Daniel Lewis: Ryan, the rest of the NBA is slogging through the dog days leading up to the All-Star break, but the off-the-court chatter never takes a day off. While there is definitely going to be a bunch of trade rumors flying around, I thought that we should take an opportunity to talk about the NBA draft for 10,000 words or so.
I'm only slightly kidding on the length of this, but I'm excited about the draft this year! There are a ton of exciting point guards, wings, and big men in a draft that should be able to produce a Rookie of the Year competition that will have a pulse as compared to this year.
I'll start with a brief mention of Markelle Fultz - wow. He's the clear cut No. 1 pick in the draft, and belongs in a tier all by himself. After Fultz, who fills out the rest of your top five in the draft? Do you have a favorite out of that group?
Ryan Blackburn: Hey Dan, I always love talking about the draft, and I really like this draft class. As you said though, Fultz is the clear cut number one prospect right now, and for good reason. He scores with volume and efficiency from all three levels of the floor, and his passing instincts are strong as well. He deserves the James Harden comparisons that will surely come. I don’t think he will shoulder the same burden as Harden, but he’s going to be great.
The four prospects that follow him are, in order, Josh Jackson, Jonathan Isaac, Lonzo Ball, and Jayson Tatum. Most people include Dennis Smith in their top five, but I don’t see him having the same impact as the above four. I’m most high on Jackson due to his diverse skill set offensively and defensively. He plays hard on both ends, has an excellent IQ, and his physical tools are great for the wing. His only question mark is a jump shot, but if I was to put money on someone developing a jump shot in this class a la Kawhi Leonard, it would be Jackson.
Jonathan Isaac is a special athlete as well, but his skills will likely pit him against power forwards long term. He’s not a great rebounder, but he still has star potential with good tools defensively. Lonzo Ball is known by all as the Jason Kidd clone. For me, the comparison is apt. He’s not going to be an elite scorer, but he has more burst and shooting range than Kidd ever did. Finally, Jayson Tatum looks the part of a star small forward. The problem is that he also looks like Rudy Gay scoring wise. His defensive potential helps him, but he’s the guys I’m the least comfortable with in this group.
Do you like my list? I know I have a controversial take on Dennis Smith as well as high placement of Josh Jackson.
Lewis: My top five is a bit different than yours. Fultz tops my board, followed by Jackson. Isaac is third for me as well. I think with his versatile game and physical tools, he can be a special player for a rebuilding team.
And ... that's where the similarities end. As of right now, I have Dennis Smith Jr. fourth. I've seen his athleticism continue to improve throughout the season, and his perimeter jumper is improving as well. He's a monster, and he's just getting started on what I think could be an incredible career. Honestly, I could see myself moving him up to No. 2 by the end of the season if he continues to dominate.
The fifth guy on my board is Malik Monk. There are obvious questions about his defense against NBA talent, and he's undersized for a shooting guard, but there's no denying his ability to get the ball in the basket. I trust in his work ethic too, and there is plenty of athleticism in that kid. He's the third most efficient scorer in college basketball this season, so even though he's chucking jumpers, it's working.
Unfortunately, I don't think the Nuggets are going to be able to draft any of those players unless something goes terribly wrong or the team gets incredibly lucky in the lottery. With the Nuggets on pace to have their first pick in the draft somewhere in the 10-20 range, and the Grizzlies pick (which the Nuggets own the rights to) falling in the 15-25 range, give me a couple names of players you think the Nuggets might be able to select in that range.
Blackburn: I definitely see the allure of Dennis Smith. In a draft filled with star power and depth, he has some of the highest potential (think Damian Lillard), especially given him coming back from a knee injury. Monk is also fun (think Bradley Beal) with his perimeter oriented offensive attack.
There are four names I want to talk about and three in-depth: OG Anunoby just had surgery on his knee and his out for the season. His defense is otherworldly and his offensive role (while limited) has been hyper efficient when he gets to the rim. If he can come back just as explosive, he’s at the top of my list.
