2014 NBA Draft: Three sleeper picks for the Nuggets

The draft is just two days away, and with it comes the beginning of a new NBA season in earnest. We’ve already covered the basics pretty extensively — with a full roster hopefully returning to health, the Nuggets don’t have a ton of room to add prospects. Bearing that limited (immediate) flexibility in mind, it’s important to zero in on how the Nuggets can best improve with their lottery pick. We’ve already done some detailed analysis of this year’s crop of shooting guards – a strong group in this draft which just happens to line up with Denver’s biggest need.

My personal big board still goes Harris, Stausaks, and LaVine; but with trade rumors swirling and so many scenarios up in the air, it pays to expect the unexpected. Here’s a look at three possible sleepers who just might end up being the newest Denver Nuggets.

Dario Saric, SF, KK Cibona (International)

Saric is the least sleeper-ish of this group as Kalen already delved into him as part of an earlier prospecting feature. However, Saric warrants a closer look as recent reports had him linked to the Nuggets before he decided stay in Europe for two more seasons.

For those unfamiliar with Saric’s situation, this isn’t the first time he’s changed his tune on making the jump to the NBA. He was entered in last years draft, and would have been a likely lottery pick, but unexpectedly pulled his name out weeks before the 2013 draft. There was some hope he was ready to come over now after a huge season of growth and development with KK Cedevita, but he opted to move to a big club in Europe instead. His new deal with Turkish team Anadolu Efes precludes him from joining the NBA til 2016.

That’s a long time to wait for any team, which probably makes him not only available to the Nuggets but maybe even a reach at number 11.

However, Saric is still the same player, a consensus top-10 talent widely regarded as the best Euro prospect in quite some time. Watching him carve up the competition in the Adriatic league finals, it was clear to me he’s a very unique player. It’s rare to find a prospect with so many tools, European or otherwise. At 6-10 he has great size and versatile all-around skills with few obvious weaknesses. This is not a “development guy” in the way so many young Euros are – he’s already a proven pro in a solid league.

Who knows what the Nuggets will look like in two years time, but Tim Connelly has been clear that he wants to win now. Using Denver’s first lottery pick in a decade to essentially punt this draft would be tough, but the Nuggets may view themselves as a team that can afford to be patient for a big-time talent like Saric. After the 2015-16 season, the only player signed is Ty Lawson. Denver has a ton of room to acquire picks and assets until then and adding Saric on top of all that flexibility could be a gamble that pays off huge.

If you were to ask me to name the best prospect available at number 11 from a pure talent perspective, Saric is at the top of my list. At the same time, waiting two years for a guy who has already waffled so much doesn’t look like a sure thing at all. Right now, Saric is a good fallback option if the Nuggets feel the 11th pick cannot get them a significant upgrade right away. I’d be fine taking a risk for the future, but this pick probably means the Nuggets’  bold plans for big improvement this summer fell through.

Doug McDermott, SF/PF, Creighton (Senior)

McDermott is another top 10 prospect we’ve glossed over but haven’t given serious consideration to as an option for Denver. Were Stauskas not in the draft, McDermott would be the consensus best shooter available. Even so, he’s already generated a ton of buzz with the Hornets reportedly zeroing in on him at number nine. However, should Charlotte pass, that puts Doug McBuckets right in the Nuggets lap as a viable candidate at number 11.

Tim Connelly and his staff watched him workout in Chicago, and if they are considering McDermott it is undoubtedly for his one elite skill: three-point shooting. McDermott not only has fluid mechanics but he knows how to get his shot off efficiently, even with defenses keyed in on shutting him down.

McDermott probably lacks a true position in the NBA and gives up lots on the defensive end, but he seems like a lock to be a solid role player and shoot north of 40% from three. His fundamentals and high IQ make him an interesting fit for Brian Shaw, who was obviously a big proponent of the triangle offense in the past. If the Nuggets want to move their squad in a more triangle-friendly direction, McDermott’s spacing makes for an interesting fit.

In the late lottery of the draft, it’s not always about trying to get stars. Sometimes you want winning pieces and if the Nuggets see a niche role for McDermott, I have little doubt he’ll be a solid rotation piece. Although like many other fans, if some of the top high-upside guys are still on the board I’d like to see the Nuggets take a chance on one of them.

Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State (Senior)

One of the older players in the draft, Payne is not projected to be in the Nuggets’ range at number 11. He is more of a candidate for mid-to-late first round, but Payne is one of the few true sleepers whom I would have no problem taking a little bit higher.

The reason is simple – Payne might be the most rotation-ready prospect for a team looking to win right away. He is a long, athletic big who knows his role and embraces his stretch four potential.

