Blazersedge staff writer Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. All team previews can be found right here.
2012-2013 record: 57-25, No. 2 in Northwest Division, No. 3 in Western Conference
Roster additions: Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye, J.J. Hickson, Nate Robinson
Roster subtractions: Corey Brewer, Andre Iguodala, Kosta Koufos, Julyan Stone
Well, that was an interesting 2013 offseason for the Denver Nuggets.
Coach of the Year George Karl was let go, Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri took the GM job in Toronto and Andrew Iguodala, Corey Brewer and Kosta Koufos - three of Denver's most capable defenders - packed up and left town in free agency.
How did the Denver front office respond to so much turnover? They hired first-year coach Brian Shaw and 36-year-old GM Tim Connelly from an assistant position in New Orleans. Connelly replaced the defensive-minded players lost in free agency with a group of guys who aren't exactly know for their defense in Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye, J.J. Hickson and Nate Robinson.
The cupboards weren't left bare for Shaw, but he's going to have a tough time replicating the success of the 57-win team from last year. A season ago under Karl, the Nuggets were No. 1 in the league in scoring, fast break points and points in the paint. The free agency losses wouldn't be difficult to weather on the offensive end in Karl's system, but Shaw plans on switching over to a half court offense, which will undoubtedly bring their scoring numbers down.
Point guard Ty Lawson will be the team's clear-cut, No. 1 option on offense and has an opportunity to increase his output for the fourth straight season. He can penetrate and either finish or kick it out pretty well, but his outside shooting has gone down the past two seasons to about average for the position. If he can pull his three-point percentage back up to around the 40 percent he had his first two years in the league, it will open things up a lot for Denver, as they play much better when he's hitting from outside.
Power forward Kenneth Faried is one of the best rebounders in the league, and he's also a talented interior scorer. He struggles with his defense, but has a ton of energy and could develop into at least average on that end with some work. Still, he hasn't been very good defensively in his first two seasons and he'll be relied upon for some heavy minutes down low.
Backup big man Hickson was a bit of a puzzling offseason acquisition, as he largely replicates Faried's strengths and is even worse on defense. He's good for a spark and hustle on the glass, but it should say something that he only played 29 minutes a game last year for a Portland team that had almost no depth to speak of. Considering how many boards Hickson pulled down in those 29 minutes, Blazers coach Terry Stotts' unwillingness to play him extended minutes speaks to just how bad the undersized center's defense was.
Shaw is handing over the starting center position to sixth-year man JaVale McGee, known just as much for his tendency to make boneheaded mistakes as he is to make the highlight reel. He finishes well inside, but doesn't attempt many shots, nor does he rebound very well at all for a player his size. His one bankable defensive skill is his shot-blocking, but he was only able to garner 18.1 minutes a game last year. If McGee can keep his head screwed on straight for long enough, his shot-blocking numbers could skyrocket due to the minutes he'll get. If he can't stay focused for long stretches, he and Faried may be one of the worst-defending starting front courts in the NBA.
There is some decent three-point shooting on the wings with Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Evan Fournier, Nate Robinson and Foye, but none has consistently hit at 40 percent for his career. Shaw is hoping someone will step up, and Chandler may be the guy to keep an eye on because Gallinari, who starts ahead of him at small forward, will probably be out until at least the end of the calendar year, leaving plenty of early-season opportunity for Chandler to establish himself.
Backup point guard Andre Miller, an abysmal outside shooter and defender, will command the second unit. He's a crafty passer with deceptive ability to finish near the hoop. His jump shot is pretty bad, but as a veteran presence, facilitator and drive-and-kick initiator, he can get the job done off the bench. Mozgov, the backup center, has fans excited but is yet to perform consistently for long stretches.
From top-to-bottom, the Nuggets don't have a ton of drop off. The only issue is that their "top" might not be that high. Lawson is easily the team's best individual option, but he'll need to get that jumper ironed out if he wants the Nuggets to maintain their offensive dominance.
A lot would have to go right on both sides of the ball for Denver to again be a top team out West. There's probably not enough top-level talent for them to finish the season near the top of the Northwest Division again, but the Nuggets do have an interesting array of capable role-players surrounding Lawson. If everything goes right, they'll be scary. If things don't click for Shaw and this young squad, though, they might finish the season outside of the playoffs. Most likely, the Nuggets will find themselves in the middle-tier of the Western Conference, chasing down the seventh or eighth seed with several other decent-but-not-great teams.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter