The Cavaliers have LeBron James, a guaranteed ticket to the NBA Finals for the last seven years. The Celtics have a roster full of young lottery picks, with players like Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier showing what they can do with a skilled big man in Al Horford running the show. The Rockets have James Harden and Chris Paul, with Clint Capela guarding the rim while a fleet of wing defenders lock down opponents. The Warriors have four of the best players in the league in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green.
What can the Nuggets pull from that? They have a skilled big man in Nikola Jokic, two talented guards in Gary Harris and Jamal Murray, and ... a whole bunch of power forwards. In order for them to take the next step, and reach the “high and lofty expectations” Tim Connelly and the rest of the organization have for next season, they’re going to need to address the void they have on the wing.
One option for them in the draft could be a prospect that was overlooked for most of the year by NBA draft scouts, Melvin Frazier. Frazier played for a Tulane team, that while coached by a former NBA coach in Mike Dunleavy Sr., finished with a 14-17 record, good for tenth in the American Athletic Conference.
Frazier finished seventeenth in the country in steals per game, averaging 2.1 in 30 games, using his 6’6”, 200 pound frame with a reported 7’2” wingspan and 43” vertical jump to be the defensive stopper for the Green Waves. Watching him play defense was (pardon me for being nerdy) watching Shelob fight Sam in Lord of the Rings - just dominating size, limbs that can envelop players, and frighteningly quick movement to check players on the perimeter.
I first noticed Frazier when watching one of my favorite prospects, Shake Milton. The Mustangs had to start calling double screens to dislodge Frazier from Milton, and the Tulane swingman had one of his best games of the season, scoring 27 points while playing all 40 minutes. While he only had one steal in that game, the defense he played was a huge reason why they kept things close for most of the game.
NBA Draft 1st Round prospects Melvin Frazier (Tulane) & Shake Milton battle in marquee Jan. matchup - 6-6 Frazier used his 7-3 wingspan to frustrate Milton into a 5/16 night; Frazier scored 27 on 6/7 3s. @NBA @TheAthleticMLB @JeremyWoo @BrendonKleen14 @NBADraftWass @nbadraftnet pic.twitter.com/SrvquRd9le— Kersey Colter Schmidt (@colter_kersey) February 13, 2018
“Defensively, I don’t think there’s really any question about what he can do,” Dunleavy said. “Mel can guard (positions) 1 through 3 and guard them at a high level.”
Defense is by far and away his greatest strength. As for his weaknesses, he isn’t a high volume 3-point shooter, and until this season, wasn’t particularly efficient from behind the arc. He has improved from the field and free throw line each season, but struggled with turnovers as his role in the offense increased. Dunleavy Sr. tried to make him more of a focal point on offense, and he had the tools to carry their offense, but it’s not something he would be able to do right away in the NBA.
In terms of a comparison for a current NBA player, Frazier reminds me of Maurice Harkless, who played for St. John’s in 2012 and currently plays for the Portland Trail Blazers. Harkless isn’t going to be the primary or secondary option for an offense, but he is able to score in transition, attack closeouts, and has improved his perimeter jumper over the years. Harkless shot 41 percent on 2.0 3-point attempts per game this season, but the real impact he made was being one of the leaders on the team in defense, with a 2.0 DBPM, according to Basketball Reference.
With the Nuggets, Frazier would be asked to fill a similar role to Harkless on the Trail Blazers. Use your defensive abilities to check opponents on the wing, score in transition, set screens and cut on offense, and don’t be shy to pull the trigger on 3-point attempts when the defense rotates and leaves you open on the perimeter. While the Nuggets had their own version of that player in Torrey Craig, Craig isn’t the athlete Frazier is, will be 28 years old next season, and isn’t currently under contract.
Frazier could be one of the players to shine at the Draft Combine next week. His physical tools could shine among his peers, and that could cause him to rise up boards in a draft where 13-40 is fairly murky right now. If he gets that wingspan confirmed and is one of the leaders in the tests (vertical jump, cone drills), it’ll make sense for him to be projected in the 13-20 range.
I really like Frazier. He’s one of my favorites in the draft, and while there are things to be worried about - is his shot for real, can he dribble against NBA players - he has the physical tools to possess a high ceiling in the league. The Nuggets have a serious dearth of wing defenders with length on the roster, and if they’re going to try to go at it with just Will Barton and Juancho Hernangomez on the team as their small forwards next season, they’re going to get killed by a lot of teams. Frazier may not be ready after training camp, but he could develop into a starter by the All-Star break and be the wing defender they so badly missed on last season and need going forward.
Check out the other breakdowns we’ve done on the site below.