As many of you already know, writing about the NBA draft is one my favorite aspects of covering the Nuggets. And I’m not just a casual fan who watches YouTube clips on a handful of players slated to drop in the Nuggets’ range come June. I really do love the draft. Throughout the entire season I’m listening to podcasts, watching real games (imagine that!) and exercising my free ESPN INsider account to read every single bit of news and information Chad Ford posts about each year’s draft class. I don’t know why, but I’m nearly obsessed with the process. This year I haven’t had time to go as in depth as I would have liked due to the constant barrage of hirings and firings that have taken place within the Nuggets organization over the last month, but I’ll try and get you as up to date as I can on the guys I like.
Before we get started there are a few things I should point out.
First, as I already mentioned above, much of my commentary on the players below is derived from first-hand experience I’ve obtained by watching them play throughout the 2012-13 NCAA season. Many of the statements made below are my personal opinions that I’ve formulated without any outside influence. That said, because there’s so much information available on the Internet, I’ve also infused occasional data from “experts” who know much more about these prospects than I do. I use this specifically in regards to foreign prospects who’s games I’ve only had the chance to see in bits and pieces. In the end I essentially have a hodgepodge of my own scouting reports mixed with some from other knowledgeable sources that I think creates a fairly informative concoction.
I also have some personal philosophies about the draft in general and the types of skills it takes to succeed at the next level. For example, I like defensive-minded big men, especially centers. I firmly believe the NBA is a game of giants and defense. If you can build your team from the top up, starting with defense, you’ll put yourself in a great position to succeed down the road. Additionally, I like my point guards to be distributors who possess psychic vision and play with an altruistic mindset. In summary: bigs should defend, wings should score and point guards should distribute. It’s a pretty simple formula and if you at least somewhat agree then the following prospects should appeal to you as well.
So, without further ado, here is my take on the crop of players projected to be available when the Nuggets select at 27. The first group of players are my favorites. The second batch are guys I’m lukewarm on. And as Woj recently reported, the Nuggets might be looking to trade down in the draft; therefore, the last set of players are ones slated to land later in the draft who’d receive my personal “RMC Stamp of Approval” — for whatever it’s worth.
Gorgui Dieng // C // 6-11 // 23 // Louisville
I already covered Dieng extensively in my March Madness: Scouting for Denver Nuggets piece earlier in the year. Since then Dieng has gone on to win a national title and boosted his stock in the process. The reasons I love Dieng are simple: He’s got an incredible NBA body. He’s super athletic. He’s defensive minded. He’s smart. And despite the fact he’s 23 years old, he still has a TON of potential and growth that awaits him. He’s only been playing basketball for five years yet he’s already won a national title as the anchor of the best defensive team in the country last season — and he’s slated to be selected in the first round of the NBA draft. I think Dieng is one of the more underrated players in the draft and will go down as a top 10-15 player when it’s all said and done. In 2011 it was Kenneth Faried. Last year it was Andrew Nicholson. This year it’s Dieng. He’s my guy.
Ricky Ledo // SG // 6-6 // 20 // Providence
Before having to forgo his entire freshman season at Providence, Ricky Ledo was a consensus top 15 player in his high school class where he was dubbed the “6-6 Kevin Durant.” But because nobody (outside of NBA executives) was able to see him play this past year he remains one of the more mysterious players in the draft. Ledo has had a few off-the-court issues but comes off as a likable kid overall. By all accounts he’s one of the best shooters in the draft and could very well be the best pure scorer as well. He’s also played some point guard in his day and according to those who’ve seen him in live-game action, he has an incredible handle and very underrated passing game. Those same types have often compared him to Jamal Crawford. I don’t know much about Ledo to definitively estimate how good he’ll be down the road, but from everything I’ve read, he could end up being one the biggest sleepers in the draft. If anybody outside the lottery has star power, it’s this kid.
