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2015-16 NBA Preview: The Nuggets Have A Tiny Shot At Being Decent

We’re inaugurating our NBA player projection system, CARMELO, with 2015-16 season previews for every team in the league. Check out the teams we’ve already previewed here. Learn more about CARMELO here.


In 2012-13, the Denver Nuggets won 57 games — their highest win percentage since joining the NBA — and fired head coach George Karl in the ensuing offseason. It has not gone well since. They’ve had two disappointing losing seasons, including last year’s 30-52 campaign. The man they’ve hired to turn it all around: Mike Malone — most recently spotted being fired by the Sacramento Kings. Of course, that firing paved the way for the Kings to hire Karl, meaning the Kings and Nuggets are now coached by each other’s castoffs. (Worst. Trade. Ever?)

Surely Carmelo has an opinion on George Karl and this coach swap, but CARMELO does not. It sees a team that hasn’t made many concrete changes since last year, and projects the exact same 30-52 record. The Nuggets’ major offseason move was switching point guards from serviceable but unspectacular Ty Lawson to complete wild card Emmanuel Mudiay. Which is not to say the team doesn’t have a chance: Its young core contributors Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari and Jusuf Nurkic have all shown flashes of potential. So if the Nuggets get a couple of breaks (meaning one or more of these players start to break out), they could be improved. And if they get a lot of breaks, they could even be good.

Here’s the team overview:1

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 8.21.14 AM

Again, the hopes of Nuggets fans are cast toward Mudiay. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of hard data about Mudiay to go on, so CARMELO‘s projections for him (and all rookies with only international experience) are based on a separate analysis of previous international players based on their draft position, age and height alone. Also our algorithm doesn’t watch the NBA summer league, where Mudiay impressed. So CARMELO isn’t high on the chances of an unknown 19-year-old point guard turning this team around. A quick glance through the history books suggests the same. Even if Mudiay were Rookie of the Year-quality (apparently he is a betting favorite), that rarely translates into team success. There hasn’t been a ROY winner for a winning team since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2002-03.

Here’s what CARMELO has to say about the rest of the Nuggets squad:

kenneth-faried

Kenneth Faried has been a solid-but-not-amazing power forward since his rookie year. Any immediate Nuggets surge would likely require Faried to finally have a breakthrough year, but so far he has been extremely consistent. His true shooting percentage is high, but he doesn’t have a long-distance shot. Note that CARMELO hasn’t seen enough to consider Faried to even be on an upward trend.


danilo-gallinari

The oft-injured 6-foot-10 (i.e., big) small forward/guard is another unpredictable element for this team. It’s not so much that Danilo Gallinari has ever looked amazing or “due” for a breakout, but his career has been tumultuous enough that it’s hard to say for sure whether his true value is higher or lower than what we’ve seen so far. In other bad news for the Nuggets, his 35.5 percent 3-point shooting last year is the highest among the team’s projected starters.


jusuf-nurkic

Jusuf Nurkic (“The Bosnian Beast”) could be limited by offseason knee surgery (CARMELO also doesn’t account for injuries), and he didn’t play all that much last year (averaged about 18 minutes per game when he wasn’t out for injury). He’s young, big and international — and thus more of an unknown. As I said, if the Nuggets are going to catch some breaks, his improvement may have to be one of them. But there’s not much else to go on. Between the Nuggets trading Timothy Mozgov in early January and Nurkic hurting his ankle in late February, he got a chance to start 22 games — of which the Nuggets lost 17.


wilson-chandler

Wilson Chandler is a serviceable forward with some experience playing shooting guard from his time with the Knicks. But he played 85 percent of his minutes at small forward for the Nuggets last year. He will be competing with Gallinari for minutes and shots, so fans should probably be rooting for Chandler’s role to diminish. That is, if you’re hearing Chandler’s name called a lot over the next few years, it likely means things aren’t going well for the Nuggets.


randy-foye

Randy Foye currently isn’t projected to start, but is the Nuggets’ most experienced shooting guard and ostensibly their best 3-point shooter (with a career 37.5 percent average from behind the arc). Yet overall he grades out as worse than a replacement player: CARMELO graded him as worth -0.4 wins last year, and ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus is even harsher — rating him 86th out of 95 shooting guards, and worth -1.4 wins.


jameer-nelson

Jameer Nelson seems to be winding down his undistinguished career of burning up minutes for the Nuggets. Once an All-Star for the Orlando Magic (No, literally, once. In 2009.), he’s now good for 20 minutes of fill-in duty if called on. As with Chandler, a substantial role for Nelson would probably be bad news for the Nuggets, because if Mudiay can’t beat him out for minutes, the Nuggets are screwed.


Read more:
All our NBA player projections
All our 2015-16 NBA Previews

Footnotes

  1. In the following chart, we assume that in addition to the listed players, some portion of Denver’s minutes will be filled by generic players of “replacement level” quality — that is, the type of players who would be freely available off the waiver wire during the season.

Benjamin Morris researches and writes about sports and other topics for FiveThirtyEight.

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