With such a young team and an eight game losing streak, the talk about player development is picking up steam. The Nuggets have a very veteran group of guards with Andre Miller, Randy Foye, Nate Robinson, and to a degree Ty Lawson, too. Darrell Arthur could be considered the Nuggets' veteran forward, but he's just 25 years old and still developing himself. Brian Shaw has been forced to play some younger guys out of necessity and the age old question of developing versus winning pops up.
"It's tough because you're trying to win games," said Shaw. "A lot of their development will just come with what they're doing pre-practice, pre-game with our coaches. When I have opportunities to get them out there on the floor, I'll try to do that. But it just depends on how the season goes too. If we get to a point where we're just stuck in the mud and we're not going anywhere and the guys who have gotten the opportunity to make things happen aren't making them happen, then you might as well let those [young guys] be out there and play through their mistakes. It's still relatively early, too early to just pack it in and say we're just going to concentrate on trying to develop guys. It's tough to fit guys in and try to win games."
An interesting comparison has been with the 21 year olds: Quincy Miller and Evan Fournier. In Fournier's case, he was a part of the rotation early in the season as he averaged 12.2 minutes per game in November with zero "Did Not Play - Coach's Decision" aka DNP-CDs. In December however, his minutes dropped to 9.4 per game with six DNP-CDs. In Quincy's case he played a whole two minutes in the month of November, but has seen some minutes lately and averaged 8.2 minutes per game in December. Why did one player see his role decrease and the other player's role increase?
"Still more-so because of injuries," said Shaw. "I feel more comfortable [playing Quincy now], like I can trust him more in the fact that when he was called upon he was ready and he went out and produced."
Another reason is that Shaw is trying to find minutes for those veterans in the back-court. Robinson, Andre Miller, and Foye are all accustomed to and capable of playing 20+ minutes a night. But Shaw hasn't been afraid to decrease minutes game-by-game to anyone.
"I look at: if a guy's shot isn't going in that's one thing. But if the shot isn't going in, he's not defending, he's not rebounding, he's not making plays ... that's another problem all together," said Shaw. "Jordan Hamilton makes a lot of mistakes out on the floor as a young player, mostly on the defensive end, but he rebounds, he makes shots, and even when the ball is not in his hands - the threat of him making a shot makes the defense honor him, which opens up other things. So I take those things into account."
Foye had a rough December. He saw his shooting percentages fall off to 32% from the field and to just 27% from three-point land last month. Shaw pulled him from the starting lineup for a few games and inserted Hamilton as the starting shooting guard. But it was a temporary switch as Foye started against the 76ers and Hamilton came off the bench. There are arguments to be made that brining Foye off the bench is the team's smart move, but with limited size already (among the guards) it's a tough problem.
The simple answer is to say the team needs to make some trades. But time and again you hear that young teams need veteran players around to show them the ropes. Maybe the Nuggets can find some vets that don't need playing time. If you turn to a complete youth movement then you may bring a new set of issues to a young team. So, while the Nuggets have some logjams that are preventing some development, there is still a big need to get the youngsters game experience.
"It's important. There is no substitute for game experience," said Shaw. "You can condition, you can run, you can take a thousand shots doing drills, but being out there on the floor with the pressure of the game action ... is completely different than anything else that you get."
Let's take a look at some key guys on the team and how their "development" is coming along thus far.
Of the guys above, Mozgov and Hamilton have been nice additions to the rotation this season. Mozgov has been finding a little consistency and has had some big bright moments and the same could be said for Hamilton. But what would their minutes look like if Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee were healthy? Well, McGee wasn't exactly keeping Moz on the bench early in the season, but with logjams with the bigs ... who would see the minutes cut? Arthur? Faried? Hickson? Quincy seems to be earning a little more time and Fournier and Faried seem to be working their ways out of the rotation.
The most curious case has been Faried. He was benched from starting the second half of a recent contest and has been benched for large stretches of games semi-regularly this season as his minutes per game are down significantly for a guy that was the featured big man at just 23 years old a season ago.
Shaw is going to have his bumps and bruises early in his coaching career and it's best to be patient with big changes coming to the Nuggets. Shaw and his staff have good reputations for developing talent. Chris Farr is credited for his work with Damian Lillard, Shaw for his work with Lance Stephenson and Roy Hibbert (and others), Lester Conner worked with young Atlanta Hawks squads, and Melvin Hunt the same during his days with the Cavaliers and the Nuggets.
"My coaches are positive and they stay on me. We talk every day and they help me every day," said Quincy Miller. "[Coach Farr] definitely gives you confidence and helps you work on things that you're going to do in the game. And he works to your strengths, he tries to make your strengths stronger."
The Nuggets now sit at 14-17 and the noise of development will grow louder. It'll be interesting to see how Shaw balances trying to win with development.