The Denver Nuggets have no shortage of options in tonight’s 2018 NBA Draft. Currently, the team holds the 14th overall pick along with two second rounders. Still there is no certainty heading into the draft tonight that the Nuggets will still be selecting 14th. Whether that means they move up, down, or out in a salary dump remains to be seen. For the purpose of potential prospect evaluation I’ll assume that they will be picking 14th and will have some possibility of being able to select the following players.
I will also be excluding Keita Bates-Diop and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from consideration not because of their hyphened names, but because Steve Sura and Trey Mitchell have already covered the fit of these two players respectively. Without further ado, I’ll get into the top player that the Nuggets could select with the 14th pick.
1. Miles Bridges – SF, Michigan State
Miles Bridges was a projected top-10 pick in last year’s NBA Draft, but decided that to return to school to achieve more personal and team success. With young players shooting ahead of him on draft boards Bridges looks to be falling to the late lottery. Fortunately, that’s great news for the Nuggets who are in need of a small forward who can contribute right away.
Bridges has great size for a 6’7″ small forward with potential to play the 4 in small ball lineups as well. His offense is showcased by his spot up three-point shooting ability and his ambidextrous ability. Bridges is a left-handed player who plays comfortably with either hand especially in being able to deliver bounce passes to cutters. Bridges is a good athlete who can finish above the rim after making a quick first step off a pump fake. The Nuggets could provide Bridges with more spacing to really hone in on his corner shooting specialty while also having a player who can be a playmaker with certain offensive lineups.
Bridges’ defense is solid as well. Coming from Michigan State as a player with his size at the small forward position it’s easy for people to see Draymond Green potential. While Bridges has great defensive instincts coming from Michigan State he isn’t on the Draymond level yet. His athleticism and instincts make him an intriguing shot blocker who plays solid help defense. On-ball Bridges can guard 2-4 and is rarely blown by because of his good defensive slides and anticipation.
Ultimately, Bridges is a player who has the experience and coaching to where it’s fair to believe that his skills will translate to the NBA right away. He may not have the ceiling as some of the other players that can be drafted in this range, but if the Nuggets are looking for someone to step in and contribute on a playoff level right away, this is the guy.
2. Troy Brown Jr. – SF, Oregon
Troy Brown is my personal favorite player in the mid first round, and despite being slightly undersized for a small forward in Denver his length and quick decision making jumps out to me. Brown has great potential as one of the youngest players in this draft which will just have to be weighed alongside the experience of Bridges if that decision has to be made.
Brown has one of the quickest first steps offensively of any of the prospects that I watched. This is mostly because of his long legs and ability to accelerate towards the basket while controlling the basketball. That control doesn’t stop with his ball handling, which he proves to be especially comfortable putting the ball in his left hand. Brown is also a talented passer looking to hit cutters with major zip on the ball. Brown has solid form, but shows some inconsistencies especially at the free throw line that should be correctable with some time in the gym.
Once again Brown’s long strides headline his defensive ability. He has the foot speed and strides to slide his feet to stay in front of multiple players defensively. Brown also shows great defensive awareness for his age, being able to slide over in position for charges with success. He shows quickness in his hands and reaction times even when retreating in transition to get in front of the ball.
Add to all of this talent the fact that Brown was impressive in his workouts and interviews and I could see the Nuggets reaching slightly behind the top of the board to select Troy Brown at 14th.
3. Kevin Knox – SF, Kentucky
Kevin Knox is anther player just as young as Troy Brown, and for some time before draft season started it was penciled in that he would be going to the Nuggets at 14. With the recency of him rising it looks like he could be going in the top 10, but if he falls to 14 he is a prospect that could turn out to be a steal. I don’t think Knox has the floor of Bridges or Brown which is why I rank him below them for the Nuggets specifically.
From a talent standpoint Knox can play the 3 or 4 in the NBA which is great versatility for small lineups, especially with Knox’s ability to space the floor. While Knox doesn’t have great ball handling ability to create space for himself he will get more open looks early in the league that could see his shooting percentages approach 40 percent.
Knox isn’t special as a defender either at this point, but his potential is undeniable with the right defensive coaching given his size and rare ability to guard the 3 or 4. I would say he is more developed at this point in guarding smaller 4s in the post where he shows a great ability to hold his ground.
While I’m not as high as Knox as some people, I can see the potential that is there and if Denver is willing to gamble on his ceiling it could work out to where he becomes a key shot maker in the starting lineup. Plus, the Kentucky connection that the Nuggets are starting to build doesn’t hurt.
