Last year around this time, my colleague Mike Olson did a great job laying out the Denver Nuggets New Year's Resolutions. Interestingly, the players must have read Mike's column at the time as then head coach Brian Shaw's Nuggets launched into the Year 2015 by winning five straight games (after dropping a New Year's Day game at Chicago by just five points).
But then reality set in, the players ignored their respective resolutions and tanked their way into 19 losses out of the next 21 games. By early March, Shaw was fired and replaced by his affable assistant coach, Melvin Hunt. Hunt's Nuggets would win six out of their next eight ... but then reality set in for Hunt, as well, and the Nuggets tanked their way into 11 losses out of their next 15. Simply put, the 2014-15 Denver Nuggets were a crummy team and there was plenty of blame to go around for that.
Here's hoping the 2015-16 edition of the Nuggets show more respect for the first half of 2016 (i.e. the latter two-thirds-ish of their season) than their 2014-15 predecessor did. And based on what we've seen thus far to wrap up 2015, respect for the game doesn't appear to be the issue.
Not that the 12-19 Nuggets are absent of issues, because they are bountiful. The first being something largely out of their control - health - which will be a recurring theme as we lay down some 2016 New Year's Resolutions for the players, new head coach Michael Malone and the front office. The second being, of course, the team's now infamous ability to defend the three-point shot of their opponent.
But given how banged up the Nuggets have been to date, sitting at 12-19 through 31 games means that they are actually exceeding the fans and pundits collective expectations. Remember, prior to the season's beginning the Las Vegas oddsmakers had the Nuggets over/under win total at 26.5 ... and we haven't even gotten to the easier part of the Nuggets schedule yet.
So with that said, here are some resolutions for our beloved Nuggets ...
Emmanuel Mudiay: Stop leaving your feet to pass the ball. Unless he knows exactly where the ball is going, Mudiay must develop the discipline to stay aground when looking to pass. Mudiay's 4.0 turnovers-per-game has hurt the team and it's not an accident that the Nuggets have actually played a bit better while Mudiay has been out nursing a sprained ankle.
Kenneth Faried: Gotta work on those free throws. Not a good free throw shooter to begin with, Faried has regressed from the charity stripe and is connecting on a career-low 55.3%. Faried is actually shooting better from the field than he is from the free throw line ... and we wonder why Coach Malone routinely sits Faried during tight fourth quarters. If Karl Malone could get his free throw percentage from the high-40s into the mid-70s during the first few seasons of his storied career, so can Faried. It just takes a lot of practice.
Danilo Gallinari: Take better shots. Gallinari is arguably the Nuggets best player (although Will Barton is giving him a run for his money) and yet he can't even connect on 40% of his field goal attempts. A fabulous free throw shooter, Gallo is 12th in the NBA in free throw attempts. So perhaps Gallo should drive even more and not settle for those contested twos that are driving his field goal percentage down and (I'm assuming) Coach Malone crazy.
Randy Foye: Stop shooting altogether. 32 years old shouldn't be considered ancient history for an NBA two-guard and yet Foye is playing as though he's on his way out of the league alongside Kobe Bryant. Foye's production and shooting accuracy have both plummeted and while it's sad to observe, perhaps Foye would be better off as a decoy and let his teammates do the shooting.
Gary Harris: Don't be afraid to be assertive. Now in his second season and being asked a lot with the various injuries befallen his fellow Nuggets, Harris is as apt to go for 20 points and he is to go for five points. Harris needs to find the confidence that made him a standout at Michigan State and bring it for the Nuggets nightly.
Jusuf Nurkic: Get healthy and get angry. The Nuggets desperately need their starting center back. But when he comes back, the Nuggets need the imposing Nurkic to play angry. Because even though the Nuggets are about average statistically in points in the paint given up per game, no one in the NBA is afraid of attacking the rim against Denver right now.
Joffrey Lauvergne: Cut down on the fouls. After appearing in just 24 games last season, the second-year Frenchman has been productive when given minutes. Unfortunately - the recent Oklahoma City Thunder game excluded - Lauvergne is averaging less than 20 minutes per game due to his propensity to get into early trouble and get bounced from Malone's rotation.
Jameer Nelson: Be a mensch when Mudiay returns. As recently pointed out by my colleague Adam Mares, the veteran Nelson has played much better since taking over the starting point guard role for the injured Mudiay. Unfortunately for Nelson, he represents the past whereas Mudiay clearly represents the future ... even if more minutes for Mudiay at Nelson's expense means more losses for the Nuggets. And thus, Nelson must be a willing mentor / backup when Mudiay returns.
Nikola Jokic: Don't hit a second half slump! One of two hugely pleasant surprises for the Nuggets this season (especially considering that Jokic was the 41st pick in the NBA Draft in 2014), it's hard to point to anything Jokic should do to improve even more. My only concern for Jokic is that he has never played an 82 game season before. And as we saw with Nurkic last season, it wouldn't be surprising to see this young Serbian run out of gas around Game 55. The Nuggets staff should be looking now for ways to keep Jokic energetic deep into the season.
Will Barton: Go for the Sixth Man of the Year Award. When the 2015-16 season began, the very idea of Barton winning the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award would be laughable. But Barton's game is no joke. And now that he is consistently putting up huge numbers off the Nuggets bench, Barton should unabashedly go for the NBA's best bench player award, an award no Denver Nugget player has ever won.
Darrell Arthur: Do more of the little things. Fans can't complain about the great effort Arthur has been giving the team lately, especially with Gallo missing a few games himself. But even though Arthur technically connects on about 45% of his field goal attempts, I don't think I've ever seen him actually make a shot and would rather Arthur focus on the things he does well: defense, box outs, easy put backs and so forth.
Mike Miller: A little exercise? For the $1.5 million the Nuggets are paying the aging veteran Miller this season, would it kill him to work out just a little? After just a minute or two on the floor inside Pepsi Center, Miller often looks like he's going to pass out from exhaustion.
Nuggets GM Tim Connelly: Stay patient. When Connelly traded the up-and-coming Evan Fournier in 2014 for Arron Afflalo, it was a move to get the Nuggets back to the playoffs quickly. What instead transpired was a lost season without a playoff appearance, Afflalo was moved to Portland (for Barton, thankfully!) and exceptional play by Fournier ... in Orlando. Now, with the Nuggets just two games back of the playoffs Connelly might be tempted to make a "playoff making" trade again. I'd advise patience instead. I'd rather see Mudiay, Jokic, Harris, Lauvergne and Nurkic go through growing pains - even if that means extra losses - and tee the team up for future success than jettison one of those five for a veteran now.
Nuggets Coach Michael Malone: Play the youngsters even more. Former Nuggets head coach George Karl gave me a great quote a few years back when he said that "experiments get coaches fired." Karl couldn't be more right. That said, Malone's job in Denver should be safe for some time and rather than giving veterans like Foye, Arthur and Nelson lots of minutes in an attempt to sneak into the playoffs, I'd rather see the youngsters getting the experience now during a season when the expectations from both the front office and the fans are low.
Nuggets Organization: Resolve to change the uniforms and color scheme. More on this in a future column, but the Denver Nuggets are not - and I repeat, are not - a powder blue and gold franchise. The powder blue and gold pallet - going back to when former Nuggets GM / UCLA alum Kiki Vandeweghe changed the team's color scheme for the 2003-04 season - needs to be scrapped and replaced with a royal or dark blue and gold pallet, a la what the Nuggets wore from the mid-1970s through the early 1980s. And a little rainbow trip and the return of their retro 1980s font wouldn't hurt either!
Happy New Year, my fellow Stiffs!!