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Projecting the 2016-17 Denver Nuggets using win shares

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The young members of the Denver Nuggets are rapidly evolving, and while some of them have set the bar low, it's fun to project how good they will be over the next few years.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Rebuilds aren't fun, but these articles about rebuilds sure are!

The Denver Nuggets pushed the reset button 18 months ago, midway through the second season of Brian Shaw's tenure as head coach. Ever since then, they traded veteran talent for draft picks, selected raw, but potential laden youngsters, and handed the team over to Michael Malone.

The first goal for the new coach was simple: "get these guys playing with heart and passion again."

A year into the rebuild of the franchise and excitement is slowly beginning to brew in Denver. Sure, some sports radio stations have gone Nuggets-silent after Dwyane Wade decided to sign with the Chicago Bulls, but overall, fans are intrigued with the Nuggets more than they have been over the past three years, and the highest profile player added was a 19 year old Canadian kid.

Even still, fans want to see the next iteration of the Nuggets. Can the current players reach their potential? Is that enough to return to the playoffs? Will the "star" trade ever happen? All of these questions will likely have varying degrees of an answer by the end of the 2016-17 season.

Which brings me to Win Shares.

Win shares are interesting. They help measure total impact but can be misleading about where that impact is coming from or how much impact there truly is. That being said, I'm of the opinion that they are the best way to put together a team statistically. If we want to build a real competitive team, add players who have a high number of win shares per season. Not only does it imply they are good but it implies they were on successful teams too.

I did a similar article on this topic last year, which can be found here.

What I'm going to do is break the team into two parts: the potential-filled youngsters, and the veterans who are known commodities.

For the young guys, I will find three comparisons for each player and average their win shares for a particular season. For example, if I'm trying to compare Nikola Jokic, and I select Pau Gasol, I will look at Gasol's second season in the league. I will do this for two other players before coming up with the comparison.

For the older guys, if they are still in their prime, I will average their win shares in their prime years to estimate their next amount of production. If they are past their prime, I will use regression to estimate their next season.

After doing all of this, I will estimate next season's win total using the win share estimate, along with the following two years. If you didn't click on the link above to my past article, I estimated 31 wins for 2015-16. We achieved 33, so I wasn't far off. My other predictions were 39 wins for 2016-17 and 51 for 2017-18. We will see how close I am in my next predictions.

Emmanuel Mudiay

Our prized point guard prospect had a terrible first half of the season, but finished with an exciting second half. Because he was so young and only played a handful of games in China before coming directly to the NBA, I'm going to focus on his second half statistics rather than his first half.

The only player 20 or under to post similar statistics to Mudiay is Brandon Jennings. He is an interesting comparison because he too went abroad to play his post-high school season before coming to the NBA. The other two players that have been compared to Mudiay in the past were Chauncey Billups and Jrue Holiday. Both comparisons hold water for the most part. Let's see how each player's career path reflects on Mudiay:

Win Share totals for comparisons

Year Brandon Jennings Jrue Holiday Chauncey Billups Emmanuel Mudiay (est)
Second 3.9 5.7 2.3 3.97
Third 5.5 4.2 0.1 3.27
Fourth 5.8 3.3 3.7 4.27

These numbers make sense to me. A year after negative 2.1 win shares (!!!), Mudiay should be ready to improve a bit. He has a full season under his belt, and with the work he's put in over the summer with Chauncey himself and Team USA, I expect him to be right around the 4 win share mark.

That being said, I don't expect a full breakout until his fourth or fifth season.

This is because Mudiay started out so raw coming out of high school. Had he gone to college for a couple of years, he might break out in year 3 instead. That being said, as Brandon Jennings and Jrue Holiday have proven over the course of their careers, it's good to not plateau early.

I expect Mudiay to follow Billups' career path, who broke out in his fifth year in Minnesota. If we stay patient with Mudiay, then the same could occur after his rookie contract ends. Starting with Billups' fifth year, over the next ten years, he averaged 10.89 win shares per season. That number would have placed him 11th in the entire NBA in 2015-16.

