The Denver Nuggets (38-28) started the season as one of the hottest teams in the League and they finished it even hotter.
They also dealt with injuries, mid-season changes and a lockout-shortened season.
Rudy Fernandez (missed 35 games), Danilo Gallinari (23), Timofey Mozgov (22) and Wilson Chandler (13) all missed time throughout this season. Denver also dealt Nene and his bloated contract for the young, slightly eccentric big man JaVale McGee. But this young Nuggets squad powered through and forced a Game 7 against the Los Angeles Lakers, which is much more than anybody expected out of Denver.
Starting shooting guard
2012 statistics: 15.2 points, 2.4 assists, .398 3-point shooter
- After receiving a hefty contract ($36.75 for 5 years), Afflalo started the season out of shape. He struggled with his shot early and his defense was just as bad. However, Afflalo recovered his jumper and was arguably the best shooting guard in the Western Conference down the stretch. He averaged 18.7 points on .521 shooting during the month of April and finished the regular season averaging a career-best 15.2 points. He did struggled in the playoffs which is a little worrisome, but he was also playing across from Kobe Bryant. Offensively, Afflalo has a number of ways of putting the ball in the basket. If left open he can drill the trey, he also can drive to the basket and pull up with a jumper in the lane. He is also very good moving off the ball. Defensively, it seemed Afflalo dropped off a bit this season. For much of the season the Nuggets went with Danilo Gallinari to defend the top opposing perimeter players. If Afflalo, who will turn 27 before next season, should continue to grow as a leader on the team.
Reserve big man
5.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks
- Andersen had a season to forget. He obviously lost a step and couldn’t impact the game like he could in the past. He also found himself in a competition with other, bigger and better big man. Due to that, his role was never established. He’d find himself coming off the bench some games, not playing other games and he even started a game. But his energy was obviously lacking and his athleticism took a major drop of. He was a DNP-CD during the Nuggets final 17 games and was obviously not happy about it. And of course, his season ended with law enforcement offers investigating his house. He is not coming back and will likely be victim of the amnesty clause.
- Brewer was considered nothing more than a throw-in in part of the Rudy Fernandez-trade, but he has proven to be more than that. Brewer is one of the quickest wings in the NBA, which makes him perfect for the Nuggets’ fast-breaking team. But it is his energy and competitive-fire which makes him valuable off the bench. He also has been a force on defense, pestering opposing guards the length of the court. Brewer still struggles with his jump shot, but when he does hit his jumper Denver is tough to beat. He has established his role off the bench and should be a big part of the Nuggets squad next season.
- It’s hard to evaluate Chandler’s season, mainly because it was only eight games before he went down with a season-ending injury. And when Chandler played he was still trying to shake off the rust. Last season, he was a valuable player off the bench and his versatility was huge as he stepped in and started at power forward, small forward and shooting guard. However, Denver has a few versatile players on their team, which makes Chandler replaceable. The Nuggets could easily turn Chandler and get a higher pick in this draft or even move Chandler for a shooter. Or they could hold on to him and see how he fits in this ever-changing puzzle.
- Faried probably had the craziest rookie year. He didn’t play in 20 of his first 26 games, but he ended up starting 39 and averaging 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds and being a big part of the reason why the Nuggets made the playoffs. There were fears that Faried would struggle with foul trouble and on the offensive side of the ball, but he has a knack for the ball and shot .586 from the field and only averaged 2.5 fouls a game. He did struggle with power forward’s that could shoot the ball and his size was a disadvantage at times. But his speed, hustle and heart was matched by few in the NBA. He also brought an extra energy in the fourth quarter, while most other players start to fade. Faried is a game-changer and has a bright future ahead in the NBA.
- Fernandez was suppose to provide Denver with a spark off the bench and be the Nuggets the shooter that they were missing. However, Fernandez missed 35 games due to back problems and even before that his shot wasn’t what Denver had hoped. When he played he was a spark off the bench. He made timely plays and was an extra ball handler on the floor. But with Jordan Hamilton developing, the Nuggets don’t need to go crazy to bring back Fernandez.
- Gallinari proved at the start of the season he can be a nice piece of the Nuggets foundation. He was having a career year, scoring 20 points a contest was a norm up until he fractured his foot in January. After that it was a checkered season for Gallo. He would battle through the foot injury and then a broken thumb before returning to the Nuggets starting lineup for Denver’s final 10 regular-season games. He wasn’t stellar by any means, but he was solid. Despite the injuries, Gallinari improved his all-around game. He stepped up on defense and has developed a wide variety of offensive moves. He can beat most defenders off the drive and has a knack for drawing fouls. If he can stay healthy, he could be something special.
