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Stiffs Prospect Watch: Jordan Bell

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The Nuggets have uncovered a superstar in Nikola Jokic, and now the challenge is to surround him with complementary players.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Oregon Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

The last full moon of 2016 rose on the evening of December 14, 2016. The lunar cycle controls the tides, but the effects aren’t as visible in Denver, far from the ocean shores.

But this full moon was different, because the following day, the Nuggets would unearth their next franchise superstar in the second-year center from Serbia, Nikola Jokic.

On December 15, Nuggets coach Michael Malone moved Jusuf Nurkic to the bench, inserting Nikola Jokic in the starting lineup alonside Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. A month later, the Nuggets would blow out the Pacers, 140-112 in London. Since that game, the Nuggets have won 6 of 8 games, with an unstoppable offense that is full of ball movement, 3-pointers and dunks.

For the first time since Carmelo Anthony packed up his belongings in his locker in the Pepsi Center for New York City, the Nuggets have a player to build the franchise around.

It’s a shift that the front office has recognized, and has begun to craft future rosters off of.

Adding a defensive power forward, a “rim protector and a shot blocker on that back line” isn’t something easy to do in the NBA draft. For every DeAndre Jordan and Rudy Gobert, there’s a Stromile Swift or Jan Vesely that strides across the stage to shake the commissioner’s hand and don a cap before turning and smiling at the cameras.

I like using recipes to cook and bake - if you could fill out a checklist of ingredients for a power forward to fill what Malone and Connelly are looking for, what would you list? Shot blocker, explosive athlete, skilled defensive rebounder, crafty screen setter, makes the right play on offense, decisive cutter have to all be on the list, right?

Enter Jordan Bell, a 22-year-old power forward with the Oregon Ducks, who can do things like this.

At 6-foot-9-inches and 215 pounds, Bell is a lean, mean, shot blocking, rim rattling machine for the Ducks.

The statistical comparisons for Bell are historic. In his junior season, Bell’s production is similar to what Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, and Patrick Ewing were doing with their NBA teams in the 90’s. With a defensive rebound percentage of 20.4, an offensive rebound rate of 10.5, with per game averages of 2 blocks and 1 steal (3 stocks), Bell is putting up incredible numbers for one of the top teams in the country.

Bell takes nearly 70 percent of his shot attempts at the rim, where’s he converting at a 73 percent rate, according to Hoop-Math. Over half of those attempts come as a result of a teammate working hard to get Bell an open attempt, but with how efficient he is on those attempts, and how efficient the Ducks offense is, it seems to be working.

Bell is a force in transition, and is a reliable screener in the halfcourt. He is learning the nuances of being a dive man, but has the athletic ability to jump from outside the paint and finish high above the rim. His teammates recognize the tools he brings to the defensive end of the court.

“It’s pretty impressive what he can do,” Oregon guard Casey Benson said after a victory over Cal on 19 January. “It helps out so much when he can switch out onto a guard and defend them one-on-one with no help. He’s so versatile on that end of the court and it doesn’t go unnoticed.”

Watch what he’s able to down the stretch against Ivan Rabb and the Golden Bears.

He’s not a reliable passer at this point in his career, and needs to continue developing his hands to limit his turnovers when his teammates pass him the ball as he cuts to the rim (49 turnovers in 21 games this season). He needs to add lower body strength as he continues to recover from two surgeries on his foot that caused him to miss the offseason and 10 games of his sophomore season.

If the Nuggets are looking for a forward that can space the floor, well, that’s what Juancho is for, because Bell doesn’t have that as part of his game currently. Between MaxPreps and Basketball Reference, Bell has a recorded total of four made 3-pointers spanning high school and college. He is shooting 71 percent from the free throw line, but ideally, that’s as far away from the rim as he should get for his shot attempts.

For the Nuggets, Bell would be one of the “older” core pieces. He will celebrate his 23rd birthday during his rookie season, which ages him above Murray, Beasley, Mudiay, Hernangomez, and Jokic. In my opinion, if the Nuggets make the playoffs this season, they may want to take a more mature player rather than gamble on higher upside with a younger player. I can see the validity of both arguments, and would understand why they made the choice they did if they drafted Bell.

I think Bell has a ceiling of a rim-protecting version of Kenneth Faried, the Nuggets current starting power forward. Bell’s physical tools make him a valuable complement to Hernangomez and Jokic in the Nuggets front court. He has the speed to switch onto guards on the perimeter and the explosiveness to provide help defense if one of his teammates gets beaten in the post.

Bell is the No. 75 prospect on Draft Express’s top 100 prospects, and is projected as a top-40 pick on the NBAdraft.net mock draft. Personally, I would be thrilled to see the Nuggets use one of either the Grizzlies or Thunder’s second round pick that belongs to Denver this season on the California native. There’s the risk that a solid NCAA tournament run by Oregon could elevate his draft stock, but using a second round pick on him is good value. Denver - please invite him for a workout to better see what he brings to the table!

Stiffs Prospects to Watch for 2017

Lauri Markkanen