With Mudiay, the rewards will be bountiful, but not over the next three years in all likelihood. Fans must exercise patience with him.

Nikola Jokic

Nobody really knew what to expect when Nikola Jokic stepped onto the Las Vegas Summer League floor last season, but by the time the 2015-16 season came to a close, everybody was talking about the young Serbian.

There are only five players in the history of the NBA to play over half the season in their rookie year at age 21 or under and post a .180 Win Shares/48 minutes.

  • Michael Jordan
  • Tim Duncan
  • Marques Johnson
  • Magic Johnson
  • Nikola Jokic
That's pretty dang cool.

The list I'm going to use to compare to Jokic is a little less daunting for him, but not by that much. Three players that consistently come up as statistical comparisons are Pau Gasol, Al Horford, and Danny Manning. Gasol and Horford are known, but Manning is a new one. He played in a time where the power forward was clearly an inside the arc player, but demonstrated some range as well.

Win Share totals for comparisons

Year Pau Gasol Al Horford Danny Manning Nikola Jokic (est)
Second 8.5 6.8 5.3 6.87
Third 8.1 10.9 5.2 8.07
Fourth 6.8 10.1 9.8 8.9

Wow. Still an incredibly high standard to set. That being said, Jokic's skill set makes it a real possibility. He's advanced enough as a player that he may not take much time before he reaches an elite level. He already posted 6.7 win shares last year.

A relatively similar year this season makes sense, and then a jump in the third season even more so. Teams will have the book on Jokic this year, and while he likely won't slump in his sophomore year, those who expect him to be a star immediately must pump the brakes a bit. He's still physically acclimating to the NBA, and that process will take place for at least one more year.

By his third season though, I see Jokic as the focal point of the team if he isn't already. Horford was an all-star by his third season while Gasol and Manning took five years to achieve that feat. With the Western Conference frontcourt still stacked, Jokic likely won't have a place for the next couple of years.

Still, the expectations are sky high for the Serbian sensation.

Jusuf Nurkic

Jusuf Nurkic is a very interesting case. He was pretty bad offensively this past season but he did continue to show his potential on the defensive end. There are two players who stick out immediately when thinking about Nurk: Marc Gasol and Shawn Bradley.

Gasol is the first guy because of the instincts and potential Nurk has shown to completely control the game. Also, Nurkic just shed 35 pounds, and there are many stories of Gasol shedding a boatload of weight early in his career as well. Bradley is the second because of his combination of low field goal percentage and high block rate on the other end. He's a guy that never really figured offense out, but was still a valuable piece for various teams defensively.

The final comparison is Ian Mahimni. He took awhile to figure things out, but he has (finally) become a quality starter with is excellent defensive work and improved offense.

Win Share totals for comparisons

Year Marc Gasol Shawn Bradley Ian Mahimni Jusuf Nurkic (est)
Third 7.9 3.0 1.8 4.23
Fourth 8.2 3.0 3.4 4.87
Fifth 11.5 2.9 2.3 5.57

Obviously, Marc Gasol is a high end comparison, but the averages look to be about in line with where most believe Nurk to be over the next few years. With all of the work that Nurkic has put into his game, and lots of expected minutes coming his way, 4.23 win shares this year is not out of the question.

For Bradley and Mahimni, both took awhile to get about the 6 win share mark. Bradley couldn't because of his lack of offense. Mahimni couldn't find a team that would give him extensive minutes until Indiana grabbed him. Nurkic will need to be more efficient offensively in order to make these projections a reality, and I'm excited to see what he brings to the table.

Gasol lost the weight and figured out how to put everything together as soon as he did. It's evident that Nurkic has the defensive skills to make it happen as well, and now he's lost the weight. Let's see what he can do next year.

Gary Harris

Lost in the music Nikola Jokic created was the renaissance season that Gary Harris had. After his first season, many (including me) wrote him off a bit and dulled the expectations on the rest of his career.

I compared him to Gerald Henderson in last year's iteration of this article, and that will be one comparison this year. The other two comparisons that will be made are Avery Bradley and Reggie Miller...wait, did he say Reggie Miller?

