The Denver Nuggets have one pick in the 2021 NBA draft, and it’s the 26th overall selection right near the end of the first round. What should they do with it?
Tommy Knowlton (@TommyKnow303): If Denver does choose to stick with the 26th pick there are some interesting depth options. JT Thor from Auburn is an athletic forward standing 6’10” with a 7’3” wingspan and has tremendous upside on the defensive end. Denver needs a defensive paint presence, and if they do not address it in free agency, JT Thor could fit the Mason Plumlee role. Another interesting player is Croatia's Roko Prkačin. He’s only 18 years old, but he’s 6’8” and knows how to get to his spots offensively. He can score off the dribble, he’s effective at driving to the basket, and features useful passing instincts.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): Historically speaking, the Nuggets are not going to find a starter this deep in the draft. If they have a chance to swap this pick for a veteran that can contribute for their title run next season, they should try to move it. If they’re not finding a good deal, they can take a chance on a “best player available.” The odds of a rookie cracking the rotation are slim, and the Nuggets should be looking for a player that can make an impact several years down the road.
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): Well, they shouldn’t trade it for cash, that’s for sure. The Nuggets are in a difficult position financially where their moves over the next 12 months are really going to set up just how competitive on the margins they can be going forward. They could technically trade this pick for a helpful rotation player, but that player will be more expensive earlier. Instead, the right thing to do is to keep the pick, identify a player that can help Denver’s core players going forward, and patiently develop that player to be impactful while still on their rookie contract.
Assuming they make a draft selection at 26, who would you want them to target in the draft?
Knowlton: I do not have a lot of confidence in the Bol Bol experience, but I would like Denver to try again with someone with similar athleticism. Like I said before, Denver desperately needs a paint defender and I think JT Thor can be that. He needs to put on more weight to play in the paint since he’s only 205 lbs. right now, but if he comes into the NBA with the right mindset he can flourish considering the potential he has.
Lewis: Let’s toss JT Thor’s name into the conversation for Denver. He’s an 18-year-old power forward that played his freshman season at Auburn, but he has raw tools that should make draftniks drool. He measured in at the draft combine at about 6-foot-9-inches with a 7-foot-3-inch wingspan — let’s hope that if the Nuggets take him, the coaching staff can turn him into a player in a couple years.
Blackburn: There’s a ton to like about Jaden Springer, an 18-year-old combo guard who played his freshman season at Tennessee. The biggest weakness in Denver’s backcourt at the end of this past season was a lack of dynamic explosiveness on either end of the floor. With Jamal Murray injured and several other guards up for new contracts, a young player like Springer would be a great addition. He’s versatile, a willing defender, and he operates calmly when players are contesting his shot around the paint, something that stands out as a trait professionals need to have. I like Springer a lot.
Who would you want Denver to trade up with that you’re confident wouldn’t make it to 26?
Knowlton: I think Isaiah Jackson could really help Denver’s second unit. He played center at Kentucky and showed enormous potential as a shot-blocker and rebounder. He’s effective on the glass at both ends, and as the Nuggets like to space the floor, it could give Jackson a lot of lob looks which we haven't seen in a while. Offense is always an attractive pick in the draft because we always view players with the ability to capture their potential. Jackson’s ceiling might be lower than some of these great offensive talents, but I think his floor can be higher. If he can understand NBA defensive techniques and rotations I think he can make an impact next season.
Lewis: That’s an easy one for me — Tre Mann. The Nuggets could use more scoring, unless you’re a big believer in Markus Howard. I think he’ll be long gone by the time the Nuggets are on the board.
Blackburn: Moses Moody out of Arkansas gives me strong “long, athletic, helpful wing shooter and defender” vibes. Kevin O’Connor has him listed at 6’8 for The Ringer. Other places I’ve seen have him listed at 6’6. Either way, he’s a hybrid SG/SF that will make outside shots and be switchable defensively. Sounds great to me.
If Denver were to trade their selection for an established player, who do you think/want them to target?
Knowlton: I think the Malik Beasley departure really hurt Denver this playoff. He was an electric scorer off the bench, and nobody filled that role quite like him. With that being said, I agree with Daniel. Tim Hardaway Jr. can fill that role, and if the Nugget do not try to get him, a playoff team like the Lakers certainly will. Hardaway Jr. shined this year in the playoffs and would bring Denver much-needed three-point consistency and spacing.
Lewis: Tim Hardaway Jr. from the Dallas Mavericks. I don’t think the Nuggets have enough scoring on their team, and that’s their biggest area to address. The defense will be alright if you grab enough veterans, and a player like Hardaway could really help boost the Nuggets offense. He’s on an expiring contract, and if the Mavericks are wanting to rebuild around Luka, maybe they’ll be more intrigued by the No. 26 pick.
Blackburn: It would have to be for a player Denver could match contracts with, and also potentially to a team that has a young player but may not have space for that young player going forward. I would call the Memphis Grizzlies about Brandon Clarke. He’s an athletic forward who finishes extremely well at the rim and can switch a bit, and the Grizzlies have Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas, Xavier Tillman, and Kyle Anderson in their frontcourt already. Denver would have to add more than the 26th pick, but there’s a good chance that Clarke has a lot more to give going forward, and he might not fit in fully with Memphis’ plans.
Call your shot. What does Denver ultimately do with their pick or in the draft in general? Do they trade down or out entirely for future picks or talent to put around their core? What happens?
Knowlton: I think Denver has been successful finding good role players or diamond in the roughs late in the draft so I think they keep the pick. As usual, there are really good international players in this draft that fit their style of play, or they can go a more athletic, defensive-minded route. They haven’t drafted enough defensive players lately and it has shown in the regular season and playoffs, so I think they go defense with this pick.
Lewis: I think they’ll wind up with Ayo Dosunmu, a point guard out of Illinois. He was the best collegiate point guard in the country, and although he’s older than other guard prospects, I think the Nuggets are fine taking older guards and trusting them to be consistent producers. I don’t think they’re going to be active in trades on draft day — they don’t need to “win” the draft when they’re more concerned about winning enough games to grab home court next year.
Blackburn: They will probably draft best player available as they often do. It was Michael Porter Jr. in 2018, trading into the draft to acquire Bol Bol in 2019, a brief foray into “draft for need” with Zeke Nnaji in 2020, and then the Nuggets traded back into the draft to acquire RJ Hampton anyway two picks later. I will go out on a limb and say Denver drafts the best available guard/wing they can find. This player will be young, athletic, and possess a high basketball IQ. I like Jaden Springer as a prospect in that mold honestly.