This is not surprising, but that doesn’t make it any more joyous: the Denver Nuggets did not move up in the draft after the 2017 Lottery, and will draft 13th. It could be worse - their odds were almost as good to move down one to 14th (1.8%) as they were to move up (2.2%). Perhaps sending Gary Harris to observe the selection was lucky after all.
The Boston Celtics had the best chance to get the first pick and that’s how it worked out. The Los Angeles Lakers grabbed the second, while the Philadelphia 76ers got the third pick, but from a Nuggets point of view only the Lakers pick makes a difference in the Western Conference. If the Lakers had fallen out of the top-3 they would have lost not just this year’s first rounder but also their 2019 first pick, but this will keep them in future conversations of young teams on the rise.
The Nuggets are also on the rise, and will have to make 13 a lucky number for them. This is one of the better-rated drafts in a decade, and while scouting is imprecise the amount of talent on display in the college season was a cut above the last several years. After addressing its backcourt needs in the last two drafts, Denver has some good wing and frontcourt options that could be available at 13.
The leader in the clubhouse, per an informal staff poll, is Ogugua "OG" Anunoby, a 19 year old combo forward with a defensive bent. Daniel wrote him up here and Adam talked with Jonathan Tjarks of the Ringer about both Anunoby and Jonathan Isaac here. Daniel’s sums him up thusly:
In terms of a pro comparison, I think he is similar to Jae Crowder, just with a higher defensive ceiling. He’s unlikely to ever be the focal point of an offense, due to his struggles in regards to shot creation and ballhandling. He can drive when the lane is open, he’s athletic enough to finish off cuts, and he can develop as a spot-up shooter. Defensively, he may struggle to rebound against larger opponents, but if he’s guarding the best scorer on the other team, he may be away from the rebound scrum more often than not. Once he gets into transition, watch out.
That assumes his recovery from knee surgery goes smoothly - right now there’s no ETA for him to take the court as an NBA player. Other options include Zach Collins and Justin Jackson.
Zach Collins is a modern frontcourt player who can play the 4 or the 5. He showed a lot of offensive skills including range and a nice shot to go with an ability to be a weakside shot-blocker. Ryan wrote a stub on him in March crediting him with a “Porzingis-like vibe” and he’s not the only person with that opinion. We’ll almost certainly do an in-depth dive on him as the draft gets closer.
Ryan also wrote up the 22 year old Justin Jackson back in April as part of the site’s potential draftee coverage during March Madness. His takeaway on the small forward who might be able to play some small-ball 4:
For the Nuggets, Jackson plays a position of need and shows many of the same scoring traits that Danilo Gallinari possesses. With Gallinari possibly exiting in free agency, it’s possible that Denver could select Jackson in the hope of replacing some scoring punch. That being said, I’m wary of selecting a player that doesn’t get his hands dirty on the defensive end, and so far, Jackson hasn’t committed to that end.
The Nuggets met with Justin Jackson at the Combine (along with several other teams) and look to cover their bases when it comes to players expected to fall in this range.
Denver could also attempt to package a player like Will Barton or Wilson Chandler with the #13 pick to move up in the draft, but if last year was a draft that was hard to get pick buyers in, this one will be tough to find sellers in the top-10. Drafting 13th in 2017 is a lot like drafting 7th last year; that’s the discrepancy in talent. If Denver can find another Murray-level player with this pick they’ll have done well.
Stay tuned for plenty of draft updates as we get closer to the day, especially as Denver will be one of the obvious teams to watch in trade rumors. The Nuggets have the 13th pick now, but that’s only one of many storylines heading into the draft.