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Denver Nuggets: 3 free agent targets

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NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of year again. NBA free agency is upon us. Mock drafts and trades are getting written and posted every single day. Every team writer from coast-to-coast has written an article about their team’s trade targets and why their team should target those players. Today, we’re going to be doing something similar to that. It will be a little different, but it’ll give you a similar feel.

First, we have to talk about the primary needs of this roster. Bol Bol is a fun piece, but he can’t be relied on for rotation minutes. As a result, they need some more help in the frontcourt. They also need more wing defense. Torrey Craig just didn’t have it last season, and they need someone that can consistently match up with the bigger wings of the Western Conference. Finally, this team could always use more shooting, but so could every team across the league.

We’re going to look at a few guys that fit these needs and how Denver could add them to their roster. With only nine players under contract right now, they’re going to have to add players just to fill it out. They’re not rocking a ton of money, so they’ll have to be careful with how they’re spending it as they won’t have access to the top of the free-agent pool. Instead, we’re heading towards the bargain bin.

Josh Jackson, Memphis Grizzlies

Jackson is far from the sexiest option available on the market, but he’s definitely in their wheelhouse of affordability. He made just over $6 million last season, and he didn’t exactly perform up to the point that he could command even that amount again. He struggled with injuries throughout the season, and he played in just 22 games during the year. Now, he’s at an early crossroads in his career.

Per 36 minutes, he averaged 18.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.7 steals. He also shot a career-best 44 percent from the field. That number isn’t great, but it’s good enough because of what he brings. Specifically, he brings length and athleticism. At 6’8” with a 6’10” wingspan, he has the ability to get in the passing lane of most passes. Craig has been a good story, but we’ve seen what his ceiling can be to this point.

If Denver is unable to bring back Jerami Grant, which is possible given their limited financing, they could look to some like Jackson. He’s six years younger than Craig, and he would come in much cheaper than Grant. With his athleticism and upside, he’d be a cheap flier piece that could fill out their defensive rotation.

Nerlens Noel, Oklahoma City Thunder

Noel is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He made a mistake by not signing the massive extension he was offered, but he will be sticking around in the NBA for a long time because of the skillset he has. He can get around the rim and deter shots, and he’s able to finish alley-oops there. For Denver, they need a legitimate rim protector at center, and that’s exactly what Noel can be.

His focus will never be on the offensive end of the floor. He lacks the touch to shoot from mid-range, but he’s been an elite threat on defense. He’s registered a Defensive Box Plus/Minus of at least +2.3 in five out of his six seasons, and he’s coming off of back-to-back career-best marks of +3.3 & +3.4 respectively. With Mason Plumlee likely headed out the door, you can no replace his production with a massive defensive upgrade in Noel.

If the Thunder are trying to bring him back, he may elect to stay in OKC, but the Nuggets could offer him a firm role in the second unit running as the team’s second center. His addition would allow them to not force Bol onto the floor until he’s ready, and their second unit would be better at holding leads rather than leaking points as they have for the last couple of years.

Kent Bazemore, Sacramento Kings

This is probably the least likely of the three. Bazemore has been trending down in the last few years, and his price tag might be higher than the other two because he offers some ability to shoot from outside as he’s coming off a season that saw him shoot 38.4 percent from 3-point range with the Kings.

Bazemore brings a solid defensive presence. He’s not quite the level of player that you get with Jackson or Noel, but he’s decent on that end with a reasonable level of play on offense. Since signing his contract extension with the Atlanta Hawks, he’s fallen off a bit because he’s been miscast as a primary option, but he wouldn’t be that in Denver, even off the bench because of the other pieces they have. Instead, he would just have to play quality defense while knocking down shots.

Bazemore made over $17 million last year, so he’ll need to take a big pay cut from that number. If he’s expecting to receive that from Denver, they’ll almost assuredly look elsewhere. If he’s willing to take a deal in the $5-8 million per range, that would be a good amount for the player that Bazemore can be for them.