al was a terrific locker room presence for the young Nuggs as well. I suspect the Nuggets would have beaten the Lakers with a healthy Harrington, and he has vowed to come in next season in even better shape.
5) Front Office Brilliance: Masai continued to show why he is viewed as one of the best young GM's in the game. From his shrewd signings of Gallo, AAA. Nene, Koufos and Chandler, to his trades for Andre Miller, Rudy Ferendez, and Corey Brewer, to the trade of Nene for McGee, Nuggets Nation should be thrilled to have such a steady hand at the wheel. Going into a summer with a deep draft and free agent class with such cap flexility and tradeable assets sets Denver up perfectly to get even better prior to next season.
Even with such a successful season behind them, the Nuggets must address some significant challenges that dogged them last season:
1) Outside Shooting: the Nuggets struggled most of the season with poor outside shooting. Despite Aaron Afflalo finding his shot in April, the Nuggets as a team were one of the worst 3point shooting teams in the NBA. The Nuggs can get better fast in this area if Jordan Hamilton improves this summer and earns minutes, if Rudy resigns and is healthy and if Masai finds a Steve Novak type this summer to be our dead-eye shooter.
2) Inconsistent Center Play: the Nuggets used more starting rotations this summer than any other team, and this was primarily due to the inconsisten play( and injurues) of Koufus, Mozgov, Nene and McGee. Nuggets must committ player developement resources to make the Nuggets big men better before camp next Fall.
3) Injuries: the injury bug took a toll on the Nuggets all season long resulting in the most starting rotations of any team in the League. Perhaps the player most impacted by injury was Danillo Gallinari, who struggled through a bad ankle, thumb, and wrist. Gallo never seemed right for most of the season. I also believe Gallo's somewhat awkward offensive play, which a propensity to leave his feet with no where to go, make him a candidate for an injury prone career. In addition, the Nuggets perimeter play took a big hit with the injuries to Chandler and Fernandez. Throw in significant injuries to Mozzie, Koufos, Miller and Harrington, and it really is amazing the Nuggets even made the playoffs.
4) The Lockout: perhaps no team in the league would have benefited more from a full summer league and training camp schedule than the Nuggets. In addition, the late acquisitions of Bewer and Fernandez, the late signings of AAA, Chandler and Nene, the trade for McGee and the inexperienced Nature of the team, all contributed to the Nuggets never quite fully coming together. A full summer and fall training camp should really help this team grow and take the next step ( home court in the first round next year).
Weighing all of the above, you have to consider this a very successful season for our young Nuggets. Credit to George Karl for keeping the team engaged and motivated, and to Masai for steering our beloved team so brilliantly through stormy weather. Can't wait for next year!