Yes I did. Here are their advanced stats lined up against each other:

Player PER True Shooting % Assist % Steal % Usage % WS/48
Player A 14.0 .588 10.2 1.4 18.6 .110
Player B 12.7 .566 9.5 2.0 16.5 .079

The first player is Reggie Miller in his age 22 season, the second player is Gary Harris in his age 21 season. They really aren't far off. Stylistically, they are slightly different, and Miller will always be more aggressive and full of attitude than Harris is, but skill wise, they are very equal at this point. That year, Miller shot 35.5% from beyond the arc. Harris shot 35.4%...on over 100 more attempts.

Win Share totals for comparisons

Year Gerald Henderson Avery Bradley Reggie Miller Gary Harris (est)
Third 1.0 0.4 12.1 4.5
Fourth 3.3 1.8 12.5 5.87
Fifth 3.6 2.5 11.0 5.7

Now, this prediction looks very funky for many reasons but the main one is the variance of the players involved. Each players compares favorably to Harris at such a young age and all three took different turns. Henderson is what it will look like if Harris struggles to develop his shooting. Bradley is what it will look like if he shoots well but can't increase his usage and take it to the next level before he sustains an injury.

Miller is what happens if he stays healthy, increases his usage, and continues to improve his outside shot in the process. That's a lot to ask for Harris, but with how aggressive his upward curve looks, it's not out of the question for him to improve to a 5 win share player this year. He was already at 4 win shares in 2015-16, and if the Nuggets continue to win, win shares can naturally go up. I have him at 4.5 as it is, but I can see that going up.

Gary Harris is a competitive guy and a fire was just lit under him through the addition of Jamal Murray and Malik Beasley at his position. If he wants to continue to prove he will not give up his starting spot, he's going to have to add something, which is great for his win share projection.

Jamal Murray

Obviously, with all rookies, the comparisons are pure conjecture. Yes, Murray made the second most threes among players in their freshman season, topped only by Stephen Curry, but I'm not going to compare Murray to Curry. That would be unfair to both players.

The three players I think of when I look at Jamal Murray are Brandon Roy, C.J. McCollum, and Eric Gordon. All three are score-first guards, and they have varying levels of ball skills to either control the offense or play specifically off ball.

Win Share totals for comparisons

Year Brandon Roy C.J. McCollum Eric Gordon Jamal Murray (est)
First 4.8 0.2 4.6 3.2 (2.5*)
Second 8.0 1.8 3.2 4.33
Third 13.5 6.0 5.3 8.27

These comparisons are perfect to fully encompass the possibilities for Murray. If he breaks out in a big way, Brandon Roy is a solid representation. If he's held back by a backcourt logjam, then McCollum looks like the correct career path. If he establishes his skill set early on, but his athleticism or injury issues hold him back, then Eric Gordon is the right estimation.

As it is, all three scenarios are just as likely, meaning an average of the three is the right estimation. 3.2 win shares in the first year is probably the best guess. Michael Malone said that he would get the opportunity to play right away, and even if he struggles a bit, he will likely have enough minutes to figure things out.

That being said, only seven rookies accumulated 3 win shares in 2015-16, and that was a great year. In 2014-15, two rookies made the cut, which is a much better representation. Murray will have to claw tooth and nail for those win shares, and the only reason I see him getting there is because Malone said he would get minutes.

Either way, the upward progression is steep. If he really is a star (nothing has proven to stop him yet), then that progression looks about right.

I'm going to knock this prediction down to 2.5 win shares because I don't see Murray getting the minutes personally.

Malik Beasley

Malik Beasley is going to be difficult to figure out and project accurately. At this point, he's not ready to crack the rotation. He may not be able to ever crack the rotation if all things go well. The ideal backcourt rotation may involve Mudiay-Harris with Murray-Beasley off the bench.

The fact of the matter is he's not going to play enough to make a huge difference unless there's an injury to the backcourt. We aren't in a position to project injury from our guys, so I'm going to compare Beasley to players that weren't able to really get off the bench in the first two years: J.R. Smith, Kent Bazemore, and ... Allan Houston.

