With three picks in the top 20 on draft night, expect the Denver Nuggets to be very aggressive.
This article is part of a series on NBA Draft team needs. Our first four articles featured the Sixers, Lakers, Celtics, and Timberwolves, which are thorough and delightful; you should check them out. This article will look at the Denver Nuggets, who have three of the first 19 picks in this year’s draft. Let’s play the role of general manager yet again and see what Denver’s possibilities look like.
Team: Denver Nuggets
Draft Picks: #7, #15, #19
Team Needs: Wings, shooting, stretch four, depth
Key Players: Nikola Jokic, Danilo Gallinari, Emmanuel Mudiay, Kenneth Faried, Will Barton
Denver finds itself in a fascinating spot on draft night. The Nuggets are the only team to have three picks in the top 20 and they’re not exactly a team that needs or wants three rookies coming in. This is already a team with 10 players on guaranteed contracts and a team that could bring back “King Joffrey” Lauvergne and JaKarr Sampson for very little.
Among those 10 guaranteed contracts are veterans Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari — who was fantastic prior to injury averaging nearly 20 points per game — and Wilson Chandler. They also have plenty of young promising players under contract in Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Will Barton, and Nikola Jokic.
While the younger players are far from established starters and the older guard isn’t irreplaceable, Denver isn’t looking to bring in three additional inexperienced players. They need to give minutes to their current young guys to see what role they can play going forward. The Nuggets also need to give minutes to their stud veterans to support the young bucks, while also keeping their trade value as high as possible. Denver should be one of the teams out West who fancy themselves to make the playoffs next season under second year coach Michael Malone.
That is why, as we’ll discuss below, it’s highly unlikely Denver makes all three of these selections. It’ll be even more surprising if they bring in more than two rookies to start the season, potentially stashing guys abroad. That being said, the 7th pick is at a very interesting spot. It falls into this year’s lottery purgatory of very raw prospects who don’t project as well as last year’s class. However, they’ll still have options to play it safe, swing for the fences or dip into a deep international class.
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#7 Pick in the NBA Draft:
After Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram come off the board this draft really opens up. Drift from ESPN to Draft Express to CBS Sports and you’ll find very little consensus in this portion of the draft. Given the depth of their current roster, every pick should be on the trade table for Denver. If they can add a meaningful piece and keep a pick in the lottery there’s no reason not to trade down. That is, unless they’re in love with a guy at number seven. It would be better for Denver to add a young established NBA player with the current age of their roster than for them to take on another rookie.
Now, should they decide to keep this pick, expect them to draft for fit. As we discussed in Minnesota’s team needs article, more established teams are best off going for fit. One exception would be if their best available player after Simmons and Ingram drops. If Denver is in love with someone like Marquese Chriss they should pull the trigger. They should also take Dragan Bender if he falls, but that’s doubtful. In the event that they are not head over heels for someone like Chriss, they should be looking to add a wing or point guard here.
At first, drafting a point guard may seem like an unusual decision after drafting Mudiay last season, but if Kris Dunn falls to seven he would be very hard to pass up. I gave a pretty detailed breakdown of Dunn’s strengths in the Minnesota article, but his high floor would be a nice insurance for Mudiay. While Mudiay improved at the end of last season, his shot is still a major negative. Dunn on the other hand would bring an all-NBA caliber defense and is arguably a better pick and roll player than Mudiay. Dunn-Jokic pick and rolls could look like this for the next 5-to-10 years.
Should Denver opt not to take Dunn, or if he is not on the board, they really ought to target a shooting guard or small forward. Their front court is loaded with two very promising young centers in Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic, as well as Kenneth Faried and Gallinari, who has seen action as a small-ball four. I think this is the year Faried gets moved, but even so, that’s a great rotation of big men. Any young player would get buried in the rotation. Therefore, the best options would be one of Buddy Hield, Jamal Murray, Jaylen Brown, or Timothe Luwawu.
Denver could really use some shooting after they finished T-25th in three point shooting last season. But don’t count out Mike Malone falling in love with Jaylen Brown’s athleticism and intelligence. Brown has the highest ceiling of the four and would bring an instant impact on defense. However, he’d be almost unplayable with Mudiay when both lack jump shots.
Murray or Hield would be the safe pick. Either guy could come in and back up Gary Harris, while having the chance to take his minutes. Murray is three years younger and projects to be a better passer than Hield. Hield on the other hand could become a pretty decent defender, which cannot be said for Murray. Both guys are psychotic gym rats that Malone would love. Hield, like Dunn, could be more appealing as an older rookie who could contribute more quickly as well. That being said, Malone has Harris and Will Barton already at the two. If he wants to keep minutes for them, that could tilt him toward selecting Brown or even Luwawau.
Luwawu is really the wild card of this group. Denver has a strong recent history of drafting international players (Jokic, Nurkic, Mudiay) so if they believe in Luwawu don’t be surprised if he’s selected here. Luwawu is an incredible, bouncy athlete who has improved his stroke from deep. He remains underrated off the dribble and could provide flexibility to play the two or the three. He’d be the home run play at seven, even more so than Brown. Luwawu has the physical tools to be the next great two-way wing and he’ll have plenty of teams thinking long and hard with hops like this.
Many have criticized this draft for lacking better prospects in the lottery, which makes Denver’s choice at number seven a difficult one. Either way, coach Malone and general manager Tim Connelly should be content with still having plenty of fascinating options with this pick.
