As exciting as it is to have your team in the NBA Draft Lottery with a decent shot at landing the first pick and watching them make a selection in the top five or six picks of the draft, I sure hope to get used to having the Denver Nuggets picking late in the first round.
As I am sure you all know by now Denver does not have a first round pick in the 2009 draft. They dealt what would have been the 26th pick in the draft as part of the Atkins for Petro deal, but they also received the Thunder’s second round pick, number 34, which is where they currently stand.
It is pretty clear that the Nuggets have two areas that are in need of an upgrade. One is finding a backup point guard who can fill in for Chauncey. Most Nugget fans have had a love/hate relationship with Carter, but the truth is he has been one of the more solid back up lead guards in the NBA. When you factor in his minimal salary he quite honestly has been a Godsend. However, Carter just turned 34 and you have to be concerned about him showing up to training camp having lost a step or two.
This draft is full of point guards from top to bottom and there may be a decent point man or two who go undrafted. The two mock drafts I trust the most, Chad Ford’s at ESPN.com (subscription required for picks 6-60) and DraftExpress.com, have all of those players being selected by pick 24. That is not to say someone will not fall, but if Denver wants to get a point with a decent chance of succeeding, they will probably have to move up.
I think if one of the point guards they want drops into the mid to late twenties there is a good chance the Nuggets make a deal to trade up. So the big question is what players are we talking about?
If Denver jumps up a few picks players like Eric Maynor, Jeff Teague or Darren Collison could be the target. Maynor is a senior out of Virginia Commonwealth University who has made a name for himself thanks to a couple of nice moments in March Madness. In 2006-07 Maynor made a name for himself when he picked the George Mason point guard clean on back to back plays scoring five points all by himself in seconds to tie their conference championship game at 57. VCU went on to win the game (I think Maynor had 11 points in the final two minutes) and in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Maynor hit the game winning shot to knock Duke out, which may have been one of the happiest moments of my life. See all three plays starting at 2:17 of this video.
VCU missed the NCAA Tournament the following year, but came back in 2009 and fell one point short of upsetting UCLA. Maynor is a point guard through and through. He has a slight build, but can play defense and he knows how to run a team. He has been tagged to go to Philadelphia for weeks now by both ESPN and DraftExpress, but if Philly does something else or if one of the higher rated point men drops to them Maynor may be available for Denver in a spot where they could possibly trade up.
Jeff Teague a sophomore from Wake Forrest, but he is more of a scoring point guard. He is a very good three point shooter converting 39.5% as a freshman and 44.1% as a sophomore. He has tremendous quickness and Chad Ford compares him to Devin Harris. The bad news is Teague averaged roughly one turnover per assist, which is not what you want out of your point guard. His defense is a big question mark as well.
Collison was a decent college point guard and if Denver is not able to move up to get Maynor, Teague or another top rated point, the Nuggets may have to take him. He has tremendous quickness and Ford has compared him to Aaron Brooks who drove the Lakers crazy in the playoffs. I have seen Collison play on several occasions and have never been blown away by him, but to be fair the past couple of season he has shared the backcourt with a couple of lottery picks in Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holliday so his getting overshadowed is understandable. He is a good defender, but is small even compared to skinny players like Maynor and Teague.
Another name that keeps popping up around the Nuggets’ pick is Patrick Mills. Mills is an Australian who played at Saint Mary’s. He made a name for himself in the Olympics when his quickness was too much for the United States’ guards to handle. He can get in the lane at will, but he is not a very good shooter and he needs to ball in his hands to be effective. He is another player that was helped by Brooks’ performance against the Lakers. However, he is not the shooter that Brooks is and he lacks the finishing prowess of a Tony Parker when he gets in the lane. I would not be upset if the Nuggets plucked him at 34, but I see him as more of a taller Earl Boykins than a Chauncey Billups.
If the Nuggets are really feeling gutsy there is a possibility they trade away the Charlotte Bobcats’ first round pick they own along with pick 34 to jump way up to try and draft Ty Lawson or one of the other highly ranked point men who might be available in the early teens. I think that is a distinct possibility, but that Bobcats pick is a lottery ticket. As with any lottery ticket it may be worthless, but the chances it might pay off big makes it difficult to give up.
The other obvious area of need for Denver is their big man depth. Unlike the point guards that may be available, there are no big men who get me excited. DeMare Carroll of Missouri has been linked to the Nuggets, but with him I see a player who at best is Renaldo Balkman with a better jumper, and it is not just because of the hair. I realize the knock on Balkman is he cannot shoot, but if Denver is going to draft a power forward he needs to be a bigger power forward, not a small quick one in the mold of Carroll and Balkman.
Taj Gibson of USC is another big that is mentioned in the late first and early second round. He is taller and more explosive than Carroll, but he is very lean and I am not sure he will be able to rebound consistently in the NBA. He did pull down 9.0 a game last season at USC and rebounding is a skill that translates very well from college to the pros.
Derrick Brown from Xavier is a very good shooter and is athletic, but is not a real banger and as with Gibson I am worried about his rebounding. He only averaged 6.1 boards a game last season.
Chad Ford actually has the Nuggets drafting Jeff Pendergraph of Arizona State. Pendergraph is one of few big men with any beef projected to go in the second round, but he is still listed just an inch taller than Kenyon Martin at 6’10” and he weighs the same as Kenyon at 240. Quite honestly, I may have seen Pendergraph play, but if I did, I sure do not remember it. Based on his profile he would appear to be more of an offensive player than a defensive one. Offense on the block is nice, but not if it is not backed up with good defense and the ability to rebound.
Typically I would never lock in on a single position, but the Nuggets need for a young back up point guard and the plethora of such players available makes it safe to lock in on that position. The only way I would rather see Denver draft a big man instead of a point tonight is if someone like DeJuan Blair falls into the mid twenties and Denver is able to jump up and grab him. Other than that, I have no desire to see Denver draft a big just to add depth. I would much rather see them bring in a guy like James Mays who was in cap last year than take a flier on a someone they hope can play.
Denver is always unpredictable. They have made quite a few moves over the previous few years either leading up to the draft or on draft day itself. We also never know who they like and who they do not. Last year they claimed to have Sonny Weems in the top ten of their draft board so who knows what player they really like who will be sitting there at 34. Of course, if there is no one they like they will probably trade out of the draft and move on.
Quite honestly no one knows what will happen tonight and that is why the draft is so much fun.