What if the Nuggets kept Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert?

The Denver Nuggets might always regret trading away Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.

At this point, stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert have become synonymous with the Utah Jazz, with both making a strong impression in Salt Lake City. However, both of these premier players were originally drafted by the Denver Nuggets before being eschewed in favor of lesser players on Draft Night.

Donovan Mitchell’s offensive play

Let’s start with Donovan Mitchell, who the Nuggets selected with the 13th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft out of Louisville. Mitchell was traded to the Jazz for a pair of power forwards in Tyler Lydon and Trey Lyles, neither of whom has had a standout NBA career.

Lydon only lasted 26 games in the NBA, playing just 25 games last season and being waived by the Sacramento Kings prior to the 2019-20 season. He wasn’t even on a G League squad in 2019-20. Lyles has fared much better, having played 351 regular season games with 94 starts in his five-year career. He’s started in 53 games for the San Antonio Spurs this season.

Still, with career averages of 7.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.4 steals and 0.4 blocks per game, while shooting 43.3% from the field and 34.1% from 3-point range, it’s fair to say that he doesn’t measure up to what Mitchell could have brought to the team.

The springy Mitchell, who was named as an All-Star for the first time in 2019-20, has averaged over 20 points per game in every season he’s played, with a career-high average of 24.2 points per game this season. Career averages of 22.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game show a well-rounded offensive player and while he isn’t known for being a standout defender, he’s averaged 1.3 steals per game over the past three seasons.

If the Nuggets were to have kept Mitchell rather than trading him, he and Murray would form one of the best offensive backcourts in the league. Their offensive wouldn’t have been mediocre this season, averaging just 110.4 points per game (20th in the NBA) despite having one of the league’s best offensive centers.

What about Rudy Gobert?

Rudy Gobert is a bit more complicated. Not because the player he was traded for, point guard Erick Green, has had a noteworthy career. In fact, Green has been out of the league since 2015-16, taking his talents to Europe (where he’s become one of the top players, for what it’s worth).

The question is whether Gobert would have prevented Jokic, who was drafted the year him, from flourishing as much as he has in Denver. These players are all but polar opposites, as Gobert is an extremely athletic center who’s one of the league’s best defenders with two Defensive Player of the Year awards.

Jokic is to offense what Gobert is to defense, with his prodigious passing ability and three-level scoring the stuff of legend in Denver. If Jokic was a bit lighter on his feet, or more athletic in general, he could have possibly played power forward while Gobert played center. In fact, he played power forward a bit in his first three seasons while Gobert has played the 5 exclusively.

Having both players on the court at the same time, would have undoubtedly been interesting.

Mitchell and Gobert in Denver today

Say that the Nuggets were able to start a lineup of Murray, Mitchell, Jokic and Gobert, with small forward Will Barton joining this group. This is a group of players that would have been right at home in the 1990s but it’s a bit more difficult to determine how successful they would be today, with the league’s frontcourt becoming smaller and increasingly athletic.

Still, with the right depth behind their starters, Denver would be able to play against any team’s style and they’d have the type of talent that allowed them to compete with anybody as well. Even if they weren’t seen as the best team in the West, nobody would be foolish enough to think that they didn’t stand a chance against the LeBron-led Los Angeles Lakers or Kawhi-led Los Angeles Clippers.

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The Nuggets definitely made a mistake by trading away these two talents, especially when considering who they were traded for. Unfortunately, these two players could now stand in the way of Denver making a deep playoff run.