The Denver Nuggets haven’t had quite the year they had hoped for in 2013-14. With a very difficult Western Conference and a slew of injuries, the Nuggets have struggled to a current record of 33 wins and 44 losses, giving them the 12th-worst record in the NBA.
Despite the current gloom in Denver, there is still reason to keep hope. Thanks to the 2011 trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks, Denver will receive the Knicks’ first-round pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
Good for Nuggets fans. The Knicks have also struggled this season, currently owning the 11th-worst record in the league. The Nuggets’ own pick, if not lower than the Knicks' pick, will go to the Orlando Magic, but regardless of what happens there, the Nuggets will keep the highest possible selection.
The 2014 NBA draft is poised to be one of the deeper drafts in recent history, and with the Nuggets more than likely selecting in the lottery, they will have a good chance at landing a legit contributor to their roster.
Denver has several promising young players, but other than the point guard spot, ably manned by Ty Lawson, every other position could be considered when the Nuggets are on the clock.
According to draftexpress.com, if the season were to end today, the Nuggets would have the No. 12 overall pick. Let’s take a look at the best options for the team at that spot.
Shooting Guards/Small Forwards
The shooting guard spot in particular is arguably Denver’s biggest area of need. Randy Foye is a solid player, but the 30-year-old is not getting any younger, and it's questionable as to whether backups Evan Fournier and Quincy Miller will ever develop into true starters. Denver very well may take a shooting guard with the 12th overall pick.
Denver is pretty solid at the small forward spot. Wilson Chandler is solid on the wing and Danilo Galinari, when healthy, is the team’s best player. However, with Galinari coming off a major knee injury, the Nuggets may want to draft a small forward, specifically to provide depth and fresh, young legs.
Let’s take a look at the best options on the wing.
Gary Harris: Michigan State, Sophomore Shooting Guard
At 6’4” and 210 pounds, Garry Harris is a strong and physical guard who excels on both ends of the floor. This season at Michigan State he averaged 16.7 points, four rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game.
He’s an excellent slasher, with a high motor and seems to always be in attack mode. Harris is a bit of a streaky shooter, but he's also a lockdown defender. He is widely considered the second-best shooting-guard prospect in the draft behind Andrew Wiggins, and he may be too good of an option to pass up if he’s still there when Denver is picking.
He is exactly what Denver needs, a young 2-guard who can score in multitude of ways and get after it on the defensive end.
Nik Stauskas: Michigan, Sophomore Shooting Guard
Nik Stauskas was arguably the most improved player in all of college basketball this year. At 6’6” and 190 pounds, Stauskas averaged 17.2 points, three rebounds and 3.3 assists per game at Michigan this past season.
He is an elite shooter, hitting on 44 percent from downtown, and scouts have projected him as a better version of J.J. Redick. He’s not just a shooter, he has the ability to drive and pull up, or go to the hole and attack the basket. He’s also a very underrated passer.
The Nuggets would profit greatly off of Stauskas’ versatility, young legs and scoring ability at the shooting guard spot. Although not a tremendous athlete, Stauskas could come in and contribute in Denver right away.
James Young: Kentucky, Freshman Shooting Guard/Small Forward
At 6’7” and 200 pounds, James Young averaged 14.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game on a loaded Kentucky roster this season. He’s a versatile young wing, and should be able to play either off-guard or small forward in the NBA.
Although his three-point shooting percentage was a bit lower than scouts would like to see (35 percent), he has a beautiful left-handed stroke and showed it off when it counted most in his last two games against Wisconsin and Connecticut.
Young is a great overall scorer and a tremendous penetrator. He would come in for the Nuggets and provide a versatile scoring option and be an athletic, young body who would ideally be groomed to replace Foye on the wing.
Doug McDermott: Creighton, Senior Small Forward
Doug McDermott ended up going down as the fifth all-time leading scorer in college basketball history. The 6’8” and 210-pound forward undoubtedly deserved his Naismith National Player of the Year award.
Although McDermott is not the most athletic guy, he can flat-out put the ball in the basket. During his senior year at Creighton, he averaged a whopping 26.7 points along with seven rebounds per game, while shooting a blazing 45 percent from downtown.
He still has a lot to prove on the next level, mostly as to whether he can really defend a position, but there’s no denying his shooting abilities on the offensive end. For Denver, he’d provide quality depth on the wing, a dead-eye shooter off the bench and someone who can score both off the dribble or in the post.
Although Denver has some decent depth in the frontcourt—Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Jan Vessley, Timofey Mozgov, J.J. Hickson and JaVale McGee—there is always room to improve and they can certainly upgrade the quality and youth during this draft.
At the projected spot of No. 12 overall, and this draft not containing a huge number of first-round-worthy big men to select from, let’s take a look at the few players who could be realistic options for the Nuggets at this spot.
Willie Cauley-Stein: Kentucky, Sophomore Center
At 7’0” and 210 pounds, Cauley-Stein is a very athletic big man that runs the floor very well. He only averaged 6.8 points and 6.1 rebounds at Kentucky this year, but what gets scouts the most intrigued is that he averaged nearly three blocks per game. Those are collegiate numbers that are on par with recent Kentucky big men Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel.
He is a very good leaper at the center position, but in the NBA he will need to add strength to be able to bang down low and rebound effectively. He’s still raw offensively, but teams who might be targeting Cauley-Stein will draft him for his shot-blocking ability as well as his overall upside.
For Denver, he would come in and upgrade the depth, youth and athleticism in the frontcourt. Most importantly, he would provide a big defensive presence, something with which the Nuggets certainly need help, as they gave up the fourth-most points per game in the NBA.
Aaron Gordon: Arizona, Freshman Power Forward
During his first year in college, Aaron Gordon average 12.4 points eight rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal per game. The 6’8”, 210-pound forward is still raw offensively but possesses a good frame and freakish athletic ability. He has all the upside in the world.
Gordon's athleticism has been compared to Blake Griffin, but fans should think more Shawn Marion when considering Gordon's overall game. He has explosive leaping ability and is actually a very solid ball-handler. He’s a bit of a tweener, but the majority of scouts have him projected to play power forward at the next level.
Most importantly, especially for Denver, Gordon is one of the best defenders in the entire draft. He’ll need to add a little more strength to consistently bang with NBA power forwards, and he is ready to come in and lock down small forwards on the wing. If he can fix up his jumper, he could potentially be great in Denver.
A couple of other big men the Nuggets would possibly consider here are two international prospects: Jusuf Nurkic, a huge, 7’0” monster from Bosnia and Clint Capela, an athletic power forward from Switzerland.
We will have to wait and see what direction they go, but the Nuggets will have a great opportunity to land a solid contributor come June 26 and the 2014 NBA draft.