While most Denver sports fans are (rightfully) transfixed by the Broncos right now, those of us who dwell primarily in Nuggets Nation are getting anxious for the start of the 2013 Nuggets training camp ... just 15 days from now!
One has to assume - well, at least hope - that the Nuggets players themselves are anxiously awaiting the start of camp. And despite an off-season rife with off-the-court turmoil, the Nuggets will be bringing in a talented bunch that is very capable of winning 50 games for the sixth time in seven seasons (a remarkable regular season run). But given the losses of Andre Iguodala, Kosta Koufos and Corey Brewer and the likely loss of Danilo Gallinari for a good chunk of the early season, those arriving at camp will be asked to step up their games considerably.
With that said, here is a pre-camp to-do list for the current players on the roster with the hope that they've embarked on many of these tasks long before today's column was written ...
Ty Lawson - GROW UP
The Nuggets starting point guard appears to be at a crossroads in both his personal and professional life. This summer, Lawson got into some trouble this off-season for an alleged altercation with his girlfriend and it's not the first time that the Nuggets' ostensible leader has found himself on the wrong side of the news. Still only 25 years old, it's time for Lawson to show the on-court side of him who played exceptionally well for the latter part of last season ... and not the disappearing act we witnessed to start the 2012-13 campaign. Lawson needs to grow up and earn the respect and responsibility that comes with being a $11 million-plus starting point guard.
Wilson Chandler - FORGET THE PLAYOFFS
When the blame game got revved up in the wake of the Nuggets' disappointing playoff loss to the Golden State Warriors last spring, many pointed fingers at Chandler - who had previously been a routine "rescuer" for the Nuggets after Gallinari went down with that devastating knee injury during the regular season. It's no secret that Chandler had a bad post-season (notably his 35.5% field goal shooting and 31% three-point shooting), but the small forward was also coming off a nasty hip injury and had only played in 43 games prior to the playoffs. Presumed to be the starting small forward this year until Gallo returns, the exceptionally talented Chandler simply needs to forget about the playoffs and instead remember when he confidently led the Nuggets to victory in 21 of the team's final 24 games to wrap up the 2012-13 regular season.
JaVale McGee - FOOTWORK
I sound like a broken record as I've been harping on McGee about this for years, but the Nuggets likely-to-be starting center must work on his footwork around the basket. All too often the seven-foot McGee cedes his rebounding advantage to a smaller opponent (good footwork guys like Kevin Love or Zach Randolph) simply by not getting his feet in the right place around the rim. Were McGee to correct his footwork he could lead the NBA in rebounding and become the All-Star center that many in Denver are hoping he will be.
Kenneth Faried - IMPROVED MID-RANGE JUMPSHOT AND FREE THROWS
It was nice that Faried got to spend time with NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon last summer to work on his overall game, but perhaps the legend he should have been hanging out with was Karl Malone. A little bigger and little less athletic than Faried, Malone learned early on his career to develop a mid-range jump shot and make his free throws. By adding those two elements to his game, not only did Malone extend his career by many years, but he ensured that it was a Hall of Fame career to boot. I don't know what Faried has been up to this summer, but one hopes that he has been shooting thousands and thousands of jumpers and free throws per day. If not, Faried will be resigned to being a poor man's Dennis Rodman sans the wigs and visits to North Korea.
Randy Foye - WHY ALL THE THREES?
One of our newest Nuggets should be a big improvement from three-point range over the departed Iguodala and Brewer. In 2012-13 Foye connected on 41% of his three-point attempts, better than any Nugget (which isn't saying much) other than Chandler. That said, one could argue that Foye shot too many threes as a percentage of his overall shooting production, which led to a sub-par 39.7% shooting from the field overall ... one of the worst shooting seasons of Foye's career. It would be nice to see Foye deploy more from his offensive arsenal than just long-range bombs this season.
Danilo Gallinari - GET HEALTHY AND STAY HEALTHY
I'm not as worried about Gallo getting healthy as I am with him staying healthy ... something the Italian forward has been unable to do since joining the NBA in 2008. Clumsily lumbering about the court, Gallo insists on putting his body in harms' way. Grace comes naturally, it's not taught (like watching Kobe Bryant play versus DerMarr Johnson - there's no comparison), but Gallo should be working with strength and conditioning coaches to figure out ways to better use his body while on the court. If not, the painstaking efforts that he has been putting into his knee rehab will be all for naught.
