A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

NBA Franchise Power Rankings – #28: Denver Nuggets

with 2 comments

Ty Lawson

(Image by Keith Allison via Flicker)

Previous rankings:

#30 – Charlotte Bobcats (+ introduction)

#29 – Phoenix Suns

#28 – Denver Nuggets

Total Trade Value Ranking: #29 (Feb. 2011 ranking –  #21)

Best assets: SF Danilo Gallinari (young, projects as legitimate to borderline starter), PG Ty Lawson (young, projects as legitimate to borderline starter), 2012 Den 1st, 2013 Den 1st, rights to RFA SG Aaron Afflalo (borderline starter), rights to RFA SF Wilson Chandler (borderline starter), C Timofey Mozgov (borderline starter), SF/PF Kenneth Faried (rookie, projects as bench player to borderline starter), SG Jordan Hamilton (rookie, projects as bench player to borderline starter)

Bad contracts: PF Al Harrington (4 years, 27.6 million), C Chris Anderson (3 years, 13.5 million)

Draft picks indebted/owed: NY owes Den NY 2014 1st unprotected, Den owns right to swap Den 1st with NY 1st in 2016

Other chips: PG Andre Miller (expiring)

Managerial grade: A-

Financial grade: B

Estimated record next year: Bottom 12

Overall synopsis: Doesn’t this seem like a low ranking for the Nuggets, who played some of the best basketball in the league after the Carmelo trade on the way to a 5th seed? It would be if that team had kept in tact. The problem is the Nuggets are no longer that team. Nene and Kenyon Martin, their starting frontcourt for years, as well as longtime 6th man sparkplug JR Smith, are now all UFAs and expected to sign elsewhere. Without Nene and Martin, the Nuggets interior defense and toughness goes from outstanding to weak, with Al Harrington, Timofey Mozgov, Chris Anderson and rookie Kenneth Faried taking their minutes. Dropping in defensive productivity inside and giving Al Harrington starting minutes are two sure roads to a falloff record.

They may not be done bleeding to free agency. Swingmen Aaron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler are both RFAs. Both are players you like as the cheapest contributers on a good team and not as the most expensive players on a bad one, similar to players like Trevor Ariza, Josh Childress, and Channing Frye recently. I believe there’s a risk Afflalo and Chandler end up neutral or negative value assets even if the Nuggets match offers for them. Noteably, the Nuggets drafting SG/SF Jordan Hamilton could signify an intent to let one of Afflalo or Chandler walk – their lineup makes most sense to me without Chandler, who like Gallinari is a natural SF and would likely be unhappy coming off the bench. The Ty LawsonRaymond Felton combination has also been split up, with Felton being traded for Andre Miller’s expiring contract and Hamilton – though Miller’s production should mean the Nuggets don’t lose much in that area next season.

So what’s left? A classic rebuilding team. The Lawson-Miller combination and Gallinari will headline the offense – Gallinari is my pick for Most Improved Player next season with the extra FGA he’ll receive. After the Carmelo trade, Gallinari had begun to show a diversified driving game compared to his Knicks days. His FT to FG ratio has also always been stunningly good. I could see Gallinari scoring 20 points a game next season and emerging as the man in Denver like his countryman Andrea Bargnani did in Toronto in Chris Bosh’s absence. But ultimately on the scale of best offensive players on teams, Gallinari and Lawson rank near the bottom – neither will consistently draw double teams to break defenses. If they’re your best offensive players, you’re likely in a tough spot and likely waiting to draft better players.

Because of the lack of real long term value pieces aside from Gallinari and Lawson, the Nuggets actually ranked 29th in my total trade value ranking only in front of Charlotte, and are a threat to fall to 30th if Charlotte’s lottery picks play well next season. The Nuggets had a good run after the Carmelo trade but will now face the tough reality of rebuilding after a star’s departure that Toronto and Cleveland have faced. They will face years of rebuilding to fill their lineup with starting or all-star caliber players again.

Management/Finances: I’m a fan of manager Masai Ujiri’s work so far, headlining by getting everything he could from the Knicks in the Carmelo Anthony trade and then getting two potential steals in the draft in Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton. Losing Nene to free agency hurts, but they might not have been anything he could do, it’s hard to keep unrestricted free agents in a less lavish market and in a rebuilding situation. The Nuggets franchise was willing to pay the luxury tax during the Carmelo trade, proving they have money, but will likely look to cut costs now. The Harrington contract was poor, but otherwise they are not in too dire of straits in that area even if they pay Afflalo and Chandler, due to Lawson and Gallinari remaining on cheap contracts for 3 and 2 more seasons respectively. George Karl is an excellent coach who could help them get to 30-40 Ws next year, whether it’s the right thing for the franchise or not. I can’t see him staying long before retiring, though. As a whole, the Nuggets have been a succesfuly run organization from the top which should bode well going forward.

Next season: The Nuggets will be one of the league’s lesser talented teams, but should play organized, smart passing basketball which is usually how teams overperform. Projected ORTG: 21st, projected DRTG: 17th. Projected record: 31-51

Projection: Flat to marginally upwards if Lawson and Gallinari play well and Faried and Hamilton prove as excellent picks in the 20s. If Charlotte’s lottery picks turn out well, Denver could spend some time at #30 on the Total Trade Value ranking chart. The Nuggets could use a high draft pick next year to reboot their franchise – in any case they’re just starting years of rebuilding to build up from this low position on the ladder.

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2 Responses

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  1. AGAINST! – WRONG ASSESMENT – RERANK

    joedoe

    July 25, 2011 at 3:51 pm

  2. you just watch how you´ll forever be the only one ranking Denvers 11/12 squad bottom three

    joedoe

    July 25, 2011 at 3:52 pm


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