The 2012 NBA Draft is in the books. It was a wild and unpredictable night with twists and turns nobody could have expected. In the end the Nuggets kept all three picks, selecting Evan Fournier at 20, Quincy Miller at 38 and Izzet Turkyilmaz at 50. Detailed analysis of each player will be posted in the coming days, but first, our writers’ initial reaction to the 2012 NBA Draft from the Nuggets’ point of view.
To describe the gamut of emotions I felt on draft night is about as difficult as pronouncing the names of the Nuggets final second-round selections in each of the past two drafts… in pig latin… with peanut butter attached to the roof or your mouth.
I was nervous, excited, devastated, enlightened, confused and humbled all within about a five-hour period.
It all started with the 16th pick when the Rockets selected Royce White roughly five spots higher than most draft analysts had him pegged and intensified exponentially when Andrew Nicholson was taken off the board just one spot before the Nuggets selected.
Had the Magic not drafted Nicholson, my nervous likely would have never fully recuperated from the savage beating they would have endured leading up to the Nuggets selection. Though Ujiri may never divulge his draft strategy, I still firmly believe the Nuggets would have taken Nicholson if available.
As fate would have it, my first and most “realistic” options for the Nuggets actually fell off the board before guys like Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones, whom, at the start of this past season, I never thought in a million years would be available at 20.
The Nuggets selected neither of those players. Instead they took the one and only European player in the entire first round of the Draft — someone I didn’t have the opportunity to watch in a full game this past year.
More than anything, the Fournier pick scared me. He was someone I hadn’t really seen before and now he was leapfrogging guys I’d invested countless hours scouting at the NCAA level, which to me made no sense.
I have no problem admitting: I overreacted. I didn’t understand what happened. I was totally invested in my own little world of the players I loved, the players I coveted, without acknowledging the fact that Masai Ujiri — perhaps the best general manager in the NBA — was the one who selected him. He was the one who put the time, the energy, the resourcefulness, into examining these players. The amount of information he knows, about every one of the players in this draft, as apposed to what I do is beyond disparate.
Eventually I would cool, become elated with the Quincy Miller pick, then equally as dumbfounded by the “some dude” selection — also known as Izzet Turkyilmaz — and in the end, left perplexed by what had just unfolded.
Again, describing how I felt when the Draft concluded is impossible, because I had never felt that way. I was a feeling of extreme subdued confusion. I was lost.
Had I not talked to someone extremely plugged into the NBA Draft circuit who assured me the Nuggets draft was far from bad, I’d probably still be dizzy and riding some kind of high horse I don’t deserve to mount in the first place. Yeah, I watched a lot of basketball, took notes, read countless scouting reports and had my hands on everything draft related that I could find — but I made one crucial mistake: I excluded Evan Fournier, partly (mostly) because I couldn’t watch his games and party because he was the only Euro slated to be drafted in the first round. Not once did I come across a mock draft that had him going to the Nuggets, and plus, what were the odds that in such a deep draft with one legitimate Euro, that the Nuggets would actually select him?
Apparently a lot better than I anticipated.
So I’ve stepped back from the ledge. In a way I’ve had a little bit of an epiphany (thanks to the source mentioned above). In it, this is what I realized:
This is Masai freaking Ujiri we’re talking about here!!! Perhaps the best general manager in the league! Hasn’t he earned our trust by now? Hasn’t he earned the right to make a single decision without being lambasted and questioned as if he were a fraud? Had this been David Kahn or Michael Jordan, I could understand the outrage, but it isn’t! It’s not even close, in fact! The man who made the call to Evan Fournier on Thursday night is, as I recently put, a cold-blooded assassin! In all likelihood this pick will turn out to be one of the best in the entire Draft, knowing Ujiri, and yet we still have the nerve to doubt him as if we know any better?
Had Ujiri selected Quincy Miller at 20 and Evan Fournier at 38 everybody would once again be praising Ujiri’s brilliance and ability to rob other teams of talented players in the draft. Truth be told, most analysts had Miller and Fournier in roughly the same tier of players anyhow. Both Chad Ford and Draft Express had Fournier going 23 to the Hawks in their final mock drafts, ahead of Quincy Miller mind you, and in Draft Express’ final list of the Top 100 prospects, Miller and Fournier appear side by side at 19 and 20, just behind No. 4 overall pick, Dion Waiters.