Brian Shaw tried to install a Pacers-style pick and roll defense last year – having athletic fours hedge hard on the ballhandler while big, physical fives dropped down to protect the rim. As anyone who watched JJ Hickson try to hedge and recover can tell you, this was a disastrous scheme for the Nuggets’ personnel. Hickson and Faried were terrible defenders in space, often looking lost on the periemter while failing to get any pressure on the ball. Shaw eventually settled on more hard traps and switches to better utilize their athleticism, but Denver remained an uncoordinated mess in pick and roll defense all season.

One way to help is to add quicker fours with better defensive instincts. Darrell Arthur was the only option the Nuggets had last season and his effect on Denver’s defensive efficiency was dramatic. Payne is the prototypical quick four to attack pick and rolls the way Brian Shaw wants – forcing the ballhandler away from the middle under constant pressure from mobile bigs who can rotate to close the gaps.

Payne’s three-point shooting is also a bonus absent from Denver’s current bigs, save for Darrell Arthur’s developing long-distance game. Simply put, Aderian Payne looks like one of those invaluable first round steals snatched up by a playoff team targeting a specific need. Payne is a solid option for the Nuggets if they have plans for a trade and want to approach the draft with their immediate playoff goals in mind.

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Charlie Yao

Managing Editor at Roundball Mining Company and writer since 2010. Unhealthily obsessed with Nuggets basketball since 2002. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at the links on the left.
  • Heisenberg

    There appears to be a lot of chatter about Saric going to the Nuggets. He’s a strong favorite to get drafted by Denver.

    • Bryan

      That doesn’t really move the needle. But if they do do this, I hope they’ve at least moved back in the draft to pick up some additional assets.

      • Heisenberg

        They clearly are interested….Hardly a “sleeper” pick. Honestly the only other player I see Denver taking is LaVine.

  • albydigei

    Some says that Denver has already an agree with Efes and the player, we would pick him and we would have already a buyout decided to bring him in the NBA in 2016 (around 600k €)

  • Scott

    I don’t have the patience as a fan to spend our only lottery pick in 10 years on someone who isn’t even a top-10 talent and wait 2 years for them. Drafting LaVine would make more sense if we are waiting because at least he would have some development by then. I don’t agree with drafting Saric. He’s very similar to Gallo too.

  • Aaron

    we’d be lucky to get McDermott. . people don’t realize how good he is, even on D. Yes, he can’t guard Carmelo or Lebron. . who can? He’d be great. You put him on one side, Gallinari on the other, that’s deadly from long range.

    • Heisenberg

      McDermott is below average defensively.

  • Furious_Stylez

    Teams like the Spurs, Clippers, Warriors, and Pacers can stash players for 2 years because of the depth on their rosters. The Nuggets cannot. They just don’t have the depth or an established system to plan for the future. The Nuggets need a young player that will start making an impact by the end of next season to even consider making a playoff run.

    McDermott, Stuakas, Harris, or Payton would be the smarter picks at 11. Reaching is for teams that can afford making a mistake. The Nuggets are not one of those teams.

  • Ckwizard

    It bothers me that the Nuggets front office is even considering a player that will not be on the roster next year. If A factor in the decision to higher Shaw was his ability to develops players then it goes against your plan or model to let other coaching staffs develops the players. A player that is drafted this year and on this roster is more likely to contribute and help in the development of future two years from now when the nuggets roster is shaken up. A player stashed over seas next year isn’t going to learn anything of Shaw’s system or the culture being established. This pick in my opinion says more about the Front office’s confidence in the coaching staff and process then it does about who they value as players or it shows that the front office is clueless about how to develope this team in the long run. Either way a pick that isn’t on the team is a waist of a pick.

    • Bryan

      To be fair, what we don’t know what the Nuggets are thinking. There have been rumors about them trading up, trading down, or trading the pick as part of a deal for a veteran. In addition to the speculation about guys they like (Lavine, Stauskas, Harris, Saric—before he signed with Turkey).

      • Ckwizard

        There are a few things we do know about the reality of the teams make up. After this next season and the the following season only Ty Lawson is currently under contract. That would be this drafted players Third season. So roster turnover is bound to happen and outside of the core players there is no reason the Nuggets will not be able to improver their roster through free agency and trades. This pick while not meeting a pressing need is a great opportunity for growth and stability in the future. There is always the downside of a bust but this pick has the ability to become a cornerstone for the team in the future. The nuggets entertaining a trade for “love” shows just how commited they are to this current roster. The front office needs to wake up to the fact that the likely hood of a “star” player wanting to stay long term on this team is only going to happen if that player is drafted here and is winning here and then finally is paid here. A player stashed over seas will never become the Star the nuggets need. Oh and I am crazy I personally think the nuggets should draft Elfrid Payton because in Three years he has the potential to be that cornerstone to build around. Defense is the need not shooting

        • Bryan

          I don’t see how trading for Love shows how committed they are to this roster since they’d have to get rid of several players in order to get him unless that was sarcasm.

