NBA 2014-15 Power Rankings Preview: #21 Denver Nuggets

Denver have a lot of question marks headed into the season. Can they rally behind a healthy squad to make the playoffs?

This NBA offseason has been very eventful and we’re only a few short weeks away from the start of team training camps. To help bridge that gap for hoops junkies, we here at numberFire will be rolling out our projections for next season in the form of team previews, starting at 30 and going all the way to number one. We continue today with the 21st-ranked Denver Nuggets!

The Nuggets have been in an interesting position since trading away Carmelo Anthony in 2011. The year after trading Melo away, they finished an impressive 57-25 including a 38-3 record at home. Despite that, they lost in the first round to the sixth-seeded Warriors and followed it up by firing George Karl. The rebuild has continued since then, but it was a tough season last year that saw the Nuggets finish 36-46 under new head coach Brian Shaw. The team looks to rebound this year and they’ll be hoping a few trades and some players returning from injuries will help them along the way.

numberFire Metrics

Projected Record: 39-43
Western Conference Rank: 10th
NBA Rank: 21st
nERD: 46.6
Playoff Chances: 34.43%
Championship Chances: 0.55%

According to our metrics, the Nuggets aren’t done rebuilding just yet. We project them to only win three more games than they did last year, but it’s worth noting that they play in the Western Conference. Their playoff chances are so low mainly because of the conference they're in. I don’t have the math in front of me, but I bet those playoff chances are over 50% in the Eastern Conference. In comparison, the Brooklyn Nets, who have a nERD of 46.1, have a 47.53% chance of making the playoffs.

Their championship chances are almost non-existent, and that's as expected. The Nuggets have no superstar and not enough depth to even think about competing for a title. The question for the Nuggets is where they go from here? Can they possibly trade for a superstar? Can they attract a big name free agent next summer? It will be a defining season for this team and they need to get the next several months right.

Player Movement

Notable Additions
Jusuf Nurkic (via draft)
Gary Harris (via draft)
Arron Afflalo (via trade)

Notable Losses
Aaron Brooks (free agency)
Jan Vesely (playing in Europe)
Evan Fournier (trade)

There’s some interesting names here. The Nuggets lose Aaron Brooks, a player who played very well towards the end of last season, and Evan Fournier, a young shooting guard who is underrated. But they do add more than capable replacements. First of all, Arron Afflalo returns to Denver and gives you the same thing night in and night out - a solid defender who can score and shoot from range. At the same time, you have the unknown in rookie Gary Harris, who has a lot of people excited with his three-point shooting and scoring ability. They also lose Jan Vesely, who played 14.6 minutes per game in 21 games last season, but can you really call that a loss?

Three Burning Questions

Can the front court finally live up to the hype?
Timofey Mozgov finally came into his own last season, showing flashes of fantastic play towards the end. He's someone who can really help this team out with his rebounding and rim protection. At the same time, they get the return of Javale McGee, who is something resembling a boom or bust at this point in his career. He needs to keep his head on straight, but he’s got potential to be a top-15 center in this league.

At the same time, the Nuggets really need to find a way to get more than 27 minutes per game and 13.7 points from Kenneth Faried, who showed during his time with the US National Team that he has the ability to change the game with his hustle. There's also the return of Danilo Gallinari, who has missed way too long with an ACL tear. He can be a very solid small forward, and could play the stretch four if asked.

Can Arron Afflalo turn into a go-to guy?
Arron Afflalo has been as solid as anyone in this league. He provides you with the same effort and output every night, every month, every season. But the Nuggets need a little more; they need him to be the go to guy at end of games and during key periods down the stretch. Afflalo’s progression will be a key part to this season. Another option for this role is Ty Lawson, but if I had to name a Denver Nugget to hit a late-game shot, I'd give the ball to Afflalo myself.

How will they perform in the half-court offense?
This team will run. A lot. They’re extremely athletic and extremely fast, especially with Lawson leading the fast break at 100 miles per hour. The problem is that you can’t rely on fast break points to be a great team in this league and the Nuggets will have to find a way to score in the half-court. Can they establish a reliable option?

Fantasy Hoops Stock Watch

SF Danilo Gallinari (Yahoo O-Rank: 101)
I’m usually a big proponent of taking capable injured players in fantasy drafts, but this one I’m a bit skeptical of. Gallinari is ranked a bit high considering it’s taking him this long to return from this injury. He hasn’t even played 5-on-5 yet and he missed all of last year with the torn ACL. I wouldn’t mind drafting him in the last couple of rounds, but at 101, there are better options.

SG, SF Arron Afflalo (Yahoo O-Rank: 84)
Afflalo has increased his scoring and assists in each one of his NBA seasons. He averaged 18.2 points, 3.4 assists, and 1.8 three-pointers last season playing in Orlando and this will be an arguably better, faster paced team. On top of that, Afflalo plays at the shallowest NBA position and has played at least 62 games in every single season so far in his career. Ranked 84th, Afflalo is worth it.