The Denver Nuggets are badly in need of defense. After finishing ranked 29th on the less glamorous end, it’s clear that the needed changes are more than just internal. With Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Juancho Hernangomez showing considerable weakness as a defensive quartet, the Nuggets will eventually be forced to add quality defenders if there is desire to improve as a team.
Most commonly, the draft and free agency are referenced as the modes of improvement. Denver Stiffs will continue to discuss these scenarios, including moving up for Jonathan Isaac, creating a draft board, and identifying free agents like Paul Millsap. What hasn’t been discussed yet are ways to improve the team via trade. In general manager Tim Connelly’s four years directing the Nuggets, he has made a total of 15 trades, or just under four per season. Some of these moves are financially based like the Mo Williams and Roy Hibbert trades earlier this year. Others involved multiple players, including trading Evan Fournier for Arron Afflalo, Arron Afflalo for Will Barton (among others), and Jusuf Nurkic for Mason Plumlee.
Connelly’s transaction history focuses on acquiring starters through the draft (not including incumbent players like Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried) and acquiring bench players through free agency and trades. The last time Denver wanted to make a run at the playoffs though, they sacrificed a young asset in Fournier to take a chance on Afflalo. It didn’t work out that time, but I would expect a larger move like that to be a consideration at the very least.
The following four players excel at the defensive end while providing varying contributions offensively. It’s time to figure out how to improve the defense, and I believe that each of the four guys would help Denver make significant progress on that end.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - Charlotte Hornets
Nuggets receive: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Hornets receive: Wilson Chandler
First, from a Hornets perspective, this deal makes infinite sense. Charlotte needs to find a quick fix to their issues this offseason. Neither their offense nor their defense was better than average, and their ability to adjust to other teams was called into question many a time. With Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum serving as the only offensive threats on the team, and the big man trio of Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams, and Frank Kaminsky struggling to defend at a high level, it is my belief that the Hornets should explore becoming more of an offensive team.
It’s no small matter that Kidd-Gilchrist struggles to produce offensively. He cannot space the floor for his teammates, and while he shoots an excellent percentage in the restricted area, there is only so much value that creates when neither Williams nor Zeller (the other starters) are elite 3-point shooters. Chandler isn’t a great shooter from deep either, but he’s certainly better. He also has the ability to create some of his own offense, something the Hornets need desperately when Walker sits. The drop-off defensively from Kidd-Gilchrist to Chandler is quantifiable, but not enough for Charlotte to say no to this deal. Chandler would’ve been the second leading scorer for the Hornets with his current averages, and there’s no reason for that to change. If it doesn’t work out and Charlotte misses the playoffs again, they can let Chandler walk and trade some veterans to begin a true rebuild around Walker.
For the Nuggets, Kidd-Gilchrist can be considered both a short term and long term acquisition. MKG is merely 23 years old, and he will turn 24 in September. This was his fifth season in the NBA, but he doesn’t have the normal mileage of a five-year vet due to some injury issues. These are red flags, but not deal breakers.
The big thing with Kidd-Gilchrist will always be his defensive capabilities. He posted a Defensive Real Plus-Minus of 2.47, fifth best among small forwards according to ESPN. He was one of 13 players this year to average both a steal and a block in over 2,000 minutes. He also rebounds very well for a forward, posting 7.0 rebounds a game. He shot just 1/9 from the 3-point line, showing how much of a non-factor he is from beyond the arc. He will always focus on attacking the basket offensively, though his value tops out at subpar on that end.
I’m very curious what a lineup of Murray, Harris, Kidd-Gilchrist, Gallinari, and Jokic produces on both ends. Inserting Will Barton and Kenneth Faried for instant offense, or Juancho Hernangomez for shooting, would help alleviate any concerns of MKG tanking Denver’s excellent offensive rating. It would be interesting to see how highly he could elevate Denver defensively though. If you are a bit skeptical of his defensive impact, watch him D up Russell Westbrook below.
Danny Green - San Antonio Spurs
Nuggets receive: Danny Green, Tony Parker
Spurs receive: Darrell Arthur, Will Barton
There are two important factors to this trade. The first is that Pau Gasol opts out of his contract and is willing to re-sign for less. He has a player option worth close to $16.2 million, and if he opts in, the Spurs will have limited flexibility to improve their roster.
That plays into the second factor: Chris Paul.
