For the first time in 11 years, our Denver Nuggets will not be post-season participants, abruptly concluding 10-straight years of playoff appearances (an NBA franchise record for the Nuggets). Not only is missing the playoffs disappointing on its own accord, but with just two games remaining in the 2013-14 season the Nuggets are likely to win 20 less games than last season's edition, which won an NBA franchise best 57 games.
Therefore, by any objective measure the 2013-14 Nuggets season will go down in franchise history as a largely forgettable one. In fact, by winning 36-38 games (TBD as there are still two games to be played) the Nuggets didn't even lose enough to help their chances of securing a top-three lottery selection in the 2014 NBA Draft. But luckily, we have the New York Knicks to thank for slightly improving the Nuggets lottery chances (by the way, SAVE THE DATE for Tuesday, May 20th for our Denver Stiffs Draft Lottery Party!).
When it comes to grading individual players and coaches, it's a subjective exercise and we'll do our best to assign grades to the relevant participants and contributors here hoping that these will be used as encouragement for (much needed) future improvement. Because while I'm as excited as anyone for our Nuggets to have two chances at landing that aforementioned top-three draft pick, I'd liked it a lot better when mid-April meant yet another playoff appearance for my home team.
Of the 62 games that the Nuggets starting point guard played in, the team won 29 of them - almost 50%. Not an especially great winning percentage. However, without Lawson the Nuggets are 7-13 to date this season. So while the Nuggets (in hindsight) were probably a long shot to make the playoffs no matter what, they had no chance whatsoever without Lawson. As an individual, Lawson had a fine season and posted career highs in scoring (17.6 ppg), assists (8.8 apg, second-best in the NBA) and steals (1.6 spg) and should give Nuggets fans comfort that they have a quality point guard for years to come (Lawson is just 26). But there's still room for improvement here and Lawson's night in / night out consistency remains a work in progress.
A month shy of his 27th birthday, Chandler turned in a decent performance this season but, as we've come to expect from Chandler, he couldn't stay healthy and appeared in just 60 games. While playing, Chandler was good for nearly 14 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists per game, but his field goal shooting plummeted to 41.6% and he had more sub-10 point games (14) as over-20 point games (10). I'm still confident that Chandler could be the NBA's best sixth man when Danilo Gallinari comes back next season, but the big question is whether or not Chandler would be happy in that role?
After a crummy start that saw a number of sub-30 minute games, Faried has been averaging 19.7 ppg and 10.5 rpg since March 1st, including a career-high 34 points against the New Orleans Pelicans, a thrilling game-winner at Oakland against the Golden State Warriors and a 24 point / 21 rebound performance against the Utah Jazz over the weekend. Faried still needs to work on his mid-range jump shot and his defensive lapses, but he remains the biggest spark that the Nuggets have and a bona fide fan favorite. A lot of Nuggets fans are in a panic about Faried's future as he's due to become a free agent in 2015. But I see the Nuggets power forward of the future and a great complement to the taller Gallinari in the starting lineup.
Gallinari has proved his value to the team simply by not playing. Not only did the Nuggets fall apart in the 2013 NBA Playoffs sans Gallo but they never got on track this season without him either. Most disappointingly, however, is the fact that Gallo was supposed to play in about half of the games this season as he returned from ACL surgery. But a botched surgery process cost Gallo the entire 2013-14 season and may cost him half of next season, too, as he had surgery recently and has only now begun the true rehabilitation process.
How do you grade a player who performed exactly as he was expected to? Picked up in the wake of the Andre Iguodala sign-and-trade-free-agent-debacle, Foye joined the Nuggets making it five franchises in eight years for the stocky two-guard. At times, Foye was exceptional, including a 30-point / 15-assist outburst against the Houston Rockets last week, preventing a game-winning jump shot by Carmelo Anthony in November and single-handedly delivering the season's best highlight with a game-winning three-pointer to beat the Los Angeles Clippers in early February:
But as we've come to expect from Foye, he's as apt to score 20 points and he is to score less than 10 (which happened 24 times this season) and he's hardly the lockdown defender that Iguodala was. Foye is what he is: a mediocre two-guard who would probably be an awesome role player on a championship team. Something the Nuggets are far from becoming.
Arriving in Denver in exchange for Jordan Hamilton at the trade deadline, Brooks filled in admirably as the Nuggets' lone backup point guard with averages of 11.8 ppg and 5.1 apg. But Brooks is likely a part-season rental as his contract expires at season's end, but if a roster spot is available I'd welcome Brooks back as Lawson's backup next season.