- Hamilton received the rookie treatment and only played in 26 games this season. But when he played he was an exciting player to watch, with a very bright future. More than anything he might be the shooter the Nuggets need. Hamilton scored in double-figures in four games, including a career-best 18 points against the Los Angeles Clippers. He also hit 4 of 5 treys in the game. It’s hard to see Hamilton not breaking into the rotation next season, he may be the Nuggets best shooter and at 6-foot-9 he is a matchup problem for other guards. He even has the potential to push his way into the starting lineup.
- In his first season with the Nuggets, Harrington came in out of shape and frequently found himself in the doghouse. He was later benched down the stretch. Harrington came into the 2011-12 season in better shape and with a better state of mind. He was Denver’s best player over the first month, hitting big shots and playing tough defensively. Much like Gallo, Harrington started to deal with injuries as the season went on. He had a torn meniscus at the end of the regular season and then suffered a broken nose in the playoffs. Harrington still managed to score 14.2 points and pull down 6.1 rebounds a game. He is one of the better bench players in the NBA, with a contract that is only partially guaranteed after next season. Denver could try and move him, but considering he is a favorite of George Karl’s it isn’t likely he’ll be traded.
- Koufos was the big unknown before the season started and after 66 games he still is kind of a big unknown. Koufos did start 26 games for the Nuggets, including two playoff games. When he played, Koufos showed nice touch near the basket and was a force on the glass. He averaged career bests all across the board and had three double-doubles in the season. Denver did sign him to a 3-year extension at the start of the season and hopefully with more playing time Koufos will be more aggressive on offense.
- In his first season as the Nuggets starting point guard Lawson was everything the team wanted him to be. He pushed the pace and played his best when it counted. Lawson scored 32 points in Game 6 and led the Nuggets with 24 in Game 7. He had career bests in nearly every category and even though he attempted four more shots a game, he still shot .488 from the field. It would be great to see him be more aggressive and draw more fouls, but he has shown an ability to make the defense pay for leaving him open with his reliable jump shot. No doubt, Lawson is part of the long-term goal with the Nuggets and Denver is working to sign him to an extension in the off-season.
- There is no player in the NBA that has as many highlights and lowlights as McGee. McGee came to Denver with a checkered past, but has been a pleasant surprise. He had a breakout of sorts in Games 3 (16 points and 15 rebounds) and Game 5 (21 and 14). However, outside of those two games, McGee really struggled offensively in the playoffs – hitting only 6 of 29 shots – mostly because he can’t create his own shot. Defensively is where McGee has been irreplaceable. He has shown potential at being a defensive enforcer making many players change their shot in the lane. McGee is a restricted free agent and so the Nuggets will most likely re-sign the big man. The only catch is what is the going rate for a 24-year-old center with a 7-foot-6 wingspan?
- After being traded from Portland, Miller was reluctant at first to take the backup role behind Lawson. But as time went along he was a valuable component with the Nuggets. He offered veteran savvy off the bench and gave the Nuggets a bit of toughness. His leadership was valuable in the playoffs and very few teams could go to their bench and have a guy like Miller. He did have his off nights where he couldn’t back defenders into the post or his shot wasn’t dropping. But he had a very good playoff series, which should help him land a starting job with another team. If there aren’t any options the Nuggets would gladly bring back the unrestricted free agent.
- Mozgov was a disappointment for most of his first full season with the Nuggets. He was reluctant to shoot ball and also struggled with his confidence and injuries. Down the stretch of the season he found himself on the bench, as Koufos and McGee took the majority of the minutes at the center position. Thankfully (for Mozgov and the Nuggets sake), the 7-foot-1 Russian does a good job defending Andrew Bynum. His play in the postseason nearly saved his poor performance in the regular season. Despite playing in 44 games, starting 35, Mozgov only scored in double-figures four times – the last time coming on Feb. 29 against Portland. The Nuggets very much love having three 7-footers, but if they feel McGee is ready to take the majority of the minutes they might be willing to deal Mozgov.
- It’s easy to forget about Stone at the end of the Nuggets bench, because he really didn’t see quality minutes. He did start two games – which were both losses. From what we have seen from Stone, he has great size (6-6) for the point guard position which makes him tough defensively. He doesn’t have much of a jump shot and really isn’t a playmaker. He does have a quick first step and can see the floor well. Playing in the Summer League will be huge for his development, but can the Nuggets really count on him as Lawson’s sole backup if Miller leaves?
Topics: Al Harrington, Andre Miller, Arron Afflalo, Chris Andersen, Corey Brewer, Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets, JaVale McGee, Jordan Hamilton, Kenneth Faried, Kosta Koufos, Los Angeles Lakers, Nene, Oklahoma City Thunder, Raymond Felton, Rudy Fernandez, Timofey Mozgov, Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler