When Dwight Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in a three team deal, many thought that the Denver Nuggets landed one of the best players in the swap. Denver acquired All Star and Olympic small forward Andre Iguodala. His versatility and ability to play both sides of the ball will be integral for Denver in the coming season. This has many hyping the Mile High City as a team to watch. However, there is a bit of a problem. The Nuggets are loaded at the forward position with seven of their 15 players listed as a forward. Iguodala will start for the Nuggets but what kind of rotation will they employ?
The Nuggets will have athleticism in droves with players who can stretch the floor and (hopefully) guard the perimeter. Yet, that is almost all they have. If ever there was a Free Darko team, this is it. (Anthony Randolph being on the roster helps that claim.) Can a team exist with a roster full of forwards? If it can then head coach George Karl will certainly have to be creative.
Danilo Gallinari was the starting three for the Nuggets last season. This year he will likely not crack the starting lineup without a significant injury or some lineup shuffling by Karl, though some have suggested that he will start alongside Iguodala at either the two or three. But that doesn’t matter.
Denver will be a rangy mass of confusion, ingenuity, and joy. And all of that comes from the two forward positions and the potential log jam they create on this roster. Of course, depth is always a good problem to have and the Nuggets do have capable players filling out the rest of the roster. Let us not forget JaVale McGee is also on this team. The Nuggets have the ability to be the most dangerous and frustrating team in the league. That alone is exciting. And McGee! Never forget that he is on the team.
With all these wings, five of the seven forwards are small forwards, the Nuggets will have to focus on perimeter defense. They were last in the NBA in field goal percentage allowed in long 2-pointers and 3-pointers. Iguodala should help to alleviate this problem but this isn’t a defensive team at heart. Sure, it has players that can defend. McGee, Iguodala, and even Kenneth Faried, despite being undersized for a four, can hold his own. But this is an offensive team that likes to run, Denver had the second fastest pace last season, and that will not change in the coming season.
As noted above, the lineups that the Nuggets run out on the court this season will be the most interesting aspect of the team. Small ball will be a relative term when it comes to Denver but that is the style of ball we should expect most out of this team if they are to navigate their abundance of wings. Perhaps medium ball is a better term to describe their style of play based on size. Nonetheless, on-court groupings of Ty Lawson, Iguodala, Wilson Chandler, Gallinari, and Faried are completely plausible, though not wholly advisable. Yet, that is the allure of this tradition-be-damned team. Kosta Koufos and Randolph could be on the court at the same time as Corey Brewer and Andre Miller. Lawson and Miller will share the backcourt again and it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities that Gallinari will play the five in limited stretches. It’s maddening and thrilling all at once because it can work. Karl’s open offense allows for it.
And then there is Timofey Mozgov.
Lawson’s pure scoring will be accented well with Iguodala’s ability to play off the ball, run the floor, and defend. Faried and McGee will man the post well. But the rest of the team is an enigma, aside from Miller, in how they will mold together into a cohesive unit, especially with Chandler coming back from injury.
This is an unbelievably deep team. There is no questioning that. They will hit their opponents with speed and the ability to score from anywhere. Denver is dangerous but they must maintain an incredible tempo to realize their full potential. George Karl knows this and will put his team and players into every possible situation to get the most out of them and this will give teams, and fans, reasons to pull their hair out.
Denver’s brash iconoclasm will cause many to question whether there is a method behind the madness or if they are functioning purely on calculated abandon. Their roster begs these questions but that seems to be the goal. Traditional positions are dead and Denver is currently at the forefront of experimentation. It won’t always be a pretty endeavor but it should work. This team has the skill required to compete in the ever-deepening competition in the Western Conference. By the time the playoffs roll around, the Nuggets should be considered a dark horse. That is, of course, if everything falls into place.