This series blows. There I said it. I'd liken it to going through old year books and looking up all the girls (or guys) that broke your heart in high school and then writing around1200 words reliving the experience of each one. Indeed, the Denver Nuggets have had their hearts ripped out via the draft lottery several times. There was the time they had the best chance ever to get the #1 pick but ended up with #3, there was the time they had a chance at a once in a generation power forward but got a once in a generation bust instead and yes there was the time when they had the chance to draft LeBron James himself but instead settled for Carmelo Anthony. Fret not loyal readers, this series comes to a merciful close today with a review of the time Denver missed out on not one, but two hall of fame centers way back in 1992.
The 1991-1992 Nuggets may have been one of the most painful teams of all for sports fans in Denver. It's a season that marked the end of the Paul Westhead era, which otherwise can be referred to as abject failure, and in many ways is when times were the darkest before the dawn that was the 1992-1993 season. After allowing a mind boggling 130+ points per game from their opponents the previous season, the Nuggets, anchored by rookie center Dikembe Mutumbo, improved greatly on defense allowing their opponents only 107 points per game. As the year began though there was hope for the team as they hovered around .500 and as the all-star break neared they were just 4 games back of a playoff spot with a 17-26 record. What happened next is one of the more epic collapses in Nuggets history. The team would close out the season with just seven more victories and ultimately finish with a record of 24-58 and nineteen games out of the playoffs. Westhead was shown the door and Denver was once again off to the lottery with the fourth best chance of securing a #1 overall pick.
The 1992 NBA draft was incredibly top heavy. It featured two centers who were hall of fame talents, a forward out of Duke who everyone hated and two athletic wings who had short but impactful careers in the NBA. It was also a year where there was a consensus on the #1 pick in the draft and that guy was Shaquille O'neal. I often say that O'neal's best comparison in the modern day NBA is LeBron, not because they play a similar style of basketball or that they have the same skill set but because what set both apart from the rest of the crowd was the unreal amount of athleticism they had for their size. Detractors say Shaq was simply big which is why he was so dominant but that completely ignores his footwork and quickness in the post, his leaping ability, his ability to get up and down the court and his raw strength which had much more to it than just the fact that he was big. His career of course speaks for itself as a four time NBA champion and now an elected member of the James Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Speaking of the hall of fame, another member of the illustrious institution was taken right after Shaq in the form of Alonzo Mourning. Zo was just the latest big man to come out of Georgetown who was a factory for stud centers in the late eighties and early nineties. In many ways he was a smaller verison of Shaq, boasting strength, quickness and athleticism to go with a solid post game while being a ferocious rim protector on defense the he would develop a better mid-range game. Mourning would ultimately get caught in a contract dispute with the Charlotte Hornets that would see him shipped off to the Miami Heat where he continued to be a dominant big man in the league. Unfortunately for Zo and the Magic while they had Shaq (and so many others) thier era of dominance was in the 1990s in the Eastern Conference which meant they consistently found their team being bounced from the playoff by Michael Jordan, though the Magic did break through in the second year of Jordan's first retirement before ultimately succumbing to the Houston Rockets in the finals.
The Nuggets had the fourth best chance at the first pick in the 1992 draft (and by extension the third best chance at the #2 pick) but it was the Hornets who were the big winners when they jumped up six spots to #2 and ultimately left Denver sitting in the #5 spot where they still did pretty good in picking up Laphonso Ellis. Had they landed the #1 or #2 pick though they would have had a bit of a conundrum. Mutumbo by all rights was living up to his billing as one of the best young centers in the Association but in no way could Denver have entertained trading away O'neal if they had the opportunity to draft him and likely instead would have been forced to deal Mutumbo. If they had got the #2 pick there's a chance they go with a twin tower lineup as Zo was more suited to play the power forward position than Shaq or Dikembe. Alas, it was not meant to be. The Magic and Hornets/Heat would enjoy multiple playoff appearances over the next several years whereas Ellis would have a devastating knee injury two years later that was the beginning of several more years in the lottery for Denver.
Below we have our final draft lottery standings now that all the coin flips have taken place. The Nuggets currently hold the #7 spot thanks to the New York Knicks and also have the chances associated with the #9 spot as a result of their own record. In cases where teams tied in the standings their draft order was determined by coin flips, however, those flips have a very minimal impact on the draft lottery odds (.001% to be exact) as any teams who are tied have the sum of all their chances divide among each other which did play a role in the Nuggets overall chances given their tie with the Sacramento Kings and the Milwaukee Bucks and ultimately gives them a slightly better chance of landing a top 3 pick than the New Orleans Pelicans, even though the Pelicans finished with a worse record.
4. The Denver Nuggets own the rights to swap first round picks with the New York Knicks.
5. The Toronto Raptors (via the Knicks) and the Kings both have a very very minute chance of scoring either the 2nd or 3rd pick in the draft. The Raptors would need both the Nuggets and the Knicks picks to land in the top three, the Kings would need both their pick and the 76ers pick to land in the top 3. Suffice to say neither chance is very good.