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Time for a cool change for the Denver Nuggets

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As Denver looks at its assets and the early free agent market starts to settle down, there are a few options on the table after an up-and-down-down trio of Nuggets seasons.

How soon until Emmanuel Mudiay becomes an agent of change for the Nuggets, Michael Malone, too.
How soon until Emmanuel Mudiay becomes an agent of change for the Nuggets, Michael Malone, too.
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DeAndre Jordan is a Maverick! Or...

Last night's announcement that DJ's about face had him returning to L.A. got me to thinking about change in the NBA, how many free agency moves have already been made in this busy offseason, and how many more are to come, including the gnashing and wailing of many of the Denver Nuggets faithful to make a move of our own.

Which players people feel should be moved is a different and evolving conversation, with many promoting the notion that as woeful as the last two seasons have been, any change has to be for the better... right? How far the mighty have fallen since the 57-win campaign of the 2012-13 season.

Some argue the core of that team still remains intact, and needs a better supporting cast, while others are certain that '12-'13 hot rod has now had so many parts stripped off of it that it may as well be up on blocks outside the Pepsi Center. Just what has changed since that breakout year? It's time for a spreadsheet or two.

(2015-16 seemed a fool's errand just yet, save coach Michael Malone)

Nuggets

2012-2013

2013-2014

2014-2015

Coach

George Karl

Brian Shaw

Brian Shaw/Melvin Hunt

Point Guard

Ty Lawson

Ty Lawson

Ty Lawson

Shooting Guard

Andre Iguoudala

Randy Foye

Arron Afflalo

Small Forward

Danilo Gallinari

Wilson Chandler

Wilson Chandler/Danilo Gallinari

Power Forward

Kenneth Faried

Kenneth Faried

Kenneth Faried

Center

Kosta Koufos

Timofey Mozgov

Timofey Mozgov/Jusuf Nurkic

Key Role Players

Corey Brewer

Andre Miller

Darrell Arthur


Evan Fournier

Aaron Brooks

Nate Robinson


Timofey Mozgov

Nate Robinson

Jameer Nelson


Andre Miller

Darrell Arthur

Will Barton


JaVale McGee

J.J. Hickson J.J. Hickson

Wilson Chandler



There's actually some consistency across many spots in that roster, as many argue. Lawson and Faried hold their spots across the board, and Gallinari primarily shares time with Chandler due to his horrible injury to close out the '12-'13 season. But just because those rotation spots were consistent, how consistent was the output from those positions?

A cursory glance across those three seasons shows a fair bit of consistency, save Gallo's DNP season in ‘13-'14. Lawson's assists per game totals have only improved over those three seasons (6.9, 8.8, and 9.6), and points per game stayed relatively static (16.7, 17.6, and 15.2)

Chandler and Gallinari put up a combination of 1,700+ points in the '12-'13 campaign, and then narrowly topped 1,800 points together last season. The season Gallo sat, Will put up 846 points, almost exactly half the other two marks. Denver's scoring dropped markedly at the position from there, with Jordan Hamilton playing a lot of minutes with spotty scoring, and Darrell Arthur spending a few minutes at the small forward spot himself that season. Neither was able to make up the slack left by Gallo's lost season.

Faried's point totals (923, 1096, and 946) are as consistent as his rebound totals (734, 684, an 668 - a drop, but nothing catastrophic). His per-game totals follow suit - ppg at 11.5, 13.7, and 12.6 and total rpg  at 9.2, 8.6, and 8.9 over the stretch.

Relatively consistent production from all three spots over three very different seasons.

How about the starters roles where the personnel fluctuated a bit more? Let's look at shooting guard. Points? '12-'13 Iguodala - 13.0 ppg. '13-'14 Foye - 13.2 ppg. '14-'15 Afflalo - 14.5 ppg. Nothing tragic there. Assists? Iggy - 5.4, Foye - 3.5, and AAA - 1.9. Bit more of a drop-off there, but probably offset by Lawson's ever-increasing assists totals. Iggy was also the class of the group in rebounds and steals, for what it's worth.

As to centers, there was enough platooning at the position - over three different seasons by several players - the best way to measure was by totaling up individual per game stats. In this table, J.J. Hickson's numbers are skewed to the time he spent at center. In ‘13-'14, he played a lot of power forward, and a lot more center in 14-15. What do the numbers for those three seasons at center look like?

Center

pts/gm

reb/gm

blk/gm

2012-2013

Koufos

8.0

6.9

1.3

McGee

9.1

4.8

2.0

Mozgov

2.6

2.6

0.4

TOTALS

19.7

14.3

3.7

2013-2014

Mozgov

9.4

6.4

1.2

McGee

7.0

3.4

1.4

Hickson

2.3

2.6

0.8

TOTALS

18.7

11.4

3.4

2014-2015

Mozgov

8.5

7.8

1.2

Nurkic

6.9

6.2

1.1

Hickson

7.0

3.4

0.6

TOTALS

22.4

17.4

2.9

A fairly solid bump at the position in the last year, where the Nuggets struggled so mightily overall. Still nothing here that really stands out. So where was the difference in that 57-win season? For a frame of reference, they on won 9 more (66) in the next two seasons combined. Was it Karl? His system? Even Shaw's first season, where you'd expect to see an appreciable drop as new system was put in. A system no one truly found definition for. And still, production stayed relatively stable through the bumps of three coaches, Malone making four in four seasons.

When you dig past the starters, you start seeing a clearer picture. The key bench contributors for 2012-2013 included one of Corey Brewer's finest statistical seasons, playing all 82 games and tallying 990 points, 235 rebounds, 124 assists, 118 steals (and even 23 blocks) on 24.4 minutes per game, Andre Miller, with 786 points and 484 assists. With McGee terrorizing second-string centers, and Fournier starting to come into form, The Nuggets were deep and wide in that 57 win season.

In the 2013-2014 season, the bulk of your key role players played in the same position, point guard. And of the gents behind Lawson, none were getting minutes in combination, as a Miller feud begat a Robinson injury begat a Brooks brief sighting. Beyond that, the cupboards were fairly bare, with injuries and indecision marking the rest of the season like a baby marks a diaper. The depth was no more.

Last season's key players found themselves in a similar ditch. Too few, too far between. The injuries or introductions to folks who made up any depth (Robinson saw 33 games, Barton 28) didn't allow Denver to cover an appreciable gap once the starters sat down. 2012 Denver won 57 games, in part, by sending a very tough second five out behind the first. And sometimes 57 wins still gets you a quick first round exit.

Things get interesting for Denver early this season in that they are not necessarily forced to start the season with a trade of any sort. If the addition of Emmanuel Mudiay and maturation of youngsters Gary Harris, Erick Green, and Joffrey Lauvergne (with Jusuf Nurkic not far behind as he heals from surgery) provides some depth and cohesion, and Mike Malone's system proves to click with the players, Denver could be winning much sooner than it thinks. A proposition many would question in regards to long term success, and they ring the team badly desires.

If the season does not get off to a fast start, Denver has the luxury to lean on the youth movement further as the season progresses, until the trade deadline and beyond.

I'm excited to see the growth of our young players at Summer League (starting tomorrow night!), to preview both our current team's depth and what the future may hold for your Denver Nuggets.

What say you, Nuggets faithful? If I'm going out on a limb and assuming we may not beat the Spurs and Warriors out of the West this season... do we have to start the season with key pieces changed, or do we have time to cool down a little and make those changes as the season unfolds?