As the NBA world prepares for the draft, set to air a week from now on July 29th, a different annual tradition has swept through the NBA unlike any other: mock draft season. Fans are wondering who the next wave of NBA stars will be and which player(s) their team will select during the festivities. Denver Nuggets fans are the same way, knowing how important this day can be for the Nuggets, who have built the foundation of their team entirely through the draft. Will the Nuggets add the next core piece of their team? We will soon find out.

Here at SB Nation, all 30 fan bases (or at least those with first round picks) joined together to conduct a 2021 NBA mock draft. This affords the opportunity to factor in the thoughts and perspectives of each fan base, as many of the fans know the ins and outs of their teams better than almost anybody.

Here at Denver Stiffs, I (Ryan Blackburn) operated as GM for the first time, monitoring the proceedings with bated breath. The Denver Nuggets hold the 26th overall pick, and due to the reality of no fake trades allowed during this process, I was forced to watch in horror as Miles McBride and Jaden Springer, two combo guards I was hoping to be available, were selected 23rd and 25th respectively just ahead of my selection.

With that in mind, my draft selection at 26th overall became quite clear.

With the 26th overall pick in the 2021 SB Nation Blogger Mock Draft, the Denver Nuggets select: Chris Duarte, shooting guard, University of Oregon.

SB Nation’s own Ricky O’Donnell has Duarte as the 26th ranked prospect in the 2021 class, which seems fitting having selected him at 26th in this mock draft.

Duarte had a strong sophomore season at Oregon, helping lead the Ducks to the Sweet 16 before ultimately losing to a strong USC team. In the process, Duarte averaged 17.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game on the season, shooting 53.2% from the field, 42.4% from three-point range, and 81.0% from the free throw line.

There are several things to know about Duarte. First, he’s 24 years old, the oldest player in the draft class. Drafting older players goes against everything the Nuggets normally do in the draft; however, the tides have changed for the Nuggets. They are trying to compete for a championship right now AND going forward. It’s important to first worry about the roster as it stands and identify players that can help the team grow and become the best it can be. Duarte, though he has questions about his ceiling, could absolutely be helpful for the Nuggets now AND going forward.

Next, Duarte is the classic 3-and-D shooting guard archetype with a side of playmaking potential. His best skill by far is his shooting versatility. Duarte can hit simple spot up threes, run off screens, use escape dribbles to shoot threes or midrange twos. He can also create shots for himself with the ball in his hands, including step back twos and threes that pair well with the modern NBA game. He can drive to the rim and finish efficiently. He really can do a lot of different things offensively, including move and cut off-ball, something Nuggets fans should always hope for.

Defensively, he won’t be a stopper by any means, but he should be a positive impact defender at the next level. He uses his hands well to generate steals, and rotates from the paint to the perimeter well off-ball. More than anything, he’s a smart team defender, and he won’t leave teammates out to dry by missing rotations or not selling out to cover his assignment.

Looking ahead to the Denver Nuggets roster in the 2021-22 season and beyond, the Nuggets only have one wing player under contract at the moment: P.J. Dozier. With Will Barton potentially departing in free agency, the Nuggets don’t have another capable option beyond Dozier, a versatile defender and playmaker who is still a shaky shooter himself. There’s a world where, given Jamal Murray’s initial absence next year recovering from ACL surgery, that the Nuggets may need their rookie to be an immediate contributor just to get through the season. Though the Nuggets often draft for potential, this might be the rare year to draft for production instead.

Duarte appears to be NBA ready. His shooting and defense will earn him time for any team at the next level, and given Denver’s potentially glaring need on the wing for a 3-and-D option, it makes sense for the Nuggets to consider him. He wouldn’t be a starter, but he could almost certainly fill a 15 minute-per-game role off the bench and offer a change-of-pace from Denver’s regular wing rotation. He still has the potential to become a complementary starter down the line. Perhaps that can be good enough for the time being.

Our own Brandon Ewing profiled Chris Duarte earlier this month. Check it out here!

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