Like Foye, Brooks and Nate Robinson, Hickson is a talented player who has never been able to stay put in one place ... which should tell you something. As a Nugget, his fourth NBA team in six seasons, Hickson averaged 11.8 ppg and 9.2 rpg before succumbing to an ACL tear after 69 games, sadly the Nuggets third season-ending ACL injury if you include Gallo's and Robinson's. But despite the statistical production, Hickson's efforts didn't equal wins and he lost his starting center job to Timofey Mozgov in late February (to which he responded with a 16-point / 25-rebound game off the bench). The rap on Hickson is that he's a stat-stuffer who can't defend worth a damn and cares only for his individual production. But he seems like a good kid and it was sad to see his season end abruptly due to a nasty knee injury.
Playing for five teams in eight seasons should have been enough of a warning to steer the Nuggets clear of Robinson before they signed him as a free agent last summer. After all, Robinson led the Chicago Bulls to a first round playoff series win last season and even they didn't want him back. Rumored to be a divisive locker room presence and known to be prickly with the local media, Robinson chucked his way through 44 games before sadly tearing his ACL and ending his season. Robinson is a hard worker and a very intense dude, but I never wanted him on my team in the first place and still don't.
For reasons never quite understood, it took Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw until late February to finally start the 7'1" Mozgov over the undersized Hickson at the center position. And since the All-Star break Moz has delivered, averaging 10.6 ppg and 7.6 rpg, including his magnum opus last Thursday when Moz grabbed an NBA season-high 29 rebounds and scored 23 points in a thrilling victory at Golden State (a statistical accomplishment never before seen by a Nugget). If the Nuggets decide to keep JaVale McGee, it will be interesting to see who gets the starting center nod next season as Moz continues to improve while McGee regresses.
Only 21 years old, the Frenchman shooting guard proved this season that he belongs in the NBA for good and that he will turn out to be one of the great steals of the 2012 NBA Draft. Confident yet inconsistent, Fournier must find a way to hone his aggressiveness and become a productive NBA player on a nightly basis.
Prior to the 2013-14 season, much was expected of McGee and his $10.8 million contract and not much was delivered. Well, nothing was delivered to be exact. Playing in just five games before fracturing his leg, McGee showed no signs of improvement over the previous season and clearly has a long way to go before becoming a legitimate NBA center. Both the fans and the organization have been tantalized by McGee's raw talent and now it's on McGee to deliver. Soon.
Arthur came to Denver - along with draftee Joffrey Lauvergne - in a head-scratching draft day trade for last season's starting center, Kosta Koufos. Arthur straight up for Koufos makes little sense, but if Lauvergne pans out this trade could be a stroke of genius for Nuggets GM Tim Connelly. Arthur himself proved to be a moderately serviceable backup power forward at times, but his sub-.400 shooting didn't help.
Just 21 years old like Fournier, Miller this season has exhibited some of the talents that prompted former Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri to draft him in the second round in 2012. But the youngster remains woefully inconsistent and had the Nuggets not been besieged by injuries, it's likely that Miller would be spending more time in the D-League than in the NBA. I'm a Miller fan and hope he finds a long term home here in Denver, but he needs to bulk up and improve dramatically if that's to happen.
Poor Anthony Randolph. He wants to play so badly but when he does not much comes of it. With the injuries to Gallo, McGee and Hickson this season Randolph had ample opportunity to play heavy minutes, but it never came about. Randolph appears resigned to a career as a low level bench contributor.
Just when I was feeling bad for Vesely - who is probably the worst 6th overall pick in NBA history - I looked up how much money he has made to date and it's nearly $10 million. So I don't feel that bad for the young Czech. Vesely tries hard, but nothing about his game resembles that of a true NBA player and I fear these final two games with the Nuggets could be Vesely's last in the NBA. Like another highly drafted European Stiff named Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Veseley's NBA career will likely be relegated to the dustbin of NBA history.
Even though the Nuggets were severely depleted by injuries this season (Gallo, McGee, Hickson, Robinson, Lawson and Chandler all missed significant time), injuries alone don't account for a 20-game drop in wins from the previous season. With or without injuries, the Nuggets boasted a deep and talented roster that should have been capable of winning 45ish games instead of the 36ish games they'll end up winning. And that's on Shaw. Moreover, they went from being one of the most dominant home teams in the NBA to a mediocre home team, something that's unacceptable when considering Denver's altitude advantage. I think Shaw has grown as a head coach and he deserves credit for the nightly effort put forth by the team during the past 20 or so games (including thrilling victories against the NBA Champion Heat in Miami, the Warriors at Oakland, and the Rockets and Clippers in Denver), but for much of the season Shaw's Nuggets lacked an identity and a culture of hard work on the court. I'm optimistic that the effort put forth by the team during the last quarter of the season could carryover into next season, and hopefully with some key players returning to action we'll get to see the head coach that Brian Shaw really is.