The Nuggets are winning games and making a playoff run, but the main draw for basketball attention this month? March Madness. It’s the most exciting tournament in all of sports, where teams come together to form magical runs which result in memorable moments that last a lifetime. But while March Madness is largely a team-oriented event, there’s still a level of individualism on display that appeals to those of us watching with a professional rooting interest in mind, as we’ve got our eyes on players who may one day suite up for work in a powder blue and yellow uniform.
Together, Daniel Lewis
(a college basketball writer for KSL.com
and die hard Nuggets fan) and I have culled 12 potential prospects that intrigue us in more ways than one. These are players we could one day see running down the court for a transition slam, jumping passing lanes for deflections and swishing 3-pointers. In other words, they’re players who not only appeal on an individual level for their talent, but who would fit extremely well in the Nuggets system too. Of course, we realize whomever is selected probably won’t play much — this year’s rookie class has under 250 minutes of court time — but in the current CBA, drafting well is paramount, especially for a small-market team like the Nuggets. And of course, here at RMC, it’s never to early to start preparing for the draft. So without further ado, here is what (or rather, who) to watch for during March Madness…
Patric Young – 6’9″, 245 lbs., PF/C, Junior, Florida
Young looks like a NBA player. He’s big, strong, and has a 7’1″ wingspan. If his name is called when the Nuggets make their first pick, they’ll be in contention for one of the most powerful frontcourts in the NBA. Young has developed under Billy Donovan, earning his chops against NBA caliber big men in the SEC. His numbers, though, haven’t been that impressive. Young likely doesn’t have the potential to be an All-Star caliber center in the NBA. What he is though, is a superb defender, who uses his quickness, size, power and leaping ability to deny opponents baskets. In addition, he’s “raw on offense,” which is scout lingo for bad — like Mozgov bad. While he’ll score on offensive rebounds and putbacks, don’t expect to see him get the ball in the post and go to work. It’s not what he is.
Why he’s a good fit for the Nuggets: Although he isn’t a low-post scorer, he’s an excellent foil to Kenneth Faried. The Manimal can gobble up rebounds and fly around the court, but is still learning the nuances of NBA defense. The NCAA tournament will be a good opportunity to see how Young performs on defense against some of the top teams in the country.
Gorgui Dieng – 6’11″, 235 lbs., C, Junior, Louisville
Dieng has been one of my favorite players to watch in college basketball this season. Originally born in Senegal, he was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school and has lived up to most of the accolades he garnered prior to playing at the college level. He’s a guy who plays hard every time he steps onto the floor and places defense and winning above anything he does on offense. Dieng, put simply, is a defensive-minded, athletic center who still has tons of upside even as a junior. His offensive game is basic — most of his baskets come from put backs, running the floor or via the pick and roll — however he’s shown flashes of incredibly enticing potential in the form of low post moves and jumpers. Additionally, Dieng takes a very cerebral approach to the game. He’s shown an impressive ability to dish the rock to open teammates and knows exactly where he needs to be on the floor defensively at all times. His combination of athleticism, defense, size (did I mention he has a 7-4 wingspan?) and national pedigree lead me to believe this kid could very well be the next Serge Ibaka.
Why he’s a good fit for the Nuggets: Defense and size. The Nuggets have a very athletic frontcourt at the moment; however, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee still struggle with man defense. Dieng is one of the better one-on-one defenders I’ve seen in a long time. He can flat out shut people down when he wants to. If you add him to the crop of bigs the Nuggets already have, you could very well be looking at the most complete front-court in the league several years down the road.
Kelly Olynyk – 7’0″, 238 lbs., C, Junior, Gonzaga
As bad as Patric Young is on offense, Olynyk is good on offense. While Olynyk (O-lynn-ik) sat last season with a redshirt, he’s burst onto the scene this year to help Gonzaga earn a one seed in the NCAA tournament. Olynyk isn’t the next Adam Morrison — that’s an unfair comparison. NBA scouts spoke last season that the best player in the West Coast Conference wasn’t playing — and they were talking about this guy. I was able to see him play up close this season, and he dominated during the game. Whether he received the ball with his back to the basket, in a catch-and-shoot scenario or on the perimeter, the Bulldogs were going to score somehow. He makes good decisions on offense, has good range and only scored less than double digits once this season (17 minutes in a blowout win). He isn’t very comfortable on defense, but with his mobility, smarts and size, he should develop into a capable defender in the NBA. A fun fact? Olynyk leads the NCAA this season in PER, at 38.8.
Why he’s a good fit for the Nuggets: His prowess on offense. With Mozgov leaving, and Koufos and McGee under contract for the next two seasons, Denver can stash Olynyk on the bench and teach him how to play solid defense. I see the development that Koufos has made in Denver and that leads me to believe Olynyk would eventually be a much better player than KK could ever be for the Nuggets.