Wait, Houston played early in his career! Well, he shouldn't have. He started his rookie year with a solid -1.2 win shares when he was already 22 years old.

Win Share totals for comparisons

Year J.R. Smith Kent Bazemore Allan Houston Malik Beasley (est)
First 0.2 0.1 -1.2 -0.3
Second 1.2 0.2 3.8 1.73
Third 3.7 1.6 7.1 4.13

This looks to be a good representation of Beasley's impact solely based on his time on the floor. Win shares are entirely dependent upon the minutes the specific player is on the court and how they effect the win, and if Beasley is riding the bench, he's not going to have a ton of impact.

Still, that shouldn't change Nuggets fans' perception of his ceiling. He's merely in a bad situation. If the starting shooting guard spot was open, he very well might claim it. That being said, with Gary Harris, Will Barton, and Jamal Murray expected to fill the minutes at the 2, it's hard to project him having a major impact.

His real impact starts in year 3, which just so happens to coincide with the conclusion of Will Barton's deal. Unless major moves are made to free up space, expect Beasley to ride the pine for awhile, even if he shows a lot of potential in his few minutes.

Juancho Hernangomez

One player that I have seen Juancho compared to is Kevin Love. Another that I will throw out there is Troy Murphy, a sweet shooting big man who was never afraid to get physical on the glass. The last player I will use as a comparison is Donyell Marshall. He's a forward who developed into a power forward, using his size effectively inside while growing his outside shot later in his career.

Win Share totals for comparisons

Year Kevin Love Troy Murphy Donyell Marshall Juancho, Juancho man (est)
First 5.3 1.4 0.3 2.33 (1.0*)
Second 4.9 6.4 1.3 4.2 (1.0*)
Third 11.4 1.3 1.3 4.67 (4.0*)

These numbers are probably a bit aggressive. Juancho isn't going to play enough to accumulate 2.3 win shares out of the gate unless someone else gets injured in which case their win share numbers go down. Can he get to 1.5 win shares in each of his first two years? I don't even know. With Faried and Arthur locked up for the next three years in front of him, it wouldn't surprise me if Juancho follows Donyell Marshall's career track.

As young as the Nuggets are, I would expect him to play at some point, but it would have to be at the expense of someone else, rather than adding to the total. I will say he adds 1.0 win shares this year and next year, then breaks out for 4.0 win shares the following season.

Joffrey Lauvergne

Joffrey Lauvergne is about to become the fifth big man in the rotation behind Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Jokic, and Nurkic. I expect him to improve a little, but that doesn't mean his win shares will go up. After posting 2.3 win shares last year as mostly the fourth big, 1.5 win shares sounds like a reasonable estimate.

Axel Toupane and JaKarr Sampson

Without going into too much detail, these two combined for nearly 800 minutes last season. I expect either one or both of these players to combine for about 500 minutes throughout the season. They will get about 0.5 win shares. I'm not worried about their contribution very much in the grand scheme of things.

***

Now, we will get into the veterans on the team and their potential contributions.

Danilo Gallinari

It's hard to project a player who has been affected by injury so much. That said, Gallo proved that 6 win shares is a reasonable estimate for him. He averaged 5.5 win shares over the six seasons he played in, and considering he's in a contract year, I will estimate that he hits 6 win shares this year. If he plays how he did last year over 70+ games, it will stretch over 8.

It's hard to tell if Gallo will be back over next year, but for now, I will assume the Nuggets will have 6.0 win shares over the next three years from the Rooster.

Kenneth Faried

I see a likely decline for Kenneth Faried in his win shares for the Nuggets over the next few years, but not this year. As a polarizing figure on this Nuggets team, like it or not, he's very effective. He fits well with the inefficiencies of Mudiay and Gallo from the field, and also is as strong of a pick and roll threat as we can ask for.

His 5.5 win shares are a good estimate for next year as well. I can't speak for beyond that, as he may be traded at some point, but for this season, Faried looks to be the guy to start at power forward. He will continue to earn minutes through his heart and hustle, and his offensive skills, while abnormal, are still skills that help the team win.