Timofey Mozgov - GET MEAN
The Moz of the 2012 Summer Olympics was a bruising, tough center who helped lead Russia to an admirable Bronze Medal finish. The Moz of the 2012-13 NBA season was a third-string center who rarely received any playing time and when he did, he got pushed around by opposing backup-to-the-backup power forwards and centers. Called upon to be THE lone backup center on the 2013-14 Nuggets, Moz will have to get meaner and tougher in a hurry.
Andre Miller - STAY IN SHAPE
Last summer, Nuggets personnel were pleasantly surprised to see then-36 year old point guard Andre Miller showing up a month before training camp to get in shape and work out with his younger teammates. Prior to that summer, Miller was known for using training camp (and the first part of the regular season) to get into shape. Now at 37 years old, here's hoping that Miller has kept himself in shape this summer. And with Nate Robinson sure to push Miller for backup point guard minutes, Miller should be keeping in shape for his own sake.
J.J. Hickson - SEE KENNETH FARIED'S NOTES ABOVE
It's sad to see a player that cares as much as Hickson does bounce around to four teams in just five years to kick off his NBA career, but the wrap on Hickson is akin to Faried's: needs a mid-range jumpshot, needs to be more consistent on free throws and can't play defense worth a damn. Improved defense comes with improved footwork and an energetic commitment to defense and maybe that's something new Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw can instill in Hickson. If Hickson works that out, maybe he won't move on to his fifth team for some time.
Nate Robinson - PICK YOUR MOMENTS
Despite playing exceptionally well for the Chicago Bulls in their 2013 playoff upset over the Brooklyn Nets, the diminutive Robinson wasn't welcomed back to the Windy City. In fact, despite playing well in a lot of places throughout his career Robinson hasn't been welcomed back, and yet no one can question his heart and effort when on the floor. If there's one common theme throughout Robinson's career it's that he has had trouble picking his moments: he tends to "force the moment" rather than letting the game come to him. Maybe at 28 years old and playing for what could be his final NBA contract after his two-year contract with Denver is up, a more mature Robinson will discover when to assert himself and when to let the game come to him.
Anthony Randolph - MORE OF THE SAME, PLEASE
Randolph has nothing to apologize for after his 2012-13 NBA season. This rangy power forward - who for whatever reason just doesn't have that much "game" - seemed to be productive in the limit minutes bestowed upon him by last season's head coach, George Karl. Only 24 years old, it's not unthinkable that Randolph could continue to improve his game dramatically (notably touch around the basket), but with Faried, Gallinari, Hickson and Darrell Arthur gobbling up four-spot minutes, barring injuries it's doubtful Randolph will have a great impact on the 2013-14 Nuggets season.
Darrell Arthur - IMPROVED SHOT-MAKING
As a 6'9" power forward, Arthur's 45.1% shooting in Memphis last season was unacceptably low. But in Arthur's defense, the oft-injured player's minutes were inconsistent and he was coming off an entire missed season thanks to an Achilles tendon tear. But Arthur is to crack the Nuggets logjam at the forward positions, he will have to connect on more than 45% of his shot attempts.
Quincy Miller - GAIN WEIGHT
I hope Miller spent the off-season eating ice cream - and a lot of it - because even though he's listed at 210 pounds Miller looks more like 175 pounds. If that. Miller is a great kid with a terrific disposition but that might also be his NBA problem: he literally looks like a kid. Miller must bulk up and show signs of promise immediately if he's to retain a roster spot for the Nuggets this season.
Evan Fournier - SHOOT QUICKLY
Not yet 21 years old, the French rookie impressed last season despite receiving a limited amount of playing time from Karl. If there is one obvious area of improvement that Fournier could embark on, it would be to get his already nice jump shot off quicker. With Iguodala and Brewer both gone, the Nuggets will need Fournier to make a lot of three-pointers this season - and do so before a defender can block the shot.
Jordan Hamilton - "GET RIPPED"
New season, same old story for J-Ham. To quote Karl, Hamilton needs to "get ripped" if he's to contribute substantively to the Nuggets this season. Karl used to tell me the story of how he demanded Michael Redd to "get ripped" while they were in Milwaukee together, and that when Redd came into camp ripped one year it was the year Karl gave him minutes ... and it paid off. Unfortunately, Hamilton didn't heed Karl's request the last two off-seasons. Will he this year?