Let me get this out of the way: I LOVE Jonathan Isaac.
For starters, he’s an outside/inside player that stands 6-feet, 11-inches tall - taller than Danilo Gallinari and as tall (or possibly slightly taller) than Nikola Jokic. He’s also got a 7’1” wingspan and a standing reach over 9’. He shot a respectable 35% from behind the arc in his lone season at Florida State and 78% from the free throw line. Traditionally, free throw shooting has been a good indicator of future shooting success so his 78% from the line and solid shooting mechanics provide hope that he will be an above average shooter for his position.
He’s a great rebounder, hauling in 12 rebounds per 40 minutes and has a lot of promise as a shot-blocker from the power forward position. He’s more mobile defensively around the perimeter than anyone in the draft his height and might be a defensive juggernaut in the making. Lastly, my favorite trait of all is that he’s pretty good about playing within himself. That skill is as valuable as any in the Nikola Jokic-led offense that Denver has discovered. Players that are content to keep the ball moving and hunt for open shots, drives, cuts, and passes (Gary Harris, anyone?) will thrive with the Nuggets. Isaac appears to be that guy while also showing plenty of high level individual talent and physical tools.
There’s also the fact that the Nuggets have a nice stable of young talent in the back court in point guard Jamal Murray and shooting guard Gary Harris. They’ve got Jokic who anchors the center position and Juancho Hernangomez who shot 40.7% from three in his rookie season. Juancho can play either the small forward or power forward position. He’s too small to guard bulkier power forwards and not quite quick enough defensively to defend fast wings but he’s shown a tireless work ethic and plenty of upside so penciling him in as one of the two combo-forward positions works. That leaves Isaac perfectly suited to be the final under-22 year old prospect to slide into the one remaining spot at power forward.
The problem is that most mock drafts have Isaac going in the top eight of this draft. A few even have him going as high as five. The Nuggets own the 13th pick. That means if the Nuggets are as enamored with Isaac as I am, they’d have to make a trade to move up into the top seven or eight of the draft in order to get him. Let’s take a closer look at what it might take to move up and add what could be the final piece to the team’s young core.
The Sacramento Kings
The deal: Emmanuel Mudiay, Malik Beasley, Wilson Chandler, and the 13th pick for Kosta Koufos and the 5th pick.
The Kings need a point guard and this draft is flush with point guards. Odds are that they will not want to trade their 5th overall pick and will be looking at De’Aron Fox, Dennis Smith Jr., or maybe even (GASP!) Lonzo Ball, should he fall a few spots.
But it seems pretty clear that the team is committing to a youth movement at the moment and that might mean they’re open to as many young prospects as possible. They’ve got Buddy Hield, who shot nearly 43% in Sacramento last season and looked like the elite pull-up and spot shooter that he was billed as coming into the league. Willie Cauley-Stein showed flashes of being a versatile defender, finisher, and open court threat. Skal Labissiere also flashed signs of versatility on both ends of the floor. None of those guys are can’t-miss type prospects but there is a scenario where all of them develop into solid NBA players or better.
Mudiay is another player that could go either way and he’s a buy-low option for them at the point guard position, especially if they feel that there is another point guard that they can pickup with the 10th or 13th pick in this year’s draft like Frank Ntilikina. Malik Beasley adds even more shooting while Chandler steps right into Rudy Gay’s spot as the team’s go-to scorer and swiss-army knife on offense and defense. The Kings are a bit flush at shooting guard but Denver could swap Chandler for Barton and the Kings can run with super fast, small ball lineups with Barton at small forward.
But most of all, this move would provide Sacramento with four chances to add another prospect. Mudiay, Beasley, the 10th pick and the 13th pick are likely to provide the Kings with at least one very good player. They also get to keep their pick next season without pick swaps which means Sacramento could find plenty of minutes for everyone on their young roster while racing toward a top 3 pick in next year’s draft.
This deal is tricky for Denver in that it brings back a center in Koufos meaning Denver would almost certainly part ways with Mason Plumlee. Tim Connelly has been fairly emphatic about how re-signing Plumlee is one of the team’s top priorities this summer. But if Denver catches wind that the market for Plumlee is likely to go beyond what they are willing to pay, Koufos could be a very serviceable backup center for a season or two, especially if Jokic is ready to play 33+ minutes per night. The Kings may also be inclined to swap Koufos with Ben McLemore. McLemore isn’t good but he’d be on a cheap QO deal and who knows? Maybe next to Jokic his shot returns and he finds his niche.
