Season Preview: Denver Nuggets

It seems that recency bias has its claws deep into most predictions of how the Nuggets will fare in the upcoming season. Recency bias is the tendency to anchor predictions to the most recent results – in this case the most recent result available is the 57-25 record Denver managed last season before being unceremoniously dispatched in the first round by Stephen Curry and the sweet-shooting Golden State Warriors. Last year’s record makes it hard to figure that the team could lose too many games.

Unfortunately for the Nuggets, the team that remains after a tumultuous offseason isn’t likely to make the playoffs, much less be a fringe contender like last season.

In the long run the biggest loss may be GM Masai Ujiri, who bolted for Toronto. Ujiri had turned Carmelo Anthony into several solid players and obtained Andre Iguodala as part of the Dwight Howard trade. These moves softened the blow of losing Anthony and had the Nuggets in respectable position for a largely starless team. Head coach George Karl was let go as well in spite of the success his high octane style had seen with the new roster Ujiri assembled. In his place rookie head coach Brian Shaw will take the reins.

As for the actual roster, the offseason couldn’t have taken a greater toll. Iguodala left for the Warriors, solid center Kosta Koufos was traded to the Grizzlies for Darrell Arthur, and Corey Brewer was lost to the T’Wolves. In their place luminaries such as Randy Foye and J.J. Hickson were brought in. When they take the floor on opening night, the team will be very different, and almost every move represents a downgrade.

To add to the diminished talent on the roster, Danilo Gallinari will likely miss a large portion of the season. Since he is the arguably the second best player remaining on the roster (the other candidate is Kenneth Faried), things could get very rough.

That brings us to the best player left on the team – Ty Lawson. Lawson is very good pushing the pace on offense; basically, he is very good running Karl’s offense. Last season with Lawson at the helm the Nuggets managed to sport the 5th ranked offense while darting up and down the floor. It will be interesting to see what Shaw, a protege of Phil Jackson, decides to do with Lawson and the offense in general.

Defense may be an even greater struggle. Losing Iguodala and his sound passing, cutting, and finishing may be a nuisance on offense, but it will be down right brutal on defense, where he could be counted on to disrupt elite perimeter talent night in and night out. The loss of Koufos will also be a blow. He is a solid position defender, rim protector, and rebounder. In his place wild card JaVale McGee will likely start, and backup center will be manned by a combination of Timofey Mozgov and one of the pack of power forwards on the roster. None of this bodes well for a defense that finished a solid 11th last season, and Shaw will have to work very hard to keep the team respectable on this end.

All in all it won’t matter. Denver has hemorrhaged talent in the last few months, both on the court and off it, and Lawson and Faried will be stuck trying to drag a depleted roster featuring veteran re-treads, headcases, and unproven young players back to the playoffs. That’s just not going to happen unless something very strange happens, and Nuggets fans may need to redirect their sights from the playoffs to the lottery. Fortunately for them, this season that may be a very nice place to be.
Predicted Finish: 30-52 | 5th place in Northwest Division | 13th place in Western Conference