The overreaction on Twitter following the Fournier selection (and I’m as guilty as anyone) is an extraordinary microcosm of the fickle and short-sighted nature of the modern-day sports fan; however, I’d argue it’s nothing to hang your head over. It shows we care. It shows we want nothing more than to be the best. In this day and age fans are as plugged in to the inner workings of front offices as ever before (which still isn’t saying too much). They do a fair amount of research themselves and often times know what they’re talking about.
But Masai Ujiri is a different breed.
If there’s one thing I learned tonight, it’s that no matter what, we never know as much as guys like Masai Ujiri.
Trust him, Nuggets fans. He deserves it.
The Denver Nuggets 2012 NBA Draft was about two factors: the current roster and potential. As I wrote in my Nuggets draft options post, the Nuggets have a full house. There are 12 players under contract for the 2012-13 season and that does not include free agents JaVale McGee, Rudy Fernandez or Andre Miller. I do not expect Rudy or Miller to be back, but Denver is certainly planning on retaining McGee and Karl was quoted in the Denver Post saying he wants Miller to return. Even if Chris Andersen is not in the team’s plans, he is still under contract. In order to add three rookies, Denver would have to dump one or two players from last year’s team and completely sit out free agency.
With three picks and a full roster Denver had no choice but to draft at least one player to keep overseas. The fact Denver drafted two international players should have been no surprise.
If you want to debate whether or not Masai Ujiri maxed out the value of their picks, fine, we can do that. The problem is none of us are qualified to do so. Until tonight, I had never watched Evan Fournier play. I had seen his name and read a little bit about him, but am I in a position to say Ujiri blew the pick? Just because there were players I was more familiar with available does not mean the selection was the abomination many fans proclaimed it to be.
I know readers come here for opinions and insight, but I cannot honestly say that the Fournier pick was wrong. My initial reaction was one of disappointment because there were two or three players I was hoping the Nuggets would draft at number 20, and despite the fact the Nuggets worked Fournier out, I never really considered him an option with that pick. Once the shock and surprise wore off, it began to make sense.
Again, referring to my draft options post I implored the Nuggets to take a risk with their 20th pick. Usually at that point in the draft you are praying to nab a player good enough to crack the rotation. The problem is there’s no room in Denver for another, merely decent player. The chances of any player drafted there being good enough to break into the rotation this season was remote at best, regardless of who is coach. The only way that pick would provide a significant boost to the Nuggets is if that player had the potential to one day become the best player on the roster.
I believe that is the philosophy Denver followed. Fournier may never even play significant minutes for Denver, but I do not think the Nuggets draft him unless they believe he has the potential to be a fantastic player. They may be wrong and maybe Jared Sullinger will be an All-Star some day (I have seen enough of him to seriously doubt that, but still), as long as they believe Fournier is the guy with the best combination of potential and likelihood of reaching that potential, I am content knowing they followed the correct philosophy.
Another thing to keep in mind is the depth of the draft allowed them to take a risk with their first pick. Most pundits believed that this draft had 40 quality players and with Denver sitting at 38, they knew even if they passed on some quality players at 20 to take a project, they were going to get a player worthy of a spot in training camp with their second pick. As luck would have it, they were right. There were several good prospects available.
I was open about my affection for Quincy Miller. This was the pick that made the draft for me and again, like Fournier, Miller is a player oozing with potential. As long as Denver hits with one of them, in two or three seasons they will be much better off. If they manage to hit on both, we can start talking about the Nuggets as a true contender.
The quest for potential continued with the selection of Izzet Turkyilmaz. I believe Ujiri concluded he was the highest potential (international) player on the board. Sure there were solid domestic players still available, but would you rather Denver draft a player from college who is just going to be released prior to the start of the season because there is no room on the roster for him anyways, or do you want them swinging for the fences with a player who could one day become something? Sure the chances are certainly slim that Turkyilmaz (How come so many people from Turkey actually have the work Turk in their name? It is like my name being Jeremy Wagermaner.) ever plays for Denver, but even if the chances of him contributing are 5 percent (or 1.2 percent), it is still more likely that he pays off than drafting a player who has a zero percent chance of sticking.
