The Nuggets have a few moves to make to set the 15 man rotation. News broke today that the team officially cut Jerrelle Benimon and Marcus Williams, according to Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post. And while Quincy Miller is still with the team, he's not expected to make the final roster, according to Dempsey and Shams Charania. The "last two" roster spots are expected to be taken by veteran Alonzo Gee (who has seriously impressed Brian Shaw and his staff) and NBA rookie Erick Green. Once the team locks down the 15 man rotation, the next task will be how Shaw plans on playing this absurdly deep squad.
"There's going to be 10 guys at the start of the season, will be two at each position, that'll be in the main rotation," said Shaw after practice at Pepsi Center today. "Barring foul trouble or blowouts, one way or another, that will determine if it gets deeper than that. That's a problem for myself and our staff with the depth that we do have, and guys are just going to have to accept that."
A couple saving graces for Shaw will be the five-game suspension that J.J. Hickson will serve to start the season, and the minute restrictions that the "surgery crew" (Hickson, Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson, and JaVale McGee) will be under early in the year. But once Hickson is back and those guys are off minute and game restrictions, Shaw is going to have his work cut out for him.
Let's go over what a 10-man rotation could look like:
Point guard: Ty Lawson, Nate Robinson
Shooting guard: Arron Afflalo, Randy Foye
Small forward: Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler
Power forward: Kenneth Faried, J.J. Hickson
Center: Timofey Mozgov, Jusuf Nurkic
Guys who could be on the bench: Darrell Arthur, JaVale McGee, Erick Green, Gary Harris, and Alonzo Gee. Isn't Shaw going to be tempted to play the defensive minded Arthur and Gee? What about the big contract of McGee? Won't Shaw feel pressure to play certain guys?
"I said last night after the game, I'm not waiting on anybody," said Shaw. "The depth chart, for instance, at the center position right now is: Timo, Nurkic, and then JaVale. That's where it is because JaVale's just starting to practice, he's just getting on the floor and playing, and Nurkic is ahead of him right now.
"So, when you start, if [McGee] hasn't outplayed [Nurkic] or Timo or anybody that's in front of him by the time we start the regular season ... and I don't want to just judge him off of last night's performance because he's been out for a year. But if he's not there and he's not ready yet, then as fast as he comes along? We'll move him that fast," Shaw said. "As slow as he moves, in terms of passing guys up, that's how slow he'll come along, but I'm not waiting on anybody."
Shaw spoke with a tone you don't often hear from him. He was serious, but more than that, he was laying down the way he's going to run the team this season. It's going to be his way or guys are going to sit.
"The guys that are ready to contribute and help us accomplish what we're trying to accomplish, will be the guys out there on the floor. And I don't care if you're the highest paid player on the team, if you have the longest guaranteed contract, or whatever it is," said Shaw. "In our film session today, I talked to the guys about that group that was in there [vs. Portland]: Randy, Alonzo Gee, Wilson, D.A., and Nurkic. They showed me something, that group, the way they defended and their physicality during that stretch from the third through midway though the fourth quarter. If it's an arrangement of guys like that, that have to be on the floor to get us to compete at that level and play with that kind of intensity, that's who will be on the floor, regardless of their star status, salary, popularity amongst our fans, or whatever. We are on the clock and we got to get it done with the guys who are going to go out there and compete and play the way that we want to play. It's that simple and I presented that to everybody on the team, and they all understand that.
"The mentality of our team from last year to this year, has to change," Shaw said. "The guys that we brought in, specifically Arron Afflalo, drafting Gary Harris, bringing Alonzo Gee to camp to try to make this team, specifically address those needs that we need as a team to become a better defensive team and to play with the kind of energy we need to play with."
During Shaw's first season, he talked a lot about the level of professionalism, or lack thereof, that his team displayed early last season. The problems seemed to correct themselves as the season wore on, and Shaw was pretty pleased with the progress of his team in a season gone wrong. There have also been grumblings, perhaps just rumors, about the way a few players finished last season with the team or their motivation in a sour 36-win season. Shaw clearly wants a team that wants to win as badly as he does and he wants this team to be defensive minded.
While most of the players remain the same, the Nuggets clearly wanted to shake up a few things and, as Shaw said above, bring in guys to address areas he felt the team was lacking in last season. Even if Shaw can't find minutes for all the players in his rotation, he is placing a bigger emphasis on practice and locker room culture. Shaw will use the playing time hammer to the best of his ability if problems arise on the floor.
"In order to keep them competing everyday in practice and pushing one another, I have to let them know that whoever is getting it done and providing those results, putting forth the right effort, and that doesn't mean that you can't make mistakes - we always say: make new mistakes - and I can live with the mistakes as long as you're trying to do the right thing," said Shaw. "We brought in some people that are slowly going to help change the culture and mentality of some guys who are used to just kind of cruising and doing just enough to get by."
(If you want to watch/listen to the interview, the Nuggets uploaded it to YouTube, my questions here.)