- Jeremy Freed
OTG's All-Decade Team: Denver Nuggets Edition
With the past decade coming to a close, what better way to ring in the new decade by reflecting on the past. Off The Glass is taking a look at each NBA team and selecting their All-Decade squad, which is defined by one guard, one forward, one center, a role player (someone not selected as an All-Star, or to an All-NBA team), and one wildcard.
Today we are highlighting the Denver Nuggets.
Forward of the Decade: Danilo Gallinari
Gallo in many ways was a microcosm of the Denver Nuggets in the 2010s. Traded to Denver as part of the Carmelo Anthony deal, he ended up a Mile High because someone else notable didn’t want to be there. His highs, like the early George Karl teams of the decade, were good, but not best-in-the-league good, and then his injuries led to shortened or lost seasons, like the Brian Shaw years in the middle. At his best, a borderline 20-5-2 player who can hit close to 40% from three -- if he came into the league now, he’d be a prototype forward; instead, he’s hoping to be liberated from Oklahoma City after the Paul George deal. One can’t feel too bad for a player who’s made over $100 million playing basketball, but it’d be nice if he played relevant basketball while he’s still able.
Guard of the Decade: Ty Lawson
The speedy engine of those entertaining, if ill-fated, George Karl Nuggets teams, Lawson was a very good NBA player until his career was derailed by substance abuse. Snagged with the 18th pick of 2009 draft, Lawson quickly made himself into a contributor off the bench, transitioned into the starting line-up in year two, and then held the reins for four years, averaging 16 points, 8 assists, and 3 rebounds per game -- as I said, a very good NBA player. But after a DUI following the 2014-15 season, he was unceremoniously shipped to Houston, and he was never the same again. He never averaged so much as ten points or five assists in a season, and was out of the league by 30; fans in the Rockies still can fondly recall him racing down the court in those baby blues.
Center of the Decade: Nikola Jokic
It’s rare when you have a player on the roster that you realize could be the greatest in franchise history -- the Nuggets have that in Jokic. Not much was expected from The Joker when he was picked 41st overall in 2014 -- he wasn’t even the first center Denver took that year -- but he quickly established himself as the starter in year one, a very good player in year two, and an All-NBA player by year four. His ascent has mirrored the rise of Denver from watching the post-season on TV to the 2-Seed in the West and the Nuggets’ deepest run in a decade. Coming off of a 20ppg - 10.8rpg - 7.3apg season, Jokic is a unique distributor for the pivot, and barring injury will be not just the Center of the Decade, but of the Franchise.
Role-Player of the Decade: Kenneth Faried
Somewhat lost to the sands of time is ‘The Manimal’ who charged onto the scene after being the 22nd overall pick (side note: the Nuggets are REALLY good at picking in the mid-to-low first) from obscure Morehead State University. He quickly became a near double-double player, earning many devoted fans with his enormous motor and fearlessness on the court. The league seemingly caught up with him -- or at least exposed his defensive shortcomings -- and he couldn’t get on the court, though 25 games of 13ppg/8rpg ball in Houston last year seemed to indicate that he’s still got it. Whatever ‘it’ may be, it’s in China now; a sad coda to one of the underrated success stories of the Denver decade.
Wildcard of the Decade: JaVale McGee
McGee has perhaps the best list of nicknames in basketballreference.com history: “Pierre”, “The Big Secret”, “Big Daddy Wookie”, and “The Great Adventure”. That last one was given to him in his days in Denver by teammate Corey Brewer, because ‘you never know what’s going to happen. It’s going to be an adventure either way it goes, good or bad.’ That’s about the definition of ‘Wildcard.’
Decade High Point: Western Conference Semifinals in 2019
Denver ended its decade on the highest of notes, with their best postseason performance of the ‘10s. The Nuggets are definitely trending upward, having improved their record year-over-year for the past five seasons: a trend they’ll be hard-pressed to keep up, but with a red-hot start to 2019-20 just might. Though the Nuggets aren’t satisfied losing Game 7 at home to division rival Portland to end the 2018-19 season, they’re using it to springboard into the ‘20s. There are worse things.
Decade Low Point: Firing Reigning COY George Karl
The move that brought the franchise low to a point that it could conceivably improve five years straight was the ill-considered firing of Karl, at that point, the reigning Coach of the Year. Unlike the Raptors, who turned the firing of their COY Dwayne Casey into a championship run, the Nuggets did not bring in a future Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard (or his 2013-14 equivalent -- ironically, perhaps Paul George?) but instead bottomed out. A franchise that went to the playoffs every year for a decade now found itself watching them from home for the next half of one. Low point indeed.
Next Decade Prediction: The Finals
The Nuggets are among the West elite, and with a deep, versatile roster, have the capacity to match any foes throughout the rugged NBA season, and with or without injuries to other, top-heavy teams’ top players, can make their way deep into the postseason. With a bonafide star of their own in Jokic, and rising youngsters like Jamal Murray, their first trip to the NBA Finals -- and perhaps their first championship -- is finally within reach.