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Roundtable: Which of the Denver Nuggets’ young prospects will have the best career?

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Plus, grading Denver’s 2019 NBA draft

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

How would you grade Denver’s 2019 NBA draft?

Adam Mares: It’s always funny to grade a team’s draft pick before they’ve ever played a single minute of NBA basketball but it is especially funny to grade a draft on a player like Bol Bol who provides such a wide range of outcomes. Nonetheless, I still think you have to look at this draft as an A+. Bol has tremendous upside and the Nuggets have placed themselves in a position where they can afford to take a flyer on him, can afford to be patient with him, and can trust their organizational culture to put him in position to succeed. This draft is an A+, but that grade is owed to years of work to make this moment possible.

Gordon Gross: Early grades are awful. From an impression point of view, though, Denver grabbing a player rated as a lottery pick by many analysts and at worst an early second rounder by his doubters in the middle of the second round is a tremendous outcome. It cost them a future second and some cash. You do that deal for a pick with huge upside any day. I’m reasonably high on Bol and anything near his ceiling is a tremendous win. Even being a good rotation player at that draft spot and for that price is a big win. Bol Bol for a bargain basement price? Lock up that A ranking.

Ryan Blackburn: Like Tim Connelly, my draft philosophy is to identify the best talent on the board, pair that talent with the best possible fit, and select that player. Bol Bol fits the bill. Next season and going forward, the Nuggets need a backup center that can space the floor offensively and operate in a similar way to Nikola Jokic as a pick and pop center. Bol won’t provide the same dynamic playmaking, but he might shoot 40% from 3 during his NBA career. That’s a win. Defensively is harder to judge because of his body, but Bol has the physical gifts of length and timing that are difficult to teach. If the Nuggets can expand upon that framework, the pick becomes a home run. At this point, it’s an A-minus.

Brendan Vogt: My answer is heavily informed by a juxtaposition of expectations and results. I entered the night expecting the Nuggets to remain dormant. There was always a chance that Denver would trade or buy into the late second round, but I didn’t see a world in which a player with as much upside as Bol Bol would slide all the way down to 44. You are not going to do better from an upside, entertainment-value perspective that late in the draft, so I’ll give it a B. I can’t go any higher without a first-round pick.

Jeremy Poley: A. The front office continued their savvy ways by exploiting value in the draft. The value (the dream) of a draft pick going into the draft is huge, and front offices try to stack them. On draft night however, when your plans spiral out of control, all of the sudden you’re willing to move on for less than you would’ve thought. Nuggets played it cool, struck when there was value, and wound up with a prospect with huge upside. I’m uneasy with the trend of drafting injured players that fall in the draft - other teams in many sports have tried this and it can be a bumpy way to go. But the reality is, this trade checks all of the boxes of optimizing value in a trade, so I love it.

Who will have the better career: Michael Porter Jr., Bol Bol, or Jarred Vanderbilt?

Mares: Adrian Wojnarowski, the most plugged in guy in the NBA, has been hyping Michael Porter Jr. up quite a bit over the last few days. Most recently, he told ESPN’s Zach Lowe, “all the reasons that people loved him coming into college, they’ve seen that in Denver. He’s been healthy.” I’m reluctant to buy the hype just yet but he has to be the favorite here. Both Bol and Vanderbilt have higher upsides than most Nuggets fans realize but MPJ is still the class of the group in terms of raw potential.

Gross: Tricky question. I believe Porter Jr. will be the best player - but I don’t know for how long. Can his body hold up to 82 games + deep into the playoffs for the next decade? Will he be more like a Brandon Roy who gets a few years of brilliance and then flames out thanks to injuries? I don’t know, but I would bet against a long career. Still, Grant Hill played til he was 40. Even with a shorter career, I would pick MPJ as the best of these three, despite my optimism about Bol Bol and my love for Vanderbilt’s potential roster fit and upside. Porter Jr. is simply the player with the most superstar upside.

Blackburn: All season and now into the offseason, the whispers of the progress Porter Jr. is making have grown louder and louder. Now, they’re a full on megaphone. I’d expect the Nuggets to ease him into regular season action, but he still has the best opportunity of any of those guys to establish a foot hold in the NBA. If he showcases his talent early, teams will rush to Denver to try and pry him away to become their primary or secondary scorer. He will be put in the best chance to succeed wherever he goes, as long as he’s healthy, so I’d expect Porter to be the guy to have the best career, in Denver or otherwise.

