In preparation for the 2021 NBA Draft, the entire Denver Stiffs staff has invested countless hours into film study, discussion, writing, and general draft day procedure. During the process, we have developed thoughts and opinions that go beyond draft profiles, big boards, and mock drafts. To open up the discussion further, Ryan Blackburn and Brandon Ewing transcribed what ultimately was a conversation about different segments of this year’s NBA draft class and how the Denver Nuggets fit into the proceedings.
From Cade Cunningham to Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Ryan and Brandon share their thoughts on the 2021 Draft just days away.
Ryan Blackburn: Hey Brandon! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on the draft. I’m hoping that this format is a solid way to share our thoughts on this draft class much in the same way of the Pickaxe and Roll podcast that will be going out on the same day.
I want to start at the top of the draft and work our way down the ladder to where the Denver Nuggets reside, and that means starting with the Detroit Pistons and Cade Cunningham. There have been discussions about the Pistons potentially going a different direction than selecting Cade at first overall this year, but I’m hard pressed to believe those rumors.
What do you think of Cade Cunningham? Should the Pistons even hesitate before drafting him first overall?
Brandon Ewing: Ryan! The pleasure is all mine, excited to take the time and talk more about the draft, which is just under a week away. As far as Cunningham and the Pistons go I think it would be insane for Detroit to even consider passing on the best prospect in this year’s class.
Cunningham is a do-it-all guard/wing who possesses the ability to run the offense and score at will. The pace in which Cunningham plays is what stands out to me with how smooth and controlled he runs the show. Cunningham also has incredible size at 6-foot-8, 220 pounds which means he’ll likely guard small forwards in the NBA. Even though he can still grow defensively, Cunningham will immediately have a positive impact on the Pistons offense and team as a whole.
RB: I tend to agree. Cunningham is going to be really good, maybe great. Detroit needs that foundational piece who can help lead things going forward, and adding him to Jerami Grant plus a young core of Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, and Isaiah Stewart makes a ton of sense in both the short and long term.
There are other prospects, to be clear, who could wind up better than Cunningham. Evan Mobley projects to be an elite big man down the line, while Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs are prototypical guard prospects with a straightforward path toward stardom as well. Do any of those three have “best player on a championship team” potential in your mind? If not, are they simply really good supporting members?
BE: I think all three have potential to the best members of a championship team, with Evan Mobley being the most likely of the three. I think Green is going to be really good and I expect Houston to draft him second overall, but I’m not sure he’s ever going to be the best player on a championship team. I feel the same way about Suggs in that he’s going to be a really good pro, but I’m not sure he’ll ever be that type of superstar to put the team on his back and lead them a championship.
Mobley to me can be that guy as he possesses an ability to take over games and dominate on both ends of the floor. Not only is Mobley going to be a really solid offensive player in the NBA, but his defensive ability is elite and it would not surprise me to see him bring home a Defensive Player of the Year award within his first five years in the league.
RB: Agreed on all fronts, including that Mobley is the most likely to really pop off. Green is really enticing though. He does everything a scoring guard in the NBA needs to do nowadays and flashed tremendous upside while at G League Ignite. I’m not surprised he’s being hyped the way he is.
It seems that this draft class has four names at the top that most feel comfortable projecting as stars; however, things become radically different the further away from those four we go. Among the rest of the projected lottery players, is there a player that sticks out as a star caliber prospect who isn’t getting enough hype?
BE: Moses Moody is the guy for me that I think can be a star at the next level. Moody is talked about, but he still somehow flies a little under the radar, and it’s because he’s just so solid of a player there isn’t much to dissect. Moody is a phenomenal off-ball scorer who also possesses the ability to score off the dribble and just make shots within the flow of an offense.
Moody is never trying to do too much and always stays within himself, not just offensively but defensively as well. He has all the tools to guard bigger and smaller wings at the next level as Moody could easily be a dynamic 3-and-D player in the NBA. I expect Moody to go in the top-10 and have a long, successful NBA career.
