Nov 7, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (35) talks with center JaVale McGee (34) during the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 109-107. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Were the Nuggets built to win before the injuries?

Ok, so the Denver Nuggets have fallen on hard times. But getting blasted by the Indiana Pacers because of a depleted lineup could happen to a lot of teams. It’s not like we just got beat by nearly 20 against a team like the Detroit Pistons or something. Right?

Nonetheless, the Nuggets appeared to be a patchwork team before the season started and the basketball gods have decided to test our resolve even further with a rash of injuries. It was a blow that we were ill-equipped to absorb and it will most likely cost us the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

This doesn’t mean that my nighttime plans won’t still revolve around the team. I would rather root for a struggling team with players like Lawson, Faried and Mozgov than a LeBron-led bunch of whiners that cry to the refs when things don’t go exactly their way. But I digress.

Anyway, our Denver Nuggets this year are also likely to be our Denver Nuggets next year, just a healthier version. Only Jordan Hamilton will not be under contract next season.

Nate Robinson and Darrell Arthur do have player options, but Nate has already said he plans to be back and Arthur probably isn’t going to see a huge market for his services.

That leaves Andre Miller, who’s time is already numbered, but we won’t get into that.

Now, before the injuries our starting lineup was supposed to look something like this:
Ty Lawson
Randy Foye
Danilo Gallinari (after rehab)
Kenneth Faried (instead of JJ Hickson, but the two are interchangeable)
JaVale McGee

That makes our second team look like this:
Nate Robinson
Evan Fournier
Wilson Chandler
J.J. Hickson
Timofey Mozgoz

As far as the starters go, could this lineup be competitive in the playoffs and run the inside-out style of offense coach Bryan Shaw was advocating? I think they could. Lawson is a driving machine and both Foye and Gallo have shown the ability to get past their defenders. Ty’s outside shooting can keep a defense honest and Gallo and Foye are legitimate threats from beyond the arc. This would leave McGee and Faried on the inside doing the dirty work and cleaning up the glass, something that Faried excels at.

The only wildcard in this lineup is McGee, who hasn’t had a full season going up against No. 1 bigs. But he was working on his low post moves with Hakeem Olajuwan in the offseason and reportedly making good progress. Could McGee go toe-to-toe with Roy Hibbert? Probably not, but not many can. At the very least he would be a much better option than an undersized Hickson. Plus, McGee’s athleticism could tire out some opposing centers and keep them from posting double-doubles against us on a nightly basis.

Looking at our second team, they pretty much mirror the starters for the inside-out scheme. I am not saying that there is not a talent drop, but Robinson, Fournier and Chandler can all drive and shoot just like Lawson, Gallo and Foye. Then you have Mozgov and Hickson playing the same roles as McGee and Faried – rebound and protect the rim.

Unfortunately we never got to see these lineups. Coach Shaw was finally forced to abandon the inside-out scheme when the news that Gallo would be out for the season finally hit the wire. Combined with the quiet observation that McGee is out for the year as well, and the Nuggets no longer had any reason to play a scheme that would help them in the playoffs. Especially when they wouldn’t have the personnel to pull it off even if they got there.

Shaw therefore scrapped the half-court game and shifted to the old reliable  – running and gunning at altitude. I am sure it was a tough decision, even though he had no choice.

So what would a healthy Nuggets team look like this season?

If these two lineups were given the opportunity to play together, we may have found out that they were quite capable of running the inside-out offense that uses the regular season to fine tune itself for a playoff run. A roster with Lawson and Robinson running the point, Foye and Fournier shooting the three, Gallo and Chandler stretching the floor and power forwards and centers capable of clearing the glass would have been a tough out in the postseason.

I would have liked to see those lineups in action. A team with Lawson and Gallo combining for 40 a night, Chandler entering the conversation for 6th Man of the Year and McGee leading the league in blocks would have made for a great season.

Unfortunately, sports often has us hoping for the best and bracing for the present. But hope springs eternal and there is always next year.

But in the meantime, we got a game tonight!

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