Prospecting: In search of a shooting star

As many fans are well aware by now, there are four excellent shooting guard prospects in the upcoming draft slated to be available with the Nuggets’ first overall selection: Gary Harris, Nik Stauskas, Zach LaVine and James Young. While personal preference dictates where exactly these players will fall on draft night, the virtual consensus amongst the Web’s most revered mock analysts is that all four are likely to fall in the top 20. So while the Nuggets should (and likely will) implement the Best Player Available (BPA) strategy, there stands a legitimate chance that one of the aforementioned names will be called to the stage when Adam Silver announces the 11th pick — not because the Nuggets need a starting-caliber shooting guard, but because these players are all more than deserving of that selection. Naturally, understanding which of these players would make the best pick is of critical importance; which, as you might have guessed, is exactly what I’ll attempt below.

Nik Stauskas // 20 // 6-6 // SG // Michigan

If for some reason the Nuggets were dead set on taking a pure shooter, this guy would be their selection — hand down, without question. As I’ve stated a few times in the past month, Stauskas might be the best shooter to declare for the NBA seen since Klay Thompson or Steph Curry. His release is tight and consistent, while his range extends well beyond the NBA 3-point line. But what I like most about Stauskas’ shot is that he can get it off anywhere, anytime. Whether it be coming off screens, in isolation, driving to the basket or simply finding an open corner, Stauskas firmly understands the art of shot creation.

The other thing I like about Stauskas is his intelligence. Stauskas possesses high basketball IQ, has not an ounce of selfishness in his body and is in tuned with the nuances of team basketball that are of paramount importance when it comes to succeeding in the NBA. And for teams that value outside shooting, above-average distribution skills and a willingness to play defense (i.e., the San Antonio Spurs), Stauskas is all you could ever want in a late lottery selection.

Detractors might point towards his athleticism and defensive capabilities as omens that he’ll struggle in the NBA, but those are highly erroneous arguments. First off, Stauskas is an athlete. There were times while watching him last year that I was blown away by not only dunks, but monster jams. For what he’ll be asked to do at the next level, Stauskas has more than enough athleticism to hang with the big boys. As for defense, Stauskas is no lock-down defender but he’s shown an ability to play admirable defense in large spells as well as an overall commitment to that end of the floor, which is more than a lot of collegians can say.

Conclusion: I like Stauskas — a lot. He’s got an elite skill (shooting), requisite athleticism so succeed as an outside shooter at the next level, savvy distribution skills and a good head on his shoulders, all of which adds up to star potential. I’m not saying he’ll ever become a star in the NBA, but he certainly has the tools to get there. If nothing else, his shooting alone should carve a very long and successful career at the next level, which is something the Nuggets would be wise to benefit from.

Zach LaVine // 19 // 6-6 // SG // UCLA

Speaking of star potential, have you heard of Zach LaVine? If you follow the draft in any capacity the answer is “yes,” and subsequent chances are that you have a very polarizing opinion of him.

LaVine is the type of guy who makes or breaks a GM. His potential is through the roof but the sample size in which to analyze him is extremely limited and teeming with question marks. On one hand you salivate over LaVine’s physical attributes, how he comes equipped with unlimited athleticism, great size and length for his position as well as a fluid shooting stroke. On the other hand are the games, his mercurial shooting performances and selfish decision making that are the epitome of red flags in the scouting world. Had LaVine displayed better basketball IQ throughout the season, he’d likely be a top 10 pick. Unfortunately he did quite the opposite, displaying a glut of head-scratching malfunctions which are best summarized by YouTube comments like, “Wow. Those are some horrible weaknesses.”

