They kept their roster together. The front office decided to let their young team grow and see where this group takes them. It was the right thing to do.
“We believe in our young players,” Nuggets general manager Masaii Ujiri said on 104.3 The Fan on Friday, Feb. 22. “We really really believe in them. We see these guys every day. We see them practice and see their work ethic.”
While Ujiri also said during the radio interview that he is always looking to make his team better, he feels he has guys on his roster that have superstar potential. He also wants to win a championship in Denver and that is the team’s No. 1 goal no matter what.
But what was interesting was his thought that that Nuggets have potential superstars on this roster already. Could they develop their own “Big Three” without spending big money or getting a bunch of friends together to play on one team? Ujiri said the team can’t be concerned about attracting a superstar to Denver.
“There are few great superstars in the league and we can’t cry about not having one,” he said during the radio interview. “[Danilo Gallinari] could be a superstar. Ty [Lawson] could be a superstar. [Kenneth] Faried has star qualities.”
Who could develop into the Nuggets’ “Big Three”? There are several candidates on the roster this season.
The speedy point guard has already shown flashes of being a superstar since he took over the full-time starting job two seasons ago. He was part of a national championship team at North Carolina so he knows what it takes to be the best. He has improved his mid-range jump shooting this season and combined with his speed, it has given plenty of defenders fits. Sometimes he disappears during games and it seems like he isn’t even on the floor. This has to stop for him to reach true superstar status. He is working on it and this year he has no problem taking the last shot.
The Nuggets believe he is the future of the franchise. He was given a contract extension this offseason and after a slow start has been the best player on the floor in recent games. He is the leader and there will be no “Big Three” without him.
The streaky-shooting Italian has finally been healthy this season and has started to show his clutch gene. Gallinari is the leading the scorer for the Nuggets at 17.3 points a game and is one of their best 3-point shooters. At the deadline, there were rumors that he could be traded, but the Nuggets chose to keep him. He was probably never going anywhere. He was the centerpiece of the Carmelo Anthony trade to the New York Knicks. The Nuggets want him to be a superstar and they gave him a contract extension last season.
When Gallinari is healthy he can be a force on the floor. He is good from the 3-point line and also has a good first step and to get to the basket with ease. The Italian also shoots free throws at an 81 percent clip. Denver wants to team him with Lawson to lead the team in the future. Lawson and Gallinari are solidified as the top two players on the Nuggets. The third piece of the puzzle is a little more unknown.
There are a lot of questions surrounding Igoudala’s role and future with the Nuggets. His defense has been outstanding. When he was injured on the road trip before the All-Star break, Denver lost two games that the outcome may have been different with Iguodala in the lineup. He can be left alone to guard anyone one-on-one, which is something the Nuggets have never really had.
His offense is what has been questioned. In Tuesday’s win over the Boston Celtics, Igoudala missed all seven shots he took and missed all but one of his free throws. A lot of those misses were bad. He is still the third-leading scorer on the team at 13.2 points game.
“It will take time,” Ujiri said in his radio interview Friday. “Andre is a great all-around player. He is not a flamboyant superstar. He plays unselfish basketball.”
Another issue with Igoudala is his contract. He has a player option for $16 million that he will probably pick up. If he doesn’t pick up the option, he will become a free agent. If the Nuggets see him as an important piece then re-signing him is a must.
The second-year forward brings a lot of energy to the floor. He averages almost 10 rebounds a game. He also contributes 12.2 points a game. He seems to improve every game. The real worry for the Nuggets is his defense. Head coach George Karl doesn’t have him on the floor at the end of close games because of his struggles guarding top power forwards and his poor free-throw shooting.
Faried has become a fan favorite in Denver due to his monster dunks and all-out effort on every play. He needs to gain the trust of Karl to really become a superstar on the Nuggets. If he gains that trust, he could team with Lawson and Gallinari to form a great young core. Continued struggles on defense and the foul line could lead to him staying in the role he is now.
McGee has tons of talent and the Nuggets realized it when they gave him a $10 million a year contract in the offseason. No one has ever doubted how good the center could be but his maturity and basketball smarts seem to always be in question. He averages close to two blocks a game but only four rebounds a game. Improving his rebounding game may give him more minutes in crunch time. Until then he will play about 20 minutes a game while making great plays but also a couple stupid ones.
Ujiri has talked about looking at shooters in the free agency. Is there someone out there that can become a star for the Nuggets? Probably not. Drawing big free agents to Denver has never been easy.
Lawson, Gallinari and Igoudala seem to be the best fit if Igoudala signs a new deal. He has said he likes Denver but if he continues to struggle on the offensive end he could move on. The Nuggets are showing the league that building a team through trades and the draft can equal success. Karl is the perfect coach for a team like this because he has a problem dealing with superstars. He will probably deal with superstars he helped created better than ones forced on him.
The NBA has become a superstar driven league. If the Nuggets can make an impact by growing their own team, the league may see a shift in power.
Follow Chris Schmaedeke on Twitter: @ChrisSchmaedeke