Over the next month, Blazer's Edge will be rolling out season previews for all 30 NBA teams. Continuing this feature, we discuss the Denver Nuggets with Denver Stiffs staff writer Dontae Delgado. (Yesterday's preview: New Orleans Pelicans)
Denver Nuggets 2014-15 Season Preview
2013-14 Record: 36-46, No. 4 in Northwest Division, No. 11 in Western Conference
Roster additions: Arron Afflalo, Jerrelle Benimon (rookie, undrafted), Alonzo Gee, Erick Green, Gary Harris (rookie, No. 19), Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Jusuf Nurkic (rookie, No. 16), Marcus Williams
Roster subtractions: Aaron Brooks, Evan Fournier, Anthony Randolph, Jan Vesely
SB Nation affiliate: Denver Stiffs
Blazer's Edge: The Nuggets had a solid offense last year, but a look at their defensive stats shows they struggled on that end. What changes has Denver made, if any, to address any deficiencies on defense? Do you expect a better defensive output this year?
Dontae Delgado: Yes, the Nuggets should be better on the defensive end this year. Two things come to mind when you talk about defensive improvement: 1. Personnel changes. Hickson certainly won't be starting at center for 50 games, JaVale McGee returns, giving Denver another shot blocking presence at the rim, Arron Afflalo is a better defender than former starting shooting guard Randy Foye, and the bench has added solid rotation pieces in Alonzo Gee and rookie Gary Harris. 2. Head coach Brian Shaw has another year under his belt to adjust to this somewhat unique roster and has said all the right things about fitting his gameplan to the roster, unlike last season.
BE: How does Arron Afflalo fit into the Nuggets' offense and how will he work together with Ty Lawson in the backcourt?
DD: Afflalo can do much of the same things Randy Foye did for the Nuggets last season. He'll be in a lot of catch and shoot situations next to Ty Lawson, be given a good amount of ball handling responsibilities next to Foye and Nate Robinson, but his veteran leadership and poise are the freshest additions he will bring to this team. Afflalo is the classic "jack-of-all-trades, master of none" player that can help Lawson capitalize on his drives, utilize his speed off the ball, and create his own shot when needed. Denver does not have a lot of ball-handlers outside of its guards (Kenneth Faried's break-starting notwithstanding), so Denver will need his abilities there as well.
BE: With JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried starting in the frontcourt, do you expect them to take the next step as players? Neither player has reached his peak, right?
DD: I actually expect Mozgov to start the entire season due to his defense. McGee should have plenty of opportunity to prove he's not a bust, but I don't see McGee reaching the height we expect of him. McGee will be 27 in January and he's coming off a leg injury. I think what we've seen of him is what we're going to get at this point. Flashes, but nothing sustained.
Kenneth Faried is an interesting case, he's coming off a very good FIBA USA run, going into a contract year, and has the clear starting PF spot on the Nuggets. With that being said, I think he is what he is as well: a player taking full advantage of his physical gifts, but still under-developed to become a true star. That being said, I do expect him to improve the use of his left hand in the post, become a better defender in space, but he'll still suffer defending true 4s in the paint. His numbers will grow and he'll be a dark horse All-Star pick.
BE: Denver's second unit looks fairly balanced with a decent amount of talent -- how do you expect coach Brian Shaw to handle his rotation this season?
DD: I expect to see a lineup of Lawson, Afflalo, Gallo, Faried, and Mozgov to start. Expect minute restrictions on Robinson, Gallo, J.J. Hickson, and McGee as they return from leg injuries. Since Shaw has changed his tune about being a "dump it into the post first" team back to a running team, I expect his regular rotations to go 10 deep. Chandler, Foye, McGee, Robinson, and Gee should get regular minutes keeping everyone fresh. I don't see him going to a small-ball rotation as Shaw still has some reservations about going away from tradition, though I do think he will play Gallo and or Chandler at the 4 with a traditional center.
BE: A few weeks ago on Blazer's Edge, we had a discussion about the NBA's elite point guards, and Ty Lawson was hardly mentioned. Do you think he belongs in that conversation of upper echelon point guards? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
DD: I would say that there is Chris Paul, then the next crop of elite PGs that includes Curry, Lillard, Westbrook, Irving and more. After that is a PG group that are great, but have some obvious weaknesses, Lowry, Holiday, etc. Ty Lawson is included in that group. He is great at getting into the paint, his 3pt shooting has always been solid, he's a monster in transition, and he's grown at creating for others. His fast hands get him plenty of steals, but he's still undersized and struggles defending his positon on the ball often. It seems as if Lawson should be able to pull out a Chris Paul-like season, but we haven't seen it yet.
BE: Danilo Gallinari missed the entire 2013-14 season due to injury -- do you expect him to have a bounce-back year and be a big part of the Nuggets' offense? What are your best case, worst case and most likely scenarios for Gallinari this season?
DD: Best case scenario: He recovers better than expected, finally turning in a 20 ppg season with improved shooting numbers (he's been a low 40% FG shooter in his career) buoying the Denver offense in the half court, leading the Nuggets to the playoffs also.
Worst case: It takes him slower than expected to get 100% back in shape, he continues to struggle with his shot, converting 40% of his FGs, scoring around 11 ppg and sees his minutes slowly dwindle giving time to a career year from Wilson Chandler.
Most likely: I do expect him to start slow, but I think he will have a fairly solid season. Nothing great, but good enough, think 15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists per game on 43% shooting from the field, 38% shooting from 3.
Special thanks to Denver Stiffs staff writer Dontae Delgado for taking the time to discuss the Denver Nuggets' upcoming season with Blazer's Edge. Dontae can be found on twitter @InfomanTae. Denver Stiffs has you covered for Nuggets news and analysis.
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