According to a number of recent reports (CBS Sports, Sportando), the Denver Nuggets signed their third selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, center Thomas Welsh (UCLA) to the team’s first of two allotted two-way contracts.
Thomas Welsh agreed on a two-way contract with the Denver Nuggets, a source told Sportando
— Sportando (@Sportando) July 3, 2018
The 7-foot center spent all four years at UCLA, working hard to develop into an NBA-caliber player. While it remains difficult to draft impactful players so late in the draft, the Nuggets feel Welsh’s most polished skill — his outside shooting — will serve him well at the next level. He has a nice shooting stroke and appears rather confident in his jump shot, making him relatively dangerous for a man of his stature.
The 7-foot Welsh finished his UCLA career as the third-leading rebounder (1,035) in Bruin history and number three in all-time blocks (143) for the school. As a senior, Welsh shot .485 from the field on his way to averaging a double-double (12.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg) and earning second-team All-Pac 12 honors. Over the course of his college career, he blossomed into a skilled big who makes defenses pay for their defensive lapses by easily knocking down open jumpers.
Welsh worked out for the team in advance of the draft, and he clearly impressed the front office. After selecting Jarred Vanderbilt with pick number 41, the Nuggets were not expected to use their second second-round selection in June’s draft. However, Welsh was clearly on the team’s draft board as an enticing, long-term project.
“When you go into the night, you don’t expect to pick twice in the second round,” Tim Connelly told the local media in his post-draft press conference. “The board developed in such a way that we started to talk ourselves into it… Thomas Welsh is an elite shooter and an elite rebounder… extremely intelligent guy… bright, tough… we think he has such a unique skill set where the league is going… his unique style could eventually translate to the NBA court.”
As mentioned, Welsh’s feathery shooting touch is why he’s here. Welsh excels at baseline jumpers, and last season at UCLA, Welsh extended his range out to the three-point line, adding another element to his game. After attempting one three-ball through his first three seasons with the Bruins, he cranked up 112 attempts from distance last year, splashing 40.2 percent of them.
— Dig In Denver (@DigInDenver) July 4, 2018
He is also a solid rebounder, only sitting behind hall-of-famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton in UCLA’s record books. When asked about his role on the team following one of the squad’s Summer League practices earlier this month, Welsh exclaimed that he wants to do the “little things” to help the team be successful in Vegas.
“I’m going to do my best to space the floor on offense, knock down shots,” Welsh said following the Nuggets third day of Summer League practice (full interview below). “Put a lot of pressure on the rim offensively and defensively. Just rebound the ball hard and set good screens for my guys.”
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) July 3, 2018
Behind their Serbian superstar, Nikola Jokić, the only other “true” center on the Nuggets roster last season was Mason Plumlee. When Joker went down with an ankle injury in late November, Plumlee played a vital role in keeping the Nuggets afloat. Plumlee, however, is coming off of surgery to repair a core muscle injury this offseason. Should either Plumlee or Jokić go down again this season, Denver can now turn to a young big man who can also do a bit of facilitating from the elbow in Welsh.
T-Welsh is certainly a long-term project, but he appears to be a reliable pick-and-pop weapon and is a good enough rebounder to stick around the league. He should be capable of providing dependable minutes off the bench by adding a solid offensive dimension.
According to Go Joe Bruin, a UCLA basketball blog, the Nuggets selection of Welsh was “a very surprising move.” While I wouldn’t go that far, he did not make too many top prospect lists ahead of the draft, and he did go at pick 58 for a reason.
For one, Welsh lacks elite athleticism and NBA-level quickness. He isn’t a very mobile player, nor does he block a ton of shots for a 7-foot center. He is, however, a lunchpail kind of player and will work hard every day to improve.
Despite weighing in at 255 lbs., Welsh needs to work on his NBA-level body and bulk up in order to bang down low with the league’s more formidable bigs. Welsh seems to lack strength for a man of his stature, and he also appears a bit lanky.
Like most late second-round selections, Welsh faces an uphill battle to crack the Nuggets’ roster — and his athletic limitations certainly won’t help. Let’s hope the front office knows something about Welsh NBA draftniks do not.
By locking up one of the team’s pair of two-way contracts, only one two-way deal remains for fellow second-round pick Jarred Vanderbilt, last year’s second-rounder, Monte Morris, Torrey Craig, last year’s two-way darling or a surprise member of the Summer League Roster such as Kenrich Williams or DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell.
Craig received a qualifying offer and is now a restricted free agent, meaning the Nuggets have the power to match any offer he receives on the open market. Morris’ two-way deal was for two years, so while many believe he’s the favorite to fill Denver’s second slot alongside Welsh next season, the team also lacks a backup ball-handler and could call upon Morris in a full-time role, increasing the pressure to perform in Sin City this summer. That leaves Vanderbilt, who is currently recovering from foot surgery, as the most likely candidate for the final two-way spot.
Finally, this move cements the notion that we’ll see Welsh in the Nuggets’ beautiful new uniforms next season. Whether he spends the entire season in the G-League, plays spot duty or fills a larger role, he is certainly excited for this opportunity, and we’re all excited to see him ball out for the Nuggets. We’ll get our first chance to take a peek at Welsh and the rest of the Summer League roster when their action in Vegas tips off on Friday.