Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat, the Denver Nuggets historically have been terrible at drafting. Whether it was their inability to land any significant talent in the ridiculously long drafts of the 70s and 80s, whatever the hell Bernie Bickerstaff was doing in the mid 90s, or Mark Warkentein’s general distaste for anything resembling drafting a player, the Nuggets simply strikeout more often than not in June. Ever since Masai Ujiri came aboard though they’ve been able to have a lot of success in the draft. Tim Connelly has not only picked up where Ujiri left off, but even surpassed him in draft success. Outside of the past five years though, it’s tough to find a good draft by Denver, however there are a couple sprinkled in to the Nuggets 40 years in the NBA. Here’s their five best NBA drafts of all time.
5. 1990 - Chris Jackson and Marcus Liberty
Outside of the most recent drafts, the Nuggets best period of drafting was in the early 1990s when they built the young core that eventually upset the Seattle Supersonics in 1994. Chris Jackson, who later changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, was the first of those pieces brought into the fold. Rauf was of course one of the deadliest shooters in Nuggets history and as a score first point guard was truly before his time. He would earn Most Improved Player honors in 1993 and was effectively the third portion of the 1990s Nuggets “big three.” Meanwhile Liberty was nothing to write home about, but give credit to then GM Pete Babcock and coach Doug Moe (shout out to the Jeff Morton for the correction, we’re missing him already), he managed to find a serviceable rotation player in the second round who played three seasons for Denver before being dealt to the Detroit Pistons.
4. 1995 - Antonio McDyess
The Nuggets actually entered the draft with the 15th overall pick but made a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers for the 2nd overall pick. In return the Clippers got Rodney Rogers and selected Brent Barry at 15 overall. Nice players both of them, but nowhere near the level of talent of McDyess (though Barry does have the distinction of being the worst dunker ever to win a slam dunk contest). McDyess was the reboot the Nuggets needed at power forward after Laphonso Ellis’ devastating knee injury. Of course, McDyess would end up having knee issues of his own that would greatly hamper his career, but those first years in Denver were special and Antonio still ranks as one of the best Nuggets players of all time in my eyes.
3. 2003 - Carmelo Anthony
There’s an argument to be made that this is the greatest draft in Nuggets history. Melo is without a doubt the greatest player the Nuggets have ever drafted and selecting him 3rd overall single handedly rose the franchise from the ashes. Melo would have a phenomenal rookie season, leading the Nuggets to their first playoff birth since they were unceremoniously swept by the San Antonio Spurs way back in 1995. Melo had a solid argument that he should have won rookie of the year, though it’s not as if he suffered a major slight when the award went to LeBron James. Had the Nuggets got any other talent in this draft at all (no, Sani Becirovic does not count) then this would easily rank as their best draft of all time. As it is, Melo alone is good enough to land 2003 on the list
2. 1992 - Laphonso Ellis and Bryant Stith
The Phonz was one of the most electric players to ever don a Nuggets uniform. His athletic ability put him on a different level than anyone on the roster and he was THE key piece to the Nuggets upsetting the Sonics in 1994. Tragically Phonz would suffer a devastating knee injury in a pick up game just before the 94-95 season training camp and would never be the same. Perhaps the least heralded starter on that magical 94 team though was Bryant Stith. Stith was the classic uber glue guy who could stretch the floor when needed and also regularly took on the task of defending the opposition’s best wing player. He would wind up being the longest tenured player from that 94 team, sticking with the Nuggets all the way to 2000, though injuries would slow him in the latter part of his time in Denver.
1.2014 - Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic
It seems a bit weird to rank a draft that’s just under 4 years old as the greatest a franchise has ever had but again, Nuggets drafting = terrible. Jokic is a stud, through and through and by far is the best pick Denver has ever made in the second round or later. Meanwhile Harris looks like he’s going to be Jokic’s right hand man and a big part of Denver’s future. Granted Nurkic didn’t work out but the talent is certainly there and as we saw in Portland, when given the right opportunity and put in the right system Nurkic can be a dominate force. There is no draft outside of 2014 that provided three starting caliber players, one of which is a star and for that reason Tim Connelly gets to be the proud owner of the greatest draft in Nuggets history.