I understand many fans are frustrated with the Nuggets’ draft, but there was sound logic and planning behind each of Denver’s three picks. Based on all the factors they were dealing with, I really think they did a fantastic job.
Denver’s No. 1 need is a star player, or at least another borderline All-Star who can help raise the team to the next level. Ujiri did his best to address that need by seeking out players possessing tremendous upside potential with all three picks.
With literally no pressing needs to address in the draft, the Nuggets started their night with the freedom to go in a number of different directions. My initial thought was that they could afford to get a little bit risky, especially with a deep roster of role players that makes them a mid-tier playoff team at best. The Nuggets are so young with so much growing to do, they wouldn’t be much worse off shuffling around a few pieces to swing for the fences on a guy that can help right away and potentially become something special down the line. Those are the types of players that fit what the Nuggets have going right now, no matter how much they want to believe the Andre Millers of the world will vault them into contention.
On the other hand, there is an equally compelling argument that the Nuggets already have too much youth on their plate and not enough room to see another risky move. George Karl has a well-documented track record of marginalizing even the most NBA-ready talent when it comes to rookies. While conventional wisdom says you don’t get game-changing rookies in the 20’s, Masai Ujiri proved you can give Karl a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate and watch him sit out half the season for no real reason at all. As Benjamin Hochman noted several times leading up to the draft, the inherent risk of a first-round pick combined with the virtual guarantee Karl won’t play the guy, essentially ensures a bold draft day move isn’t likely to pay off anytime soon.
The Nuggets are in a unique situation because they are trying to win now. They certainly don’t have the luxury of welcoming a promising prospect into a no-pressure environment to learn on the job. Still, it’s the GM’s responsibility to build a long-term plan and keep the championship goal at the forefront. There are times to be bold and take risks where conventional wisdom says you shouldn’t. Last year was a prime example, with Masai Ujiri drafting two lottery-type talents he has since described as cornerstones of the Nuggets future.
Ujiri had to pull a major overhaul, plus downgrade the Nuggets skill level and overall talent, just to get Faried’s development going. Hamilton meanwhile spent the first year of his rookie deal on the bench and his failed stint in the D-League proved his potential future with the team is as cloudy as it was on draft night one year ago. Considering all the work still to do with Hamilton, I understand why the Nuggets essentially opted out of their first-round picked and deferred the decision for later by selecting Fournier. They already had their first-round talent to evaluate this year in Jordan Hamilton.
By going the risk-averse route, Ujiri proved he’s willing to be patient and see through the plan set in motion during last year’s draft. Still, the Nuggets are in need of talent and can’t let an opportunity like the draft pass without adding someone they can start developing on the practice court. Enter Quincy Miller and in my mind, this year’s version of Jordan Hamilton. By stealing Miller in the second round, the Nuggets avoid the problem of spending another first-round pick for a guy Karl will have permanently glued to the bench. Expect Miller to get a contract similar to the four years, $3.9 million DeJuan Blair got from Spurs in 2009 (San Antonio used a portion of their midlevel exception to do this, and I expect Denver does the same). Ujiri once again turned conventional wisdom on its head and got a first-round talent while completely ignoring the nasty risk that scared Denver out of the first round to begin with. To me, Miller’s the real prize of the draft and someone the Nuggets are going to pour their heart and soul into developing going forward.
Evan Fournier is the big unknown of this draft, and to be honest I don’t know what to think. He’s been described as a shooter and slasher, but is so raw it’s literally impossible to predict how he fits into the Nuggets future. Sure, there may be a chance he becomes the next Manu Ginobili, but I think there’s an equal chance he never suits up in a Nuggets uniform. As of now, he’s a draft and stash asset and not much more until he proves something in his overseas career. Like Ginobili, I expect him to spend at least two years proving he was actually worth the 20th pick before the Nuggets decide to bring him over. As we all know, Ujiri has a global eye for scouting and at the very least he parlayed a first round pick into a flexible asset going forward. This draft was all about cap flexibility and risk management, and with a little bit of creative financing and fancy maneuvering, Ujiri has managed to maximize both.