While I’m always excited for the NBA season to start, especially when the Nuggets are good, my excitement always goes up when college basketball starts. I love watching college games for the atmosphere, the buzzer beaters, the upsets, and especially to track NBA prospects. It’s fun to see the future of the NBA beginning to make a name for themselves at the college level.

This year, there isn’t as much excitement around the draft for the Nuggets. They traded their 2019 first round pick to the Brooklyn Nets to clear Kenneth Faried’s albatross contract off their books, clearing space to sign Isaiah Thomas and avoid the luxury tax. It’s top 12 protected until 2024, but it seems like the Nuggets will likely be sending that pick out in the 2019 draft.

The Nuggets also do not own the rights to their 2019 second round pick. That pick was sent to the Orlando Magic as part of a trade for Jarred Vanderbilt — I think I can speak for all Nuggets fans by saying I’m glad the Nuggets moved up two spots. The Nuggets do have a second round pick coming their way, but they won’t be sure where it lands until closer to the end of the regular season.

Now, I want to give you a chance to skip past some draft nerd verbiage here, so if the process for how they’re going to get their pick bores you, skip ahead to the end of the bullets.

Here’s what the Nuggets pick will be, and how they got to where they are:

  • The Nuggets traded their 2019 pick to the Orlando Magic for Jarred Vanderbilt. If the pick lands between 31-55, the Magic receive the Washington Wizards second round pick.
  • That pick was previously owed to the Milwaukee Bucks, protected for picks 31-55, with obligations extinguishing in 2019. This pick was sent to the Bucks for Roy Hibbert, who was traded to Denver in February 2017.
  • How can the Nuggets get a pick? It’s a complicated explanation.
  • The Nuggets received a 2019 second round pick as part of a 3-team trade involving Danilo Gallinari. Gallinari signed a contract with the Nuggets, then was immediately dealt to the Clippers. The Clippers sent Jamal Crawford, Diamond Stone, cash considerations, and a 2018 first round pick (that became Omari Spellman) to the Hawks.
  • I said “a second round pick” because the Hawks had multiple picks coming their way from their 2015 draft day trade involving Kelly Oubre (who was just traded to the Phoenix Suns – the Wizards are really bad at asset development and management). So they could be sending the Wizards pick to the Nuggets.
  • As part of a 3-team trade, the Orlando Magic traded Bismack Biyombo, a 2019 2nd round draft pick and a 2020 2nd round draft pick to the Charlotte Hornets; the Chicago Bulls traded Jerian Grant to the Orlando Magic; the Charlotte Hornets traded Julyan Stone to the Chicago Bulls; and the Charlotte Hornets traded Timofey Mozgov to the Orlando Magic. (2019 2nd-rd pick is least favorable pick.) (2020 2nd-rd pick is least favorable pick.)
  • That means the pick the Nuggets traded the Magic (Vanderbilt trade) could be redirected to the Charlotte Hornets. HOWEVER …
  • The obligation to the Nuggets is protected for picks 56-60. So the Nuggets wouldn’t get the Wizards pick if they finish with a top 5 record in the league, because the Wizards would be sending their pick to the Hornets (thanks to the Magic trade).
  • So to recap, the Nuggets, in order to get the Wizards second round pick and have one (1) draft pick in the 2019 draft, need to finish with the at-best sixth-best record in the league. That way they’d send their pick to Charlotte, and the Wizards would likely be sending the Nuggets a pick that seems likely to be in the 35-45 range. As of publishing, the Wizards are 11-18, eleventh in the Eastern Conference, but with the Western Conference being really good, that could result in the Nuggets picking early in the second round. Nice!

Draft talk (almost) resumes

For the sake of draft coverage, I’m going to operate as if the Nuggets have the Wizards second round pick, which means they’ll be picking in the front of the second round. While that may not seem like the best place to get a prospect, the Nuggets are in a unique position.

Before we can actually get into draft talk, we need to talk about roster construction, and that means contracts.

The Nuggets have eleven players with guaranteed contracts next season. Paul Millsap has a team option for the third and final year on his contract. Trey Lyles will be a restricted free agent, and his cap hold will count against the Nuggets cap until he signs a contract with a team or the Nuggets renounce his rights. Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Lydon will be unrestricted free agents, and the team should not struggle to replace their contributions in the offseason.

The Nuggets, at some point, should be able to get contributions from Jarred Vanderbilt and Michael Porter Jr. As of publishing, they haven’t played a single minute for the team, and their return is without a timeline. I’m assuming they’ll be healthy and available for the 2019-20 season.

