Studs and Duds from Denver Nuggets' First Slate of Games
It makes sense that the Denver Nuggets have gotten off to a slow start this season. There's a new head coach, two of their best players are out with injuries and everyone is getting used to each other.
But beginning the year 1-3 isn't what Brian Shaw had in mind. The Nuggets' half-court offense is incredibly inconsistent, the defense is questionable at best in all areas and they are committing way too many turnovers.
It's quite the process since Shaw is trying just about every imaginable lineup combination. Still, Shaw needs to figure out who fits best in his system going forward.
Considering the Nuggets' rocky moments in the early going, there are several players who have underperformed significantly. However, others have picked up where they left off last season and some have even improved from a season ago.
Stud: Ty Lawson
Despite Denver's rough start, Ty Lawson has primarily been responsible for giving the Nuggets at least a chance to win in the fourth quarter.
Through four contests, Lawson's averages of 21 points and 7.5 assists are already better than his averages of 16.7 points and 6.9 assists from last season. Granted it's a small sample size and he will pick up some extra points without Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler in the lineup, but it's a good sign that Lawson is flourishing in the early going.
When Denver's half-court offense hits a wall and opponents begin to make a run, Lawson's aggressiveness has been the one thing the Nuggets can count on.
When the Nuggets started slipping in the second quarter against the Sacramento Kings, Lawson scored six points and grabbed three rebounds in the final two-and-a-half minutes to lead Denver's charge to tie the game.
When Denver trailed the Atlanta Hawks, 98-92, with under six minutes remaining, Lawson broke down Jeff Teague off the dribble with an up-and-under move that started another Nuggets' comeback. Lawson had a hand in 13 of the Nuggets' final 17 points, including a banked three-pointer.
So, while there have been a lot of ugly moments for the Nuggets so far, Lawson is certainly the franchise's MVP to start the season.
Dud: JaVale McGee
While JaVale McGee had a decent outing against the Hawks, his performance overall through four games has been far from stellar.
We knew Shaw was going to try a lot of different lineups and rotations to start the season, but I don't think many people were expecting McGee to average fewer minutes than Timofey Mozgov through the first four games. McGee's average of 16.8 minutes is fewer than Mozgov's 20 minutes and his 18.1 minutes from last season.
McGee's curtailed minutes are a result of him making mistakes on both ends of the floor.
Defensively, he can't guard away from the basket, especially in the pick-and-roll. He continues to let guards go around or underneath him despite having some great blocks at times.
Offensively, most of McGee's points have come on dunks and by jumping over the defense. He's struggling in the post and hasn't been able to hit the mid-range jumper.
It all adds up to McGee's averaging 8.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.75 blocks. According to Jeff Caplan of NBA.com, McGee wants to average a double-double and have between two and three blocks per game.
While McGee's minutes will likely increase as Denver finds a more settled rotation, he's far from achieving his goal right now. The points can happen, but his determination on the glass and boxing out opponents have to improve.
Denver's project with McGee is still in the beginning stages.
Stud: Kenneth Faried
Kenneth Faried had somewhat of a slow start in the season opener, but that's understandable since head coach Brian Shaw limited his minutes with Faried coming off a hamstring injury. Since the Denver's game against Sacramento, however, The Manimal has reminded us why he's one of Denver's greatest assets.
Averaging 23.5 minutes, Faried has scored 8.8 points and pulled down a solid 8.3 rebounds per game. But more importantly, 3.5 of those boards have been on the offensive end.
Faried has been the energy boost and ferocious rebounder the Nuggets need him to be. His ability to create opportunities for second-chance points has kept Denver in games and helped overshadow its deficiencies.
Take a look at Denver's matchup against San Antonio. The Nuggets had let their lead disappear in the second quarter to make it a tie game when Faried checked in. Faried led the Nuggets on a 12-0 run, scoring six of those points and forcing a steal that led to a transition dunk to bring the crowd back into the game.
Faried still has a ways to go as far as his defense and half-court post game are concerned, but his athleticism in making plays is an important element for the Nuggets. The Manimal's efforts can turn a bad play into a good one, and his teammates feed off of his motor.
Dud: J.J. Hickson
J.J. Hickson has been doing a fine job on the glass, but his turnovers, poor shooting and weak defense are causes for concern.
Hickson had a solid opener with 12 points, nine rebounds and four blocks against the Kings, but after his off-shooting night against his former team, the Portland Trail Blazers, Hickson started coming off the bench.
His struggles have continued.
Hickson's averages through four games read six points and 8.3 rebounds, but what's more troubling is his 34.4 percent shooting from the floor and 2.25 turnovers per game.
To be fair, Hickson has made plays at times, such as his steal and dunk against the Hawks in the first quarter, but he's out of sync on offense and isn't converting in the paint or from the elbow. He also hasn't defended well and it shows with his minus-24 in minutes played.
It comes down to chemistry and getting higher-quality shots.
Unless it's been in transition, Hickson has gotten few clean looks at the basket. He was aggressive out of the gate against the Trail Blazers, but he was also out of control at times and spent a lot of his energy trying to posterize defenders.
Granted, that won't happen very often, but the sooner Hickson becomes more comfortable in Shaw's system, the sooner the Nuggets can get things going inside.
Stud: Timofey Mozgov
In terms of expectations, Timofey Mozgov has been the most pleasant surprise for the Nuggets this season.
In just 20 minutes per game, the 7-footer has averaged 9.8 points, four rebounds and 1.25 blocks. He's also shooting 62.5 percent from the field.
While his numbers aren't staggering, they are a great sign for Mozgov, given that he's never averaged more than 5.4 points or 2.9 rebounds in a season.
Outside of statistics, he's done an excellent job in protecting the rim and taking up space inside. He's not very athletic, but he's been outworking his opponent a majority of the time and finding gaps in the defense.
Like most of Denver's big men, Mozgov needs work on his offensive game, but at least he has the size and strength to establish good position in the post. If he can improve finishing around the basket, he'll make it easier for Hickson and Darrell Arthur from the elbow.
The $14 million, three-year contract extension that the Nuggets gave Mozgov in the offseason, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, seemed pretty odd at the time. However, it's now looking like Denver made the right choice, as Mozgov has the backup center position locked up.
Dud: Anthony Randolph
Because of the injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, Anthony Randolph had a great chance to earn future playing time by temporarily starting at small forward.
Randolph showed that he isn't close to being able to help out.
Randolph started the first two games and totaled a mere seven points and five rebounds in 30 minutes. He lacked a defensive presence, never got his shot going inside or outside and simply wasn't making an impact in any area.
This is another instance of Randolph not taking advantage of an opportunity. Since his rookie year, he's never played more than 40 games in a season.
With Randolph sitting out \the last two games because of a sprained ankle, Jordan Hamilton has played the small-forward role more effectively. According to Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post, Chandler is planning on returning to action for Monday's contest against the Utah Jazz.
It's unlikely Randolph will get another chance like the one he had to begin the season. Chandler's versatility is desperately needed, and the Nuggets are better off with Jordan Hamilton's three-point shooting off the bench until Gallinari is back.