A couple weeks back Adam Silver made some comments about NBA expansion and that got the blogosphere over SBNation thinking. What would an expansion draft look like in today’s NBA? Who would teams protect and what type of team could an expansion franchise create from the relative dregs of the Association? With that, we’ve embarked on a network wide mock expansion draft. Each SBNation site was asked to pick eight players to protect from the expansion draft, and the rest were fair game. The draft kicks of at 10AM mountain time over at Sonics Rising, but let’s get to who the team at Denver Stiffs decided to protect.

Seven were easy

There are obviously some no brainers in here. No one from the anticipated starting lineup could be left unprotected so Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Wilson Chandler were taken off the board. Will Barton being Denver’s sixth man and owner of the NBA’s second best bargain deal (Nikola has the best) was the next obvious choice to protect and after him second year forward Juancho Hernangomez, who projects to be a big part of Denver’s core for a long time, was also an easy choice to protect. That left just one more player to protect, and suddenly it wasn’t an easy choice at all.

One spot for six players

The Denver Nuggets excellent depth made this exercise difficult. There are six players who an argument for protection can be made: Trey Lyles, Emmanuel Mudiay, Tyler Lydon, Kenneth Faried, Malik Beasley and Mason Plumlee. Lyles, Mudiay, Lydon and Beasley all fall into the category of young player with upside. Most teams generally are going to protect a first round pick who has less than 3 seasons in the league, and all of those guys fall into that category, meanwhile Plumlee and Faried are borderline starters on affordable contracts (assuming of course Plumlee isn’t about the break the bank, which all indications point to as such) which makes them also a common type of player to receive protection.

With six potential candidates there had to be some quick elimination. Plumlee is out, he’s not under contract and seems more and more likely to take his qualifying offer every day. Protecting a guy who is going to hit the market again next season and hoping to get overpaid is not a good strategy. Lydon and Beasley are out, out of any of the six players those two have the longest way to go before they actually can impact an NBA roster on a regular basis. Faried…is out, there’s a really strong argument to make for Faried but he plays the same spot as Lyles and Lyles is younger and cheaper and has more upside.

And then there were two

So it all comes down to Emmanuel Mudiay or Trey Lyles. Drumroll please…the Denver Nuggets choose Emmanuel Mudiay as the final player to receive protection from the expansion draft. Despite the struggles, Mudiay has had over the past two years, the Stiffs aren’t ready to give him away just yet. Mudiay would almost assuredly be one of the players taken in the expansion draft so not protecting him would for all intents and purposes be giving up on him. He arguably has the highest ceiling of any of the six players considered for the final spot for protection (Beasley is the only one who might have a ceiling that’s higher) and he has more talent right now than half of the group of six. Lyles in many ways fits all these descriptions as well, but an expansion team is extremely unlikely to snatch up three power forwards from one team so there’s a chance that Lyles doesn’t get picked, and if he does then almost assuredly Faried or Lydon would not be picked and would return to the team. One way or another the Nuggets will be able to survive if Lyles was taken, without Mudiay though they’d be stuck with Jameer Nelson as their only option at backup PG.

We’ll be checking in on the mock expansion draft all day to let you know who the Nuggets would lose in this exercise so make sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and head over to Sonics Rising to see it unfold in real time.

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