On Tuesday, May 20, the Denver Nuggets walked away from the lottery with the number 11 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. With the ping-pong balls packed away for another year and the top of the draft order set, draft experts are rushing to share their latest 2014 mock drafts.
The team over at DraftExpress recently released their updated NBA mock draft, and they have the Denver Nuggets using the number 11 pick to select Jusuf Nurkic, a 6’ 11”, 280-pound Center from Bosnia.
The 19-year old Nurkic spent the last two seasons playing overseas in the Adriatic and Eurocup leagues. In 12 games last season, he averaged 10.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.3 steals in only 14 minutes per game. According to Draft Express, he is an outstanding rebounder with natural scoring instincts who, despite his age, already possesses the size and strength to bang with the bigs in the NBA. The site lists defensive discipline among his weaknesses, but indicates he has the tools to improve as a defender with proper coaching.
Like most Nuggets fans, I know very little about Nurkic or his game, so it’s difficult to speculate on whether or not he’d be a good fit for a Nuggets squad that is only a year removed from one of the best seasons in franchise history. That said, the possibility of the Nuggets drafting the young Bosnian concerns me for two reasons.
First, I’m firmly in the camp that believes the Nuggets primary need is improving at the shooting guard position. With only two pure shooting guards on the current roster – Randy Foye and Evan Fournier – the team needs to find a 2-guard who can compete for minutes in the rotation right away. I’ve gone on record saying that Michigan’s Nik Stauskas or Kentucky’s James Young are two players the Nuggets should look at long and hard given their current draft position. Both Stauskas and Young are proven scorers at the college level, and I believe their ability to stretch the floor as 3-point threats would add a dimension that the Nuggets’ offense sorely lacks. In Young’s case, he also is a talented slasher who can get to the basket and make things happen around the rim. Admittedly, neither player is a huge upgrade over Foye or Fournier in terms of defense (Young especially struggled to stay with quicker guards during his time at Kentucky), but they both strike me as players who, with the right coaching and development, could realistically work themselves into the Nuggets rotation next season.
Second – and I know this is silly – but the mere mention of drafting another raw, relatively unknown player from overseas brings to mind one of the most infamous names in Nuggets history: Nikoloz Tskitishvili. Like Nurkic, Tskitishvili was a 19-year old big man labeled as a project with star potential. And like Nurkic, most NBA fans had never heard of Tskitishvili until the weeks leading up to the draft. In 2002, teams began singing Tskitishvili’s praises as the draft approached and then-Nuggets General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe fell in love with the kid, eventually drafting him with the number 5 pick, ahead of guys like Amar’e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Taushaun Prince, and Caron Butler. In three seasons with the Nuggets, Tskitishvili averaged 3.8 points, 1.9 rebounds, and shot 30 percent from the field while appearing in 143 total games. Those stats would be acceptable if we were talking about a guy who the team randomly grabbed off the sidewalk in front of the Pepsi Center and asked him to suit up for a couple of seasons, but this is a top 5 pick we’re talking about. Tskitishvili was such a bust, in fact, that the Denver Post went so far as to name him the “worst draft pick in Nuggets history, by a mile.”
Given my limited knowledge of Nurkic, I hate to immediately lump him in with Tskitishvili, but there are just too many similarities to ignore. When the draft takes place on June 26, I hope the Nuggets make a pick that gets the fans excited for next season. But even more than that, I hope the Nuggets remember the Tskitishvili debacle and stay as far away as possible from any player labeled an “overseas project.”
What do you think, Nuggets fans? Do you think Nurkic is the second coming of Nikoloz Tskitishvili? Or do you see something in his game that indicates he’ll have more success in the league?