As the 2020 NBA Draft rapidly approaches, the Denver Nuggets and other NBA teams have been included in rumors about prospects, trades, and the impending free agency period. On Wednesday, a flurry of activity surrounding the NBA Draft has the potential to alter the landscape of the upcoming NBA season.
Ryan Blackburn and Daniel Lewis discussed the NBA Draft in a conversation over the weekend:
Ryan Blackburn: Hey Dan, thanks for taking the time to talk with me about the NBA Draft and possible ripple effects the draft could have throughout the league, We will discuss the Nuggets in just a bit, but I figured it would be a good time to talk about the rest of the NBA first.
The Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors own the first and second overall selections in the draft this year. Given that both are in the Western Conference and have relatively high expectations next year, which team are you most interested in heading into this week?
Daniel Lewis: I’m more interested in the Golden State Warriors, because they’re in more of a “win-now” situation than the Minnesota Timberwolves are. The top players on the Warriors are all in the second half of their careers — Steph Curry is 32, Klay Thompson is 30, Draymond Green is 30 years old. Thompson is coming back from an ACL tear, and they don’t have nearly the depth they used to have during their dynasty years. They can either decide to use this pick to try to get more veteran players for another title run, or they can invest in the future by taking a player that will be on their next championship team. I don’t think they can have it both ways, not with the draft this year.
Minnesota is still going to be a team that is struggling to find an identity other than “really promising young players who can’t win.” They only made the playoffs because of the leadership of Jimmy Butler, and Butler was so fed up by the culture that he forced his way off the team. D’Angelo Russell hasn’t been a player that has led his team to the playoffs, and they have a young coach. Adding another young player that needs to figure out how to play in the NBA doesn’t make them a team that me, as a Nuggets fan, is too worried about.
RB: Part of the drama at the top with the Timberwolves and Warriors is the lack of legitimate star power at the top of this draft. The consensus top three prospects are LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, and James Wiseman, but all three have major questions surrounding their games as well as potential off the court concerns.
Ball, the younger brother of Lonzo, appears to be the best playmaker of the group with tremendous passing skill and court vision; however, he isn’t without concern as a playmaker. Ball shot a low percentage from three-point range and free throw range in both Lithuania and Australia, and his “in-between” game is a concern. His frame at 6’7” is intriguing, but he’s incredibly skinny and has major defensive concerns at the NBA level.
Edwards would be my choice for the first overall pick if I were the Timberwolves, but that doesn’t change the fact that he shot 40.2% from the field and 29.4% from three-point range in his lone season at Georgia. His shot selection and efficiency hardly inspire confidence, and maybe the only thing working for him is an athletic frame at 6’5” and 230 pounds at the shooting guard position. he will be physically dominant at the next level, and if he shoots it efficiently, he has the best chance to be a high level playoff threat of the top three players.
Wiseman seems to have a high floor as a 7’1” center with elite physical measurements, but there are questions about drafting a center in the top three without having the requisite shooting or playmaking ability of a Nikola Jokić, Joel Embiid, or Karl-Anthony Towns type. Could Wiseman be Rudy Gobert at the next level? Maybe, but it would take a lot of development between the ears for him as well as a willingness to not be the focal point offensively. If he buys into that role, he could be really good. There are questions about his willingness to do that.
So Dan, outside of the top three players I just mentioned, which prospect do you have the MOST confidence in, and which prospect do you have the LEAST confidence in?
DL: I have a lot of confidence that Onyeka Okungwu will be a solid professional player. He’s so good defensively, I could see him developing into a Steven Adams kind of player — someone who rebounds well, can defend around the rim well, and finishes dunks with power. I love big guys that can push their weight around when they get close to the rim, and Okungwu has a power game that I like.
I don’t have a lot of confidence in Killian Hayes. He’s extremely left-hand dominant, and I don’t know if he has the ability to adapt to NBA defenses. I get that he’s young, and there’s a lot of tools to like, but I worry about his ability to have success in the NBA, especially if he gets the burden of being a top-ten pick.
RB: Hayes definitely reminds a lot of folks of D’Angelo Russell with his left-handed dominance, but also Frank Ntilikina as a French guard with tools defensively that may never put the offense together if he doesn’t right some wrongs in his game. I like Okongwu as well. The Bam Adebayo comparison is a little lazy, but Okongwu also bas some passing potential for sure, which seems to be the main divide between those two at the moment.
I’m confident that Isaac Okoro has the most star potential of the other top 10 players. He handles the ball well for his size and has the playmaking chops built into his foundation. He finishes well at the rim and has the physicality to battle against other elite wings. The jump shot is the biggest question mark and probably the most important swing skill for his star potential. If that hits, he looks a lot like Jimmy Butler or prime Andre Iguodala.
On the other end of the spectrum, I have questions about Patrick Williams, who potentially has a promise with the Detroit Pistons at seventh overall. He’s the stereotypical big wing prospect who rises because of his tools. Teams HAVE to take a chance on those types of players if they want to compete at the highest level, but more often than not, those players don’t convert physical dominance into star level impact. Asking Patrick Williams to be a star is tough, despite the flashes he showed coming off the bench at Florida State.
