Season previews: NBA teams with Texas Longhorns players, part II

Will Korn

The Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors are also home to former Texas Longhorns: forward Jordan Hamilton and guard D.J. Augustin, respectively. Let’s take a look at their upcoming seasons.

Denver Nuggets

Last season: 57-25, third seed in Western Conference, lost in first round to Golden State Warriors 4-2

According to Zach Lowe’s season preview on Grantland, Denver is one of the western teams on the fringe of the playoffs.  

“The Nuggets are firmly in the mix for one of the last two playoff spots, but they’re in that mix — not above it,” Lowe said. “It’s going to be very tough again this season, though it’s unclear how many wins it will take to slide into the No. 7 or No. 8 spots.” 

The Nuggets are in flux heading into this season. The team lost versatile forward Andre Iguodala to the Warriors in the off-season. To help counter this loss, it signed journeymen guards Randy Foye and Nate Robinson, as well as interior scoring threat J.J. Hickson. These two guards contribute to an already strong backcourt featuring Ty Lawson and Andre Miller. Hickson will boost Denver’s offensive attack on the block.  

The Nuggets are dealing with the loss of longtime coach George Karl. Lowe said that new coach Brian Shaw, although quite an experienced NBA coach, is already beginning to tinker with long-entrenched philosophies on both sides of the ball. Denver’s defense ranked 23rd in the league last season, so maybe a base defensive change is a healthy option. Regardless, this team needs to improve its on-the-ball defense and rely less on forcing turnovers.  

The Nuggets’ second-best player, Danilo Gallinari, will also miss the first portion of the season as he works his way back from knee surgery. Former Longhorn Hamilton will be one of the players replacing Gallinari. He is slowly coming into his own in the league. Last season he averaged 5.2 points per game in just under 9.9 minutes. He provides an instant scoring punch off the bench from all areas of the court. He’ll get important minutes and has quite an opportunity to prove himself early this season.

Bottom line: There are a few moving parts here. The Nuggets added some nice pieces in the free agency, but still haven’t addressed their glaring defensive needs. They’ll score in bunches, but will also allow points in bunches.  Denver will win 45 games and miss the playoffs — getting edged out by the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trailblazers.

Toronto Raptors

Last season: 34-48, missed playoffs

Toronto is an intriguing squad. The Raptors generally possess a nice stockpile of talent, yet have a reputation of underperforming. Things haven’t changed much this year. Offseason acquisitions Steve Novak, Austin Daye and Aaron Gray will provide some much-needed depth. Novak is always among the league’s leaders in three-point percentages. Add those pieces to the core of forwards Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields and explosive guard Terrence Ross, and that’s a nice offensive group. The only offensive setback is the lack of three-point shooting outside of Novak and Gay.

The bench should be fantastic this season. Kyle Lowry, Novak, Tyler Hansbrough, Daye, Gray and former Longhorn D.J. Augustin will make up a complete and competitive second unit. Depth is no longer an issue with this club.

But rebounding and defense remain two glaring issues in Toronto. The Raptors ranked third to last in the league in rebounding last season. Defensively, they allowed 98.7 points per game, good for 17th in the NBA. Length and athleticism aren’t the problem — the problem is that those athletes aren’t particularly good defenders. The offense will hide these problems to an extent, but it has to rebound and defend better to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Bottom line: Toronto will miss the playoffs again — barely. It will win a few more games but its division is still difficult with the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets miles ahead of the team. I’ll give the Raptors 39 wins this season — a steady improvement, but they’ll miss the playoffs by a game or two.