I’ve been less than kind to George Karl this season. In spite of that, media voters decided that he was worth top honors and awarded him the 2012-13 Coach of the Year award. But all of a sudden, the Nuggets decided he wasn’t worth keeping around. Of course, I side with the Nuggets. Now, the Nuggets also let Masai Ujiri — who won this year’s executive of the year award — sign with Toronto. With the Nuggets front office in such chaos, should fans be ready for a nosedive back to mediocrity? No! Let’s go over why.
Good players trump all!
There is so much about “team chemistry” in our psyche that it’s easy to ignore a lot of evidence. But the idea that teamwork trumps star power just doesn’t bear out. Keep in mind that 6 of the last 7 champions were decided via airdropped help:
- Shaquille O’Neal in 2006 (arrived in 05)
- Kevin Garnett in 2008
- Pau Gasol in 2009 and 2010 (arrived in 2008)
- Tyson Chandler in 2011
- LeBron James in 2012 (arrived in 2011)
Good players arrived and very quickly turned their team around. No team wins lots of games without several very good players. The Nuggets won 57 games this season. Now, some of this is thanks to their unfair home court advantage (thanks altitude!). But a lot of this is due to good players. Losing Masai may hurt the Nuggets in the long run in the front office can’t get good players. That said, next season without Masai and Karl, how do the Nuggets look?
State of the Nuggets
As I said, good teams win because they have good players. Last season, the Nuggets had the following players:
- Kenneth Faried – 11 wins
- Andre Iguodala – 10 wins
- Kosta Koufos – 7 wins
- Andre Miller – 6 wins
- Ty Lawson – 6 wins
- Danilo Gallinari – 6 wins
- JaVale McGee – 5 wins
Of the Nuggets 57 wins, these 7 players accounted for 51 of them! Now, let’s review the state of these players (and a few others) to see why I’m still optimistic about the Nuggets.
Let’s start pessimistically! First, Andre Iguodala has an opt-out clause in his contract. As I’ve mentioned before, he alone pretty much explains the Nuggets’ improvements this season. Additionally, Danilo Gallinari is out with an injury until at least midseason next year. And predicting how players (including Gallo) come back from injuries is really tough. Let’s also not forget that Andre Miller is ancient. I hope he keeps going, but it’s always a risk. That is roughly 20 wins that the Nuggets may lose out on! Still, there’s room for hope.
Corey Brewer is gone!
In his six seasons in the league, Corey Brewer has maintained a True Shooting Percentage of 0.489. For comparison, the average shooting guard has a True Shooting Percentage of 0.537! The “break even” point for shooting from beyond the arc is 33%. Corey Brewer wasn’t even close to this in his time in Denver. In spite of this, Brewer took over 10 shots a game and almost 4 three pointers! For some reason George Karl thought Brewer was a scorer, when all evidence pointed to the exact opposite. In his over 2000 minutes on the court last season, Brewer managed to earn a mere 0.7 wins. Or more accurately, Brewer cost the Nuggets almost 4 wins had they played an average player instead. Luckily, Brewer’s contract has expired. It’s highly unlikely the Nuggets replace Brewer with someone anywhere close to as bad!
Maybe Wilson Chandler can play
Now, don’t get me wrong. Wilson Chandler has no business playing as a power forward or a center. Only an insane and crazy coach would do such a thing. However, towards the end of last season Chandler was shooting well and getting rebounds. If he can indeed play well as a small forward, shoot from the outside, and stay healthy? He might help alleviate the loss of Gallinari. I’m not overly optimistic on this one. However, he’s still young and has had injury problems. So it’s not impossible.
Return of the Lawson?
I was really high on Lawson to start the season. His contract extension was a steal. He was at the perfect age for a breakout season! And then….he was mediocre. Yes, he did help the team win, but compared to his great performance in 2012, this year was a dud. Let’s bring up another player I’m “fond” of. I bashed Westbrook pretty good before this season, in large part due to a mediocre 2012. Now, while Westbrook will likely never be an MVP candidate, he has been very good in the past. This season he returned to that. So, I’m hopeful Lawson can show numbers more like his old self. If he does, that could be between 4-6 wins the Nuggets could get back.
The Nuggets have a really good front court
Raise your hand if your team has LeBron James. If you do, I’ll give you a pass that says you don’t need one or more top bigs. Otherwise, ignore all that small ball nonsense and remember that basketball is a game entirely built to reward tall talented players. The Nuggets are in good shape here.
They have Kosta Koufos and JaVale McGee. Both of these players are 7 feet tall and well above average. Additionally, they have one of the best power forwards in the league in Kenneth Faried. Having three talented bigs is a situation most teams would kill for. Let’s examine the facts though:
- Kenneth Faried – 28 minutes per game
- Kosta Koufos – 22 minutes per game
- JaVale McGee – 18 minutes per game
Are you kidding me? If the next coach can find a way to give this trio 15 more minutes a game between all three of them, the Nuggets would gain 5 wins! If he plays two of them starters minutes, and the third one 24 minutes? That would be worth 10 wins!
Still in good shape
The Nuggets are one of only two teams to have made the playoffs every season since 2004 (the other is the Spurs). They’ve done this by having good — often underrated — players. And their current situation leaves them here. If Iguodala comes back and the Nuggets replace Brewer with a player that can actually shoot, they can be really good. Even if the lose Iguodala, simply playing their bigs more and Lawson playing like his old self will keep them a really good team. In the NBA, good teams require good good players, and for now, the Nuggets still have those.