In order for the Nuggets to take the next step, Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson must lead the way.
With the Denver Nuggets standings in the NBA Western Conference threatened by moves other teams have made this free agency period, the in-house players the Nuggets' brass is banking on must become stars. Immediately.
Otherwise we could see the start of a brand new plan at the end of next season.
It really boils down to those two players if the Nuggets are to make any noise in the Western Conference. While the development of Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee (once he gets signed) is all well and good, it's not the same as Gallo and Ty. Faried is going into his second season, and McGee the same, considering his first three-and-a-half seasons were with the Wizards. McGee had a couple nice playoff games with the Nuggets, but he has a lot to prove. So his development, along with Faried, will take some time and patience.
What about Arron Afflalo you say? I think, if we are depending on AAA's development then there is a serious problems with what the Nuggets have going on. Quincy Miller and Evan Fournier will be long-term projects that will (or will not) pay dividends sometime down the long and winding road. How about Wilson Chandler (aka: Meh, by me)? Hopefully he can stay healthy and be a great sixth man, but Wilson stepping up is not going to make or break the team. As for the here and now? It's all about Gallo and Ty. The Nuggets' owner and general manager have told us that they want to see where these two take the team. So, it's not too much to expect each player make a big leap.
I've made no secret that I have grown to really like Gallinari's game since he became a Nugget in February of 2011. His style on the court appeals to me in multiple ways. First and foremost is Gallo's passing ability and his court awareness. It is highly unusual for a 6' 10" forward to possess the kind of passing/point ability that Gallo has, and is a very big reason why I love his potential. With that being said, however, in order for him to take the next leap Gallo must stay healthy all season. Each time we have seen him take a big leap forward (against the Portland Trail Blazers in February of 2011 and against New York Knicks January of 2012) these were followed by injuries that capsized his season. Staying HEALTHY all season is priority number one for Gallo.
Secondly, Gallo needs to become more selfish. Period. No more 1-10 shooting with 9 points and 6 assists every few nights. We all understand he doesn't like to keep shooting when his shot is a bit off. There's something admirable about that, but if he is going to be an "it" kind of player, he absolutely cannot stop shooting the ball. In this case Gallo needs to make that 1-10 night a 5-15 night with more trips to the foul line. Drive with purpose and straight to the rim! This will help Gallo's chances of both drawing a foul and going to the line. No more thinking of a million different scenarios before he makes his move, narrow that down to three and he has got it made.
As for Ty Lawson they key is consistency and drive. It's very simple really, when Ty is engaged and aggressive he does well and the Nuggets more often than not win. When Ty is passive the Nuggets are on their heels the whole game and can't seem to catch up. So in essence the Nuggets need Ty to be a great scoring point guard in the mold of Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook and let Andre Miller take care of the assists off the bench. This set - up seems to work for the Nuggets.
Yet, Ty inexplicably goes through points where he plays like his feet are stuck in mud. Ty will have three or four great games and then go through another streak just as long where he is being passive. Can't blame the presence of Andre Miller for that. That is just motor. The only missing piece of Ty's game is consistency over 82 games. Can Ty turn the motor "on" without ever turning it off?
As much as we like to talk about team development and chemistry, it is up to those with the highest "immediate" ceiling to make the biggest jump. If Gallo can't do that this season, we may see a change in direction with the team. If Ty can't remain consistent in a contract season he may be getting offered something remarkably less than a max extension by the Nuggets' front office.
In the grand scheme of things, if these two players can't take that next step ... it is logical to assume the Nuggets may take a different course of action than the one they are currently on. They won't chuck the roster, but they may seek "talent" in other areas. Maybe it's already on the roster in the form of Quincy Miller or Evan Fournier? With JaVale McGee most likely being "paid" (potentially overpaid) soon, the margin for error is slim with the roster as constituted.
Will Ty and Gallo answer the call? I certainly hope so.