Lucas Nogueira // C // 7-0 // 20 // International
Nogueria has been on the RMC radar for quite some time now. When I first started covering the draft in 2011 he was on my original Big Board until he wisely decided to pull out. After spending a few more years developing his game it appears Nogueira is finally read to take the jump to the NBA — at least nominally. I’m unsure about what his contract buyout with Estudiantes entails, but it really doesn’t matter. If Nogueria wants to stay in Europe and develop his game at a slower pace, it will be beneficial to the Nuggets. Conversely, if he wants take the next step, come to the NBA and improve under more pressurized situations, that will also be beneficial to the Nuggets. Either way, I feel Nogueria would be a solid pick. His athleticism and size (7-5 wingspan; 9-3 standing reach) are rare. And it’s not like he’s one of those freak athletes who just can’t play basketball. The kid has talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball. He’s young, and though he’s shown signs of immaturity in the past, current reports claim Nogueria has finally taking necessary steps to become a serious basketball player. If he continues to mature, this kid could morph into something special three years down the road. If not, the Nuggets will likely have another JaVale McGee on their roster at only a fraction of the price — which still wouldn’t be half bad.
Nate Wolters // PG // 6-4 // 22 // South Dakota State
I’ll happily admit: I’m perhaps a little impartial, maybe even a little delusional when it comes to Nate Wolters. I watched him many times last year and took a strong liking to his game. He’s so intelligent on the floor. He operates at such a smooth pace and does a little bit of everything. But above all: He understands the game of basketball. Watching Wolters play is like watching a 10-year NBA vet. He knows what to do and when to do it, and seems to rely on experience to get what he wants rather than unrestrained talent like a lot immature collegians. People say he lacks athleticism, but that’s just not true. He won’t blow you away with his physical tools but he has enough pep in his step to succeed at the next level, especially considering his height gives him a built-in advantage over his counterparts. Numerically speaking, Wolters has averaged 20 points and six assists per game for three straight years in college! His detractors will say he played in a bad conference and claim he’ll struggle against better athletes in the NBA, but I’ve repeatedly seen him shoot over taller, more athletic guys and have monster games against good teams (just take his 28-point, five-rebound, seven-assists game against 16th-ranked New Mexico this past year or his 19-point, four-rebound, four-assist performance against Baylor as a junior in the NCAA Tournament). While I can’t see Wolters turning into a star, I do think he’s one of the more underrated players in the draft and someone who could turn into a very solid backup point guard down the road.
Reggie Bullock // SF // 6-7 // 22 // North Carolina
This is another guy we already profiled in our March Madness post a few months ago, and like Dieng, his stock has also risen since that time. Bullock is projected to be one of those “glue guys” every title contender must have at the next level. He’s the defensive-minded role player who’s gonna knock down threes and leave it all on the floor every night. He’s similar to Arron Afflalo in that sense, except Bullock is a much bigger physical specimen. What gives me the most confidence in Bullock is that there’s a virtual consensus among draft enthusiasts that he’s gonna succeed in the NBA. He won’t ever be anything more than a role player but he has a legitimate shot at being a really good one. This means you won’t have to worry about swinging for the fences and coming up short late in the first round. But the biggest reason I like Bullock is his defense. The Nuggets might very well lose their two best defenders to free agency this summer in Cory Brewer and Andre Iguodala. Having a backup plan on a cheap contract might not be too bad of an idea.
(While the above players are all ones I’d like the Nuggets to draft, players below are ones I’m somewhat undecided on; therefore, I’ll label each guy with a “Draft” or “Pass” grade to indicate which direction I’m leaning.)
