The NBA draft is all about improving your team while trying to get the most value out of your pick. Tim Connelly and Co. went to work in this draft as they traded the 11th overall pick and Anthony Randolph to the Chicago Bulls for the 16th pick, 19th pick, and a future second-round pick.
1.) The Nuggets maximized value by swapping first-round picks. The Nuggets easily could have taken Doug McDermott (perhaps the best player available when the Nuggets picked), Gary Harris, Zach LaVine, or Jusuf Nurkic with the 11th pick and called it a day. But instead, they flipped the pick and still got two of their top targets in Nurkic at 16th and Harris at 19th.
Instead of paying the 11th pick $1.8 million this season, the Nuggets will pay Nurkic (who wants to come over this season) $1.4 million and Harris $1.2 million. The "Nuggets are cheap" talk should be "the Nuggets are smart" as they got two quality prospects at $2.6 million for next season.
2.) Jusuf Nurkic is not Nikoloz Tskitishvili. The Nuggets have had high interest, have watched, and know Nurkic well. They have spent time with him and his family - they have done their homework. He is a legit prospect and a massive man at 6'11" and 280 pounds. He has been regarded as the second best center prospect behind Joel Embiid and has a serious offensive repertoire. Brian Shaw likes big men that can play with their back to the basket and play in the pick-and-pop. Nurkic can definitely play in the post and will be a load for defender to handle. His shot has been improving and he will be able to step out a little bit and nail jumpers. He also shot free throws around 70% and has nice form on his shot.
As with most young guys, Jusuf will need to add some strength to his frame and learn the NBA game, but he is a serious prospect with a lot of upside. Timofey Mozgov proved to be a capable center last season and I expect Nurkic to push for playing time and perhaps be the Nuggets starting center of the future. The wait-and-see with Nurkic isn't going to bowl over fans, but let's give this kid some time at just 19 years old (20 in August).
3.) Gary Harris is a steal at 19. The knocks on Harris have to do with his size (6'4.5" in shoes with a 6'7" wingspan) and his regression from his freshman to sophomore seasons. His field goal shooting fell from 45.6% to 42.9% and his three-point shooting fell from 41.1% to 35.2% while his attempts in both went way up. So, with a larger offensive role, his numbers dipped. Well, Harris was playing with an injury for part of the season - so that may explain a little bit of the dip. No doubt, there should be some concern with Harris' numbers and why he fell to 19th.
On the flip side, Harris has really good basketball IQ, a nose for the ball, a pest on defense (1.8 steals per game), a reliable outside shot, and is athletic enough to attack the rim. Harris will also get to learn the game from some savvy players in Arron Afflalo, Randy Foye, and Ty Lawson to name a few ... I expect him to be a sponge.
Harris is good enough to earn playing time right away. He will likely push Foye for minutes and could make Foye expendable this season. It's also a bonus that Harris played in a good program at Michigan State and for a legendary coach in Tom Izzo.
4.) The Nuggets cleared roster room by moving Anthony Randolph in the Bulls deal. It was fairly clear that Masai Ujiri's experiment with AR was coming to an end. In his two seasons in Denver he played in a total of 82 games and never averaged more than 12.3 minutes per game. Here is where we have to be careful with the word potential. Randolph was the ultimate potential guy coming out of Louisiana State and at just 24 years-old now, it looks like he will struggle to get minutes on any team.
The Nuggets must be careful with how they develop their new young talents. Harris is a basketball lifer while Nurkic is still learning the game. Brian Shaw and his staff will be tasked with figuring out how to best grow these guys and they will be walking a fine line. Ruin a guy's confidence and you may ruin him. Both Nurkic and Harris are supposedly mentally strong and that's good, but we'll find out if it's true.
5.) Tim Connelly gambled on long-term guys, didn't go for NBA ready Doug McDermott. To me, the draft is about finding guys that might be able to contribute today, but more about what those guys can do for you tomorrow. The Nuggets got three-guys that are 19 years-old. Connelly was really excited about the selection of Nikola Jokic with the 41st pick. Jokic is a unique player that Connelly touts as being a creative passer that grew around three-inches recently. Nurkic has a chance to be a special player, too. We will see what happens with Harris, I see him as a role player in the league and that's not a bad get with the 19th pick.
6.) Arron Afflalo is back in town. Still hurts to lose Evan Fournier in that trade. The Nuggets sent Fournier and the 56th pick (Roy Devyn Marble) to the Magic for Afflalo. It's a bit of a circular move, since the Nuggets are likely using the $9.8 million Traded Player Exception to absorb AAA's $7.5 million deal. Denver can still use the, approximately, $2.3 million left on that TPE for other players. Afflalo was more efficient on the offensive end last season, but he likely won't get the number of opportunities in Denver that he did in Orlando, due to the number of offensive options the Nuggets have. But AAA is an upgrade to the starting lineup as he brings a defensive mindedness to the team as well as his 42% outside shooting.
The Nuggets backcourt is set with Ty Lawson, Nate Robinson, Arron Afflalo, and Randy Foye. We'll see what else the team does to improve the team, but they are pretty well set at every roster spot.
Connelly said after the draft that both Harris and Nurkic will be in Denver next season. There is also a good chance both guys will play on Denver's Summer League team, while Jokic will be staying overseas, for now. The Nuggets are on a quest to get back to the playoffs, but they added two future assets in this year's draft - something I didn't think they would do.