COMMENTARY | Denver Nuggets draft predictions are on the minds of many NBA fans after the season's disappointing end in the first round of the playoffs. Yet again, the Nuggets find themselves exiting earlier than expected, and yet again they find themselves wondering how they can retool their team to become more competitive. Look for them to be interested in the following prospects in the upcoming NBA draft: CJ McCollum, Kelly Olynyk, Gorgui Dieng, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tim Hardaway Jr, or Jeff Withey.
Who the Nuggets end up with is, of course, hugely dependent on where they end up drafting. Right now they are slated to pick 27th, and at that point the options should be pretty slim for a team that can already play 10 deep. I would posit that the chances of them trading up in this draft are extremely high. They simply have too many assets and too much salary cap flexibility to not try to maneuver in the draft. So who might they select? Here's a rundown of the logic behind each of the names mentioned above.
1. C.J. McCollum - PG - Lehigh: If there's one player in this draft the Nuggets truly covet that they also have an outside shot of getting, it's McCollum. Sure, the Nuggets would like to end up with Ben McLemore (the likely #1 overall pick), just as every other team would, but it's not realistic to assume they will be willing to package the assets needed to get the #1 overall pick. McCollum, however, could go in the seven to ten range, and negotiating a trade in that range is far more realistic.
What the Nuggets need, pure and simple, are accurate jump shooters. The series against Golden State exposed their weakness in perimeter shooting. That's McCollum's expertise. There's some concern about the level of competition he faced in college (he's a product of Lehigh), as well as a recent injury. Then again, they said the same thing about Steph Curry when he came out of Davidson.
2. Kelly Olynyk - C - Gonzaga: Unlike most teams, the Nuggets have a surplus of centers, but questions surround all of them. JaVale McGee is extremely talented but inconsistent. Kosta Koufos was this year's surprise but struggled in the playoffs. Timofey Mozgov is an enigma who rarely got off the bench, and is likely trade bait given his restricted free agent status. The Nuggets might prefer to part ways with two of the three and bring in some fresh blood at the center spot. Unlike the other three, Olynyk features some reliable post scoring moves. He's also a likely late lottery pick, so a trade would be needed to obtain his services.
3. Gorgui Dieng - C - Louisville: I put Gorgui on this list for similar reasons to Kelly Olynyk. The Nuggets need to look at revamping the center position. However, Gorgui's a bit undersized and his upside is more on the defensive side than on offense. Still, he's reminiscent of a smaller version of Dikembe Mutombo. The Nuggets need improved interior defense. Despite Kenneth Faried's rebounding prowess, man to man defense is not his forte.
4. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - SG - Georgia:Consider Kentavious Caldwell-Pope a distant Plan B to the Plan A that is CJ McCollum. He doesn't appear to be as polished as McCollum nor as steady. In short, he's more of a project, and that's not necessarily what a 57-25 team is looking for in the draft. The operative word is reload, not rebuild, and the Nuggets might not want to wait on his development.
5. Tim Hardaway Jr- SG - Michigan: I could essentially repeat the same review of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope here. However, I put Hardaway down as Plan C if the Nuggets opt to go for a shooter because I don't think he has the same ceiling as Caldwell. There's a chance he'll be around when the Nuggets draft at 27, and he wouldn't be the worst consolation prize if a trade weren't feasible.
6. Jeff Withey - C - Kansas: Put him down in the consolation prize as well. Withey doesn't fit as well with the up tempo, transition style offense that the Nuggets like to run. That said, he's a known commodity who commands an interior presence, and if the Nuggets deal Mozgov and find themselves stuck with the 27th pick, Withey wouldn't be a bad outcome.
Doug Brockwell grew up in Denver and has been a lifelong fan of the Nuggets. He has persevered through the countless rebuilding projects of the '90s and the selfish ball-hogging offense that defined the Carmelo Anthony era. An unabashed defender of GM Masai Ujiri, whom he has anointed as a potential franchise savior, Doug now hopes the Nuggets are just one good trade away from being a title contender.
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