2011-12 result: 38-28, 2nd in Northwest Division
Key Departures: Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington
Key Acquisitions: Andre Iguodala
Outlook: Many in the basketball community consider the Denver Nuggets just outside the top-four teams in the Western Conference. In acquiring Andre Iguodala this off-season for Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington, prognosticators feel they’ve made a significant step towards legitimacy in the increasingly difficult conference. Sadly, I’m not so certain. The franchise has undergone too much turnover these last few years for Denver to be anything more than a fun, energetic, and fast team. But a legitimate threat to crack the top-four out West? That’s a long-shot.
When Brazilian big man, Nene, was moved in a trade-deadline deal for Washington’s JaVale McGee last year, the Nuggets’ house of cards began tumbling to the ground. McGee is a potential star, many say. Unfortunately, those people are mistaken. If McGee has a standout season, the Nuggets have a chance to make some noise. But with McGee turning 25 this year the chances of that happening are slim-to-none. And without a steady presence inside to lean on, the Nuggets are going to be hard-pressed throwing a scare into anyone.
In addition to the loss of Nene, Denver gave up one the most elite shooters in the game today in Afflalo. In exchange for Afflalo’s services, Denver acquired 76ers’ defensive-stopper, Andre Iguodala. Coming off a gold medal with Team USA in London this summer, Iguodala is primed to have his career rejuvenated in a new city. He’s an amazing player that does everything on the floor incredibly well. The organization has just failed to build a competitive team around him. There has been too much turnover, too much chaos, and too little steady leadership out of Denver.
The Nuggets will play their hearts out every night, this much we know for certain. They just won’t put a legitimate scare into anyone of record. Whether or not they make the playoffs, I do not know. I do however know they will be up-tempo, high-energy, and extremely young. Kenneth Faried’s rookie season was amazing by any standard. But considering his relative size, it was absolutely outrageous. Coming off a runner-up finish in the Rookie-of-the-Year voting, the Nuggets will lean on the youngster for energy, hustle, and intensity. Faried will drive the Nuggets pace’ at both ends of the floor with the quickest guard in the league, Ty Lawson, running the show. Lawson’s deft-shooting and dribble-drives will open lanes for Andre Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari to run roughshod. Denver will also rely greatly on sophomore Jordan Hamilton. The shooting guard out of Texas is looking for a breakout season after being used sparingly his rookie year.
What’s this team’s ceiling? That’s hard to tell. The Nuggets could be really, really good. If everything breaks their way, a playoff berth is very possible. But with all of the new faces, JaVale McGee’s frighteningly erratic play, and their incredible youth, I don’t see Denver making the playoffs. The Western Conference is too tough, too improved, and too deep. And with a roster containing very little upside, owner Stan Kroenke is going to have to make some tough decisions in the coming year.