The biggest problem (or strength, depending on how you look at it) with LaVine is that everything we’ll come to know about him a few years down the road will be determined after he’s drafted. Unlike freshman phenoms or upper classmen — who register extensive and impressive bodies of work — LaVine has almost nothing to show for his lone college season at UCLA. He shot the ball well for a few weeks to start the season (then promptly no better than 40 percent from anywhere on the floor), had a few jaw-dropping dunks and did a nice job of running the break throughout the year. That’s it. Therefore, if you draft LaVine you’re solely drafting him based on what he has a chance to become. It’s an incredibly risky undertaking, but if it pays off it could help a team like the Nuggets forgo the rebuilding process and jump straight to contending out west.

What’s really steamrolled LaVine’s momentum lately has been his workouts. He blew people away at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, registering top marks in virtually all the most revered athletic testing categories, and has since impressed in verbal interviews and shooting drills. LaVine has slowly become a fast riser (oxymoronic as it may sound) and if recent history has taught us anything it’s that these types, who skyrocket up draft boards once athletic testing begins (i.e., Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Victor Oladipo, even Kenneth Faried, who was projected as a second rounder for most of the year prior to private workouts), tend to fare pretty damn well in the NBA.

Conclusion: I’ve ruminated about the idea of drafting LaVine for weeks now (ask me about him later and you’ll probably get a completely different answer) and each time I turn him over in my head my deliberation cycle returns to one essential question: Exactly how many negative attributes does LaVine possess that would hinder his success at the next level? The answer: not many. He may not be the most cerebral player on the floor (yet), he may be somewhat selfish (right now), somewhat inconsistent (thus far)… BUT WHO ISN’T AT 19?!?! As I stated above, this is not about who LaVine is now; it’s about who he’ll become three years down the road, playing against the best athletes in the world, supervised by the best coaches in the word. Even at 19 all signs point towards LaVine being an intelligent enough kid (he’s doing well in interviews) with a strong work ethic and willingness to learn and improve. Add that to his already freakish athleticism, size, length, shooting stroke and unlimited potential, and you have the recipe for a Grade-A superstud at the next level. I just hope whichever GM selects him on draft night has either nepotism, piousness or a strong non-basketball hobby going for them in case LaVine is exactly what he’s shown to be in games.

Gary Harris // 19 // 6-4 // SG // Michigan State

Harris has been RMC’s No. 1 shooting guard prospect for a while now — and judging by his recent private workout with the Nuggets, he’s somewhere atop their list as well.

The reasons for Harris’ deference are two-fold: one fold being offense, the other defense. Unlike most prospects in any draft — and most of the ones we’ll be analyzing this month in preparation for the upcoming draft — Harris is a true “two-way”player, meaning his defense is just as much a part of his overall game as his offense. He’s the type of guy you won’t ever have to encourage to play defense; he’ll just do it because that’s who he is. In today’s NBA that attribute is as valuable as any outside of holding superstar status.

In addition to defense, Harris possesses a well-rounded offensive game mostly predicated on manufacturing space to execute his gossamer jump shot. He’s also a talented slasher who understands the value of penetration in order to spread the floor, yet often times whatever drives he makes are only prerequisites to pulling up for a jump shot.

While Harris’ jump shot and defense are his two characteristics likely to draw the most publicity, what has always appealed to me most when watching him in games is his presence of mind on the floor. Harris is smart. Similar to his defense, you’ll never have to actively persuade him to play with more intelligence, more awareness, more selflessness. Though he’s projected to be a two guard at the next level, Harris has always played with a point guard mentality: finding the open man, dishing out incisive dimes, making whatever altruistic play is necessary for his team to succeed. During his last few seasons at Michigan State there were times I was almost in awe at some of the passes he made, which are usually true signs of an excellent basketball player and potentially elite shooting guard.

