With the dust mostly settled on this offseason’s player movement — and there was a whole lot of it this year — it’s time to take stock of all the fascinating new faces in new places, as well as the more compelling stories of players who will face new challenges while sticking around. Over the course of the next few weeks, Andrew Unterberger will do a team-by-team look at the most interesting players going into next season — one new to the team, and one returning — as we all try to pass the dog days of NBA-less summer, dreaming of hoops-filled months to come. The series continues today with the teams in the Northwest Division: the Nuggets, Timberwolves, Thunder, Blazers and Jazz.
Most Interesting New Player: Nate Robinson
I guess? Like the Mavs, the Nuggets added a whole spate of recognizable new players to their roster this offseason, and none of them are even slightly exciting roster adds. Randy Foye? We know pretty well what that dude can and can’t do by now. J.J. Hickson? The Nugs already have one frontcourt energy guy/rebounding machine, and he’s a whole lot more fun to watch than J.J. Hickson. Darrell Arthur? Don’t think there are a lot of NBA fans who watched Denver last year and thought to themselves “fun team, but would it kill them to shoot more 18-foot elbow jumpers?” None of these guys are gonna make the team League Pass must watches, exactly.
That just leaves Nasty Nate, who is at least always fun to watch on a new team — to see the respective fanbases come to terms with his strengths and weaknesses, to see him make funny friend duos with his new teammates (Shrek ‘n Donkey 4EVA!!), to see him get way too many starts when the point guard he’s backing up goes down with injury. It’s hard to see where he fits into this team that already has Ty Lawson (essentially a steadier, less-maddening version of NateRob) and Andre Miller (NateRob’s inverse in just about every conceivable way), but Nate Robinson always manages to make his presence felt by year’s end, and the Pepsi Center crowd should eat him up. He’ll look great in those Denver baby blues, too.
Most Interesting Returning Player: JaVale McGee
This feels like the fourth or fifth consecutive make-or-break year for JaVale, who has still yet to really be made or broken. He shot a career high 58 percent and posted a career high 20.9 PER last year, but proved weirdly unplayable alongside Kenneth Faried and still couldn’t manage to unseat Kousta Koufos as the team’s starting center, averaging his fewest minutes a game (18.1) since 2010. Well, not only is Koufos now gone, but so is head coach George Karl — the latter’s dismissal supposedly coming in part due to his unwillingness to give the high-upside, well-compensated McGee big minutes. It’s never been nower or neverer for old Pierre.
Amazingly, JaVale will still be just 25 years old on opening night, so the belief that McGee has remaining yet-to-be-tapped potential still remains at least slightly justifiable. And for a team that basically went through an across-the-board downgrade (down to the management and front office) in the offseason, getting that kind of level-up in production from their eternal project of a big man might be one of the only ways that the team can stay a contender in a suddenly very crowded West. Even if not, we should be getting a lot more JaVale this season, which you don’t need me to tell you is always a good thing.