Apr 2, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw during the second half against the New Orleans Pelicans at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 137-107. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Nuggets: Brian Shaw Shows He's Legit In Losing Season

The 2013-2014 Denver Nuggets finished with the franchise’s first losing record since before Carmelo Anthony, but Brian Shaw’s first season is still something to smile about.

Shaw is here, and he’s here to stay. His first Denver Nugget team finished 10 games under .500 at 36-46. During the last week of the season, they only had nine players that could play. But even through losing his biggest veteran in Andre Miller, losing four starters to injury, and playing in the tough Western Conference, Shaw proved he’s the player developer the Nuggets hired for this young team.

Let’s start at the top. This year the Nuggets’ best player, Ty Lawson, put up 17.6 points, 8.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds a game. That means he had a better year under Shaw in all three major statistical categories compared to last year under George Karl when he put up 16.7 points, 6.9 assists, and 2.7 rebounds. Lawson finished tied for third in the league in assists per game.

Kenneth Faried, the team’s other “star” had a coming out party this season. He averaged 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds a game last season. But after the All-Star Game, when he earned Shaw’s trust and minutes, the Manimal put up a monster 18.8 points and 10.1 rebounds a game.

In a rebuilding year, it’s critical for a team’s best players to get better. Shaw did a great job keeping pressure on Lawson and Faried to lead this team, and the two got closer bringing the Nuggets some playoff success  because of it.

“It will be a colossal failure if we don’t make the playoffs,” Nuggets’ rookie GM Tim Connelly told ESPNDenver radio, “The bar should be higher.”

He’s right. The Nuggets are in prime position to contend for a playoff spot next year if Faried and Lawson can put up similar numbers, and boy are they going to be fun to watch. The duo can’t do it alone, though, and they’ll need solid role players around them in order to accomplish the task.

Luckily, Shaw’s got “the replacements” playing some of their best basketball too.

Shaw called Timofey Mozgov a “diamond in the rough” after the Nuggets lost to the Los Angeles Clippers last Tuesday. Mozgov looked like a legit starting center down the stretch, averaging 15.3 points and 9.3 rebounds after J.J. Hickson tore his ACL in mid-march. In George Karl‘s last season, he ONLY managed 2.6 points and 2.6 rebounds. In Mozgov’s BEST year under Karl he only averaged 5.4 points and 4.1 rebounds. At the very least, the race for starting center is going to be fun to watch next fall with Mozgov showing this improvement.

Mozgov’s improvement was far from an outlier for the Nuggets’ bench players. Role players Randy Foye (13.2 points and 3.5 assists this year vs. 10.8 and 2.0 last), Evan Fournier (8.4 points and 2.7 rebounds this year vs. 5.3 and 1.2 last year), Aaron Brooks (11.9 points and 5.2 assists as a Nugget vs. 7.1 and 2.2 last year), AND Quincy Miller (4.9 pts and 2.8 rebounds vs. 1.3 and .3 last year) ALL had better seasons under Shaw.

Now throw in a healthy Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee, and Nate Robinson. Then add a top 12 draft pick and it’s not hard to see how Shaw’s developmental success can lead to the playoffs in 2014-15. Not to mention the coach himself will be better after having a full season under his belt.

GM Tim Connelly had better be thanking Shaw for making the rebuilding job a heck of a lot easier.

“We’re sick of one-and-dones,” Connelly told ESPNDenver. “This city deserves better. We’ll do everything in our power this summer to put together a team that can advance.

I know we have the right coach.”

Tags: Brian Shaw Denver Nuggets Kenneth Faried Ty Lawson

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