Kyle Anderson – 6’19″, 235 lbs., SF, Freshman, UCLA
This guy is one of the more interesting players I’ve watched at the college level in a long time. He’s essentially a pass-first point guard in the body of a 6-9, bulky power forward. Like Dieng, Anderson was a top prospect coming out of high school in New Jersey where he drew early comparisons to Magic Johnson. Though he’ll never be near the player Magic was, when watching Anderson play you can at least understand how the comparisons were made, as his court vision is superb. Anderson is not athletic in any way. He also plays the game in near slow motion (he reminds me of a sloth, even visually); however, he’s always thinking two steps ahead of the next play which more than makes up for his physical shortcomings. The promising thing about Anderson is that he’s not a one-dimensional player. Yes, he can distribute with the best of them, but he’s also an excellent rebounder, has the ability to stretch the floor and shows flashes of strong defensive IQ at times.
Why he’s a good fit for the Nuggets: Royce White. Remember last year before the draft when rumors spread about Masai Ujiri’s supposed fascination with Royce White? According to reports, White was Ujiri’s man had he not been taken by Houson. Well, Anderson is essentially White 2.0. He’s a better overall player than White, has more potential than White, and of course, is much less risky. Anderson isn’t athletic but his ability to rebound and immediately dish accurate outlet passes could make him a perfect fit in a fastbreak offense.
CJ Leslie – 6’9″, 207 lbs., SF/PF, Junior, NC State
Leslie is a talented power forward who projects to be a combo forward in the NBA. He’s a little skinny to defend power forwards but doesn’t shoot well enough on offense to be a small forward. While no one questions his athleticism, speed or quickness, the big question for Leslie is consistency. Is he the player that went for 25 points and six rebounds in January against Duke or the player that had six points, four rebounds and four turnovers in a February loss against North Carolina? He’s not a great shooter, he turns the ball over too much and he isn’t going to be able to rebound against larger opponents.
Why he’s a good fit for the Nuggets: With the impending free agency of Corey Brewer, a wing is going to have to replace his role. Denver might let Brewer leave to stay under the salary cap and replacing him with either Quincy Miller or a draft pick this year seems like a logical decision. Leslie can’t shoot well from the perimeter or at the free-throw line but he’s a monster in transition. Keep an eye on how he does in transition, as well as his play in the half-court offense.
Jamaal Franklin – 6’5″, 195 lbs., SG, Junior, San Diego State
Like Leslie mentioned above, Franklin is a guy teeming with athleticism and potential but also his fair share of concerns. Overall, Franklin is a very talented prospect. He’s an explosive offensive threat going to the rack, yet he can also hit threes when needed. He’s not a great shooter — in fact, he’s pretty streaky — but his quickness and ability to penetrate often mask his shooting deficiencies. Franklin is also an outstanding rebounder for his size. Standing at only 6-5, he averaged nearly 10 boards per game this season. And though he’s primarily a scorer, Franklin has shown an underrated ability to dish to his teammates, evident by his 3.2 assists per game. Unfortunately, as talented as Franklin is, he’s also somewhat of a gamble. His energy on the floor is flat-out intense, even to a fault, as he often takes bad shots and commits undesirable turnovers.
Why he’s a good fit for the Nuggets: As Daniel has mentioned above, as good as he’s been for the Nuggets, Brewer might very well be on his way out of Denver in search of a more lucrative offer that the Nuggets just can’t afford. If so, Franklin would be a guy (much like Leslie) who could probably fill his shoes. Franklin thrives in the open floor and relies upon getting to the rack for easy buckets. That’s who he is. Of course, there’s always the chance his decision-making abilities could keep him sidelined as George Karl generally prefers smart, fundamental players over unconstrained talent.
Le’Bryan Nash – 6’7″, 230 lbs., SF/PF, Sophomore, Oklahoma State
Similar to the 2012 draft, some might consider Nash the better player than whomever the Nuggets take first. He is similar to Quincy Miller in that he has tremendous potential. Nash has drawn comparisons to Ron Artest/Metta World Peace. Now, before assuming that Nash is a troubled youth from Queensbridge, remember that Artest was a good player with Indiana and still plays the game well. A more appropriate comparison, statistically, would be Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who currently plays for Milwaukee. Nash has gone to the line in his career more than Artest did and has attempted less 3-point shots than Artest did at St. Johns. The arrival and growth of Marcus Smart has helped Nash, who struggled mightily his freshman year. He isn’t going to be the player that rescues the Nuggets from their abysmal perimeter shooting, as he’s made 25 3-pointers in his career on 114 attempts. But, Nash would give the Nuggets a physical defender who would be able to play as an undersized four in a small lineup. Ideally, Nash would be able to play with the second unit in a Miller-Fournier-Chandler-Nash-McGee lineup.
