Year in Review series
Over the next three weeks, the staff at Denver Stiffs will be reviewing the Denver Nuggets' 2015-16 season with our Year in Review series. Check back daily for new articles and analysis of the major players on the roster as well as the coaching staff. You can also click on the link to the right for a full list of articles in the series that you may have missed.
By Zach Mikash
The Denver Nuggets are going to start turning heads with their young European big men. While Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic are the talk of the town, it was not that long ago that Joffrey Lauvergne was the draft and stash that had Nuggets nation abuzz. While he came over for the last twenty-four games of the 2014-2015 season, this season was for all intents and purposes Joffrey's rookie year. Like all the rookies for Denver, his year was a mixture of good and bad where there were signs of some solid play but also some growing pains as well.
Joffrey was quickly lost in the shuffle and hype of Jokic's arrival to the team but he backed up a strong performance in summer league with an even stronger performance in the pre-season to not only earn his spot on the roster (it wasn't really in doubt) but also earned a spot in the rotation ahead of J.J. Hickson while Nurkic recovered from knee surgery. When opening night in Houston came it was Lauvergne who started at the five, he'd make good on the opportunity by putting up double digit scoring performances in each of his first three games.
Unfortunately, a back issue would sideline him for most all of November, during which Jokic seized control of the starting center position and wouldn't relinquish it for the remainder of the season. Once Joffrey returned his playing time and performance was erratic. On occasion he would have a solid night shooting or gobble up several rebounds, but for each good game there was one where he couldn't buy a bucket or completely disappeared on the boards...and then there was the defense.
Joffrey has the length to be a good defender and while he could certainly benefit from adding some muscle he's not rail thin either. He had moments on defense this season where he'd make a big block or play solid man to man in the post and he did show improvement as the season went on. However, for most of the year he was a liability on that end of the court, and a big one. He struggled mightily to stay in front of defenders or to keep with his man off ball. Other times it wasn't so much a struggle as just an apathetic approach to playing defense This resulted in a lot of easy baskets for Denver's opponents when Joffrey was on the floor.
At the end of December Joffrey had a nice stretch of games and it looked like he might be on the verge of getting more playing time. Though he still wasn't performing well on defense, he was quickly learning how to use his post game and how to operate in the pick and roll to be effective as a scorer, finding success with the majority of his shots coming inside ten feet of the basket. Once again though timing was not in Joffrey's favor as Nurkic was returning from injury which left Lauvergne recording a series of DNP-CDs mixed with some garbage time minutes.
When Nurkic's return stalled, Joffrey once again found himself in coach Michael Malone's rotation but was slowed by a toe injury. It wasn't until February before he finally got some sort of consistent time in the rotation. Even then, there were games that found him on the wrong side of a match up or getting into early foul trouble and thus he recorded very few minutes. More and more as the season progressed it was apparent that Nurkic provided the interior defense that Joffrey could not and Denver desperately needed some interior presence. Ultimately, he settled into the role of reserve big where he still found plenty of minutes because of Denver's season long struggle with injuries.
As the season closed the Nuggets experimented with larger lineups featuring Jokic and Nurkic and a side effect of that was Joffrey also often got paired with one of the big Euro centers. His defense improved as the season closed and his back to the basket game was getting a lot of points. When paired with one of the big centers Joffrey creates a mismatch because he has the height and quickness in the post to find success against power forwards. He's still got a long way to go to be an everyday player, especially on defense, but there was no denying that he showed promise at the end of the year. Like all of Denver's young players, there were moments where Joffrey looked like an everyday NBA player but there were also a lot of errors and weaknesses. It's safe to say that he had the most of those of any of the members of Denver's young core. In order to be an everyday player, and even just a member of an NBA team, Joffrey will have to continue to develop...at 24 years old he'll have to do it quickly.
By Gordon Gross
109.8. That's Joffrey's defensive rating, the number of points-per-100-possessions that the Nuggets allowed while Lauvergne was on the court. It's the worst number on the Nuggets (yes, worse than Faried's). Lauvergne has many good qualities, and his offensive per-36 numbers compare favorably to Jokic in points and rebounds. He's three years older than Jokic or Nurkic, however, and is currently stuck in the 4 / 5 tweener role that J.J. Hickson occupied poorly.
Lauvergne is going to have to fix his defensive woes (his real plus / minus marks are among the worst as well, next to Kendrick Perkins and below Kosta Koufous) if he wants more than a part-time bench role. Joffrey is a willing competitor but if he can't provide more defense than other power forward options and is simply an emergency backup for Denver's two-headed center then it's hard to hold a rotation spot for him, despite his effort and interior game.
Room for improvement
By Zach Mikash
The obvious answer here is defense, but another interesting argument for this segment is his mid range and three point shooting. Joffrey is a catch and shoot player when he's not in the post but he struggled to convert on those opportunities, especially from three point range. Improving his jump shot will add a new layer to his game and make Joffrey a more complete weapon on offense.