The other three guys I’m looking at are playing who could immediately come in and fill a need, while potentially developing into more than just a role player: Harry Giles, Robert Williams, and Miles Bridges. Starting with Giles, he grades out right now as my 7th best prospect in the entire draft. He compares well to Derrick Favors with his body type, playing style, and skill set. I believe, if he could develop a reliable jump shot, that he could be a top five player from this class. Robert Williams is another power forward/center type, but he covers a lot of ground and provides an above-the-rim threat. He could eventually fill the Kenneth Faried role offensively while providing a nice skill set defensively. Finally, Miles Bridges is a guy I have problems with, but it’s hard to argue with his production and athleticism. He would be a role player for me, but in an uptempo offense like Denver’s, he would be a major threat at power forward.
Do any of the guys I mention stick out to you? I decided to focus more on defense and fitting a role at power forward next to Jokic, and these guys grade well defensively for me. Who are your favorites?
Lewis: Some of the guys you mentioned stick out to me, yes. I think that OG Anunoby would be a great selection for the Nuggets. He may need an additional year to fully recover from his ACL injury, as we've seen with players like Danilo Gallinari. He definitely has the physical tools to be a great defender, but I think he's nowhere near as good as a similar player like Victor Oladipo was at the same point in their careers.
I am not as high as you are on Giles or Williams. Giles has looked bad, and while there is the obvious injury concern, it's just a huge risk for me to take a player that has such medical red flags. It'd be one thing if he was playing well in college, but that just hasn't been the case. I'd rather take Ivan Rabb over Giles at this point - at least I know Rabb can play.
With Williams, I think he's benefited from a hot start to the season and being relatively unknown. He looks like an athlete when he's on the court, but not a basketball player. Too many times he's in the wrong position, or stuck watching a play unfold with an expression that says, "Wow, that's awesome oh wait I should make a play ohhh too late." I'd like the Nuggets to take an athletic big man that can eventually slide in between Hernangomez and Jokic in the frontcourt, but I don't want some nincompoop on the team that will need years to learn fundamentals.
I like Bridges as well. I think his role if he was drafted by the Nuggets would be different than his role at Michigan State, where he's more of a primary scoring option than he'd be in Denver. Hopefully he develops into Atlanta Josh Smith and not Detroit Josh Smith.
I think the needs of defense and finding a big man are huge areas of need for the Nuggets in the draft. I'm fine with the Nuggets going with Faried/Arthur/Chandler/Hernangomez at the four next season. With the concerns surrounding Jusuf Nurkic though, I think that a backup for Jokic may be more of a priority than a backup for Faried.
A player I like for the Nuggets in the 10-20 range is Justin Patton out of Creighton. He's a lanky 7-footer, and while he's more slender than some of the other center prospects, he just looks like he can be a NBA player when he's on the court. He can make a midrange jumper, he has great footwork, he can dribble, and he's springy enough to protect the rim. He's not the physical monster Nurkic is, but he's quick on his feet and a good competitor.
Another player I like, especially if the Nuggets can't land Anunoby, is Mikal Bridges out of Villanova. He's a 6'7" small forward with a 7'1" wingspan, and when he's on defense, his arms look like they are 10 feet long. He's shooting a cool 40 percent on 3-point attempts this season, and he's learning how to play great system defense under Jay Wright. He's a prototypical 3&D prospect, similar to Danny Green, and if he can do humiliate people like this in the NBA, I'd love to have him doing that in a Nuggets jersey.
He may decide to stay in school, which would be a real bummer, but if he declares, he could be a good value with the Grizzlies first round pick. He would give the Nuggets additional depth on the wing, which NBA teams really can't have enough of the way things are currently trending.
What do you think of those two prospects? Have I converted you to a different Bridges?
Blackburn: I really like both Mikal Bridges and Justin Patton so far. I haven’t spent a ton of time with either player, but Patton was a guy I was saving for later in the process because I believe he will wow me even more. I see Patton with similar physical tools and traits to Myles Turner, but so far in college, Patton’s efficiency inside the arc blows Turner out of the water. Bridges is a hyper effective college player right now, and I definitely think that sliding him into a steady role could produce a solid glue guy at the next level. Otto Porter if he continues developing the jumper, and Andre Roberson is if goes down the defensive route. I wouldn’t say you have converted me at this point, but I will be keeping a close eye on how he affects Villanova long term.