RB: Moses Moody is very intriguing. There have been comparisons made to Mikal Bridges, and they aren’t entirely unfair. Moody, in his first season at Arkansas, put together a really good year as the team’s best and most reliable player. He may not be as athletic as Bridges, but Moody has a near 7’1” wingspan, shoots the ball well from the perimeter, and has a lot of switch-ability as a 1-on-1 defender. I like him a lot. He won’t be there when Denver picks though.
As for my player that isn’t getting enough hype, I’m going with Josh Giddey, who put together a very strong season in the NBL, the same league that R.J. Hampton played in before being drafted by Denver. The difference? Giddey’s numbers were even better as an 18-year-old point guard prospect. He’s an elite passer and can see over the defense at 6’7”, perhaps 6’8” as he continues to grow. He reminds me of a slightly less athletic LaMelo Ball in a lot of ways, as he won’t be an elite scorer but could really change minds about that as he continues to grow. If Giddey is drafted by the right team and he puts in work in the weight room, he will be a versatile playmaker by the time he’s 25 years old.
What about a player in the middle of this draft that you are completely out on? Is there someone going higher than you would grade in the mock drafts?
BE: Not to take the cop out route, but there’s not really anyone I’m out on in this draft class. To put this from a Nuggets perspective, the one player I don’t want the Nuggets to take is Josh Primo. He’s going pretty high in mock drafts and I just don’t see it when watching his tape. Primo definitely has potential to be a solid player at the next level. I just think it’s going to take awhile for him to get to that point. The Nuggets need to draft players who can contribute right away and Primo just doesn’t fit that bill.
RB: It’s a fair take. The Nuggets have been known to draft and develop very young players for most of Tim Connelly’s time as the lead decision maker, but they don’t have significant time before needing production from this draft pick. With the roster becoming so expensive and Denver’s main pieces entering their prime years, it’s important to find contributors in years one, two, and three of the rookie contract rather than hoping for a higher ceiling in years four, five, six, and beyond. Josh Primo, as you mention above, falls into the latter category, despite having a potentially higher ceiling due to his young age and raw skill set.
I will ask the question in a different way then: are there other young players in this draft that you would stay away from because of how far they still have to go?
BE: Josh Christopher is the first player that comes to mind. Along like Primo, the Nuggets also brought Christopher in for a workout, but at just 19 years old I have a hard time seeing the Arizona State product contributing in year one. It was an up and down freshman season for Christopher as a leg injury ended his season early after just 15 games.
The biggest area of improvement Christopher has to make at the next level is getting more consistent. Christopher has the ability to be an elite scorer if he just lets the game come to him and finds his spots. It was not all Christopher’s fault at Arizona State as he played a little out of position having to play small forward most of the year. Even though the potential is there, Christopher is still a couple years away which would make me a little hesitant on making him a first round draft pick, especially for the Nuggets.
RB: Christopher and Primo both fall into that category of not being old enough to really appreciate the nuances and the effort level needed to play elite defense. R.J. Hampton understood it from his time in the NBL, but young college scoring guards are often different. They know that’s not what gets them paid as well.
Another two guys I’d be concerned about: Jalen Johnson and Tre Mann. Johnson has a ton of questions regarding quitting on IMG Academy two years ago and then walking away from Duke last year in the middle of the season. He seems like a talented player with physical gifts and a unique skill set, but if he can’t shoot, and he has to find his own way into a rotation in the NBA, that might be more difficult to navigate than teams care to deal with. Mann’s questions are all about athleticism and defense. He’s a gunner who did a great job going to his right, but forcing him to his left hand gave him issues outside of step back jumpers. Players that are one dimensional often don’t find their way at the next level.
But now, let’s transition into some Denver Nuggets conversation. If you had to rank Denver’s biggest needs heading into the draft, what are the two or three most important areas of improvement in your mind?
BE: I’d rank the Nuggets needs entering the draft as follows:
- Shooting guard/combo guard
- Backup small forward
- Backup center
Shooting guard to me is the one that stands out the most with the uncertainty surrounding Will Barton and his future with the team. I have a feeling Barton will be back, but even if they do re-sign him, the Nuggets still need a shooting guard of the future and more depth at the position.
