“And with the 14th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Denver Nuggets select……”
The moment Nuggets fans had been pondering since the team suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves to end their season.
The draft brings optimism to all those involved (unless you’re a Kings fan). Even the best teams in the league have a chance to get better. Hope is the word of the night.
Michael Porter Jr. hoped he’d be selected early in the draft. There had been rumors that he could even go as high as 2nd overall to the Sacramento Kings. When Porter cancelled his workout the Friday before the draft to due hip spasms, teams were concerned. Porter Jr. sat out almost his whole season at Missouri due to an L3-L4 microdiscectomy (read here for a detailed report). The few minutes Porter Jr. did play at Missouri were unimpressive to say the least, and had many teams questioning how healthy he really was. Adding a hip spasm to a previous back injury was a blow to Porter Jr’s draft stock. Yet, there were reports he would still go in the top 10. Then came draft night.
“And with the 14th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Denver Nuggets select…. Michael Porter Jr. of the University of Missouri” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
A guy who had top 3 potential fell all the way to 14th and into the Nuggets arms. The team could have traded up for him when MPJ started slipping, but they didn’t. They had patience. This is a common theme with the Nuggets.
I would say that this era of patience started with the 2014 NBA Draft (in the 2013 Draft, then Executive President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly traded the 27th pick to Utah for the 46th pick and cash considerations in a deal that came back to haunt them). In the 2014 Draft, the Nuggets flipped the 11th pick (Doug McDermott) to Chicago for the 16th pick (Jusuf Nurkic) and the 19th pick (Gary Harris). Coveting both players, Connelly was able to flip one asset for two, and looks brilliant for doing so. The team could have taken either player at 11, but they didn’t. Not to mention waiting for the 41st overall pick to take franchise center Nikola Jokic. They waited for the guys they wanted to fall, and it paid off.
The 2015 Draft had Emmanuel Mudiay falling to the 7th pick.
Even though Denver decided to move on from Mudiay last season, everyone (and I mean everyone) was ecstatic about the pick in 2015. Mudiay was a guy a lot of people thought could go top 3, but fell to Denver at 7. After the Nuggets picked Mudiay, the team traded starting point guard Ty Lawson to Houston. A new era of Denver Nuggets basketball had come. Again, Denver could have traded up when they saw Mudiay was falling, but they didn’t. And while Mudiay turned out to be a disappointment in Denver, imagine if the team decided to trade next year’s first round pick (Jamal Murray) just to move up in the draft and take him. This kind of mistake could have been disastrous to the team. In this past draft, Phoenix traded the rights to Zhaire Smith and a 2021 first round pick (via Miami) to Philadelphia for Mikal Bridges.
While some would argue that this makes Phoenix’s team better now, who knows what that 2021 (unprotected) Miami pick will be? If Miami decides to blow it up (which they very well may), the 76ers could end up getting a really high pick in the 2021 draft. The point is that it’s super easy to move a future asset that will help you win now. Yet, by not doing so, Denver has set themselves up for a bright, bright future.
In 2016 the Nuggets selected Jamal Murray with the 7th overall pick. There were talks he could go as high as 3rd overall to Boston (do you see a common theme here?), yet he fell all the way to 7th. The Nuggets got their point guard of the foreseeable future without giving up anything to get him.
The 2017 draft was the one outlier for Tim Connelly and staff. The team traded back from the 13th pick (who turned out to be Donovan Mitchell) to Utah for Trey Lyles and the 24th pick (Tyler Lydon). The rumor was that Denver traded back to get OG Anunoby, who the team really liked. Mock drafts had Denver taking Anunoby at 13th, but thinking they could get their guy at 24, Tim Connelly decided to trade back. Things were looking great for the Nuggets until former GM Masai Ujiri took Anunoby with the 23rd pick. You can’t fault Denver for this. What you can fault them for was not having a backup plan, and reaching on a guy like Tyler Lydon. This is the one outlier in past few drafts for Denver. Waiting for their guy to fall to them has almost always worked, but the Mitchell trade will end up haunting the team for years.
And this brings us up to speed. There’s a great chance that Michael Porter Jr. doesn’t play a single game for the Nuggets next season. Yet, previous drafts would indicate that the pick should warrant good to great success. Harris, Nurkic, Jokic, and Murray are all very good players. Mudiay is the one exception (we’ll still have to wait and see on Lydon). By not trading up for any of these players, the Nuggets gave themselves the chance to build through the draft and have a great chance at success. The future is bright in Denver.