The Orlando Magic
The deal: Jameer Nelson, Malik Beasley, Wilson Chandler, and the 13th pick for the 6th pick and Nikola Vucevic.
The other deal: Wilson Chandler, the 13th pick, Denver’s 2018 1st round draft pick protected 1-10 in 2018 (unprotected in 2019), and the 49th pick for the 6th pick.
The Orlando Magic are a bit of a wildcard in this year’s draft. They just hired John Hammond to be the team’s new general manager and are caught with a tricky roster full of young prospects that haven’t developed as nicely as most people thought they would by this point. They also lack shooting. Jodie Meeks was the only shooter on the roster at the end of the season that shot over 36% from deep. They’re far from contention so any short-term veteran fixes are also a bit wasted.
Luckily, we know from a leaked white board photo that Wilson Chandler and Juancho Hernangomez are two players that the Magic covet as “hybrid” wings. Juancho shouldn’t be off the table in any type of deal for a non top-3 draft pick and might not be worth trading at all since he has shown such incredible upside in his lone year in the league. But Chandler is a different story.
Chandler has indicated that he was unhappy with his role (or lack thereof) this season and may need a change of scenery. Jameer Nelson isn’t exactly a top trade target for most teams but he provides some much needed shooting from either the point guard or off-ball point guard position. It’d also be a return home of sorts for Jameer who was drafted by the Magic in 2004 and helped lead them to the NBA finals in 2009.
Malik Beasley may very well be a great prospect but at the moment he’s stuck behind Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Will Barton on the depth chart at shooting guard. It’s tough to move on from young prospects but it’s possible that he will get limited minutes in Denver next season the way that he did this season based solely on his position on the Nuggets’ totem pole.
Vucevic isn’t my favorite player by any means and I’d gladly swap him out with younger players like Aaron Gordon or Mario Hezonja if, for some reason, Orlando was wanting to part ways with either of them. But Vucevic seems to be the best bet to make contracts work and to clear roster spots for the trade to work. He’s also owed $25 million over the next two seasons.
That’s more than Denver would like to pay a backup center that would play 15 minutes but Vucevic is a scorer and may help fill a bench scoring void that is left with the departure of Chandler (not to mention Danilo Gallinari who may very well sign elsewhere). There also just really aren’t great alternative options on Orlando’s roster so Denver might have to make Vucevic (and NOT Mason Plumlee) their backup for the next two seasons.
There’s some flexibility to be made in this trade on Denver’s end. Darrell Arthur might be a player the Magic would take a look at that could be swapped for Chandler or Nelson and could provide some shooting next to Bismack Biyombo. They could also swap Beasley for Will Barton if they wanted more game-ready talent.
The second deal is more risky for the Nuggets since it would almost certainly include their 2019 first round draft pick. But Denver doesn’t owe any of their first round draft picks in the coming years and the value of those picks will come more and more as trade pieces as the Nuggets (hopefully) become a playoff team and a contender. It might be best to move up this year and add the final piece rather than keep getting a steady flow of middle first-round picks going forward.
The New York Knicks
The deal: Emmanuel Mudiay, Wilson Chandler, the 13th pick and the 49th pick for the 8th pick and Lance Thomas.
The framework of this deal is similar to all of the others but the Nuggets get to hold on to Beasley. Wilson has a nice skill set to play inside or outside within the triangle and would be a replacement go-to scorer if the Knicks do indeed move on from Carmelo Anthony as they have said they are hoping to do. Mudiay is a project for them but his size and post-up game are strengths that could get highlighted in that system. The Knicks would also land another 2nd round pick which would give them a total of three second rounders this year. That’s a lot to take on but the Knicks might be willing to spread a wide net in search of talent to develop abroad or through the D-league.
Lance Thomas isn’t a huge get for the Nuggets but he’s probably needed in order to clear cap-room and bench room for all of their incoming picks. He also shot 45% on catch-and-shoot three pointers last season and should see a healthy increase in those types of shots if he plays alongside Jokic. Still, he’d be owed $21 million over the next three seasons and that is a bit long to take on a guy that might be the 7th or 8th best player on the Nuggets right out of the gate. Unfortunately, the Knicks don’t have a lot of options for trade pieces. Their best players are on rookie deals and probably not available (you’re not getting Kristaps Porzingis) and their most expensive players are all highly undesirable for the Nuggets. Thomas is the least bad option of the group.
Of course this entire deal is predicated on Isaac still being available at #8 which might be unlikely.
