not merely superfluous, but ridiculous
The following post was taken from my Medium account:
In 6 days, the NBA Draft will briefly snap NBA fandom out of its summer of looking at the wall and asking, “so it’s just Golden State vs. Cleveland forever now?” to no one in particular. The NBA Draft is, for certain small-market, perennially-underperforming teams, the best day of the year, a day when the future seems right around the corner, your team’s destiny is in its hands, and they haven’t drafted Mario Hezonja yet. While the Nuggets have done pretty well in the draft in recent years, and have not drafted Mario Hezonja even once, their fans don’t often get a chance to enjoy the lead-up to the draft with much optimism.
Mostly this has been the result of bad luck with the draft class: when prognosticators look at incoming draft classes, they tend to arrange prospects into “tiers” based on the area of the draft where they are reasonably certain to go. For example, most journalists in the 2016 draft had Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram in Tier 1, meaning that those two players had similar potential, and were probably going to be picked in the top two spots. Tier 2, in 2016, consisted of about five players, meaning that these players were likely to be picked 2–7, and any player below them was likely to be a fairly significant step down.
The Nuggets, in the 2016 draft, had pick 7. The inherent trade-off here was pretty clear: whichever player the Nuggets picked would have potential similar to the third player in the draft, which was good — but it would be the one player in that tier that had been rejected by every other team. The odds of getting a player with some fundamental flaw seemed likely to go way up. On the other hand, by drafting another player, a team may end up with a far less talented player. It’s not a fun decision to make.
Something similar happened in 2015, when the Nuggets were left to choose between Emmanuel Mudiay and Stanley Johnson, both of whom seem to have ended up as disappointments. Their 2016 pick, Jamal Murray, looks much more promising, but being left at the mercy of other teams’ decision-making skills for so many years in a row is almost enough to make one wish for a Sixers-style tank job.
This year, the Nuggets were close to playoff contention, and far enough outside the second tier of selections that it’s not quite as heartbreaking. Most mock drafts have formed a solid consensus around what the top 8–9 picks will be, with the only real question being the order in which they will be taken. So, before we begin looking at the players the Nuggets will likely be able to take, let’s look at the players they will almost certainly miss out on:
· Markelle Fultz
Fultz is the obvious number one pick, and has been since the start of the year. Some pundits have called him out for not making the playoffs, but if anything, his ridiculously efficient stats on a ridiculously inefficient team are a testament to how well he was playing despite his team. As much as we might like to praise players who “make their teammates better,” you can’t actually raise the baseline skill of the teammates you are given, or make an antiquated system work.
· Lonzo Ball
· Josh Jackson
· Jayson Tatum
· De’Aaron Fox
· Jonathan Isaac
· Malik Monk
These guys are all practically locks to go somewhere in the top 8, and all are projected to have long careers as rotation players at worst. Ball, Fox, and Monk will likely add to the league’s already-large stock of starting-caliber point guards, but Ball and Monk are both versatile enough to play off the ball as necessary. Josh Jackson and Jonathan Isaac are the sort of long, multi-positional players that Boston, Oklahoma City, and Milwaukee have drafted to great effect in the past, and while Tatum is a bit of a throwback, being able to get buckets is always going to be an in-demand skill.
· Lauri Markkanen
· Dennis Smith, Jr.
These two prospects, for various reasons, appear all over the place: some projections have them going in the top 8 with the Tier 2 guys, others have them falling to the bottom of the lottery — possibly far enough to be drafted by the Nuggets! They’re best described as high-risk, high-reward players who could flame out or become solid contributors on a consistent playoff team.
Of the two, I would prefer Dennis Smith to fall to Denver. He’s also the less likely of the two to fall this far. Still, despite the questions about his size (small), effort (sporadic), and his decision to play for unheralded N.C. State rather than a contender (vastly overblown), he would help Denver fill its point guard slot, assuming Mudiay doesn’t finally start to improve.
There’s not an equally obvious place on the roster for Markkanen. He’s unlikely to displace Wilson Chandler at the 3, and he doesn’t really have any of the physical skills that make players of his height desirable. He started out the year projected really high, because who doesn’t want a 7-footer who can shoot, but has gradually fallen as scouts and journalists started to ask themselves whether this 7-footer could do anything but shoot. As much as Denver is turning into the Land of the Tall White Boys, I don’t think that’s necessarily a team identity worth preserving, and there are several bigs projected as mid-round picks who would be much better fits. Heck, if we must be the Land of the Tall White Boys, let’s get Zach Collins instead. But that’s a subject for my next post.