The roster as it's currently constructed almost necessitates Joffrey improve his shooting. Neither Kenneth Faried nor Nurkic is likely to develop three point range anytime soon so unless Lauvergne is playing alongside Jokic or the Nuggets are playing small Denver is going to need Joffrey to help space the floor. Being able to fill that stretch four role off the bench will be even more crucial if Darrell Arthur opts out of his deal this summer.
Highlight of the Year- Big Ups
By Gordon Gross
Joffrey sometimes gets pegged as a plodder, because he's a heavy-footed runner who roots around in the paint like a hog looking for truffles. But as this clip shows, he can get up too. Nikola Jokic isn't making that dunk this year...
Best Game of the Year
By Adam Mares
On February 19th, D.J. Augustin made his Denver Nuggets debut and found instant chemistry with the French big man. Despite getting matched up with DeMarcus Cousins, Joffrey managed to put up a career high, 22 points on 10-14 shooting all while displaying every offensive skill in his arsenal; transition rim runs, pick and roll finishes, catch and shoot jump shots, drives to the rim, and even a corner three-pointer. Joffrey had the full package working on offense that night.
Let's start out with the most important question: Describe the growth of Joffrey's beard throughout the season.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): I'm gonna go with "kudzu-like." It started off as a nicely maintained frame for his face and ended up looking like something out of a Ted Kaczynski mugshot. Hopefully he shaves it before it strangles him in his sleep over the summer - and he stops taking advice on facial hair from "I want to blend in with the Amish" Danilo Gallinari.
Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares): I'll say lion-like. Mostly because I've always thought Joff had a resemblance to the lion prince John in Disney's Robin Hood. The beard started out clean enough but by the end of the season it was a wild mane.
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): This might be the best question of this entire series but it really just raises further questions. Why did he just keep growing it? Was it for luck? Does shaving give him a rash? Is he just a giant fan of the horse tribes in Game of Thrones? Regardless, the ridiculous beard and plastic mask with big leather straps is probably more suited for a horror flick than the game of basketball and that's how I'd describe it's growth, horror movie-esque.
What does Lauvergne need to do this offseason to take the next step forward?
Gross: Working on generic defense in the offseason is hard, but he's GOT to get better. He's a tweener 4 / 5 as it is, but he's got to stay away from Hickson Ravine. You don't want to fall in there and get trapped as a guy who gets empty numbers on offense but is totally lost on defense. Watch a lot of film and work on your footwork, Frenchman. If his defense can even be adequate that would help him become a mainstay rotation player. Looking for the ball when he cuts to the basket and Barton is passing would also be useful. Too many turnovers there.
Mares: Joff has a lot of things to work on but Gordon said the biggest one, defense. I'm also not sure how much he'll get to work on that since he'll have a busy summer playing for France in the olympic qualifying tournament and possibly the Olympics themselves. His instincts, footwork, and feel on the defensive end is lacking and at 24 years old, time is running out for him to show some improvement in those departments.
Mikash: He needs a big performance for France over the Summer. Some big time play in the big spotlight and continued competition against the elite basketball players of the world is the best thing that can happen for Joffrey over this Summer. He's getting to an age where his game is what it is so continuing to figure out how to utilize it against top notch talent is vital and there's no better place to get it this offseason than the Olympics. Only Canada stands in the way of a long Summer of basketball for the French and as upstart as our neighbors to the north are, it's hard to imagine them overcoming that strong roster..
Lauvergne has a non-guaranteed contract for the 2016-17 season. Will he be on the Nuggets roster next season?
Gross: Hard to say. I don't think he'll be cut regardless of the non-guaranteed nature of his deal, but he'll be a restricted FA after next season and Denver may not want to re-up with him. He's the sort of player who can be a sweetener in a deal as well for someone who likes his upside. Joffrey can do a lot of things as a bench player and a good rebounder with nice touch around the rim is always welcome somewhere. Right now he's the only real backup at the 5 on the roster if something happens to Jokic or Nurkic. If I had to bet I'd say no, but it really depends on how Connelly shapes the roster. Lauvergne is a very moveable piece.
Mares: I'll say 50/50. He's a classic "throw in of a larger deal" type player so if the Nuggets make a play in the trade market, Joff could be a guy that gets added to make the numbers work. The Nuggets are sitting on three draft picks right now and if they are unable to trade one of them, there might not be a roster spot available to him. There's also a small chance that he suffers an injury this summer. So while I don't see the Nuggets wanting to part ways with him, he's not a good enough player or prospect to be a deal killer in any larger deal.
Mikash: Really depends on draft night. I'm not "I'll eat my shoe" confident but I'm almost that confident Denver isn't going to be keeping three first round draft picks. If they move Danilo Gallinari and/or Kenneth Faried then there's a lot better chance that Joffrey is on the roster at least going into camp but like Adam and Gordon mentioned, he's definitely the type of guy who could get added to a bigger deal. If the Nuggets don't get anything worked out by the time the season starts then I imagine he'd be pretty safe until the trade deadline. Though Joffrey's not an all world talent, he is still good enough to avoid being outright cut.