The NBA's highest-scoring team last season was only its fifth-most offensively efficient, and even more strange, it didn't have a single player average as many as 17 points. So how did the Nuggets score without scorers? By running. They operated at the second-fastest pace in the league, behind the Rockets. Lacking a sturdy post presence but loaded with rangy penetrators, coach George Karl opened up the throttle and guided Denver to a 40--10 mark after New Year's. But a first-round playoff exit saw Karl pushed out, the front office reshuffled and stopper Andre Iguodala sent to the Warriors in a sign-and-trade.
What remains for rookie coach Brian Shaw is largely the same kinetic roster led by Ty Lawson, who makes up for what he lacks in size (he's 5'11") with what he creates in quickness. And the fifth-year guard will have to do a lot of creating early, as the Nuggets await the return of second-leading scorer Danilo Gallinari, who is out until late November with a torn left ACL. Without much of a perimeter game, Shaw will rely on Lawson to force the action toward the basket. Even if pushing the pace leads to the occasional rushed shot, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee are there to clean up; thanks largely to those two, Denver led the league in offensive rebounding. With reliable scoring options scarce, the Nuggets will need the second chances—and they'll get them if Lawson keeps them on the move.
COACH BRIAN SHAW (1ST SEASON WITH NUGGETS)
2012--13 RECORD 57--25 (2ND IN NORTHWEST)
WHAT'S NEW Big shoes to fill: Denver must replace the Coach (George Karl) and Executive (Masai Ujiri) of the Year.
PROJECTED LINEUP (2012--13 STATS)
PG TY LAWSON
16.7 PPG; 6.9 APG; 46.1 FG%; 36.6 3FG%
SG RANDY FOYE
10.8 PPG; 2.0 APG; 39.7 FG%; 41.0 3FG%
SF DANILO GALLINARI
16.2 PPG; 5.2 RPG; 41.8 FG%; 37.3 3FG%
PF KENNETH FARIED
11.5 PPG; 9.2 APG; 1.0 BPG; 55.2 FG%
C JAVALE MCGEE
9.1 PPG; 4.8 RPG; 2.0 BPG; 57.5 FG%
SF WILSON CHANDLER
13.0 PPG; 5.1 RPG; 46.2 FG%; 41.3 3FG%
FIRST-ROUND SERIES lost by the Nuggets in the past 10 years (including last May, to the Warriors). In that time Denver has a .601 regular-season winning percentage and just a .344 clip in the postseason.
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE NUGGETS
Someone in management wasn't happy with them not playing JaVale McGee, so they sacrificed a solid starting center [Kosta Koufos, traded to the Grizzlies]. The people who want McGee to play see the dunks and the highlights. What they don't see are all the assignments that he missed, all the times he's not where he's supposed to be. This is a guy who's such a poor fundamental player that the splashy plays don't make up for it.... Kenneth Faried is undersized for his position, but his physicality and effort and nose for the ball are keys. He's gotten better as a player, but being an effort guy is who he is.... The guy they probably ran the most plays for was Danilo Gallinari, even more than Andre Iguodala. That tells me they think he's their main offensive weapon. If Gallinari is your best, that's a little bit of a problem. It's not that he's not a good player, but more often than not the other team's best option is going to be better.... Wilson Chandler was strictly a power forward last year, but he is a multidimensional offensive player. He can shoot, he can score off the dribble, you can run plays for him. He's a threat to post up small forwards, and against power forwards he has a quickness advantage.... So much of their offense came in transition; if you forced them to be a jump-shooting team, they could struggle. That's where Randy Foye's perimeter game will be just a tremendous addition. He opens things up because he'll make the defense make a choice.
GARRETT W. ELLWOOD/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (LAWSON)
PACE PUSHER LAWSON
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (FARIED)