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15th and 19th Picks in the NBA Draft:
Much like with the breakdowns of the Sixers and Celtics, we’re grouping these two picks because they’re so close in range. Selecting twice in a range that many consider the deepest part of the draft, this is a great place for Denver to find one guy they really like and use their other pick to stash a player abroad. If they use their pick at seven this should especially be their strategy. It would even be justifiable to pick two guys to stash here given how few minutes they’ll have to disperse.
Fifteen is where Denver should narrow in on a guy to keep, with the one exception being Turkey’s Furkan Korkmaz. Most international players, aside from Bender and Luwawu, are expected to not be taken until the early twenties, but Korkmaz could be very difficult to let slide to 19. A very frail two guard, Korkmaz is only 18 and is already a prolific shooter from deep. Allowing him to develop for a couple years with such a high ceiling could be hard to pass on.
There are plenty of other great options at 15, especially in terms of point guards. The three best point guards in this draft after Kris Dunn are Wade Baldwin, Demetrius Jackson, and Tyler Ulis. At least two or all three could still be on the board here. Given the depth of point guards late, this could sway Malone to pass on Kris Dunn at number seven.
That’s an important point to take note of. When you have multiple picks, you have to be aware of the depth of positions in a draft. Why gamble on missing out on a two guard for Dunn when Baldwin projects to be a better shooter and a great defender as well? If Denver goes with a wing or at least avoids Dunn at seven, a point guard would be a great fit at 15.
If Baldwin is on the board at 15, this is who Denver should be all over. At just 20 years of age, Baldwin has a ridiculous 6‘11.25” wingspan that could be really appealing defensively. He also shot almost 41 percent from three, meaning you could even play him off ball with Mudiay a bit. On top of that, as discussed with Dunn, his defensive potential gives the Nuggets a great fall back for Mudiay. The knock on Baldwin is his playmaking skills, but with Gallinari and Jokic having superior passing skills for their position, that should not be enough to not draft Baldwin.
Right now, though, Baldwin is projected as the 10th pick on Draft Express. It’s very likely he won’t make it out of the lottery. If that happens, Tyler Ulis would be a great pick. Fifteen might be a little high for him, but he would be a top five pick if not for his height. Ulis makes up for his 5-foot-10 height with leadership, toughness, defense, and shot making. It’s unlikely he’ll be an all-star or even a starter, but he should turn into one of the best back ups in the league. If you can get that at 15 or 19, that’s a home run.
While I believe point guard is the ideal position for Denver, some other players they could look at here are Denzel Valentine and Taurean Prince. Valentine’s secondary playmaking and shooting would fit wonderfully next to Mudiay. He could even excel leading the second unit. Prince would be a natural successor to Wilson Chandler, a pure three who plays defense, brings energy and knock down shooting. After those guys, Denver should consider taking a draft-and-stash prospect with one of their picks. Nineteen would be the ideal pick to do that with. Some of the best available guys include Ivica Zubac, Ante Zizic, Petr Cornelie and Juan Hernangomez.
With Jokic and Nurkic, it might make more sense to pass on centers Zubac and Zizic. The player who could really fit in well a year or two from now is the young man in the video above. Hernangomez could play the three or the four and will only be 21 in September. He’s one of the best young players in Europe and improved his three-point shooting upward to 35 percent. That’s big given the potential for him to be a stretch four. Pair that with his abilities to run the floor and be a target for lobs, and you’ve got a modern stretch four.
If Hernangomez’s strengths get Malone giddy, then he’ll also love Petr Cornelie. Cornelie is a seven foot stretch four who is also a great athlete. He’s one year younger than Hernangomez and a better shooter from deep (around 40 percent this year). Cornelie could definitely fill out his frame some more, but he gives Malone and Connelly another great international option high in the draft.
Three picks will certainly be a burden for Denver, but this is exactly why you develop a strong scouting team. This draft for Denver may look like ordinary selections, but having success with these three picks could push the Nuggets that much closer to getting back to being a regular in the playoffs.
The Draft Order and Team Needs
1. Philadelphia 76ers
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Boston Celtics (From Brooklyn)
4. Phoenix Suns
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
6. New Orleans Pelicans
7. Denver Nuggets (From New York)
8. Sacramento Kings
9. Toronto Raptors (From Denver)
10. Milwaukee Bucks
11. Orlando Magic
12. Atlanta Hawks (From Utah)
13. Phoenix Suns (From Washington) - Second 1st Round Pick
14. Chicago Bulls
15. Denver Nuggets (From Houston) - Second 1st Round Pick
16. Boston Celtics (From Dallas) - Second 1st Round Pick
17. Memphis Grizzlies
18. Detroit Pistons
19. Denver Nuggets (From Portland) - Third 1st Round Pick
20. Indiana Pacers
21. Atlanta Hawks - Second First Round Pick
22. Charlotte Hornets
23. Boston Celtics - Third First Round Pick
24. Philadelphia 76ers (From Miami) - Second First Round Pick
25. Los Angeles Clippers
26. Philadelphia 76ers (From Oklahoma City) - Third First Round Pick
27. Toronto Raptors - Second First Round Pick
28. Phoenix Suns (From Cleveland) - Third First Round Pick
29. San Antonio Spurs
30. Golden State Warriors
No Picks: Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers, Washington Wizards
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