  • It would be prudent for the Nuggets to decline Millsap’s option, and negotiate a contract that still gives Millsap the salary he agreed to, but spread out over a longer period of time. That would create additional cap space on top of the guaranteed contracts they already have on their books. If they feel like they can get a marquee free agent (cough, cough Kevin Durant), they’ll flat-out decline Millsap’s option, renounce their free agents, and potentially trade one of Gary Harris or Will Barton. That last option seems unlikely, but that’s the path for them to achieve that goal.

My prediction is that they’ll negotiate a new contract with Millsap, and let Lyles leave (if they don’t trade him by the trade deadline). Lyles hasn’t shown any promise of being a league-average starter, and giving him an eight-figure salary over multiple years only compounds the mistake of trading for him. They shouldn’t double down on a bad decision.

That leaves them with the following depth chart, with the number of years remaining on their contract in parenthesis (for example, final year would be (1)):

  • Point guard – Jamal Murray (1), Monte Morris (2 ***)
  • Shooting guard – Gary Harris (3), Malik Beasley (1), Torrey Craig (1)
  • Small forward – Will Barton (3 *), Juancho Hernangomez (1), Michael Porter Jr. (3 **)
  • Power forward – Paul Millsap (?), Michael Porter Jr. (3 **), Jarred Vanderbilt (2 ***)
  • Center – Nikola Jokic (4), Mason Plumlee (1)

* = final year is a player option, ** = final two years are team options, *** = final year is non-guaranteed

Where are the positions that need addressing? The Nuggets may need to find replacements for the draft class of 2016, if they aren’t able to negotiate extensions with Jamal Murray, Juancho Hernangomez, or Malik Beasley. I think they can get two of them, but they won’t be able to get all three and they should hope they get more than one.

Craig will be on the final year of his contract, same as Plumlee. They both may be interested in re-signing with the Nuggets, but they’ll both be in their 30s (or close to it) and the Nuggets may look elsewhere.

I’m going to rank the Nuggets draft priorities as follows:

  • Backup shooting guard
  • Backup small forward
  • Backup power forward
  • Backup point guard
  • Backup center

If you have a different opinion, I’d love to see it down in the comments.

Prospects I’m watching

Jordan Poole (SG, Michigan) and Charles Matthews (SG, Michigan) – These guys are playing for one of the best teams in Division I, and are both capable wings. Matthews is more the ballhandling scoring option, while Poole is more of the off-ball shooter. If the Nuggets are trying to find a replacement for Malik Beasley, I’d lean more Matthews. If they’re trying to add a guy that is more of a pure shooter, I’d lean more Poole.

Zach Norvell Jr (SG, Gonzaga) – Norvell Jr. is a solid player, a good defender and smart playmaker for the Bulldogs. He’s not quite the vertical athlete that Poole or Matthews are, but he has good strength and he makes the right play. He’s a lefty, which is fun to watch, and he’s been developing in a good system. He’s the kind of guy that I could see one of our writers, Gordon Gross, falling in love with.

Joel Ntambwe (SF, UNLV) – The Runnin’ Rebels may be without Shakur Juiston for a stretch, as he deals with a knee injury, and hopefully that gives Ntambwe a chance to shine. He’s a 6’9”, 210 pound fluid athlete from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He has a ton of potential to be a defensive stopper, with quick feet, long arms, and the athleticism to guard multiple positions. He’s got a lot to learn about positioning, but he’s able to get up and grab rebounds on both ends of the court. He’ll need to show that his shooting is for real, as he’s not much of a perimeter threat at the moment. He could be a guy to sign to a two-way and stash with their G-League team.

Grant Williams (PF, Tennessee) – All he’s done this year at Tennessee is perform like one of the best players in the country. There are questions about whether he’ll be able to excel in the NBA with his size (6’7”, 245 lbs), but he’s a smart, steady player. He’s an able playmaker, and he can do work inside the arc. He’s not a 3-point shooter, and would need to work on a good shot from somewhere outside the arc to be worth the pick.

Luguentz Dort (SG, Arizona State) – Dort is a raw scorer, capable of getting to the rim, but not quite able to finish once he gets there. He’s going to be someone I’m really wanting to watch once he enters conference play. The matchup between him and Kevin Porter at USC should be a great game. He’s someone that likely won’t be there when the Nuggets pick, but stranger things have happened in the draft.

Lots of time left

I’m just starting to keep track of players, and watching them play. If there’s a prospect in that late first/early second range or later you’re interested in, say something in the comments or let me know on Twitter.