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2019-20 NBA Draft: College Basketball Tip-Off Primer

As the college basketball season begins, it’s time to start keeping track of college prospects for the upcoming NBA Draft.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Semifinals-Michigan State vs Texas Tech Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back, Nuggets fans, to the Denver Stiffs NBA Draft coverage, coming to you once again as the college basketball season is about to begin.

I love college sports — the passion of the fans, the energy of the game, and the joy that comes from watching athletes compete together as a representation of their school is a real treat. I also love watching to see who is going to compose the next class of NBA players, from the explosive point guard with extraordinary wingspan to the hulked-out power forwards that can bulldoze their way to offensive putbacks and key defensive plays.

This year, while I’ll be watching a fair amount of college basketball just like I do every year, but the Nuggets find themselves in a comparable situation to the previous draft — they don’t have a first round pick. The Nuggets also are one of the seven teams in the league that do not have an incoming draft pick — not this year, or the next year, or the next ... you get the point. But while the Nuggets are part of that group, which consists of the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, and Toronto Raptors, they don’t have to be that way when Thursday, June 25 comes around and the 2020 NBA Draft begins. They can always try to trade for a second round pick from a team that has too many (i.e. the Sacramento Kings who have four) or they could trade a player on their roster prior to the trade deadline in exchange for a draft pick.

The Nuggets have several players that are on expiring contracts this season. Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee, and Torrey Craig will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the year; Juancho Hernangomez and Malik Beasley will be restricted free agents, and Jerami Grant has a player option he can exercise to either remain with the Nuggets on his current contract or he can opt out and become a free agent (spoiler - he’s going to opt out). That means they have a couple of players they could explore trading, with the goal of either filling that roster spot for next season or to receive a draft pick they can use to find a replacement.

Roster Construction

Before getting into player discussion, it’s important to look at the holes that would need to be filled in the upcoming offseason. While I was incorrect about the Nuggets and Paul Millsap last year, they get to have a similar discussion this next offseason.

The Nuggets future with Beasley and Hernangomez is uncertain, and the best that I can do is offer my opinion, independent of any reporting. I definitely think the Nuggets would like to bring both players back, but they may find themselves in a situation where they just can’t afford to bring back Beasley. The decision to re-sign Will Barton, while one I supported, financially meant that Beasley probably wasn’t going to be with the team after his rookie contract ended. I could be wrong, but that’s what I think will happen with Beasley. I could see the Nuggets matching an offer for Hernangomez, because it might not be for as much money as his agent thinks he’ll get, and because the Nuggets like having him around. However, if Michael Porter Jr. is able to become a rotation player, they may not even need to bring Juancho back. If that’s the case, he might be a player they just let walk at the end of the season. I would be stunned if the Nuggets traded Juancho before the trade deadline.

The Nuggets will mostly likely do all they can to bring back Jerami Grant in the offseason. They have a history of going above and beyond for free agents the offseason after they trade for them (i.e. Mason Plumlee), so I’d expect him to get a big contract from the Nuggets, if he decides to return.

That would leave them with the following depth chart with players they currently have under contract, and players I expect them to re-sign:

  • Point Guard - Jamal Murray, Monte Morris, PJ Dozier
  • Shooting Guard - Gary Harris, Will Barton
  • Small Forward - Michael Porter Jr., Vlatko Cancar
  • Power Forward - Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, Juancho Hernangomez, Jarred Vanderbilt
  • Center - Nikola Jokic, Bol Bol

I could see them having about $5 million to spend on free agents in the summer after they bring back Juancho, Grant, and Millsap, but as it stands, the Nuggets might be better served using that money on a true backup center in case Bol isn’t able to play 15-20 minutes a night.

I’m ranking the Nuggets draft needs as follows:

  1. Backup small forward
  2. Backup center
  3. Backup guard

Prospects I’m Watching

Isaiah Joe. The Arkansas guard has the ability to score in the NBA, with a quick release, deep range on his jumper, and the agility to get into the paint and score at the rim. He’s getting hype as a potential first round pick, with his propensity to knock down 3-pointers. He’s a 6’5” guy that I could easily see slot into the Nuggets rotation as a floor spacer/microwave scoring option.

Neemias Queta. Queta won Freshman of the Year last season, and is a big reason why Utah State is ranked in the top 25 to start the season. He was named as one of the top 20 best centers in basketball in the preseason, and should have another excellent season. He’s just a big beefy boy, with shot-blocking skills and solid footwork. While Bol Bol is never going to be shorter than anyone, Queta definitely has Bol when it comes to size and strength.

Anthony Polite. He just looks like the next Danny Green to me. He’s 6’6”, and at 215 lbs., he has the size to play small forward in the NBA. He even goes to Florida State, so the replacement for Malik Beasley (if he leaves) might be at the school where the Nuggets found Beasley. The Seminoles have a good team this year, and they’ll be fun to watch, but I’ll be tracking Polite for the Nuggets.

Kahlil Whitney. One of the top small forward recruits in the country, Whitney opted to go play for Kentucky for what will likely be his only season at the college level. He averaged 21 and 7 in EYBL games, and if he has a strong year for the Wildcats, could find himself being a lottery pick. The Nuggets can’t sacrifice shooting when looking for defenders, and should be more interested in finding some athletes to put around Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. Whitney certainly fits that build.