The Stiffs of the roundtable are back to tackle three draft related questions. Brendan Vogt, Gordon Gross and Daniel Lewis dive into some fun hypotheticals related to the high lottery. Plus, the guys discuss who the Denver Nuggets should draft with their pick.
It’s everyone’s favorite time of year in Denver—lottery time!
Congratulations. You’ve done it. You’ve somehow managed to beat the odds and win the lottery in this year’s draft. Who comes off the board at number one?
Lewis: For the Nuggets, the answer is Luka Dončić. The Nuggets ought to be focused on selecting the best scorers possible in the draft, and then signing the best possible defenders. Dončić is a crazy talented offensive player, capable of playing on and off ball. He’s a talented shooter, skilled rebounder, and has decent athleticism. He’s still very young, and has a high ceiling because he’s already so comfortable playing basketball.
Gross: Dončić. The answer has to be Luka Dončić. There is no second option, there is no debate. Dončić takes Denver’s Jokic offense and kicks it up several notches, and gives Denver a second tall ball handler with exquisite taste who can also shoot and score from most places on the floor despite not being the best athlete on the court. It would be the ultimate referendum on offensive smarts and versatility topping athleticism - though Denver would spend the next several years trying to find the right defensive role-players to make it work - and would be a brand of Denver basketball that would carry them into the middle of the next decade. At least this is an easy answer.
Vogt: While much of the league would find themselves in a bit of a bind here—the physical specimen that is Deandre Ayton? Or the presumed canny and skill possessed by the mysterious Euro, Luka Dončić?—for the Nuggets, the choice is clear. They lack depth on the wing, they lack playmakers and their starting frontcourt is locked in place. Dončić is the way to go here, and I have a feeling my colleagues agree.
Slightly less of a congratulations. You’ve secured the second pick of the draft, but now Luka Dončić is off the board. Given Denver’s glut of big men, what do you do with the pick?
Vogt: Ayton doesn’t make a ton of sense here because, obviously, the Nuggets have already found their franchise center in Nikola Jokic. The next man up is probably Marvin Bagley III, the talented and athletic power forward out of Duke. Bagley has gobs of offensive potential and the idea of him alongside Jokic is mouthwatering. But most of the questions surrounding Bagley regard where he fits on the court as an in-between big man and his potential defensive deficiencies. Denver’s core is defensively challenged as it is, and Bagley would be sacrificing one, if not two years of serious playing time in Denver. I would trade the pick and hope to address the wing depth or gather multiple assets for a future deal.
Lewis: Let’s take Marvin Bagley III and drive everyone crazy. He’s one of the most athletic big men to play college basketball in a while, and while he may not be an impact defender his rookie year, few big men ever are. Who better to learn defense from than Michael Malone, a defensive coach, Paul Millsap, and Mason Plumlee? The Nuggets don’t have too many power forwards - they have too many non-contributors on their roster that happen to be power forwards. Ditch the flotsam, and rock with Millsap/Bagley/Jokic for a couple years.
Gross: This is where it gets tricky. It can’t be Ayton - not unless Denver is trading Nikola Jokic, and there’s no way Denver would do that this offseason. Ayton is a center and Nuggets fans have seen what happens when Jokic is moved off the center position for a more limited offensive player. Marvin Bagley is a better fit offensive next to Jokic, and you would hope he can learn from Paul Millsap what it takes to succeed on defense and in the little things. But I would field offers from teams looking to get Ayton first, who is viewed as the best player in the draft by a number of analysts and teams. The defenders Denver needs are middle-of-the-lottery types and if they can restructure their roster for the price of a good talent that will not fit here - or may not help much on his first contract - then they have to look into it. Denver rolled the dice last summer and failed in a big way, but in this scenario I would gamble on a trade again and try to win big.
Let’s come back to reality. Denver will likely draft 14th in this year’s draft. In the case that they keep their pick, who would you like to see them draft?
Gross: Who would I hope they draft? Somebody with the last name of Bridges, probably. Who will likely be available at 14? Unfortunately Denver needs a 3 or a 4, but will likely get a combo guard or swingman. Sometimes the player who is the perfect fit just isn’t there, so I could see Denver going back to the guard well once again for someone like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is something like a defensive version of Will Barton with a bit more experience handling the point guard position. If Denver went that way it could help them with a secondary ball-handler off the bench who can play either guard role and defend three positions, especially against other bench players off the bat. He’s the sort of player who can get legit minutes as a rookie and can help clear up some of Denver’s bench issues, which is really all you can ask of a mid-first-rounder not named Donovan Mitchell.
Vogt: I think Denver might have to move this pick to get rid of either Kenneth Faried or Darrell Arthur. But in the event that they use it, it’s clear they need to add a player who can play defense out on the perimeter. Either a defensively inclined small forward or a combo guard with length could be useful. I’m looking at names like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out of Kentucky and Lonnie Walker out of Miami. Both are guards but they possess long arms and show defensive upside. It wouldn’t hurt that they could presumably handle some of those secondary ball handler duties as well. If they go the route of true forward, Kevin Knox, the 6’9” teenager out of Kentucky could still be on the board.
Lewis: I’d like them to trade the pick. They can get a low-usage wing defender in the 20s, in someone like Melvin Frazier, Chandler Hutchison, or Kenrich Williams. Even someone like Kevin Knox or Jacob Evans could slide to them. They need to get rid of some of the non-contributors on their team, especially if Chandler and Arthur opt in.