The Denver Nuggets are 34-44 and will finish with a losing record, for the first time since the 2002-2003 season. The Nuggets are 3-7 in their last ten games, giving up an average of 112.9 points per game. One of the few bright spots this season for Denver, has been the improved play of forward Kenneth Faried. In March, Faried averaged 19.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, and shot 71% from the free throw line, while also recording eight double-doubles and scoring 20+ points in eight games during the month. “The Manimal”, has shown an improved ability of getting to the rim and creating of the dribble. Denver is playing for a lottery pick at this point and the time is coming, to flip the page on this season and look ahead to the 2014 NBA draft.
Now the 2014 draft, has been billed by some as the best class in a decade. However, media pundits and NBA executives have also labeled this draft as over-hyped or over-valued. Denver is more than likely going to end up picking in the latter portion of the lottery, so the chances they end up with a marquee prospect like Duke forward Jabari Parker or Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins is highly unlikely. I still think the Nuggets could add some much needed talent where their gonna be selecting, seeing as this is one of the deeper drafts in past years. This team has plenty of holes to fill and I could see the Nuggets drafting the best overall player, rather than going with a position of need.
The first player I’d like to see Denver end up with come draft day, is senior Doug McDermott out of Creighton. The four year forward had a stellar career, finishing with 3,150 points, which is good for fifth all time on the NCAA Division I scoring list. Last season, McDermott averaged 26.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, while shooting 53% from the field and 45% from the three point line. He won the John R. Wooden Award, AP Player of the Year and became the first player in 29 years to be named a first team All-American, three times. McDermott is an extremely polished-crafty scorer, who can get buckets in a variety of ways. He’s a great shooter, with a quick release and is deadly from beyond the arc. He shot a career 46% from the three point line at Creighton and has great touch, from pretty much everywhere on the floor.
McDermott can score on the block, finish with both hands, can drain the stepback jumper and has a very good Dirk-esque fadeaway he utilizes. He also hustles on both ends of the floor, plays well in transition and seems to be a guy Brian Shaw would like to coach, given his “high basketball IQ”. The knocks on McDermott are primarily, his ability as a defender and to create his own shot, at the next level. While he hustles on the defensive end, McDermott struggles to stay in front of fellow forwards and sometimes gets bullied in the post. His lack of athleticism and initial quickness, seems to be what many people think will cause him to struggle, staying in front of NBA wings. I think McDermott wouldn’t be a player for the Nuggets to build their team around so to say but, a great potential number two or three scorer for the team. Denver could play the former Blue Jays star, at either of the forward positions and utilize him as a scorer to space the floor.
McDermott fits really well into Shaw’s offensive system and would benefit from guard Ty Lawson attacking into the lane, allowing him to spot up for open threes in transition or in the half court. Having Faried, Mozgov, Hickson and McGee also would allow Denver to let McDermott focus on scoring. While not having to worry about getting bullied, by bigger forwards in the NBA for rebounds and easy scores. He would also provide a good locker room presence for Denver, while be the scoring punch they need and giving them flexibility to trade a forward like Wilson Chandler or Darrell Arthur. McDermott could end up being a defensive liability for the Nuggets but, he’s a good team defender and hustles on the end enough to contribute. I think his quickness is better than what most people think and what he lacks in athleticism, he will make up in smarts. McDermott’s best case scenario, I think would him ending up being a smaller Dirk Nowitzki and I think the worst case scenario for him is being a shooting specialist like Kyle Korver. The former college standout may not ever be a “star” but, he’d fit well in Denver and could become at worst, a deadly shooter for Brian Shaw to utilize.
Probably one of my favorite players in this year’s draft class and a prospect I’d like to see the Nuggets end up with come June, is Arizona freshman forward Aaron Gordon. Even though he’s only eighteen years old, Gordon has already been piling up the accolades for his play on the court. He was named the 2013 McDonald’s All-American game MVP, USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year, FIBA Under-19 World Championship MVP, Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and was on the All-Pac-12 first team. Gordon had a very good freshman campaign for the Wildcats, helping them finish with a record of 33-5 and come within one point of making the Final Four this season. The first year forward averaged 12.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals per game this season for Arizona. The 6’9″ forward is a explosive athlete, who springs off the hardwood as if it were his own personal trampoline. He finishes at the rim with authority and the potential pick & roll combination, of Ty Lawson and Gordon could be a scary one for the Nuggets. Just picture being a lone defender in transition, seeing Ty Lawson, Aaron Gordon and Kenneth Faried coming at you on the break…yikes. Gordon is an aggressive defender, he has the quickness to stay in front of guards or smaller forwards and does a great job of contesting every shot. According to sports-reference.com, Gordon led the nation in defensive win shares(which is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense) with 3.3 and was in the top fifteen for defensive rating(an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions), with a rating of 88.6. He does just about everything well on the defensive end and could be the lock-down defensive player, that head coach Brian Shaw said the team needed to add this off-season.