If you want to pick him apart you could point to Harris’ size as an issue. He’s barely 6-4 in shoes and has only a 6-7 wingspan. He’s also criticized for mediocre athleticism (even though he’s built like a freight train). To me, these bullet points seem persnickety, like people are trying to find fault in him rather than acknowledging that some players simply lack the same number of drawbacks as others. As the great Michael Lewis once said, “If you look long enough for an argument against reason you will find it.” In a player like Harris’ case, this quote could not ring more true, as his shortcomings have never stood out as reasons he wouldn’t succeed at the next level. This is not to say Harris doesn’t have peccadilloes. Like everybody in the world outside of John Green, he’s not perfect. But that’s exactly my point. Harris isn’t Dwyane Wade. He’s certainly no Kobe Bryant. Hell, he might never even be as good as Bradley Beal. But if you’re looking for a starting two guard who’s passionate about defense and possesses a robust mix of intelligence and court vision, look no further than Gary Harris.

Conclusion: It’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen on draft night. Every year, no matter what we think will unfold, it never plays out that way. I don’t know if Harris will be gone by the Nuggets selection and I don’t know what other, more highly valued players will be available if he’s still on the board. All I know is that outside of Dario Saric and Aaron Gordon — the two players most likely to slip on draft night, according to the “experts” — there is nobody I value more than Harris. This isn’t to say I wouldn’t approve of the Nuggets selecting one of the other three shooting guards in this post; I’d be more than happy if one of them fell to the Nuggets. All I’m saying is that I value Harris a little bit more than all the others. Just a bit.

James Young // 18 // 6-7 // SG // Kentucky

Ever see a movie you can’t stop talking about because you liked it so much, yet every time you try to engage your friends or family about it they just shrug their shoulders and say, “Eh, it was alright”? That’s exactly how I feel about James Young.

Like Harris, I see Young as a total-package type of player. He gets tons of criticism for not having elite athleticism, not being ambidextrous, not focusing in on defense enough at Kentucky under the incredibly demanding John Calipari, not being as consistent of an outside shooter as everyone would have liked and so on down the line. It seems like every time I read or hear about James Young people are focusing on nothing but the negatives. And that’s somewhat understandable, as Young did make lots of mistakes his freshman year. But when you consider he’s a full year younger than the average college freshman, still put up 14 points per game in the SEC, was the second best player on an extremely talented team that went all the way to the national championship game and still shot a respectable 35 percent from beyond the arc his lone year at Kentucky, I think Young possesses quite a lot of impressive qualities and accomplishments the myopic pessimists are overlooking.

The reason Young gets so much flack is because he’s an easy target. He was the Mario Chalmers of his Kentucky team. When something went wrong, no matter how much another player or even the entire team was at fault, it was always easiest to blame Young. After all, he was the youngest, the slowest to pick up on Calipari’s defensive schemes and the one who took the most shots. That right there is an unadulterated formula for undeserved blame if there ever was any.

For whatever reason, I never saw things that same way with Young. I always knew he was youthful for his class, and so I guess I tempered my expectations a bit. Still, I was often far more impressed with Young than I was discouraged. Because Kentucky was on national TV a lot last year, I watched Young a lot last year, and from my perspective he was right up there with Julius Randle in terms of overall importance to his team. This sentiment was then corroborated by collegiate voters who named Young to the All-NCAA Tournament Final Four team during Kentucky’s run to the national title game.

If Zach LaVine is potential mixed with risk, Young is potential accompanied with a near guarantee. I would be absolutely shocked if he didn’t turn out to be a starter or sixth man at the next level. He already has the shooting stoke (fluid, compact, quick release, etc.), rebounding prowess and passing instincts to secure him a long future in the NBA. He already has the athleticism. He’s displayed the precociousness. He’s proven himself at the college level. Now all Young really has to do is grow up. Once he improves his handle, becomes more consciousness overall when dribbling and dedicates himself to the defensive side of the ball, there’s no telling how far this kid could go.

Conclusion: After Gary Harris I’d endorse James Young as my favorite shooting guard prospect in the draft. He wont’ turn 19 till August (!), already stands 6-7 with a 7-foot wingspan, was the second best player on the second best team in the country last year, was a consensus top-10 recruit coming out of high school and can flat out splash it from downtown. And did I mention he doesn’t turn 19 till August?

