Even though the young Denver Nuggets are all but guaranteed to be a first round sacrificial lamb to the likes of the Thunder or Spurs, participating in the 2012 post-season will be better for the Nuggets in the long run than picking up a late lottery pick.

Nuggets fans and pundits alike have been debating whether or not the Nuggets might be better off missing the playoffs and picking up a lottery pick as they build for the future. In today's Denver Post, Mark Kiszla argues that the Nuggets would be better off missing the playoffs altogether and adding some young talent, noting that the Nuggets will go nowhere in the playoffs. And while I completely agree with Kiz that the Nuggets are going nowhere in the playoffs, I do believe that some playoff seasoning is what this team needs more than a mid-first round pick.

Were the Nuggets to miss the post-season and get into the lottery, they will most certainly have the best record among all lottery-bound teams resulting in the 14th overall pick. Recent 14th overall picks have included Marcus Morris, Patrick Patterson, Earl Clark and Anthony Randolph (a bust now playing for the Timberwolves who somehow torched the Nuggets last night). I’d rather gamble on Tim Duncan or Kevin Durant turning an ankle in a playoff series than see who’s around to be drafted at 14.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t steals available at 14 or that all 14th overall picks are always no-factors. But from my vantage point, after the 10th or so pick the entire NBA draft is a gamble. You’re as likely to steal a Kenneth Faried at 22 or Ty Lawson at 18 or an Arron Afflalo at 27 or a Wilson Chandler at 23 as you are to strike out with someone like Patterson at 14. And thus, given that the Nuggets will most certainly not draft in the top-10, why not give the young Nuggets some much needed playoff experience? And most likely against a team that is going to (Oklahoma City) or has already been to (San Antonio) the NBA Finals.

Another argument I’ve heard tossed around is that the Nuggets could package their late lottery pick plus one of their two expendable bigs (Timofey Mozgov or Kosta Koufos, assuming JaVale McGee is re-signed) and move up in the lottery. But again, I have to believe that having the 14th overall pick versus the 17th or 18th overall pick (where they will likely draft if they make the playoffs) combined with a young seven-footer has almost equal value in trade.

Moreover, the Nuggets have never had any luck with the lottery. Even when the Nuggets were assured of the NBA’s worst record or second-to-worst record, the highest pick the NBA has ever given us is third overall (which resulted in Carmelo Anthony being drafted in 2003). What makes anyone think that the Nuggets will be the once-in-a-generation lottery team – like the 2007-08 Chicago Bulls or the 1992-93 Orlando Magic – that lands the first overall pick despite not having one of the four or five worst records in the NBA?

No chance.

The 2011-12 lockout season has been punishing for many NBA teams, including the Nuggets. Injuries and fatigue have definitely been a factor, but regardless the Nuggets simply haven’t played well or consistently. They’ve pissed away games against shoddy competition (almost did so again last night!) and probably don’t deserve to make the playoffs as a result. And yet by pulling off some big victories against some of the NBA’s elite – like the Spurs, Lakers, Heat, Celtics, Clippers and Bulls – and by playing reasonably well on the road, the Nuggets find themselves in a position to make the playoffs for the ninth consecutive time. That’s nothing to sneer at.

Youngsters like Lawson, Faried, McGee, Afflalo, Chandler, Mozgov, Koufos and Danilo Gallinari would be well served to participate in the 2012 post-season. Especially against an elite team like the Thunder or Spurs. Not only would it be a reward for the effort they put into the regular season, but playing in a few extra must-win games will prove to be invaluable learning experiences entering the 2012-13 season. If this group of Nuggets ever hopes to get to the Thunder or the Spurs’ level, they must see first-hand how those teams compete when the games are of the greatest magnitude. The lottery may bring another youngster on-board, but it doesn’t give the current youngsters any playoff experience.

And remember, it wasn’t too long ago when a scrappy Thunder squad was an 8th-seed giving the 1st-seeded Lakers fits in a competitive six-game, first round series. And just two years before that, a scrappy 8th-seeded Hawks squad gave the 1st-seed Celtics all they could handle in a thrilling seven-game series. Point being, anything can happen in the post-season if you just get there.

Believe me, it's more likely that our young Nuggets pull off a few playoff victories than it is for them to land a top-three lottery pick. And the experience of doing so will serve this franchise better in the long run than picking up the 14th pick in the draft.

Let's not throw away the season just to pick up a throwaway lottery pick.

On to the links (lots of them today!) …

Kiszla: Nuggets would be better served to land in NBA lottery – The Denver Post
Mark Kiszla argues that the Nuggets should play for the lottery and not the playoffs.

JaVale Being JaVal – Sports Illustrated
SI's Lee Jenkins profiles JaVale McGee. A must-read for Nuggets fans!

Mile High Sport – The Rookie Monster
Chris Dolge says Kenneth Faried is a superstar in the making.

Denver Nuggets’ Al Harrington to play with torn meniscus – ESPN
Al Harrington doesn’t want to sit out with a sore right knee when the Denver Nuggets are very much in the thick of the playoff chase.

JaVale McGee got a Sports Illustrated profile, and you should read it | Ball Don't Lie – Yahoo! Sports
From the blog JaVale McGee got a Sports Illustrated profile, and you should read it.

The Celtics are dominating in year five of the three-year plan – Grantland
Here's bad news for the rest of the NBA: Everything is clicking in Boston. Another great column from Bill Simmons.