The first season of Brian Shaw at the helm of our Nuggs is complete (Well technically, it has been complete for close to two and a half months now). However, what did we learn through this past rollercoaster ride of a season that seemed to take more dips and falls than Elitch's "Tower of Doom"?
For one, we learned that Brian Shaw is actually a decent and capable coach. Decent I say, because let's face it, the Nuggs achieved an underwhelming 36-46 record. On the other hand, I say capable because THE GUY WENT 36-46 WITH A TEAM PLAGUED WITH INJURY! No Gallo to start because of a poorly done surgery on his ACL, Javale played a whopping 5 games before his season was cut short with a stress fracture in his left tibia, Wilson was again injury prone with the hip and groin, we lost Nate and J.J. to ACL injuries, and experienced life without perhaps our most significant player on the team in Ty Lawson during a fractured rib and ankle problems. With all that being said, Brian Shaw still managed to squeak out a record only 5 games shy of .500. This without a true point guard (Foye and Fournier took over before Brooks showed up) and digging deep into your reserves trying to squeeze out of them whatever he could to keep this team somewhat afloat. Give the man credit where it is due. I don't know if there was any team in the league more depleted by injury than Denver. And for that, I tip my cap to Mr. Shaw for a job well done.
Conversely, Mr. Shaw, you're not off the hook just yet. Although your first season was a throwaway early on because of the injury bug, this doesn't mean that coming into the '14-'15 season we shouldn't expect at least a .500 team (worst case scenario, very worst case) that's capable of climbing into an eighth or seventh seed. Best case, this team if healthy, should be able to muster up a 45-50 win season, allowing us to slot anywhere from a fourth to a seventh seed.
But here is your real test Coach Shaw. Just like our beloved Broncos, it doesn't matter what the Nuggets do in the regular season. Obviously this statement doesn't completely fall in line with the Broncos situation because one, they are a championship contender and two, they have made it deeper into the playoffs each year since PFM's arrival. The reason I assert that what the Nuggets do in the regular season is of little importance is due to the fact that this team when healthy, is a playoff team, no question. George Karl was ultimately let go because in 10 years with this franchise, only once did he get out of the first round. Shaw was brought here not to run a flashy and offensively dominated team, but to bring defense and more importantly success in the playoffs. Kroenke could care less how Shaw leads this team there. Whether they just barely fall into an eighth seed or somehow manage to capture the top seed, it doesn't matter because where your seeded is a result of your regular season success and that isn't the result Kroenke is after. He's after a first round series win, a battle in the conference finals, or hopefully a birth in the NBA Finals. Kroenke wants PROGRESS, something George didn't deliver consistently when it counted. This is where the Nuggets mirror their fellow Denver pro athletes over there at Sports Authority Field: it doesn't matter what we do in the regular season, all that matters is we get there and more importantly do damage in the form of winning a 'ship.
Now before we all get our hopes higher than Mile High itself, let's remember that we still are in the Western Conference. An extremely deep Western Conference. The Nuggets will be in for a battle next season having to compete with teams like San Antonio, OKC, LAC, Portland, Houston, Golden State, Memphis, and Dallas. We also can't sleep on teams like Phoenix or the Lakers because depending on how free agency finishes, these teams could look very different and become a threat if certain moves are made. Also, let's not forget that two of the eight teams mentioned above are in the Nuggets division (OKC and Portland). The Nuggets have their work cut out for them and will be blessed if they can make it into the playoffs in any seed, barring any injuries.
So for now Coach Shaw, you have a pass on your first season. Call it an exhibition season, merely a trial run. Now, things are serious. We will have a healthy Ty, a new and improved Afflalo, a healthy Gallo, an always explosive and hopefully all-around improved Faried, a healthy Javale and/or a seasoned ready-to-start Mozgov, restored depth on the bench, and a rookie in Gary Harris to keep your eye on. We will be watching Coach Shaw and believe me it won't get any easier from here. #OperationFinals2015