One of the best assets of Gordon’s game is his versatility, he can create off the dribble with his quickness, handles the ball very well and finishes well around the rim. He has an extremely high motor, always makes hustle plays, is a good passer, smart team defender and a great offensive rebounder. Like McDermott, I think Gordon is also a player that Brian Shaw would really want and enjoy coaching. A lot of people praise Gordon for his intangibles, character and I think that fits into the locker room culture, that Shaw wants to eventually build here in Denver. Some of the Wildcats star’s weaknesses are his lack of a post game on the offensive end, his overall shooting ability and defensive rebounding ability. The biggest red flag to me with Gordon, is the shooting struggles and his overall mechanics as a shooter. He has a very slow release, awkward set-up and quite frankly looks extremely uncomfortable shooting in general. The stats also reflect how poorly a shooter Gordon was this season in Arizona, shooting only 49% from the field and 42% from the free throw line in thirty eight games.
Luckily for Gordon shooting is something you can always learn and develop with time, So I don’t think that’s something that will to big of concern for teams. The Nuggets immediately would become a better defensive team with Gordon, especially along the perimeter. Gordon’s high motor would be welcomed in the mile high city and pairing him in the front-court with Kenneth Faried, would give Denver one of the most athletic tandems in the league. Also at only eighteen years old, Gordon will more than likely be the youngest player drafted in June. Coach Brian Shaw, has a knack for developing young players and given Gordon’s age, star potential and ceiling, he could benefit greatly from playing in Denver. The Blake Griffin comparison’s have been thrown around and while those are lofty standards for Gordon, I could see him being every bit as good as the Los Angeles Clippers star and possibly even better.
The last potential prospect that I think the Nuggets should target come June, is Michigan St. guard Gary Harris. The sophomore in my opinion would be the best selection and fit for the Nuggets in this year’s draft class. While helping the Spartans reach the Elite Eight this season, Harris averaged 16.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.8 steals and shot 35% from the three point line. He was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year for 2013, to the second team All-Big Ten in 2013 and was one of thirty finalists for the Naismith College Player of The Year award. The Spartans star is a very good two way player, who has very good shooting ability and fundamentals. Harris has shot at least 35% from beyond the arc in both of his seasons for Sparty and made at least two three pointers a game. He does a good job of slashing to the rim, handling the ball, elevating to finish and can beat defenders consistently, with his solid first step quickness. Harris is a active, disruptive, smart defender who has quick hands and is very aware, as a team defender. He has very underrated court vision in my opinion, is a very unselfish player and would provide some toughness to Denver’s back-court.
There have been questions about Harris’ physical tools and lack of size, for a shooting guard at the next level. At 6’4″, many draft analysts think he is undersized for a NBA two guard and lacks the ideal athleticism, to finish consistently. Some have questioned his ability to create his own shot, due to his lack of quickness and mid-range game, Harris only made 22% of his jumpers inside seventeen feet as a freshman. I personally think his athleticism is vastly underrated and he’s much quicker off the dribble, while also having a lot more upside as a scorer than people give him credit for. The pro comparison I see for Harris is former Nuggets and current Orlando Magic guard Arron Afflalo, however I think Harris has much more potential and athleticism than Afflalo did coming out.
If the Nuggets were lucky enough to snag the sophomore standout, it would be a phenomenal fit for them. Pairing Harris in the back-court with Ty Lawson, would give Denver a great 1-2 punch at the guard spots and Harris shooting/slashing ability, would be the perfect compliment to Lawson’s game. Shaw could then move Randy Foye to the bench, where I think he’s much more suited for and dangerous as a shooter for the Nuggets, in their second unit. Harris definitely needs to continue to develop his versatility as a scorer, becoming more dynamic and developing a more reliable 15-18 foot jumper. I think he is one of the most pro ready players in this class, would contribute right away on both ends of the floor for Denver and become an eventual top flight shooting guard for the Nuggets.