Tim Connelly loves the NBA Draft.
When speaking to the media following every draft night, Connelly displays passion for the process, pride in the players he and the rest of the Denver Nuggets front office have selected, and a touch of swagger, confidence in his and his staff’s abilities to make the right selections. There have been misses during the process (Emmanuel Mudiay, Tyler Lydon, Michael Porter Jr. if he cannot stay healthy) but there have been mostly hits. The Nuggets have excelled in all levels of the draft, from selecting talent in the lottery (Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. if he’s healthy), in the lower first round (Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris, Juancho Hernangomez, Malik Beasley), and finding gems in the second round (Nikola Jokic, Monte Morris). Connelly’s draft picks make up 10 of Denver’s 17 roster spots. Three players were acquired via trade. Four were acquired via free agency.
There is a certain comfort level for Connelly and co. in selecting a player that’s young and impressionable, possibly because of the player’s talent, probably because of Denver’s confidence in player development. Either way, the Nuggets are great at drafting, no question about it.
So...having zero draft picks in the 2019 NBA Draft should be of moderate concern.
The Nuggets still have needs while filling out a championship caliber roster now and going forward. From identifying another long and versatile wing player that can fit into a 3&D role, to figuring how how the Nuggets are going to find their starting power forward of the future if Paul Millsap decides he wants to be somewhere else, to filling out the rest of the roster with strong defenders to compensate for current and future weaknesses. There are players in the 2019 draft class that could help the Nuggets immediately and going forward, and the Nuggets front office and scouting department have surely spent time figuring out which players are worth a gamble.
With that in mind, here are some ways the Nuggets can get involved in the 2019 NBA Draft.
1. Buy a late second round pick with cash
This is probably the easiest way to acquire a late pick, but it must involve the right trade partner.
A few teams have multiple picks this year, including multiple picks in the second round.
- Atlanta Hawks - 8th overall, 10, 17, 35, 41, 44
- Philadelphia 76ers - 24th overall, 33, 34, 42, 54
- Sacramento Kings - 40th overall, 47, 60
The Hawks are an interesting trade partner because it’s unlikely that they will have a desire to add six rookies to a roster that already houses 11 players still on rookie contracts, two-way deals, or are simply new to the NBA. They will be active on draft night and could certainly use the extra cash to help fuel a rebuild that will be ongoing for a few years. Denver could certainly trade for the 44th pick, the lowest of their draft picks, and compensate them with cash.
The 76ers and Kings are in a similar place for different reasons. The 76ers must fill out their roster, but for a team competing for a championship, it can’t just be young players. They will probably look to mix in some more veterans that are used to a playoff atmosphere and can contribute right away. The Kings, like the Hawks, are extremely young. They don’t need an additional three late second round picks and could be swayed into trading away the 47th or 60th pick for cash considerations.
2. Trade a future draft pick for a current draft pick
This is a dangerous way to trade because of the ramifications of losing future first round picks. A first rounder is incredibly important because of the rookie scale contract. Second round picks are involved in shorter deals and sometimes don’t receive the benefit of restricted free agency to retain a solid player.
There’s also the question of depreciation. A trade partner isn’t going to move a good second round pick for a similar second round pick in the future. The asset loses its value to further into the future it is, so the Nuggets may be in the position where they have to trade a future first rounder just to acquire a second rounder in this draft. Not great asset management. Normally, a team would move multiple future second rounders to acquire a second round pick in the current year. The only problem? The Nuggets don’t own any second rounders for the next three drafts (2019, 2020, 2021).
Trading draft picks in 2022 is also a bad idea as that year is the tentative “double draft” in which college freshmen and high school seniors can be selected in the same year, doubling the number of elite prospects in the draft pool. The Nuggets will receive the less favorable second round pick between Philly’s and their own that year.
3. Trade a Nuggets player for a pick
This is probably the easiest way to acquire a first round pick in the 2019 draft. The Nuggets have a number of valuable young players and veteran role players that can contribute to other teams, and with a crowded rotation going forward, the Nuggets might prefer to add a second round pick with potential to play a part on a championship roster.
2020 free agency is approaching, and among Denver’s impending free agents that year are Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Mason Plumlee, Torrey Craig, and Thomas Welsh. Five rotation players, four of which are likely to become more expensive. In order to stay ahead of the financial curve, the Nuggets may consider trading a player they don’t plan to re-sign. The Hawks provided a great example for this last week when they moved Taurean Prince, the 12th overall pick in the 2016 Draft and the same class as Murray/Beasley/Hernangomez for an additional asset from the Brooklyn Nets. Depending on the team, the Nuggets may be able to acquire a first round pick by sending out Beasley or Hernangomez, likely Beasley.
Of the teams in the first round that could use a potentially starting caliber shooting guard going forward, the best fits for Beasley in the first round are:
- Detroit Pistons - 15th overall
- Orlando Magic - 16th overall
- Oklahoma City Thunder - 22nd overall
- Philadelphia 76ers - 24th overall
There are other players Denver could trade to get back into this draft. Hernangomez, Michael Porter Jr. and Jarred Vanderbilt could be flipped, one of the veterans like Will Barton, Mason Plumlee, or even Gary Harris could go in a trade? Are most of those hypotheticals likely? Absolutely not. The only moves that are understandable are flipping the young players that are blocked by a positional log jam. Right now, that’s Beasley.
Of course, this ignores the real question revolving around the Nuggets as the NBA Draft comes closer: do the Nuggets really need to get involved?
Denver entered the playoffs this past season with the eighth youngest roster in NBA playoff history. Jokic, Murray, Harris, Morris, and Beasley all experienced the playoff atmosphere for the first time while Hernangomez, Vanderbilt, Porter, Welsh, Goodwin, and Lydon all looked on. None of the 11 players listed above is 25 yet. They would be unable to rent a car from Hertz at an airport. The number of players over 25 years old on the rosters of Toronto and Golden State combined: seven. Seven guys, two of which were actual contributors on either roster. The Nuggets, if they desire to be NBA champions, must add more veterans to their roster either organically by aging over time or by exchanging some of their youth for players ready to contribute.
Getting involved in this draft likely lowers the age of the average contributor on Denver’s roster. That may be good for the long term health, but it’s unlikely to help in the short term. Whoever Denver were to select is unlikely to be an immediate contributor. It’s possible, depending on who they select, but certainly unlikely.
Furthermore, can the Nuggets even satisfy a major need by getting involved in this draft? Denver’s draft needs and players to possibly fit those needs will be written about at another time, but the list of players who can help Denver immediately is very small. In the end, it’s probably time for the Nuggets to truly tap into the free agency and trade market to find players ready to contribute to the championship dream, which means more difficult decisions for a young roster filled with potential.
The fact is, Nikola Jokic is ready to compete now. He showed as much in the 2019 playoffs. He will have his struggles against some teams, but he will likely be the best player when matched up with most teams going forward, and that means the Nuggets must elevate their roster to match what he can do consistently. Trading for younger players feels like a step in the opposite direction.
Still, if the Nuggets identify the right player in the draft on which they want to take that chance, there should be no hesitation. Connelly, Arturas Karnisovas, Calvin Booth, Rafal Juc, and other contributors to the identification of draft talent and an excellent eye for players that will be good. If they find that guy, they can use one of the above methods to acquire the player.
Expect the Nuggets to remain active throughout draft night.