I see his final tally at 5.0 win shares because I think he averages the same or less minutes, and I think he transitions to a bench role or is traded mid season. I'm not even sure how it's going to work, but it's just a hunch.

Wilson Chandler

This is the most fun for me. Wilson Chandler needs to be back in a Nuggets uniform.

I don't know what to expect from Chandler. He's probably going to be healthy enough to make a sizable contribution, and when he's healthy, he gets 3 win shares.

Even with an injury and Will Barton stepping into a large bench role, I think Chandler will get about 2.5 win shares this year.

Will Barton

Here's where I see our only major regression. Barton needed the second most amount of minutes (2,353) on the team to accumulate 4.3 win shares. With Chandler returning, the addition of Jamal Murray, and the improvement of the young players, I expect Barton to regress.

He will still have a similar WS/48, meaning his overall effect on the game per minute should be similar, but with less minutes, I believe he will be at around 3 win shares, similar to Chandler. More importantly, I think the pair combines for 5.5 in shares, no matter who plays more.

Darrell Arthur

Fresh off of his new three year contract, Darrell Arthur is ready to provide defense, floor spacing, and veteran leadership to the Nuggets' bench. He likely won't play as much as Barton, Chandler, or Nurkic off the bench, and given the Nuggets' abundance of options at power forward, I wouldn't expect him to play too much.

With the Nuggets improving as a whole, I would expect about 2.0 win shares out of Darth. He will be more effective on a better bench than last year, count on that. That being said, minutes will limit his impact.

Jameer Nelson

Jammer Nelson had a bad year last year. I expect him to be better but not by that much. He only played in 39 games because of his injury and the emergence of D.J. Augustin. The same will hopefully be the case for Jamal Murray, whether Murray is good or not. He needs minutes, and Jameer is what is standing in his way.

Last season, Jameer had 0.5 win shares. This season, that number should be about the same.

Mike Miller

Lolz. And I love Magic Mike Miller.

***

Here are the final tallies on the win share totals.

Player 2016-17 Win Shares 2017-18 Win Shares 2018-19 Win Shares
Nikola Jokic 6.87 8.07 8.9
Danilo Gallinari 6.0 6.0 6.0
Kenneth Faried 5.0 5.0 5.0
Gary Harris 4.5 5.87 5.7
Jusuf Nurkic 4.23 4.87 5.57
Emmanuel Mudiay 3.97 3.27 4.27
Will Barton 3.0 2.5 0.0
Jamal Murray 2.5 4.33 8.27
Wilson Chandler 2.5 2.5 2.5
Darrell Arthur 2.0 2.0 1.0
Joffrey Lauvergne 1.5 0.0 0.0
Jameer Nelson 0.5 0.0 0.0
Axel Toupane 0.5 0.0 0.0
Mike Miller 0.0 0.0 0.0
Malik Beasley -0.3 1.73 4.13
Juancho Hernangomez 1.0* 1.0* 4.0
Total Win Shares 43.77 47.14 55.34


43 wins next season? Wow. Interesting.

I definitely see this as a possibility if Mudiay and Murray achieve their potential. This also requires a big jump from Nurkic, which may be unlikely as well. Everything else to me seems reasonable. If anything, I undersold Faried and Barton on their years.

Wherever the wins come from, depending on who performs well or not, I see the range for the Nuggets being 40-45 wins. On the low end, they toe the line at .500, showing the NBA that they are nearly in the playoff race. On the high end, they make the playoffs as a seven or eight seed, likely battling the Warriors or the Spurs in the playoffs.

If it's the Warriors, we are unlikely to win a game. If it's the Spurs...we may give them trouble.

My final win prediction based on these statistics: 42-40. Take that to the bank, Stiffs.

Beyond that, taking the next step up to 45-50 wins in the next season would be the best case for 2017-18. There are a ton of young contributors, and while I don't necessarily see every young guy on the roster by the end of that year, the main ones (Mudiay, Jokic, Murray, Harris, and Nurkic) should be major contributors to that squad.

If it all goes well, I see the Nuggets truly competing in 2018-19. What will the promotional videos look like then? The last one was about a fresh start. Hopefully that one will be about finally taking it all home.