How Should the Denver Nuggets Fill Their Final Roster Spot?

(Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Denver Nuggets have 14 full time roster spots. This flexibility leaves some options moving forward.

The question every playoff hopeful has been asking all year is how they beat the Lakers and Clippers. The Denver Nuggets are no exception, matching up with the star duos of those teams is a challenge and that is likely why the Nuggets kept an open roster spot.

Having that open roster spot isn’t uncommon for contending teams in hopes that they can take advantage of the buyout market. This year though, the buyout market has been pretty light on talent, especially at the wings.

The Nuggets most likely target for that last roster spot would be a defensive minded wing with size. The prime targets, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have already been snapped up, by Milwaukee and Dallas respectively, leaving the market depleted.

The Other Options:

The remaining market seems to be crowded with offense first depth guards, which is just not something the Nuggets have a need for. The only real buyout guy that could make sense is Maurice Harkless if he chooses to leave New York.

Harkless is a versatile defender with real size and a decent stroke from deep, shooting 37% from three this year (per Basketball-Reference). He caused problems for Denver on the perimeter last year in the playoffs and could be a difference maker on the wing against the league’s best players.

If he is bought out, the other likely destination for him would be the Lakers. Not only would he be a nice addition for the Nuggets, but keeping him off the Lakers might be as much of a win as signing him themselves would be.

There are rumors that he might be interested in staying in New York, and if that’s the case, then I think the Nuggets need to look beyond the buyout market and try to fill the roster spot internally.

Tim Connelly managed to find another diamond-in-the-rough this season when he signed combo guard PJ Dozier to a two-way contract. He spent much of the year in the G-League and became an all-star while there.

With the recent rash of injuries the Nuggets had to call him up, and he’s proven that he belongs in the NBA. He’s been a more than capable pink-and-roll ball handler, in addition to defending capably.

The Denver Nuggets have the option to convert his two-way contract into a full NBA contract, and if they can’t get a guy like Harkless, this seems to be the likely outcome. Converting the deal to a full contract would fill the final roster spot and make him eligible for the playoff roster.

He wouldn’t be expected to have much of a role in the playoffs, however he brings something to the team that the Nuggets just don’t have. At 6’6″ with a 6’11 wingspan he’s the only guard on the team with that kind of length and athleticism.

Looking ahead:

In the playoffs, it’s not uncommon for teams to stack their rotations with length and sometimes use non-traditional lineups that could create problems for backup point guard Monte Morris. PJ Dozier would be capable of coming in and matching up with those guys without losing much on offense.

I know the argument against converting his deal to a full contract is simply that the G-League season is almost over and he’ll be able to stay with the team full-time anyway. But this would prevent him from playing in the playoffs and as stated above, this team really needs some length on their bench to rely on against specific matchups.

A major reason why the Nuggets lost that Blazers series last post-season was that they simply didn’t have anyone that could match up with a big scoring wing like Rodney Hood. When Malone’s main guys couldn’t do it he had no one at the end of the bench that even had a chance and they were left to watch Hood shoot over every guy we threw at him.

Connelly and company saw that and went out and added Jerami Grant, then turned around and brought in Keita Bates-Diop at the deadline. PJ Dozier while smaller is another guy with that length they just lacked last year.

It’s also no secret that Monte had his struggles last post-season. While I think that was due to fatigue and inexperience that he’ll overcome this year, having another guard that can run the offense could be vital in case he falls short. The lack of bench production nearly doomed the Denver Nuggets in round one last year.

Dozier has the ability to run the pick and roll for the second unit and brings that added size, length, and athleticism that Monte just doesn’t have. The only reason to play non-rotation guys in the playoffs is if they do something different that you might need in certain circumstances and I believe Dozier qualifies.

Dozier’s size allows him to play multiple positions as well. Capable of playing shooting guard next to Monte or possibly even the 3 as his wingspan gives him the length to guard 1-3 and possibly even 4s in small ball lineups.

So regarding that big question about how to guard the Los Angeles duos? Denver answered one of those issues with Jerami Grant, who has proven that he’s capable of defending elite scoring wings. It’s guarding that second star that is still up in the air.

Answering that question with their final roster spot could make the most sense for them. Whether this comes in the form of a buyout like Harkless or bringing their lengthy 3rd string point guard on full-time will be answered in the next few weeks.

Regardless, having multiple guys with the size, length, and speed to match up with the best of these big wings is not a bad way to go for these Denver Nuggets. Quantity over quality can sometimes be the answer. Malone will need options come playoff time if these stars start going off and I think Connelly has done a good job finding them.