It's a word that has been thrown around a lot since our Denver Nuggets re-acquired Arron Afflalo and drafted Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris last month. Three moves that showed the NBA world that the Nuggets are primed to contend for the playoffs again after a one-year absence in 2014 (or, if you ask Afflalo himself, contend for the NBA Championship).
But with Nurkic named the MVP in this summer's Under-20 European Championship Division B (after averaging 21.4 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.6 blocks in eight games), Harris averaging 18.4 points in NBA Summer League (although he did so while shooting a very disappointing 32.1% from the field) and 2013 second round pick Erick Green and 2012 second round pick Quincy Miller also impressing during summer league play, the Nuggets' depth for the 2014-15 season could be for real.
And it could also be a problem if head coach Brian Shaw wants to allocate minutes somewhat equitably next season. During an interview with NBATV during summer league, Coach Shaw has already gone on record regarding his newfound depth by stating: "[The Nuggets players] are going to have to get a lot done playing less time. Because we're two deep and three deep at some positions."
Assuming Green latches on to a roster spot after training camp is over - thus bringing the Nuggets active roster to the full 15 players that the NBA allows - Shaw just might be right about that "two deep and three deep" stuff (that is, of course, until the Nuggets shed a quarter of their roster in a possible Kevin Love trade). But knowing how NBA teams typically like to function, coaches prefer to settle on an eight-to-nine man rotation ... and not a ten-to-thirteen man rotation. And if that's indeed the case with the Nuggets this fall, who among those 15 players will be the odd men out? Let's break it down position-by-position ...
JaVale McGee, Timofey Mozgov, Jusuf Nurkic
During the Nuggets' 57-win 2012-13 season, Kosta Koufos was given the most "center minutes" by then-head coach George Karl with JaVale McGee coming in second and Timofey Mozgov a distant third. Believing Mozgov to have a higher talent ceiling than Koufos and seeing many NBA teams playing smaller, in the summer of 2013 new Nuggets GM Tim Connelly traded Koufos to Memphis in exchange for power forward Darrell Arthur and the second round pick that became Joffrey Lauvergne. But with McGee succumbing to an early season-ending injury to kick off the 2013-14 campaign, being a center short hurt the Nuggets. That won't be the case in 2014-15 with Nurkic on the roster ... but will the Nuggets give the raw Bosnian center ample minutes? It's unlikely as the Nuggets will want to see something out of their $44 million investment in McGee who may simply be auditioning for a trade if given more minutes than either Mozgov or Nurkic.
Odd Man Out: Jusuf Nurkic
POWER FORWARDS (3)
Kenneth Faried, J.J. Hickson, Darrell Arthur
It took a while under Coach Shaw, but Faried emerged as a potent force at the four-spot later in the 2013-14 season and was rewarded with a spot on Team USA's training camp squad for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. And if Faried doesn't depart this summer as part of a rumored Kevin Love trade, it's assumed he'll be the Nuggets starter at power forward when the 2014-15 NBA Season begins. Hickson - forced to play a lot of center last season in the wake of McGee's injury - should return to his natural position of power forward as Faried's primary backup, assuming his surgically repaired ACL will enable him to play effectively. But with Faried and Hickson gobbling up the four-spot minutes, Darrell Arthur will left for sparse fill in minutes only.
Odd Man Out: Darrell Arthur
SMALL FORWARDS (3)
Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Quincy Miller
All eyes will be on Danilo Gallinari at the start of Nuggets training camp. Presumed to be healthy after taking a full year off to recover from a 2013 ACL tear, Gallinari is the favorite to anchor the Nuggets starting small forward spot ahead of longtime teammate Wilson Chandler. In 2013-14, Chandler was given ample opportunities to prove his worthiness as a starter (he started in 55 of the 62 games he played in) but he simply didn't deliver consistently. This starting job is Gallo's to lose. And like Chandler, due to injuries throughout the Nuggets roster last season Quincy Miller was given plenty of chances to prove that he belongs in the NBA - starting in 16 games. But Miller's youth and rawness became apparent with each game and he'll need to exert himself more if he's to crack into Gallo or Chandler's playing time next season.
Odd Man Out: Quincy Miller
SHOOTING GUARDS (3)
Arron Afflalo, Randy Foye, Gary Harris
Welcome to the NBA, Gary Harris! You get to fight eight-year veteran Arron Afflalo and nine-year veteran Randy Foye for two-guard minutes. Good luck with that. Moreover, Foye isn't willing to simply cede the starting position to Afflalo (even though it's likely to happen anyway). Fortunately for Harris, Coach Shaw will likely play Afflalo at the three-spot occasionally opening up some minutes for the rookie to take advantage. But if Harris shoots sub-35% during the regular season as he did during summer league, he's going to have one hell of a time beating out Afflalo and Foye for minutes.
Odd Man Out: Harris
POINT GUARDS (3)
Ty Lawson, Nate Robinson, Erick Green
Shaw shocked many when - during the aforementioned NBATV interview - he boldly stated that every current Nuggets player will be healthy AND ready for training camp. This assumes that Nate Robinson, like his teammates in Gallinari and Hickson, will overcome an ACL tear to get into training camp in time. But Robinson himself is claiming availability for the season-opener and if Green - who played well during NBA Summer League - can crack the 15-man roster, the Nuggets will suddenly go from one point guard in Lawson to three.
Odd Man Out: Erick Green
If our Denver Nuggets don't trade for Love and stick with the players listed above, we're looking at a starting five of Mozgov, Faried, Gallinari, Afflalo and Lawson backed up by a secondary five of McGee, Hickson, Chandler, Foye and Robinson (with Nurkic, Arthur, Miller, Harris and Green available as a full third string five). By any objective measure, this makes the 2014-15 Nuggets deep.
But as has been the case since Carmelo Anthony's departure in 2011, the Nuggets lack of true star power may not be able to be overcome by depth alone ... especially in the brutally competitive Western Conference. But depth - even with "good" but not "great" players - is better than the alternative. And the Nuggets roster as presently constructed can either compete for a playoff spot or be used to swing a big trade.
With that said, maybe we should get away from using the word "depth" and replace it with "flexibility."