If Paul decided that he wanted to play in San Antonio, the Spurs should do whatever they can to free up the necessary money to pair him with Kawhi Leonard (and to a lesser extent, LaMarcus Aldridge). If they can come to an agreement with Gasol on opting out of his player option, they can move to the next part of clearing cap: moving Tony Parker and Danny Green. The current starting backcourt duo in San Antonio will earn a combined $25.5 million next season, and if the Spurs have any chance of clearing cap, they will trade both players. Enter the Nuggets, who should have close to the most cap space in the NBA this offseason. They can also return cheap contracts to the Spurs to fill out their roster, as Will Barton and Darrell Arthur would be key players in a championship run. Barton might even be a starter.
For the Nuggets, absorbing Tony Parker’s contract would be well worth the price to acquire Danny Green. He would slot in as the starting small forward, as the Nuggets would play a smaller, yet faster game around Nikola Jokic to complement his abilities. Green already played small forward 22% of the time last season, so putting him there frequently isn’t exactly outlandish. Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Green running as a three guard lineup would be dangerous on both ends, with the ability to play an aggressive style on defense and cutting-heavy on offense. Parker would slot in behind Murray as a competent veteran option for a season, then come off the books before his large contract hurts the Nuggets.
Depending on what the Nuggets do with the rest of their veterans, Denver’s long term outlook wouldn’t change at all. Emmanuel Mudiay might be moved or potentially not play at all, but Jokic, Harris, Murray, and Juancho Hernangomez would still be in a great position to make an impact next year. I would let Gallinari walk in this scenario, start Murray, Harris, Green, Faried, Jokic, and play Parker, Chandler, Juancho, and Plumlee with one of Harris or Green off the bench. A strong rotation for sure.
Green ranks 3rd among all shooting guards at Defensive Real Plus-Minus, and while his NBA Finals record has since been broken by Stephen Curry, this version of Danny Green is still in there. Imagine him raining down threes off of Nikola Jokic passes?
Avery Bradley - Boston Celtics
Nuggets receive: Avery Bradley, Tyler Zeller
Celtics receive: Wilson Chandler, Will Barton
The Celtics are in an interesting position this offseason. With the first pick in the draft and a desire to finally top the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference, Boston is faced with a dilemma. The consensus top prospect this year is Markelle Fultz, a point guard who can slide to the shooting guard position temporarily but likely won’t stick there. Fultz is likely to be an elite NBA player, if given the necessary repetitions, within the next four years. On the other side, Isaiah Thomas, already an elite player, while Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart are solid in their own right. All three have to be paid at the same time, and given the possibility that none may be better than Fultz, changes are likely coming to the Celtics roster.
In come the Nuggets with a solution. They could send the Celtics a quality wing in Will Barton and a forward in Chandler to stabilize the rotation in the near term, while allowing Fultz the opportunity to develop for the long term. The Celtics don’t necessarily lose anything in the short term, and Chandler would serve as a starter at forward until Jaylen Brown becomes ready. Barton would provide instant offense off the bench, something the Celtics struggled with when Thomas came off the floor.
For the Nuggets, Bradley would serve as the starting point guard, though more of a pseudo-point than anything since Jokic would be the primary facilitator. Jamal Murray would come off the bench for both Bradley and Harris, yet there would also be potential for three guard lineups. Denver would have options at center, either holding onto Zeller and letting Plumlee walk, or re-signing Plumlee to a reasonable deal and releasing Zeller, who has a non-guaranteed salary worth $8 million in 2017-18. Either way, the Nuggets upgrade in the backcourt and shed salary in the frontcourt, potentially opening the door for signing a max contract player if desired.
These are three players that would help the Nuggets improve in the short term and possibly help in the long term. Each of the three are accomplished defenders in situations that could potentially put them on outs with their current teams, and the Nuggets should be considered a suitor for each of them. Denver shouldn’t be trading long term assets away, but if the need arose to throw in a future 1st, Malik Beasley, or Emmanuel Mudiay, the Nuggets shouldn’t think too hard on it. Improving the defense this season would be a huge step toward making the playoffs next year. Denver is going to have to go outside the organization to improve the way they want to defensively.
The question is, how much do they value improvement, and how much confidence do they have in Nikola Jokic carrying them offensively?
Which player is worth the most to the Nuggets via trade?
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Other (comment below)