4. Zhaire Smith – SG, Texas Tech
Zhaire Smith is far and away the most exciting player that the Nuggets could draft to pair with Jokic. Smith wasn’t someone who was high on many draft boards early in the season, but made a name for himself on a talented Texas Tech team. His high flying athleticism makes him a back door lob threat as good as anyone already in the league. While he doesn’t necessarily have the size to play the three he has similar cutting instincts and defensive abilities to what made OG Anunoby intriguing a year ago.
Smith’s shooting form isn’t the most ideal and his range wasn’t consistent all the way out to three-point range. He does excel at operating in the mid range with good touch. Part of what makes him successful as a cutter and getting open in mid range is that he sets screens as often as he comes off of them himself. That is something that has shown its value in the NBA for players like Steph Curry and could be valuable on the Nuggets as well. Smith is electric in transition, able to execute 360 slams in game off of his defensive ability.
That defensive ability is headlined by his tight off-ball defense with awareness to get in passing lanes and use his ability as a shot blocker, dare I say rim protector, for a shooting guard. He has the length to put intense pressure on the ball and make quick close-outs to shooters. His only challenge will be to avoid being baited into fouls with his aggressive defense.
5. Robert Williams – PF, Texas A&M
Robert Williams is another player who received some first round interest in 2017’s draft. The interesting thing about Williams is that despite being the most talented NBA big at Texas A&M he would come off the bench several games behind Tyler Davis and D.J. Hogg. Williams is as athletic as can be for his position and size.
Williams doesn’t have range to space the floor, but alongside a floor spacing big like Jokic Williams could take advantage of his size and athleticism working in the post and catching lobs opposite Jokic. He also has a good awareness of the oncoming double team in the post and an ability to pass cleanly to the open man out of it. This may not be a skill he has to use right away in the league, but is something that shows he has a fair degree of passing vision needed to fit with a team like Denver.
Defensively, Williams isn’t someone who has great ability to switch out onto the perimeter as he runs to recover instead of sliding his feet. He also has a tendency to jump out at three-point attempts instead of staying down for a solid contest. On the inside there are no problems with his defensive game mostly because he has a great combination of size, length, and athleticism.
The decision for Denver will have a lot to do with their projected timeline for Paul Millsap as well as the plans they have for slotting Juancho Hernangomez and Trey Lyles into the rotation. If the Nuggets decide that power forward is a need to address, Williams is an exciting big man prospect outside the top 10.
Kevin Huerter from Maryland is a small forward who figures to go off the board in the mid to late first round. He has a Klay Thompson replicated shot with great range and most impressively great passing instincts for the forward position. Denver has shown a tendency to favor players who can shoot the ball in an effort to contend with the Warriors and Rockets offensively, so Huerter could be someone who peaks their interest especially if they trade down.
Lonnie Walker from Miami is my pick to have the best chance to replicate a Donovan Mitchell season. Despite that I don’t know that Denver should use a pick on a ball dominant-type guard without knowing that Will Barton would not be resigning.
Other Draft Day Options
The Nuggets have been in various conversations to trade up, down, or otherwise. One of the most intriguing options is a trade up to the third or fourth pick to draft Luka Doncic or in some scenarios Jaren Jackson Jr.. One of the issues with this is that Denver would have to part ways with either Gary Harris or Jamal Murray which I can’t see them justifying. Taking out one of the core pieces seems unnecessary at this point when the Nuggets are on the verge of consistent home court advantage in the Western Conference.
On top of that the Nuggets are not in the best position to make trades with Atlanta or Memphis. There are teams like Orlando and Dallas who have the fifth and sixth pick to trade to Atlanta. If Atlanta wants Trae Young trading down to 14th will not work for them when they have fifth and sixth on the table.
The Memphis trade is difficult because Memphis is in need of a team that can take on Chandler Parsons’ contract. While it’s not entirely impossible for Denver to do this, it certainly isn’t the most practical. There will be other teams willing to take on the contract in much better positions and ultimately it’s a gamble for Denver unless they trade when the pick is on the clock and they know that their guy is still available.
The Nuggets also have Kenneth Faried’s contract to deal with tonight, which could dictate the events more than any of the players available because of the upcoming luxury tax bill. If Denver does manage to make a pick tonight at 14 I believe there are several options that could be the right fit for Denver to get back on track after last year’s draft.