The Phoenix Suns
The deal: Emmanuel Mudiay, Malik Beasley, Will Barton, the 13th pick, the right to swap picks in 2018, and the 49th pick for the #4 pick and Tyson Chandler.
The other deal: Emmanuel Mudiay, Will Barton, the 13th pick, Denver’s 2018 first round draft pick protected 1-7 (unprotected in 2019) for the #4 pick and Tyson Chandler.
The Suns were the unluckiest of the lottery teams this year, moving down two spots and set to pick 4th in this year’s draft. Josh Jackson, Lonzo Ball, and Markelle Fulz would’ve all been great fits alongside their young core but the next wave of players all seem less perfect for what they need.
They also own their own pick next season and the rights to Miami’s first round draft, protected for spots 1-7. With their roster as currently constructed, they probably aren’t going to be a playoff team in 2018 unless they cash in several of their young pieces for win-now players. That isn’t likely, nor is it smart since they have a pretty nice collection of young prospects.
This trade sends them Emmanuel Mudiay who could be their starter next season assuming Eric Bledsoe is traded (as many people expect). It also gives them a backup shooting guard in Beasley who slides right into the rotation and Barton who can play backup combo guard and provide bench scoring. They’ll get the 13th pick to draft a player like Ike Anigbogu or OG Anunoby, two prospects that could fill a hole in their roster. The 2nd round pick (of which Phoenix has only their own this year) is a throw in but the real meat of the trade is the pick swap in 2018.
Imagine for a moment that Gallinari leaves Denver and Chandler is moved, gets injured, or forces a trade midway through the season. Right away the Nuggets would be losing two of their three highest scorers and three of their top five scorers when you factor in Barton. They’d also lose their most versatile players on the roster. The addition of Isaac is a long-term play so his impact is likely going to be very small next year and there is no telling how well Juancho will play next year if given 20 minutes per game.
That means there would be a decent chance that Denver would wind up in the lottery again next season, providing the Suns with two chances at landing the #1 overall pick. Remember, the draft happens before free agency so Denver would be taking a gamble that they could land a free agent or two that could make up for the loss of Gallo. That gamble might backfire and if it does, the Nuggets could be left with a lottery roster.
Trading Tyson also clears their books and allows them to take on another bad contract from a team hurting to clear cap-room (Portland, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City) in exchange for a draft pick. If Portland starts the season the way they ended it, they might be okay with losing out on future first round draft picks in order to clear Evan Turner’s contract and/or Allen Crabbe’s contract to make room to re-sign Jusuf Nurkic. The same could be true in Milwaukee and either Mirza Teletovic or Matthew Dellavedova or in OKC with Enes Kanter.
For Denver, once again this trade idea brings in a backup center meaning Plumlee would no longer be needed.
The alternative has a similar framework but Denver gets to keep Malik Beasley but will probably lose their 2019 pick altogether. For Denver, the question is “Is Beasley a better prospect than whoever they might draft in 2019, assuming that their pick will be somewhere between 10th and 20th?”
They are imperfect trades for both teams but both teams need to be willing to gamble in order to turn their rebuilds into successes. For Phoenix, that’d mean staying patient and going all-in for 2018 after missing out on 2017. For Denver, that’d mean seriously risking short term success on the hope that the missing piece is a 6’11” 19 year old.
Lastly, the one team that was not included in this series of trade proposals was the Minnesota Timberwolves who own the 7th pick in the draft. The Nuggets are fresh off of an inner-division trade that backfired and I’m not sure the Nuggets fanbase or ownership have the stomach for risking Mudiay and Beasley becoming stars in the twin cities the way Nurkic has in rip city.
But the Timberwolves are also a risk to draft Isaac themselves and that idea should worry Nuggets fans. Like the Nuggets, the Timberwolves have a solid core at four of their five positions. Kris Dunn didn’t live up to expectations in his rookie season but Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins look like solid options at the wing positions. Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the best young centers in the NBA and that leaves the power forward position perfect for Isaac. He fits in Minnesota for many of the same reasons he fits in Denver. Part of the value in trading up to take Isaac might be from taking him away from the Timberwolves.
It’ll be an interesting month leading up to what should be an eventful draft night. No trade is perfect but the Nuggets should be thinking hard about how they can move up and grab one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft.
Which trade most appeals to you?
This poll is closed
The Knicks trade for #8
The Magic trade for #6
The Kings trade for #5
The Suns trade for #4
None of these are appealing to me