After 57 wins and home-court advantage in the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs, the Denver Nuggets lost Andre Iguodala to Golden State, let Coach of the Year, George Karl walk, and lost star GM Masai Ujiri to Toronto. Last season they won only 36 games under rookie head coach Brian Shaw, a big step back after so positive a 2012-13 campaign. Speedy point guard Ty Lawson believes that’s why they’ll come in under the radar next year.
Lawson spoke with NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan from Los Angeles this week, and it was obvious he was excited for the upcoming season.
After mentioning how hard the opening month of the season will be, especially considering the collection of talent in the Western Conference, Lawson said he thinks the Nuggets will be better than expected after a sub .500 record last season.
“People are probably going to sleep on us this year because of what happened last year,” Lawson said.
What people don’t realize, aside from all the changes in leadership with Ujiri and Karl gone this past season, was the string of injuries that limited Denver all year.
We all know Danilo Gallinari sat out the year after tearing his ACL in April of 2013. We’ve noted his vigorous attempts to get back on the court next season as part of our road to recovery series. But the Italian sharpshooter wasn’t the only key member of the Nuggets to miss time.
Their 7-foot center, JaVale McGee, missed all but five games following a stress fracture in his left foot. This after making noise in the preseason about cleaning up his act in an attempt to avoid starring in those Shaqtin’ a Fool segments on TNT.
Nate Robinson missed 38 games, Wilson Chandler was out for 20, and J.J. Hickson couldn’t go in 13 games this past year, so it wasn’t just JaVale and Gallinari whose absence hurt them, but a large segment of their team.
Lawson himself only appeared in 62 games last season after a number of different maladies, but he still managed to average a career high 17.6 points and 8.8 assists in 35.8 minutes a night. But, he shot a career low from the field, and wasn’t getting easy buckets at the rim like he had in the past. Still, he can still handle the ball with the best of them, as former teammate Corey Brewer found out last season:
Lawson’s drop in shooting percentage, both from beyond the arc and from the field as a whole, could be tied to Denver’s abrupt change in offensive philosophy. Lawson went from Karl’s up-and-down helter-skelter controlled chaos — smartly designed to wear down opponents in Denver’s thin air — to Brian Shaw’s half-court sets, with more focus on getting back on defense and limiting opponent’s easy buckets. As a byproduct of the change, there were simply fewer easy opportunities in the restricted area, with Lawson logging a career low percentage of his shots within 0-3 feet, per basketball-reference.
Still, Lawson finished up his Q&A with Caplan talking about where his game is headed next season, when he expects to surprise those people fooled by Denver’s somewhat aberrational 2013-14 string of bad luck.
“I’m more confident in my jump shot, I think I shoot well. Sometimes if I miss a couple, my confidence goes away. So I watch a lot of tape of shooters. I feel like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard just have no conscience. They miss a couple, they know the third or fourth one’s going in. That’s probably the main thing. And probably my stamina for the defensive end; picking up the point guard further up instead of letting them come down and set their offense up so close to the 3-point line. If I push them back, it pushes the offense back and I think it’s harder for them to score, so that’s the main thing I’ve been working on.”
So look for Lawson to be more confident in his shot, and pick up opponents further away from the basket in an attempt to muck up their sets. This will make Shaw very happy since Lawson will get plenty of open three-pointers next season when Gallinari and McGee take the defensive focus off him. Lawson’s emphasis on the defense would make any coach happy, but particularly Shaw who started making it more of a priority last season.
How will Denver do next season?
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