Denver Nuggets Draft Dominance
Updated: Mar 24
The NBA Draft, as in all sports, is a way to even the competitive advantage across the league, with the teams that didn’t make the playoffs in the previous season receiving lottery picks in the draft. With “tanking” becoming a priority for teams to expedite their rebuilding efforts, examples like “The Process” in Philly, have led to the worst four teams in the league receiving the same odds to get the #1 draft selection during the NBA Draft Lottery. The draft has become less of a valuable tool for building championship contenders, as teams are prioritizing the use of their draft picks as trade capital to build a “Big 3”, or even just add key role players they need to improve the team. When you think about it, this methodology makes a ton of sense. Draft picks in the future are more valuable than a young player that was just drafted. Combine this with the statistical probability that a draft pick won’t pan out, even lottery and Top 3 picks. Second round draft picks are even less valuable, mainly due to the diminished talent pool left at that point in the draft. I can run down a long line of first rounders that never panned out, but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to highlight the wild success of the Denver Nuggets in finding diamonds in the rough over the past several years, even some current stars they traded to build the team that just reached the Western Conference Finals in the bubble.
Diamonds in the Rough
The glaring example of finding diamonds in the rough in the NBA is finding Nikola Jokic with the 42nd pick in 2014. For the last few years we’ve seen how uniquely he dominates the league of the best athletes in the world with stellar footwork, funky looking floaters and jumpers where his feet don't leave the ground, and his incredible passing ability that saw him lead the league in assists for the first few weeks of this season and ultimately crown him as the best passing big man in NBA history.
To put things plain and simple, Jokic is the point guard on this Nuggets team. Watch the film and you’ll see how he is the focal point of the offense, mostly from his comfort zone in the post and high post, but also with a higher frequency of bringing up the ball. So far this season, Jokic is averaging nearly a triple double with 27 points, 11.2 rebounds, & 8.6 assists per game, while shooting 57% from the field. In a recent MVP poll, the Joker was listed as the third favorite seeing his odds jump from +2900 Pre-February 11th, to now +450. Lebron sits atop the throne with the best odds, followed by Joel Embiid. The 76ers are sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference and with the Nuggets occupying one of the lower playoff seeds, a likely climb to the top of the Western Conference standings makes his MVP case more appealing and his draft steal story that much more compelling. Finding a MVP candidate superstar in the 2nd Round of the NBA Draft is the epitome of finding a diamond in the rough.
However, Jokic isn’t the only story of draft success the Nuggets have to their name. The other star on the team is Jamal Murray, who was taken 7th overall after acquiring the pick from the New York Knicks. Ideally, every lottery pick lives up to the level Murray has been performing at, but as we’ve seen, this doesn’t happen too often. Murray and Jokic are the perfect complementary pair, where Murray isn’t a true point guard and Jokic’s passing ability allows Murray to be the dominant scorer we saw last season in the bubble. The Jokic-Murray pick and roll is virtually unstoppable although it’s not the traditional PnR we envision. They do run the conventional PnR with Murray as the ball handler and Jokic setting the screen, but they’re more dominant running handoffs with the ball in Jokic’s hands and Murray running off. It enables Murray to have enough space to get off jump shots or make moves towards the rim, or if the defense over-helps on Murray, Jokic fakes the handoff and dives toward the rim. At this point in Murray’s career, Jokic maximizes Murray’s impeccable ability as a slasher. That’s not to say Murray can’t create on his own, which he clearly can, but it makes the story of their pairing through the draft that much more noteworthy.