Vogt: With respect to Michael Porter Jr.—who by all accounts has attacked his recovery and training like a true professional—I still think it’s more likely that his career never gets off the ground than he ascends to stardom. It’s hard to imagine a 6’11” 20-year-old with two back surgeries and a drop-foot diagnosis getting healthier as time goes on. With that in mind, I think Jarred Vanderbilt, who isn’t guaranteed a clean bill of health either, is nonetheless more likely to stay on the court and carve out a spot in an NBA rotation.

Bol Bol is just one really tall enigma. I don’t know how to evaluate a once top-10 player in his class who slid all the way down to 44 before he’s played a game.

Poley: I’m keeping to my ethos of measuring by traditional market value. Jarred Vanderbilt is the one that we know can take the court, so he’s the one you bet on. Now to get irrational for a moment, I LOVE THIS GUY! Out of “good” fits to play next to Jokic, Vanderbilt makes it onto a short list. I’m excited to see what I know - that’s he’s a rebounding monster and a versatile defender. And I’m dying to see what I don’t - can he really be another 4+ APG playmaker? Can he be a lethal dunker a la Faried and force other defenses to adjust for him even as a 4th or 5th option?

Rank the most likely / expected ceiling for all of Denver’s prospects who are 23 and under (Monte Morris turns 24 on Thursday so he is excluded).

Mares: If we’re going off of raw potential, MPJ and Bol would probably be numbers 1 and 2. But since this is expected ceiling and we have to factor in the health risk, I’ll go with:

Murray
MPJ
Beasley
Vanderbilt
Juancho
Bol
Goodwin/Welsh

Gross: Expected ceiling:

Murray
MPJ
Beasley
Vanderbilt
Bol
Juancho
Goodwin/Welsh

This is such a hard question with no legitimate data on most of those players and with Juancho having had mono and then a hernia the last 2 years. Murray right now is a very good player. Porter Jr. is going to have to hit the ground running to try to catch him. I think MPJ’s ultimate ceiling is higher than Murray’s, but his likelihood of getting there is less so Murray’s atop the list.

I have Beasley over Vanderbilt for health reasons. They’re such different players, but an athletic wing who can dunk and splash threes is always valuable so Beasley gets the upper hand over the expected defense, rebounding and passing of Vanderbilt for now. Healthy Juancho is a good player, but we need to see that version again. At the moment he’s had at least as many health concerns as Bol, so that’s a wash. Both guys can shoot, but Bol can block shots and change the way offenses and defenses approach him in ways Juancho can’t. But this group of young players is phenomenally interesting. I don’t see how Denver gets them all time, but I’m happy to see any time they do get.

Blackburn:

Murray
MPJ
Beasley
Vanderbilt
Bol
Juancho
Goodwin/Welsh

People don’t often talk about Vanderbilt’s health risks as much as they talk about Porter’s, but both have spent a lot of time recovering. Hopefully that means they are more likely to reach their ceilings going forward, but that shouldn’t be the expectation. Murray separated himself going forward. Beasley is good but I don’t expect him to top out as a star. Vanderbilt and Bol have higher ceilings than Beasley and Morris, but that shouldn’t be the expected outcome.

Vogt:

Murray
Beasley
Vanderbilt
MPJ
Juancho
Bol
Welsh/Goodwin

Ryan is right to poor a glass of cold water on some of the Vanderbilt takes—he’s to be classified under damaged goods as well. But his injuries appear less severe than Porter Jr.’s and we’ve already seen him on an NBA court. I have Vanderbilt over MPJ, but the real surprise might lie in where I’ve ranked Beasley. Beasley isn’t some enigmatic prospect who carries as much uncertainty as he does massive upside. He’s already an NBA rotation player, and one that made large strides in his development this past season—the type of strides that reflect coach-ability and work ethic. His upside isn’t quite as high as four of the names on this list, but he’s far more likely to approach his ceiling.

Poley:

Murray
Vanderbilt
Beasley
MPJ
Bol
Juancho
Goodwin
Welsh