“Limbo”- a word all NBA organizations hate to hear. For those of you who don’t know the term, a team that is in limbo stage means that they are too good to get a high NBA draft lottery pick, yet not good enough to make the playoffs. Some say limbo teams are the average teams of the NBA. For the Denver Nuggets, most analysts classify them as an average team, and at first glance their assumption is probably correct.
The Nuggets’ record heading into Monday’s event was 32-38, putting them 11th in the West. They are 19-16 at home, 16-24 versus the conference, and rank 17th in Offensive Efficiency and 20th in Defensive. All those numbers just scream out AVERAGE. How in any way can a Nuggets fan feel like the arrow is pointing up for the organization?
The Denver Nuggets organization should feel this season like it went missing or at least their players did. After JJ Hickson’s recent knee injury the Nuggets added a fourth member to season ending injury reserve list. He will be joining teammates Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson (both tore an ACL) and Javale McGee (leg surgery).
Here’s the problem: listen to the number of games these players have played this year: Gallinari 0, McGee 5, Robinson 44, and Hickson 69. Only Hickson has a number of games you would like to see a player have at the end of the year. It doesn’t stop though, arguably the Nuggets’ two best players, Wilson Chandler and Ty Lawson, have missed their fair share of games: they have combined to miss 27 games. Yet for all that’s gone wrong with injuries for Denver this year, there is still plenty of shining light.
First, the job Brian Shaw has done in his first year must be applauded. He received a team that doesn’t fit into his offensive or defensive schemes. Then had to deal with the drama that Andre Miller put on him and playing time. To add the cherry on top, he hasn’t even had his best two or three players for about 90 percent of the Nuggets’ games this year. However, this team is still just 6 games under .500 in a very tough and competitive Western Conference, and is 17-23 against teams with a winning record- around the same percentage as Phoenix (who is worse than the Nuggets at 15-22), Golden State, Dallas, and Memphis.
Next, I’m encouraged by the growth from younger players, especially the recent emergence of Kenneth Faried and Evan Fournier. Faried has been on a tear in the month of March, averaging nearly a double-double and is by far having his best season as a Denver Nugget. He’s gone from an energy guy off the bench to a guy that provides a reasonable offensive threat and can lock down the other team’s big man on defense.
Fournier has had a terrific sophomore season. Last year he was just a guy who got in during garbage time, but this year he has earned Shaw’s trust and seen increasing minutes. Fournier hasn’t let him down, and is the Nuggets’ second best scoring option off the bench.
The final thing that gives me hope for the future with the Denver Nuggets is the quietly pleasant job Tim Connelley has done in the front office. At the beginning of the season I was satisfied with the moves Connelley made after all the front office turmoil. Guys like Hickson and Robinson were making significant contributions until each went down with injury. Then, during the season he was able to get rid of a problem in Andre Miller without too much backlash and was able to pick up a good role player in Aaron Brooks who has really been terrific since arriving in Denver.
Denver Nuggets fans struggle to see their team out of the playoff run as the regular season makes its final turn. Who’s to blame them? The last time the Nuggets didn’t play on into the playoffs was the 2002-2003 season.
While it is a tough pill to swallow that there will be no Nuggets basketball come this May, this team is in an important transition. This year’s free agency and NBA draft will clearly show which direction this organization is looking to take. They’ve settled the storm that’s followed from last year, but now its time for this team to get back out of the limbo stage and continue to have the arrow pointing up.