Drafting Your Core 101
Other members of the Nuggets roster that were built through the draft are Gary Harris, Monte Morris, Michael Porter Jr, Bol Bol, and RJ Hampton. Gary Harris was taken with the 19th pick of the 2014 NBA Draft and is now the primary defender in the Nuggets rotation. Although his offensive repertoire hasn't come along as much as the Nuggets might have hoped, his defense is something the Nuggets definitely need with their star duo being below-average defensive players. Over the past two seasons, the Nuggets have received many offers for Harris and have turned them down, which shows the value he has around the league and also within the organization. Monte Morris was a second round selection who has become one of the better backup point guards in the league and a crucial piece of the Nuggets success. He brings a defensive mindset off the bench and his offensive play mirrors more the traditional NBA point guard who runs the offense. He more so stays in his lane, but given the need and the opportunity, Morris can & will get hot. Michael Porter Jr is looking to be a steal with his scoring punch and tough shot making ability, with the Nuggets taking a chance on him with the 14th pick of the 2018 NBA Draft, coming off of a herniated disk and subsequent hip injury that limited him to only three games during his college career at Mizzou. Many teams were questioning the possibility he would be able to have a successful NBA career due to his troubling injuries. Boy the rest of the league looks stupid for this one, although I think he could have slipped several more spots in that draft if the Nuggets didn't snatch him up.
Injury is the reason the Nuggets were able to nab another budding star with the 44th pick of the 2019 NBA Draft. Bol Bol was embarrassed after being invited to the NBA Draft room at the Barclays Center, where the probable top picks sit with their friends and families awaiting their selection so they can walk up on the stage and shake Adam Silver’s hand. He was the last guy in the room to be selected after averaging 21 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game in only 9 games at Oregon due to his foot injury. He debuted ball handling, 3 point range, and shot blocking during his time in the bubble and the rest of the league will be sorry they let the Nuggets get him once he starts getting more consistent minutes. RJ Hampton was once in the conversation for the top pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and fell to pick #24 after foregoing college to play professionally in Australia. As a raw athletic player, not getting a terrible amount of playing time, the intrigue stems from the viral highlights and posters that we’ve seen throughout the years leading up to him being in the NBA.
Let’s get to the guys Denver drafted, but traded away to build their current team. The Nuggets traded their 2016 19th overall pick, Malik Beasley, to the Timberwolves for Gerald Green and a first round pick as a part of a 4 team deal, & now Beasley is signed to a 4 year/$60 million dollar deal with the Wolves. In the 2014 NBA Draft where they drafted “The Joker” in the 2nd round, they drafted Jusuf Nurkic in the 1st & although Nurkic is a great starting center in his own right, he isn’t Nikola Jokic.
Now, here’s a little tidbit of information that a lot of basketball fans probably don’t know, or just don’t remember since it was a draft day trade. Although the Nuggets have been great decision makers during the past few NBA Drafts, they aren't always right. The Nuggets drafted Mr. COVID-19 himself, Rudy Gobert, the year before they drafted Jokic, for cash considerations and a second round pick in that draft (2013). Ouch. Now, I don’t believe Gobert should have gotten the super max that he did since he still can’t shoot jumpers as an NBA veteran, but he did qualify for it and I will simply congratulate him on getting the bag. While that is a bad trade in retrospect, you really never know what you’ll get with the 27th pick in any draft, & now they have Jokic. I’d rather rock with Jokic than a guy who can’t shoot, but that’s just me. Even wilder, the Nuggets traded Donovan Mitchell (No. 13 pick) to the Jazz for Trey Lyles and the rights to Tyler Lydon. Honestly, this is just as bad as the Gobert trade because Trey Lyles is a role player and I'm honestly not sure if Tyler Lydon played in a single NBA game.
Even though the list of draft picks includes several lottery picks, the fact still stands that their team is built around the draft and their success rate of hitting on draft picks is insanely high. Yes, they traded away Spidah and COVID-hands, ironically both to the Utah Jazz, but that is chalked up to trades, not drafting. Denver Nuggets, know your lane; Stick to drafting. Also, a bit of a personal gripe here, the Nuggets recent draft success is that much more impressive when you live in New York since the Knicks can’t seem to ever get it right.
New York Knicks… STOP THAT!