Moving more into the second round, the Nuggets have two mid-late second round picks that they may or may not use. I’m calling my shot right now: you picked the wrong Oregon player in your recent draft profile. Chris Boucher is going to carve out a role in the NBA as he puts on muscle and works on his shot mechanics. He has scary physical tools for a player his size, and as stretch power forward with tools to slash, he could be the glue for a bench at the next level.
Who are a couple of guys in the second round (other than Mikal Bridges and Jordan Bell) that you would take a look at?
Lewis: There are a few second round guys I like, outside of Jordan Bell, whom I profiled a few days back. Chris Boucher is one of them, but I am a little wary of a few things with him. He's old, already at 23, and skinny. He's a fun player to watch though, regardless.
One of those guys is Caleb Swanigan, out of Purdue. He's a talented scorer and rebounder, but is not known for his defense. He's averaging a double-double this season, his second in college.
I like VJ Beachem, out of Notre Dame, as a 3&D wing prospect at small forward. Donovan Mitchell, out of Louisville, is a great defensive guard. If he is able to have a consistent shot from the perimeter, he's a NBA guard for sure. Cameron Oliver is a bouncy but unrefined power forward, he's playing for Nevada at the moment.
Do you have a favorite prospect? A guy that may not be someone you see as a fit with the Nuggets, but you are just excited to see play in the NBA someday?
Blackburn: Caleb Swanigan did the best thing for himself and went back to college during last year’s draft process. He wasn’t ready at that point, but now he’s putting up a double-double in college, something very few players are doing.
As far as favorite prospect, Alec Peters out of Valparaiso is a senior who is in a league of his own nearly every time he plays. Given that he’s from a mid-major school, this is understandable, but some team is going to give him a shot and he’s going to impress, not with athleticism, but pure shot making ability and intelligence on the floor. He’s the Nikola Jokic of this class if he can take advantage of the opportunity. He probably doesn’t fit the Nuggets, who really need athletic defenders and spot up shooters more than anything, but if a team is looking for a stretch 4 with skills all over the floor, he’s a great candidate in the second round.
Compare and contrast him with Josh Jackson, and there are very few similarities except basketball I.Q., but Jackson is a guy I will be rooting for regardless of which team drafts him. Too many people put stock in a jump shot at the three point line. Jackson’s mechanics are good at 20 feet, but he just needs help extending that range consistently. Not to mention, his defensive tools are first team All-Defense caliber.
How about you? We haven’t talked about Peters much before. Is he on the radar?
Lewis: Peters isn't on my radar at all. If the Nuggets want to become the 2016-17 Rockets, that's fine, they just need to find a James Harden in the draft.
I have two favorite prospects as well in the draft, and they're both guards who are very different players.
The first is Malik Monk. I can't help but love guys that can get the ball in the basket, and Monk has no equal at the college level. His ability to get open and make jumpers is just absurd, and it's just so entertaining for me to watch him play.
The second is Donovan Mitchell. His jumper looks better than the stats, and he plays with great intensity. I love watching guards that can hound opponents on defense, and he makes life miserable for the players he matches up with. His outside shot is getting better, and if he keeps up this production, he could take Louisville pretty far in the NCAA Tournament.
This has been a pretty fun chat. There are a few guys you mentioned I'll have to take a look at. Do you have any closing arguments or hot takes you want to share with the Stiffs family?
Blackburn: In close, there is only one surefire draft pick this year: Markelle Fultz. The next tier of players includes about four guys, and the one beyond that probably includes as many as seven or eight. That being said, if the Nuggets do in fact make the playoffs, they will be pricing themselves out of many of the draft picks we talked about and will be forced to select from a lesser pool of talent. If that is the case, the Nuggets need to focus on three traits: length, mobility, and basketball IQ defensively. Shooting is nice, but the Nuggets have enough shooters now and can focus on filling in the gaps. Defense has been the biggest issue, so drafting a player at any position that improves the defense will affect the team’s trajectory in a good way. When in doubt, go with OG Anunoby, Mikal Bridges, or Justin Patton.