5 Draft Prospects Guaranteed to Interest the Denver Nuggets

Fred Katz@@FredKatzFeatured ColumnistMay 22, 2014

5 Draft Prospects Guaranteed to Interest the Denver Nuggets

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Denver Nuggets need help, and the upcoming NBA draft may be the best place for them to turn.

    After setting a franchise record with 57 wins in 2012-13, the Nuggets cleared house last offseason, bringing in Tim Connelly to be the new general manager and Brian Shaw to take over as head coach. But the Nugs disappointed when an injury-riddled 2013-14 season led to only 36 wins and no playoff spot.

    Now, Denver has some roster holes to fill, maybe none bigger than the one at shooting guard.

    The Nuggets can feel confident moving forward with players like Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari (if healthy), but they need someone else to complement those guys in the starting lineup.

    Randy Foye shot well again this past season and is sitting on a perfectly reasonable contract which has him at about $3 million a year, but Denver can look to upgrade at that spot.

    After Tuesday night's NBA Lottery, the Nuggets will head into the draft with the No. 11 pick in the first round. Really, what Denver needs is another wing. If it can score one of the top perimeter players from a deep draft, it should be happy with the start of its offseason.

Nik Stauskas, Michigan

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    Nik Stauskas perfectly fits the mold of what Denver needs. Mostly, the Nuggets could desperately use that 2-guard.

    You want to see impressive? Go back and look at highlights from Michigan's NCAA runner-up team in 2013.

    You'll find the Wolverines' top three players in Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III (all of them a generation beyond the next, by the by) acting responsible for most of the offense. And then there was Stauskas.

    He was the typical shooter, the guy who would run around off the ball, come off screens and catch-and-shoot. That's how he netted 44 percent three-point shooting as a freshman. 

    This year, though, with Burke and Hardaway gone and with Mitch McGary out for most of the season, Stauskas' role completely changed. And you know what? He excelled.

    He showed off pick-and-roll skills we never saw when he was a freshman. He was able to handle the ball with a maturity most kids don't have.

    So many underclassmen are anxious as pick-and-roll ball-handlers. Stauskas actually waits for the screener to set. He's an elite shooter with a quick release, who can drain shots with seemingly unlimited range when dribbling around a pick-and-roll, and his passing has gotten better and better.

    If Denver could throw out a backcourt of Lawson and Stauskas, it could end up boasting one of the best-shooting guard tandems in the NBA.

Gary Harris, Michigan State

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    Gary Harris is a different type of shooting guard from Stauskas. Really, deciding between the two depends more on style preference than anything else.

    As an off-ball shooter, Stauskas has the clear advantage over Harris. Actually, in that aspect, Stauskas has the upper hand on almost everyone in this draft. But Harris is the better defender.

    That's what Tom Izzo products do. They defend.

    With Harris, it's not just about on-ball defense. In the NBA, team defense can be far more important than guarding a ball-handler. And Harris knows exactly how to team defend.

    It's just that Michigan State trademark.

    Offensively, the Spartan can shoot off the dribble, create heading to the hoop and finish around the rim. 

    Stauskas does have a major size advantage over Harris, who slotted in at just 6'2.5" sans shoes with a wingspan that stretched to 6'6.25" at the NBA combine. That means Harris' intrastate collegiate rival has has three-inch height advantage and one-and-a-half-inch wingspan advantage. But Harris' quicker feet and inherent understanding of where and when to rotate on the defensive end can help make up for that detriment.

James Young, Kentucky

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    Unlike Harris, James Young is long. Real long. We're talking War and Peace long.

    You want someone who has the prototypical body of a wing defender? Look no further than the Kentucky freshman, whose shoeless height of 6'5" pairs with a 7'0" wingspan. 

    But there's one small problem with thinking of Young as a model defender: He didn't really defend much during his one year in Lexington. So, maybe Young isn't ever going to be a stopper. Or he just hasn't hit anywhere close to his ceiling. 

    Young's future likely comes as a scorer. That's where he made his living at Kentucky, though he didn't get the ball into the basket particularly efficiently, compiling a 53.6 percent true shooting as a freshman.

    For now, Young's offensive struggles come mostly with shot selection. He has a propensity to chuck up contested jumpers, which led to some ridiculous-looking shooting lines, like when he made one of 10 threes against Alabama during a game back in March.

    But Young can also get hot. He drained three long-range shots or more in 16 games this season. He was UK's go-to scorer when it needed points, and when he gets to the rim, he can finish strong. Heck, he wouldn't be able to throw down dunks like this if that weren't true.

    Young may have more bust potential than someone like Harris, but his athleticism and body probably give him the higher ceiling. 

Doug McDermott, Creighton

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    Doug McDermott isn't a shooting guard, but he may be too good to pass up if he falls to No. 11.

    This isn't even about the college numbers. Let's throw those out the window.

    We won't mention how he finished his career fifth on the all-time college scoring list. Or how he ended this past year with a 53-45-86 shooting line, and it was his least efficient season since his freshman year. Nope, that will never come up on this slide. No way.

    Instead, we'll talk about how good McDermott is when he runs off screens and how dominant he can be as a catch-and-shoot forward.

    Everyone makes the Kyle Korver comparison, and that's an easy one to make. It's two similar-looking Creighton alums who can knock down shots from all over. But maybe some people don't realize exactly how good Korver is every single night.

    One of the reasons the Atlanta Hawks shooter is so tremendous is because of his quick release. That's something which may plague Dougie, along, of course, with his defense. He may be too slow to guard wings but too small to defend interior players.

    If McDermott is going to excel in the NBA, it will probably be as a great bench player, someone who you don't need to worry about as much on the defensive end.

    But that shot, it's wonderful. The range goes on forever. And considering McDermott's 14.5 percent career rebounding rate in college, one of the most translatable stats in the NBA, he could turn into more than just a one-trick pony.

Adreian Payne, Michigan State

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    Adreian Payne has one flaw: his age.

    The 23-year-old just took a little too long to develop. But unfortunately, that's how the NBA draft works.

    The draft is all about ceiling. Young guys have higher ones. Older guys have lower ones. So, when a senior leaves Michigan State as a polished power forward, he falls down the draft boards.

    If Payne were 19 years old, he'd be a top-five or -six pick. But he's not, so he's going to slip.

    Picking Payne 11th would be higher than most expect, but again, that's age. And that's because of his ceiling, but if we're talking about floors, Payne's is as high as almost anyone else's.

    No, the former Spartan is not a wing, and would have some serious competition from other bigs on the roster considering Denver already has Faried, J.J. Hickson, Timofey Mozgov and JaVale McGee locked up for next year.

    He is, however, someone who could fit nicely into Shaw's preferred style of defense, one that calls for more disciplined players who don't gamble all too often. And a Payne pick could add some roster flexibility if the Nugs did, in fact, want to move one of their bigs for a wing.

    Payne already knows how to guard the pick-and-roll and defend in the post. His feet are quicker than you'd imagine, and his intuitive understanding of how to play on the defensive end is further along than most other prospects.

    He shot 42.3 percent on 3.4 threes a game in his final year as a Spartan. He's a 6'10", 240-pound body who can legitimately stretch the floor, something you need if you're trying to move forward with court cloggers like Faried and McGee. 

    It's 2014. Power forwards need to know how to shoot for an offense to maximize success, and if someone can set hard screens and pop effectively, that changes an offense.

    Payne can be that guy who can stretch a floor, and though his ceiling may not be as high as that of some other guys, it isn't too bold to say whoever gets Payne in June will end up quite happy.


    All statistics current as of May 20 and from DraftExpress.com and Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

    Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.