The Denver Nuggets brought in 10 would-be 2012 draftees to Pepsi Center today for a workout and Denver Stiffs was invited to attend. Here's a quick recap ...
A day after looking at possible candidates for their 20th overall pick, Masai Ujiri, George Karl and the Nuggets brass took a close look at 10 players that could end up being drafted by the Nuggets in the second round with the 38th and 50th overall selections. The players flown in to Denver included Georgetown guard Jason Clark, Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli, Arizona guard Kyle Fogg, Auburn forward Kenny Gabriel, Detroit forward Eli Holman, Florida State center/forward Bernard James, UC Santa Barbara center (by way of Hungary) Greg Somogyi, Texas Christian guard Hank Thorns, Buffalo forward Mitchell Watt and Villanova guard Maalik Wayns.
Of all the names listed, only Ezeli and James appear in credible mock drafts, with Draft Express predicting Ezeli to be taken last in the first round and James somewhere in the middle of the second round. NBADraft.net has Ezeli pegged to be drafted early in the second round.
Seeing these players in person, it's easy to see why Ezeli is intriguing. Listed at 6'11" (he's more like 6'9" and a half or 6'10"), Ezeli is easily the 265 pounds that he's listed at and he's chiseled out of stone. And having played at Vanderbilt, Ezeli had to go head-to-head with some of the best players in the country who also competed in the SEC (including Kentucky's Anthony Davis, projected to be the first overall pick).
James doesn't have Ezeli's build (listed at 6'10", he's more like 6'9") but he probably has the best life story of anyone in the 2012 NBA Draft. If drafted, James would be a 27 year old rookie. Why? Because James joined the Air Force at 16 years old and did tours in Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq with security and military police. That's why. So while character won't be in question when it comes to James, age and experience will be. Briefly speaking with James, he told me that he didn't start playing basketball until he was 17 and that he sprouted 5 inches from the age of 17 to 22 (something I can relate to, I grew from 6'0" to 6'5" during the same age range in my life).
Watching these guys on the Nuggets' practice floor, Ezeli and Holman seem to have the best "NBA ready" bodies, while the 7'3" Somogyi is basically a giant Stiff. Something the Nuggets have two of right now in Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov. But James is a big guy and his high character will be hard to overlook. Think: the Leon Powe of the 2012 NBA Draft.
Longtime Denver Stiffs readers know exactly the type of player I will advocate for in this draft - both with the Nuggets' late first round selection as well as their two second round selections. If you look back historically at the few (and there are few) successful draft selections from the 20th overall pick onward, a pattern emerges that favors undersized forwards who played for a big enough college program to compete in the NCAA Tournament. Like ... Kenneth Faried, drafted 22nd overall last summer. Other notable names that fit this pattern that were drafted since 2006 are Taj Gibson (26th overall), DeJuan Blair (37th overall), Jon Brockman (38th overall), Ryan Anderson (21st overall), Darrell Arthur (27th overall), Wilson Chandler (23rd overall), Carl Landry (31st overall), Glen Davis (35th overall), Paul Millsap (47th overall) and Powe (49th overall).
Of all the players worked out today, James seems to fit that model the best, but the Nuggets shouldn't use their 20th pick on him. Drafting him 38th is worth discussing, however.
Of equal (or perhaps, more) interest was seeing the number of current Nuggets present working out while the rookies-to-be were put through the workout with the Nuggets assistant coaches. Chandler - coming off hip surgery - was there stretching and working out (he can't shoot yet). Also on site were Koufos, Ty Lawson and Jordan Hamilton. And until just a few days ago, apparently Faried and Julyan Stone have been in daily, working out with the Nuggets coaches and training staff.
I asked Ujiri about the current Nuggets being around and he beamed. "They've been incredible [this off season]," Ujiri told me, noting that most of the players have been in daily working out, practicing, improving, etc. And you can't help but feed off Ujiri's optimism for the upcoming season.
Karl, meanwhile, fielded a bunch of questions from the media present about the Charlotte Bobcats' hiring of Mike Dunlap, a former Karl assistant coach and former head coach of Denver's Metro State University. "I was shocked but very happy," said Karl to the media. "I talked to the Charlotte people a month ago. [This hire] refreshes my hope that the right guy can still get a job in the NBA. Mike's brilliance has always been there and he's one of the brightest, smartest guys I've ever been around."
Dunlap joins Terry Stotts and Scott Brooks (currently coaching in the NBA Finals) from Karl's "coaching tree" of assistant coaches to become head coaches in the NBA. Karl also said that the Dunlap hire reminds him of when the Nuggets hired Jeff Bzdelik to change the culture in Denver.
When asked about who the Nuggets should draft, Karl - noting that the Nuggets roster is pretty full as-is - said, "Take the best player available. But we need better shooting."