Moving down to the region of the draft where the Nuggets select at 22nd overall, who are two prospects you’re looking most closely at that you think fit what the Nuggets need going forward?
DL: I could see them take a chance on Josh Green, an Australian kid who played one season at the University of Arizona. He’s a young shooting guard, and he’s a player that seems to have already embraced a role as a defensive stopper. He’s great in transition, and I think he could develop into a steady 3-point shooter and sneaky good cutter in the half-court offense. He has the physical tools to be a great defender, and I think he’d fit in well alongside the Nuggets core.
Another prospect I like in that range is Tyler Bey, a prospect us natives already know well. I don’t think his offense is as limited as some people think, and he has off-the-charts levels of athleticism for the defensive end. I could see him developing into a player that Michael Malone absolutely loves — he’ll rebound, block shots, dive for loose balls, and integrate into the offense. Coach Malone needs defenders on the roster, and Bey seems like someone that would readily accept that kind of a role.
RB: Green and Bey are two names I discussed in the first Denver Stiffs 2020 NBA Draft video, and I believe both would be excellent fits in Denver both in short and long term. They both have the athleticism and mentally to excel defensively, and that’s Denver’s biggest weakness in their young core right now.
Another two names to monitor: Desmond Bane and Jalen Smith. Bane is another name mentioned in the video above, and as a four-year senior, he would offer an NBA ready skill set offensively to blend into whatever the Nuggets decide to do. He has athletic concerns, but the shooting and passing are a tantalizing combo. Smith is an NBA ready big man prospect who should flourish as a stretch big off the bench at the next level. He rebounds well, blocks shots, and possesses perimeter range that should excite NBA teams that need spacing at the center position. He may not be able to play next to Nikola Jokić in most lineups, but the Nuggets could certainly use a bench center.
There is a belief that the Nuggets may decide to trade this pick though. On a Scale of 1 to 10, 10 being automatic, how likely is it that the Nuggets move the 22nd pick on draft night? Will they instead try to maneuver around the draft board or even trade this pick in a win now move?
DL: I think it’s a 2 or 3. I think they’d need a really fortuitous turn of events in order to move their pick. The front office has to recognize that they need a team-friendly contract for a rotation player for the next four years. They’ve always talked about not skipping steps, and unless they’ve planned on cashing in their chips for this season, I don’t think they’ll pass on an opportunity to get a young rotation player. I think part of that is because of the health issues for Gary Harris and Will Barton, but I think it’s more because they probably have a prospect they really like. In your opinion, what kind of deal needs to materialize for them to trade the pick?
RB: I’d probably go a little higher at around a 4 or 5. Even if the Nuggets don’t move this pick for an upgrade, I expect them to circle a prospect they really like/believe in and try to acquire that player. If it means moving up, then they might move up. If it means moving down, they might move down.
Last thing before we go: is there anything in addition to drafting a player 22nd overall that you believe makes sense for the Nuggets on Wednesday night?
DL: I would like to see them make a trade to pick up a second round pick. I know that KSE didn’t get as much money as they normally do in a regular season, especially with the holdout over local broadcasting, but they’ve got to have a million dollars sitting around they can send over to some team that already has their roster filled out to pick up a pick in the 40-60 range.
If they do that, there are a couple prospects that I think make sense. I like Jahmi’us Ramsey, a young shooting guard that spent one season at Texas Tech. I could see him going in the last part of the first round, but if a team doesn’t want to take a chance on him, he could slide deep into the second round. I also am a big fan of picking up another point guard in the second round. A player like Cassius Winston, Malachi Flynn, Peyton Pritchard, or Grant Riller might make a lot of sense for the Nuggets. That would give them a year to nurture them into a backup point guard role, and they wouldn’t have to overpay to keep Monte Morris around.
Who are some second round prospects you’re liking going into the draft?
RB: I would add Tre Jones and Yam Madar to that list point guards, all of whom could be successful at the NBA level. These guys are a little more defensive minded players, but the Nuggets can always use perimeter defense to surround Murray, Porter, and Jokić.
Outside of guards, I’m a big fan of Paul Reed of DePaul. There are questions with his jump shot, which is why he probably won’t go in the first round, but a player with his skill set defensively should be draft way higher than he’s about to be. He rotates from the weak side, switches onto the perimeter, and plays fundamentally sound basketball in an athletic body and frame. I think he’s a great fit for what Denver wants going forward, and they should do what they can to acquire him.
One last name: Nate Hinton of Houston may go undrafted, but I believe in his ability to translate to the NBA because of his willingness to be the hustler, the glue guy, the role player. His frame is big enough to defend shooting guards and small forwards, but he rebounds like a center, flying in from the perimeter and doing whatever it takes to grab boards on the offensive and defensive glass. He shot 38.7% from three in his sophomore season, and if he turns into a legitimate shooter at the next level, he will be an elite role player to have on the wing.
Which player outside of the projected top 3 is most likely to be a star?
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