(All embedded videos courtesy of DraftExpress.com)

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Kalen Deremo

Kalen was born in Durango, CO, in 1988 and graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2013 with a degree in journalism. He's now an itinerant hoping to travel as much as possible before eventually succumbing to the "real world." Aside from writing Kalen likes movies, music, spicy food and the great outdoors. Edward Abbey is his current idol.

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  • Poz303

    Great write up Kalen. I have been sleeping on Young a bit. He seems to have all the tools to be very good but I always felt he was just a step slow, a little inconsistent, lacked the intensity etc etc. Perhaps I have been looking for reasons not to draft him. His wing span and size should make him a potential defensive shut down player. With the right coaching he could be a great player.

    Of the four players listed Harris holds the least appeal to me. He seems like a player who is good at every thing but not great at anything. Stauskas is an elite shooter, LaVine is an elite athlete, Young has elite size for a 2.

    If you feel the Nuggets are missing that one elite star player, then the temptation is to draft LaVine, since he would seem to have the highest ceiling.

    • Bryan

      Your last sentence is where I’m at. If they’re going after rings they need a star not solid role players (almost the entire team already consists of this), so if you’re going to draft at 11, I’m thinking they should go for the guy with the potential to be a star. Even if there is a risk he will ultimately end up being a less moronic version of JR Smith.

  • Len Nunes

    Zach Lavine, ” He may not be the most cerebral player on the floor (yet), he may be somewhat selfish (right now), somewhat inconsistent (thus far)… BUT WHO ISN’T AT 19″ Nuggets fans are saying almost the same thing about JaVale McGee at the age of 26 STAY AWAY

    • Heisenberg

      And a lot of that can be written about Westbrook. I honestly could tolerate McGee if they weren’t paying him so much.

      The bigger question is what position LaVine should play.

      • Bryan

        He’s a shooting guard.

    • CD Pascual

      If JaVale was not drafted by a team good at developing players he would have become a beast. He never had that in Washington.

      • Heisenberg

        McGee’s biggest problem is him handling the ball.

        • heykyleinsf

          I’ll agree with that..
          especially off the boards..
          he needs to grab the rebound..
          not play volleyball

  • Furious_Stylez

    No Freshman. They’re too much of a risk for a team like the Nuggets, who need contributions from their draft pick sooner than later. LaVine and Young are going to be projects. No Thanks. The current Nuggets roster has no room for “future potential” and guys with a “high ceiling”. They need help NOW.

    Going with upperclassmen is a safer bet. Prospects like Stauskas and Harris are seasoned players with solid NCAA Tourney experience, so they’re more NBA ready than most of the options at SG. Either one would be fine with me.

    • Heisenberg

      Harris and Stauskas both have much lower ceilings than Young and LaVine. At this stage the Nuggets are better off taking the risk. They need a game changing talent.

      This team’s headed for a rebuild anyway. Why not take a project?

      • gallogallo88

        i don’t see this team to be rebuilding, they have a good core suitable for a good playoff run for 2-3 yrs when healthy. Harris and Stauskas is the best choice, my only worry is that other teams might get them before us… any information on this?

        • sharkbait

          Their core is going to get them nowhere but bounced out of the playoffs in the 1st round at best so if you’re satisfied with that then by all means lets just stay the course. For me, I want a little more and I’m willing to wait a couple of years and take a couple of steps back to try and get it. That being said, Stauskas would be my pick out of this group. I see him being a bigger version of a player like Ginobili, which wouldn’t be a bad pick up at #11.

        • Heisenberg

          This team, at best is making the 7th or 8th seed and getting swept by San Antonio, Clippers, or OKC.

      • Furious_Stylez

        The game changers are in the first 3 picks and we pick 11th. We already have our “upside” guy: Evan Fournier. He’s heading into his 3rd year and is not close to being an NBA starter. Also, projects only work out when there is a solid team of veteran players and a good veteran coaching staff, which is what they had when they picked Fournier. I think we can agree that things are different now.