This draft has a ton of guys that can play both shooting guard and some point guard at the next level. Drafting a combo guard who can do it all on both ends of the floor has to be priority number one based on Denver’s roster. That is why I hope they target guys like Miles McBride, Jared Butler, Joel Ayayi, Ayo Dosunmu, Jaden Springer, and guys of that nature to fill a need on draft night.
If the Nuggets are able to do that then I feel like there will be some opportunities for them to trade back into the draft and maybe that is where we see them draft a small forward or a back up big man. Aaron Henry is a guy I'm curious about out of Michigan State. The Nuggets worked him out this week and we know they could use a defensive minded player out on the perimeter similar to what they had in Torrey Craig a few years ago. Henry can do that, and if they can draft him along with one of the guards mentioned above, I’m all for it.
RB: Here’s who the Nuggets have under contract for the 2021-22 season: Jamal Murray (injured), Monte Morris, Facundo Campazzo, P.J. Dozier, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Vlatko Čančar, Bol Bol, Zeke Nnaji, and Nikola Jokić. JaMychal Green might join them on his player option. Will Barton might choose to re-sign. Denver could re-sign any of their free agents if they really wanted to.
Your point about the shooting guard position is well taken, and the combo guards in this class are generally good enough to make up for the fact that all of them are under 6’5”. I like Jalen Springer and Miles McBride a TON for the Nuggets despite their size. The Nuggets desperately need point-of-attack defense, and both Springer and McBride provide that. Both are athletic, long-armed, and pesky on-ball defenders who bring different skills to the table offensively. Springer has an interesting slashing game with playmaking instincts, while McBride has a strong pull-up jumper game tailor made for the NBA today.
Still: Springer and McBride are 6’4” and 6’2” respectively. Ideally, the player the Nuggets should be looking for is in the 6’5” to 6’7” range to complement Jamal Murray a bit more in the backcourt. Perhaps Moses Moody falls down draft boards and they make a move to trade up for him. Maybe the 6’6” Chris Duarte is the best fit positionally and skill set wise despite already being 24 years old.
In reality, the Nuggets are probably going to take the best player available at 26th overall. If that’s Springer or McBride, Nuggets fans should absolutely be happy with that. It just may mean that the Nuggets have to work hard to find another player in that 6’5” to 6’7” range to be the final piece of their championship puzzle.
One final question to you: you mentioned Aaron Henry as a prospect the Nuggets should be interested in if they are to trade down. Are there other players that you have your eye on in the second round with a good chance of performing above their draft spot?
BE: Henry is definitely one of the standouts, but I think Joel Ayayi is the guy who will perform well above where he is drafted. Ayayi is a first round talent who could fall to the second round based off all the talent at the guard position. The one reason why Ayayi might fall is his frame is a little smaller than other guards in this class and he was never able to put on weight during his time at Gonzaga. What really stands out when you watch Ayayi is his basketball IQ is off the charts and his cutting ability would fit in great with the Nuggets. Ayayi is a more than capable defender and if he can bulk up his frame he can be even better defensively in the NBA.
I’ll mention one other guy who can outplay his draft slot, and that is Jason Preston from Ohio. Preston is a do it all point guard who really grew as a player during his time in college. The Nuggets worked out Preston a few weeks ago and is a guy I’d keep an eye on if they trade back into the second round.
RB: You definitely don’t need to sell me on the value of intelligent guards. We’ve seen firsthand how impactful Monte Morris and Facundo Campazzo can be when playing next to Jokić and Murray, despite being undersized a bit. Ayayi, if he could get up to 200 pounds, would be a great combo guard option later in the draft. Preston seems destined to be a second or third string point guard, but his vision and playmaking could really flourish after watching Morris and Campazzo for a year.
Quentin Grimes and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl probably deserve mention as well in case either of them slip in the process. Grimes has plenty of 3-and-D potential and seems willing to put in the work necessary to fill that role at the next level. Robinson-Earl is a switchable forward from Villanova, which says to me that he could pair well with some combination of Porter, Gordon, and Nnaji down the line and do the difficult tasks that a playoff team needs done.