Doug McDermott – 6’7″, 210 lbs., SF/PF, Junior, Creighton
No player in college basketball has played so well but received such little attention regarding his future at the next level. Some of the criticism (or rather, pessimism) is justified, but a lot of it isn’t. The problem with most pundits and analysts when it comes to McDermott is that they are likely judging his game as is currently constructed instead of what he will end up being at the next level, which is more of a shooter. McDermott is not athletic. He can hardly jump. His lateral quickness is very average, to say the least. But he’s a purebred basketball player through and through, and he’s intelligent enough to adapt. As of now McDermott plays the main feature on a mid-major team. At the next level he’ll be a role player, but with some work he could be a damn good one. McDermott is a flat out stud when it comes to shooting. He’s never shot under 40 percent from the 3-point line in his three year career at Creighton. He’s also a very good rebounder. As we’ve seen countless times before (most recently with Kenneth Faried), rebounding generally translates well to the next level. McDermott plays the game with a high IQ, hustles and is incredibly crafty down low. He might very well get five to six points per game at the next level just from being smarter than others around him. But for the Nuggets, it’s his shooting that will be why they draft him. McDermott would instantly become that long-range threat the Nuggets have been desperate for all year long.
Reggie Bullock – 6’6″, 185 lbs., SG/SF, Junior, North Carolina
From a size standpoint, Bullock is a foil to Nash. He’s similar in height but lacks the strength and base that Nash has. They are both skilled at getting into the lane, but where Nash is not a threat to score from the perimeter, Bullock is shooting 45 percent on 3-point attempts and could finish the season with over 200 attempts. He has been asked to be more aggressive by his coach, but when asked to take more attempts, has risen to the occasion. At his best, Bullock uses his
basketball IQ to limit his opponent on defense, then unleashes his energy on offense. He has a 64.0 true shooting percentage, which would be tops on the Nuggets roster this season (Koufos at 60.5%), and those attempts aren’t all coming at the rim. He has stepped into the void left by Harrison Barnes, and raised his points per game from 8.8 to 14.4, and improved his percentages across the board in so doing. Bullock did suffer a MCL tear his sophomore year, but appears to have recovered. The limiting factor in Bullock’s game is his ball-control skills but with a specific role Bullock could provide tremendous value. He might play his way into the first round but his measurements, which aren’t jaw dropping, could keep him waiting for the Nuggets to call his name in the second round. If Nash and Bullock were both available, I’d have to flip a coin to decide, because it would be hard to choose offense or defense.
Andre Roberson – 6’7″, 195 lbs., PF, Junior, Colorado
Fans of Colorado basketball know Roberson well by now. He’s a guy who’s been on NBA scouts’ radars for the last several years and someone who’s helped CU achieve great success since his arrival in Boulder three years ago. Roberson is a well-rounded ball player who can do almost everything at a proficient level (including shooting) but his greatest strength is undoubtedly his tenacity on the glass. Nobody has been a better rebounder over the last two years combined than Roberson. This year, he was even leading the country in boards per game until very recently. Though he’s only 6-7, Roberson has elite athleticism which includes a leaping ability that allows him to sky over most of his opponents, which should translate very well to the next level. Additionally, Roberson is a solid defender who can contain almost every position on the floor. Roberson’s offensive game is fairly limited and likely will remain that way throughout his career but between his athleticism, rebounding prowess and defensive vigor, there’s no doubt he’ll find a niche somewhere in the NBA.
Lorenzo Brown – 6’5″, 185 lbs., PG, Junior, NC State
Brown began the season as one of the top point guard prospects in college basketball, but has slid down draft boards due to inconsistent play and injuries. He has good ball-handling skills and has the physical tools to be a quality defender on that end of the floor. But, similar to his teammate CJ Leslie, he hasn’t been consistent on the college level. He has shown more consistency during conference play this season and that is one of the things that gets me excited for his potential in the NBA. He has a PER of 20.8 this season, which means his numbers compare closely to the numbers put up by current NBA point guards Reggie Jackson, George Hill, Ray Felton, Deron Williams and Jrue Holiday before they were drafted. With that type of production, he is worth a gamble in the second round, even if he ends up sitting behind Andre Miller for two seasons. While Julyan Stone has been fun to watch in limited minutes with Denver, Brown has more promise than he does, without the history of injury.
Rodney Purvis – 6’2″, 195 lbs., PG, Freshman, NC State
As the backup behind Lorenzo Brown, Rodney Purvis has not received a lot of opportunities to make noise for N.C. State this season. He’s largely played off the ball as a shooting guard and spent most of the season playing conservative and limiting his mistakes rather than attacking ferociously like he did througout high school. And that’s exactly what makes Purvis so intriguing. Yes, Purvis was a freshamn, but he hardly ever played like it. He displayed great poise and concentration all year long, and only scored when his team needed it. In terms of his actual game, Purvis resembles Ty Lawson more than any point guard I’ve seen since Lawson was drafted. He’s a well built, stocky guard who relies on his speed to penetrate, then his athleticism to finish. Unlike Lawson, Purvis tends to border the “Freak Athlete” category, at least in terms of point guards. He also thrives in the open floor and has displayed excellent court vision at times. If he doesn’t return to school for his sophomore year Purvis is going to be a steal for someone in the draft much like Eric Bledsoe was when he played behind John Wall at Kentucky. Let’s just hope it’s the Nuggets who are the beneficiaries.