In order to truly answer that question, we must examine a number of questions starting with health.
This is less of question and more a matter of luck, but it’s probably the biggest factor going into the 2014-15 season. When they are fully healthy, the Denver Nuggets are a playoff team. Now when I say a playoff team, I mean a team that is battling for one of the final three spots in the Western Conference.
Danilo Gallinari missed all of 2013-14 with a knee injury but he should be completely healthy at the start of this season. Gallinari, along with Ty Lawson, are the closest thing the Nuggets have to stars and his return to form is crucial to any success the Nuggets may have.
The Nuggets also experienced a number of nagging injuries to key players, including Lawson. The Nuggets simply aren’t good enough to overcome injuries to key players. However if they stay relatively healthy, the Nuggets have the talent and the depth to be a threat.
The next question surrounds Head Coach, Brian Shaw and can he live up to the potential that so many people seem to see in him? It’s only one season and after some time to think about it, I’m not ready to make a call on Shaw one way or the other. However there are a couple of things that took place last year that bothered me at the time, and still bother me today.
Shaw blamed former coach George Karl on a couple of occasions for the struggles of last season’s team. What he said, at this point, is not important but Shaw came off looking bad. It would be one thing if Karl had been a losing coach in Denver, but he led the team to the playoffs every year he was here. Granted the Nuggets did not experience the playoff success they would have liked under Karl, but they were in the playoffs.
Shaw also went outside of basketball and took a shot at the Denver Broncos and John Elway for their decision to release Champ Bailey. It takes a lot of guts to criticize a guy in Elway who has rebuilt the Broncos from 4-12 to AFC Champions in three short years. It takes even more guts when the team you are leading is having trouble getting out of its own way.
If Shaw is going to be the coach that many in the league expect him to be, then he has to quit blaming others and get the job done. Now having said all of that, Shaw did come to Denver highly thought of and he did have to deal with more than his fair share of adversity in his first season. He deserves another couple of years to get his program in place, but they must be visible signs of progress in 2014-15.
Shaw also needs to understand his talent and where he plays his home games. I understand that Shaw was a student of Phil Jackson and would prefer to run the triangle offense. That’s great except the Nuggets do not have the personnel to be able to run that type of offense. Shaw is only trying to implement an offense that would result in more playoff success but if you don’t make the playoffs, then the type of system you run won’t much matter.
The Nuggets have the greatest home-court advantage in the NBA because of the altitude, and the coaches who have realized that have experienced the most success in Denver. The Nuggets current roster is set up to play an up and down game, and they play in the perfect city to do just that. Shaw wants to be better in the half-court and on defense which is understandable, but a good coach adapts to the talent he is given. Right now that talent says run.
Lastly, can the Nuggets mesh as one with each player finding and accepting their role? The biggest asset the Nuggets have going for them right now is depth, they can go ten deep and not experience too much of a drop off. They also have a number of players including Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried who can play different positions based on game situations.
If the players buy in to a team first philosophy and put their egos aside, then the Nuggets can surprise people.
As for the overall question of expectations in 2014-15; if all of the above questions are answered in a positive way, then the Nuggets will be in the playoffs. While a top four seed is highly unlikely, if they play well then it’s possible for the Nuggets to get as high as number five or six in the west.
On the flip side if there are injuries, roles not defined or Shaw does not grow as a coach, then the Nuggets will be in the lottery again next May. The Nuggets can be as good or as bad as they want to be, it’s up sto them.