Over the last few weeks, the Denver Nuggets have added a handful of intriguing prospects to their training camp roster. With Joffrey Lauvergne traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Nuggets will have one roster spot available and six prospects vying to make the team. Most of those players have spent some time in the D-League and/or abroad.
I reached out to D-league expert Chris Reichert of Upside and Motor and got his thoughts on the players in contention to make the Nuggets roster. I’ve been following Chris’s work for several years now and nobody covers the D-League with as much passion and insight as him. He’ll also be my guest on the Pickaxe Podcast next week to go more in-depth on these guys’ skill sets, the Nuggets need for a D-League affiliate, and much more. For now, check our Q & A and be sure to follow him on twitter at @Chris_Reichert.
Stiffs: Who do you think has more upside between Jakarr Sampson and Axel Toupane?
Chris: Even though Toupane is a year older (24) his upside is higher at this point. Sampson is basically a defensive plus who needs plenty of work to improve and be an offensive threat. Toupane isn’t the stalwart on D that Sampson is, however he possesses more playmaking abilities that are necessary in today’s NBA.
Toupane has also shown an ability to knock down 3-pointers, especially from the corners. He isn’t a marksman by any means, but I would take him moving forward over Sampson.
Stiffs: What kind of player is Jarnell Stokes?
Chris: Stokes is a 6-8, 250-pound power forward who largely plays below the rim but is wildly efficient in doing so. Last season in the D-League 80 percent of his FGM came from within 5-feet and only 21 of those (204 total) were dunks. Where he really excels is with his elite footwork. He’s able to get defenders off balance and then instantly use that to his advantage, getting an open hook shot or layup at the rim.
Even more encouraging is his development (albeit slow) of a mid-range jumper. Last season for Sioux Falls he knocked down almost 54 percent of his jump shots from mid-range (56 attempts) and hit four of his nine 3-point attempts. He’s a stout defender, but his elite footwork doesn’t fully translate to the perimeter and at 6-8, he needs the ability to switch onto smaller guards in the NBA. He’s still just 22-years old and there is plenty of room for increased value.
Stiffs: What role do you think D.J. Kennedy would have on the Nuggets? Spot up shooter? Ball handler? Defender?
Kennedy is going to make his mark as a slasher and defender. Last year in Russia he hit just 25 3-pointers in 40 contests, so while he’s a 6-6 shooting guard, he isn’t a plus shooter. He’s extremely athletic and uses that ability to disrupt games on both ends of the court. I think he’s got an outside chance at making the team and would put him behind Toupane and Sampson in terms of wings vying for a roster spot.
Stiffs: Is Nate Wolters an NBA player?
Yes, 100 percent yes. At 6-4 Wolters would be a quality backup for pretty much any team in the NBA. He’s a heady player who has above average quickness, especially with the ball in his hands. Playmaking for others is his key attribute and he seemingly always makes the right play. He also uses his size to his advantage and even flashes some moves in the post when the opportunity presents itself.
While a capable outside shooter, I wouldn’t say it’s really a strength of his. Wolters is more adept at turning the corner on the pick-and-roll and taking what the defense gives him; whether a straight drive to the rim or a pull up mid-range shot. In his only extended NBA playing time (back in 2013/14 with the Bucks) he posted an impressive assist/turnover ratio of 3.28 as well.
Stiffs: If you were the Nuggets GM, which former D-league player would you add to the roster? And why? Wolters, Stokes, Toupane, Sampson, Kennedy, Hummel (Hummel didn’t play in the D-league but is invited to camp).
Chris: This might be obvious based on the previous question, but I would roll with Nate Wolters. Mudiay and Jameer are the only two point guards on the roster right now. While rookie Jamal Murray showed a propensity to play the lead guard position (especially with the Canadian NT), I would want him spotting up off the ball primarily. Wolters brings a steady hand to the point guard position and will push Nelson for backup minutes if given the opportunity. Earlier this offseason there were rumblings that if he was not given more minutes, Nelson wouldn’t be adverse to a trade so adding Wolters would provide a fallback option if needed.
The power forward/center spots are crowded with budding young talent so while I think Stokes is an NBA player, I don’t know that the fit is right in Denver.