Two Draft Targets for the Denver Nuggets

It was fun while it lasted, but the Denver Nuggets‘ magical playoffs run has come to a close. Following two historic comebacks against the Los Angeles Clippers and the Utah Jazz, they were quickly eliminated by the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers. There were certainly a number of breakthroughs and surprises, namely the explosion of Jamal Murray, but it’s undeniable that the team needs to make some changes. The Nuggets must nail this upcoming draft.

The Lakers exposed a variety of flaws in the Nuggets rosters, most notably their lack of consistent perimeter shooting and interior defense. When you have an elite facilitator like Nikola Jokic, it’s inexcusable to not surround him by capable shooters. It makes a lot harder to double-team Jokic, making him even more unstoppable. It also allows Murray to penetrate defenses and get easy baskets at the rim, making him even more of a threat as well. The spacing enabled by just a single knockdown shooter could elevate the Nuggets’ offense to another level. In addition, the Nuggets are horrendous in the paint, especially on defense. They rank among the bottom third of the league in both defensive rebounds and blocks. Addressing these flaws in the NBA Draft would clearly be in the Nuggets’ best interest.

Two Potential Denver Nuggets Draftees

In the 2020 NBA Draft, the Nuggetshold the 23rd overall pick. Since this is considered one of the weakest classes yet, there probably won’t be too many high-ceiling prospects available. However, there are a number of draft prospects likely to be available who could make major contributions to the Nuggets.

1. Desmond Bane

One point guard prospect that the Nuggets should consider is Desmond Bane. The 6’6 TCU senior could be a plug-and-play guy off the bench in his first year in Denver.

First and foremost, Bane is a dependable and accurate shooter. He shot 43.9 percent from the three-point line on a stunning 198 attempts. While his range and shooting abilities are not particularly diverse, Bane still has a number of impressive moves in his offensive arsenal. He excels off the screen in both catch-and-shoot and off-the-dribble situations, and he’s also very good at shaking defenders through a series of elaborate fakes and other moves. His funky shooting mechanics are a concern, but they are definitely correctable.

Bane is also a very good playmaker. He had an amazing 26.0 assist percentage, and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.7 is similarly elite. He’s a very accurate passer, and he can read the floor at a very high level. He would ensure that Murray doesn’t get worn out during the regular season. He’s also phenomenal in the pick-and-roll, which is something that Denver should think about if it wants to truly excel next year. The Nuggets are unique in that they run a pick and roll with the big man acting as the passer rather than serving as the pick. Having Bane running the pick and roll would vex opposing defenses, either Murray or Jokic could set the screen. This type of play could conceivably unlock the Nuggets offense, and it’s certainly a possibility that oozes potential.

Summary:

All in all, Bane is a solid, pro-ready draft prospect who would probably come off the Nuggets’ bench. His efficiency and playmaking skills could allow him to take over for Jokic and Murray. More importantly, his elite shooting stroke would be extremely beneficial to a Nuggets squad that lacks reliable shooting. He’s definitely a sleeper for Rookie of the Year, regardless of destination, and he could carve out a career a la Malcolm Brogdon. 

2. Jalen Smith

As I mentioned before, the three biggest needs for the Nuggets are shooting, rim protection, and, to a lesser extent, interior offense. Now, what if I told you that there was a draft prospect with all three of these characteristics. Meet Jalen Smith, a 6’10 monster sophomore from Maryland.

Smith is admittedly a bit wiry, and he may initially struggle to score in the paint at first. However, if his track record is any indication, he can be one of the best interior scorers in the league. He led the Big 10 in both close two-point accuracy (min. 100 attempts), as well as total dunks. He’s an explosive athlete with a lot of burst, and his ability on put-back dunks especially is mesmerizing. Jokic desperately needs some threats on transition that he can throw outlet passes to. With Jokic’s elite vision and Smith’s agility and dunking ability, we could see a Denver version of “Lob City”.

Smith’s interior offense is obviously very intriguing, but it’s his floor-spacing abilities that make him such an exciting prospect. He shot 36.8 percent on 32 three-pointers, which is unheard of for an athletic center like Smith. He shouldn’t be even shooting that many threes, let along making them. If his 0.750 free throw percentage is any indication, that stroke is for real. Smith can shoot off-screens and off of movement, and if he can continue to improve his trajectory a bit, he could be the knockdown shooter that the Nuggets desperately need.

Smith is also an elite defensive talent, and he’s one of the best rim protectors in this class. He has an insane 25.4 defensive rebounding percentage, as well as an 8 block percentage. Additionally, he has a 4.8 D-PORPAG (usage-adjusted defensive rating) which ranks eighth in the country, and it should be mentioned that his offensive rating is considerably higher than the seven players ahead of him. While his lack of strength may hurt him initially, he’s still only 20 years old, and he’ll likely bulk up as he acclimates to the NBA.

Summary:

In comparing Smith to other players over the last decade or so, there aren’t many who can match his versatility on both ends of the floor. Three of the only players who have had similar stat lines to Smith include Draymond Green, Jonathan Isaac, and Frank Kaminsky. Those three players are probably Jalen Smith’s ceiling, comparison, and floor, respectively. It all depends on how he grows and develops.

Overall, with his potential to solve many of their problems, the Nuggets should definitely consider drafting Jalen Smith. Whether it’s his well-rounded offensive game or his elite defensive skills, he brings a lot to the table. Nobody really knows where he’ll be drafted, so it’s not a certainty that he’d be available at pick #22. However, if he is available, the Nuggets would need a really good reason to not draft a player that I think could be the next great “unicorn”.

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