Now that the dust has settled, give the Denver Nuggets a grade for both trades they made at the deadline:
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): It’s a B. The Nuggets had two major issues heading into the deadline in my opinion: finding some extra shooting and finding a wing defender that doesn’t shrink the spacing on offense. They went halfway on both, exchanging Malik Beasley for Jordan McRae and getting Keita Bates-Diop, a prospect who’s not quite ready to handle those big assignments. Still, they added a first round pick in 2020 and didn’t get worse in the process. That makes a positive grade.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): Let’s go with a B+. They were able to make a horizontal move swapping Beasley for McRae, they freed up money for free agency, they added depth while Millsap and Plumlee recover, picked up a 2020 first, and they don’t have to face Capela in the playoffs. A very nice deadline for Denver.
Evan Fiala (@eefiala): It’s a B for me. They didn’t really have any pressing issues to me at the deadline and the fact they were able to get a first rounder for Beasley and Juancho plus some high upside guys like Bates-Diop and McRae is nice. The most important aspect is that their playoff rotation will go largely unchanged from last year (plus Michael Porter Jr.). Denver is in a great spot now and in the future.
Nick Hertzog (@NickHertzogSBN): I’ll call it an A-. Obviously, I wanted to see a bigger name come to Denver. The fact is, though, that Gary Harris needed to be included in just about any trade scenario for a starting-caliber player, and evidently the Nuggets couldn’t find a team willing to take on that contract, given how Harris has looked on offense for the better part of two seasons. So flipping Beasley, Juancho, and Vandy for some minor improvements and a draft pick was probably as good as the front office could do this year.
The Nuggets will miss Malik Beasley, but can Jordan McRae replace his scoring off the bench at shooting guard?
Blackburn: Beasley’s combination of shooting and athleticism will be missed. He projects to be a starter in the NBA while McRae does not. However, Beasley would not have been the right starter in Denver, a team that needs defense on the wing as much as it needs shooting to insulate Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Nikola Jokic going forward. McRae should be able to offer the shooting off the bench Denver needs in a pinch, and that’s all Denver really needs from that position.
Lewis: Are we sure? He got along with his teammates, sure, but McRae seems like a great teammate too. McRae is a better scorer than Beasley, able to get to the rim while also able to shoot from behind the 3-point line. The Nuggets seem set on trying to fix Gary Harris, and give most their minutes at the off-guard position to him, Torrey Craig, and Will Barton.
Fiala: McRae seems like a lite version of Beasley who is capable of getting hot. For the regular season, I don’t see why he wouldn’t be able to fill that role but I don’t really expect him to get consistent minutes in the playoffs and that’s okay.
Hertzog: I’m not sure how much time Beasley was going to get in the playoffs anyway, which is what I’m really focused on. Unless Coach Malone benches Harris, it’s hard to see how Beasley — or McRae, now — was going to get on the court for meaningful minutes in the playoffs. But I’m excited by McRae’s range, what we’re hearing about his character, and the fact that the Nuggets could potentially retain him this offseason. In the end, the Nuggets basically broke even on Beasley and acquired a first-round pick and two interesting big men for Juancho and Vanderbilt. I’ll call that a win.
Are you disappointed the Nuggets didn’t make a bigger trade?
Blackburn: There were unreported moves Denver could have made that were turned down. Most teams want Michael Porter Jr., and Denver wasn’t going to ever give him up. Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez never moved the needle for opposing teams, and the Nuggets weren’t about to gut their first round picks. Instead, I think Denver did nicely by adding some cost controlled assets to keep the train moving. This is a big endorsement for Porter as well. Denver thinks he can do more with a larger role.
Lewis: No. Jrue Holiday is overpaid for what he brings on the court, and the Nuggets would have either lost Jerami Grant in the offseason or catapulted into the luxury tax. The best player to get traded this year was ... Andre Drummond? The Nuggets were smart to be patient if that’s the caliber of players that were on the market.
Fiala: It was nice to fantasize about adding a piece like Jrue but now that the dust has settled I’m not disappointed at all. With the talent already on the roster there was no need to make a splash just for the sake of making a splash.
Hertzog: Sure. I wonder what the Pelicans wanted for Jrue Holiday. If they demanded MPJ, then I get why the Nuggets had to move on. MPJ is untouchable — his combination of talent and size is too enticing to give up in a win-now sort of move for a young team with a bright, long-term future. If the Pelicans just wanted a bunch of first-round picks, though, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have pulled the trigger. Hopefully we’ll learn a bit more in the coming days.
With the roster the Nuggets will presumably carry the rest of the year, do they have a realistic chance to go deep into the playoffs?
Blackburn: If the matchups are right, Denver has a great shot to go all the way to the NBA Finals. Dealing with the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers will be difficult, but the Nuggets have proven they can beat every other Western Conference team at full strength. If the playoff seeding falls Denver’s way, they may only have to face one Los Angeles team. So the answer is yes. Denver has a great, realistic shot to go far this season.
Lewis: Apparently they only need seven players to beat the Jazz, so I think that is a positive indicator for their chances to get out of the first round. They have the best record in the league against teams with a .500 record or better. They have a 1st-Team All-NBA player in Jokic, a great coach, and a deep team that is getting more experience and more confidence with every big win. I think they’re right behind the Clippers and Lakers in the conference, and there’s a good chance those teams face each other in the second round. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Denver in the Conference Finals.
Fiala: Absolutely. Jokic is by far the best center in the NBA and is literally unguardable at this point. Murray’s game with Jokic is as deadly as ever, Will Barton has low key been one of the best players on the team, Jerami Grant is fitting in alongside Jokic like a leather glove, and we’re all praying that Gary Harris returns to his former self. Throw MPJ in the mix and it’s Conference Finals or bust, baby.
Hertzog: The road to the Finals is wide open. Houston has no one to guard Jokic. The Jazz and Mavs are good, but the Nuggets are better and should have homecourt against them. So the L.A. teams are by far the biggest hurdle, but they have their own holes and weaknesses. They have the top-end talent, but they aren’t anywhere near the juggernaut that the Warriors were the last four years. If things break right for the Nuggets — if Jokic can play like an MVP, if Murray can be a more consistent scoring threat, if Grant and MPJ can continue to provide meaningful contributions in 20-25 minutes per game — then I think the Nuggets can hold their own against any team in the NBA.