        LaVine only averaged 9ppg. Not exactly a breakout player. Jumping high at the combine doesn’t impress me either. The kid needs another year, if not two in college. At least Young averaged 14.3ppg w/4rpg. If you put a gun to my head and force me to choose between the two, I’d take Young. He played on a better team against better competition.

        • LBJ

          Plus Harris and Stauskas had real coaches in college. LaVine was “coached” by Steve Allfraud. That will put him even further behind on the learning curve.

          • Heisenberg

            Izzo hasn’t exactly had the greatest track record with players in the NBA. Jason Richardson and Z-Bo are the only two that are any good and they only spent one year with Izzo.

            • mike gomez

              we might not have to worried who we draft at 11 because i just read the nuggets are in serious talks with the bulls. that will give us the 16 and 19 pick

              • Heisenberg

                If they took Elfrid Payton and one of the Euro guys I might be okay with that.

              • mike gomez

                same here, because im just not really love if what we could get at that pick. having the 16 and 19 could still give us two solid picks

              • gallogallo88

                aren’t the nuggets too packed to add 2 quality players instead of 1?

              • mike gomez

                yes but, i expect denver to be agriessive and make moves it might not be a big move but little moves to upgrade the team.

        • Heisenberg

          Fournier’s best case was being a solid role player. LaVine is drawing a lot of comparisons to Westbrook. While RW was a bit more polished coming out of college, I can see why. You should know that LaVine shot much better from the floor than Young.

        • Colin

          ^this. I’m really starting to like young and would be happy if we got him. He showed some swagger on a very good team and was impressive during Kentuckys run in the tournament. Lavine? Just no. I watched a lot of Pac 12 games this year and he may have been the fourth best player on that UCLA team at best. I wouldnt mind stauskas either but slightly prefer Young at this point. I think Harris would be ok but as someone else mentioned he isn’t really great at anything.

  • Aaron Durkin

    I like Nik Stauskas or Harris. In praticuler I like Stauskas, he reminds me of Klay Thompson and I think could help this team right now with his long range shooting. A player like Lavine will take years to mature and in todays socity/ NBA he will probebly be cut or sent to europe before he matures ala Quincy

  • Josh Chin

    I feel like everybody wants LaVine but are a little scared and Gary Harris is the safest pick

  • heykyleinsf

    I may have been one of the first posters here to be excited about LaVine.
    But he’s the last one of the four I want.
    We are NOT rebuilding.. we take a project and it flops.. we’re stuck..
    with Foye, Fours and the SG equivalent to Anthony Randolph.
    No thanks to Zach Lavine..
    We get Gallo back, we get either Stauskas, Harris or Young to start at the 2..
    Shaw gets Javale to focus.. round it out with Ty and Manimal..
    boom.. we have a solid five starters.. we have Foye, Chandler and Mozzy solid
    off the bench.. develop Fours some more, Robinson sparks our scoring..
    Arthur on D.. Q continues to blossom, even JJ comes in to play tough minutes
    in the front court..
    I like these odds of getting back in to contention.
    I know I posted a few Zach LaVine videos..
    but I’ll be bummed if we leap for him or trade down.

    • Heisenberg

      Karl couldn’t get JaVale to focus, I doubt Shaw does. Maybe a Pop or Larry Brown could do it but that’s about it.

      They may not be rebuilding now, but they will be in 2-3 years. The writing is on the wall.

      • heykyleinsf

        thanks for your 2 cents but if it’s ok with you..

        I’ll go ahead and watch what happens next season
        before I decide that we’re rebuilding.

  • heykyleinsf

    Hate to post off topic…

    but was anyone as annoyed as I was with Mike Tirico last night?
    Can anyone suggest a stream feed that would help me not have to listen to him?
    I’m over his favoritism and endless LeBron fawning.