Tony Mitchell // PF // 6-9 // 21 // North Texas
This kid was projected to be a top five pick in 2013 after having a monster season as a freshman. Unfortunately, Mitchell regressed big time as a sophomore at North Texas which many people consider to be a major “red flag.” I tend to agree. While I think playing on such a poor team could have resulted in an apathetic attitude, the point is: He still had an apathetic attitude! That type of commitment to your team doesn’t translate well to the NBA. Plus, Mitchell already missed an entire year of eligibility in the recruiting process so this latest red flag is the last straw for me. I just can’t get on board with Mitchell even though he has some incredible physical tools. Verdict: Pass
Erick Green // SG // 6-3 // 22 // Virginia Tech
Green is one of the more mysterious prospects in the draft by my estimation, yet the more I learn about him the more I like him. His numbers this past season were insane. He averaged 25 points, four rebounds and four assists per game in route to winning ACC Player of the Year honors. He was incredibly efficient, rarely turned the ball over and got to the line at one of the highest rates in the country. All of those features generally translate well to the next level. That said, Green pretty much came out of nowhere in 2012-13. He never shot above 43 percent from the field before his senior season and wasn’t even slated to get drafted last year. That makes me nervous. But what can’t be ignored is that the dude continuously abused top-notch players in perhaps the toughest conference in college basketball for an entire season. That’s an incredible feat no matter what you did three years before that. If the Nuggets call his name on June 27, I will be a very happy man. Verdict: Draft
Archie Goodwin // SG // 6-5 // 18 // Kentucky
I’m just gonna come out and say it: I like Archie Goodwin. It’s almost taboo to say these days, but I can’t help myself. I still think he’s one of the biggest sleepers in the draft. And honestly, I’m a bit perplexed as to how he’s still ranked so low in most mocks drafts. Yes, he had a pretty polarizing year at Kentucky, but he still had some incredible performances and showcased the type of innate talent that doesn’t just grow on trees. People have to remember: This kid is the second youngest player in the draft. He’s still two to four years behind most of the guys that will be drafted ahead of him. If I had to redo this article I’d probably put Goodwin in the above category of players. I really believe he could be something special one day. Verdict: Draft
Glen Rice Jr. // SF // 6-6 // 22 // D-League
Like Mitchell, this kid has had his fair share of off-the-court issues in the past. He was kicked off his Georgia Tech team as a junior and decided to enter his name in the D-League draft shortly thereafter. Once in the D-League, Rice pretty much destroyed his competition and proved he was destined to play in the NBA. And averaging 25 points, nine rebounds and four assists while leading his team to the D-League title certainly helped his cause. Rice is super athletic and versatile and though he appears to have grown up a bit, I still worry about his past. Verdict: Pass
Isaiah Canaan // PG // 6-0 // 22 // Murray State
Like many of the players already mentioned, I feel Canaan could end up being a sleeper when it’s all said and done. Last year his team had its best start in school history and was the talk of college basketball. During that time many saw Canaan as a surefire first-round pick. But after Murray State lost some of its better players and opposing teams made a point of mitigating Canaan’s deadly shooting game, his numbers dipped. Canaan is still the same player he was last year. In fact, he’s better. Though he’s a shoot-first point guard (which I’m not a huge fan of), Canaan can flat out score and the Nuggets desperately need both a backup point guard and shooter. So, why not kill two birds with one stone? Verdict: Draft
Jackie Carmichael // PF // 6-9 // 23 // Illinois State — One of my favorite players in the draft. He’s smart, hard working, seasoned, versatile and plays pretty damn good defense. At the NBA Combine, Chad Ford said advanced stats nerds love this guy. If the Nuggets move back, I hope it’s for this kid.
Livio Jean-Charles // PF // 6-9 // 19 // International — I couldn’t decide where this kid is gonna land, so he sorta gets stuck here by default. But make no mistake about it, he could easily go to the Nuggets at 27. He won MVP at the Nike Hoops Summit this year and has continued to impress scouts since. I’ve only seen his Hoops Summit game but he looked great there, dominating top high school prospects just a year younger than him. He could be a stud in three years.
Ray McCallum // PG // 6-3 // 22 // Detroit — This kid was a top recruit coming out of high school but decided to play for his father at Detroit. He’s really smart and extremely underrated as an athlete. He won’t be anything special but he could turn into a decent backup point guard.