          And you never know, KD and Duncan have been conviced to stay with their teams.

          Payton would make little sense to me since he’s not an offensively talented player. And it’s been my experience that it’s harder for guys to learn how to be scorers than it is to turn athletic guys who can score into defenders since a lot of what makes a player a good defender is effort and attitude. Also, one of the guys at Denver Stiffs that watched his workout at the Pepsi Center compared his shooting motion to Tebow’s throwing motion and was concerned by how slow it was. That’s disconcerting, in my opinion.

          I’m legitimately baffled as to how he could have gone from a late first round pick a few weeks ago to now being a top 10 pick in some mocks.

          At least with Lavine you can see the athleticism and how if he could put it altogether he could be a star. Don’t see any of that with this guy.

          • Ckwizard

            I am high on Elfrid because Rondo is my favorite point guard and Elfrid reminds me of him. I don’t think the Nuggets invited him for a workout as I haven’t been able to find anything on it and there is little hope he will end up a Nugget that being said I would be OK and a little excited for Lavine because he is a Point Guard.

            Elfrid’s shot isn’t as broken as reported by anybody I mean we all have access to video and his highlights. He isn’t any worse than Rondo or Rubio and has the potential to be a better defender than Rondo and a better offensive player than Rubio

            • http://www.roundballminingcompany.com/ Charlie

              Elfrid is a big time sleeper I wish I would have mentioned. Phoenix had a ton of success with a two PG system last year and I think he could really work in Denver if he’s as good as advertised.

              I thought Kalen did a great job breaking him down earlier and he’s another pick I could definitely get behind.

    • Michael

      If you have a look at this roster it is already full of unrealised/unfulfilled potential. 1. McGee needs a lot of work and a healthy season to try and mature/develop under Shaw, 2. Mozgov needs to keep improving and not revert back to silly fouls and weak finishes at the rim, 3. Quincy Miller needs more development across the board, 4. Fournier has to show some consistency at both ends of the floor, 5. Gallo needs to be incorporated into Shaw’s system at both ends along with McGee, 6. Faried needs to continue his post All Star performance and keep working on his D and jump shot.
      With all of these issues, how much time do you think a rookie is going to get with the coaches to not only develop his game but even get a sniff of game time? The Nuggets know they need a solid wing defender at the 2, I’m guessing they are hoping Gallo comes back healthy and can play his pre-injury style of D with hopefully improved shooting to help cover the wing, I’m not counting on Chandler as he regressed badly this year in my eyes and is prime trade bait.
      Getting AAA back is getting a known commodity, he can shoot, get to the rim/line and play solid D with good size at the 2. He averaged 18.2 ppg, shot 81.5% from the line and 42.7% from 3 this year. I doubt anyone we draft will get a shot at making an impact this year, in fact Tim Connelly even said so in his interview several weeks back on the Nuggets home page.
      I’m not saying we should draft Saric, in fact in another post I explained why I don’t like the idea of getting him. Mostly due to his style of play needing a certain team/coaching style to make use of his skill set.

      I, like most other Nuggets fans, would love nothing more than to see the Nuggets draft an awesome talent that can take us to the promised land. The reality is that the draft literally is a LOTTERY all the way through and you need great scouting, a LOT of luck and the right system/development staff to end up with a great player. Sometimes even if all of those things fall into line, you still get screwed by injuries or the player hitting their prime and taking his talents else where.
      Whatever happens, I’ve taken tomorrow off work (I’m in Australia) and will be watching intently as the madness of Draft 14 plays out. Here’s hoping that at least someones hopes are realised with one of our picks.

      • Ckwizard

        All things considered even though this might be a long shot. The difference between this Nuggets team being just on the fringe of the playoffs and top 3 in the west is really simple…. An awesome McGee! If McGee became a dominate center this Nuggets team as constructed would be one of the best Nuggets team ever. Unfortunately the individual weakness on this team out weigh the Strengths. A couple of players developing changes the dynamic of this team as you hint at. I would like AAA back though.

  • Josh Chin

    If Harris and Saric are both available at 11, who do you think we take? IMO I’d like Harris

    • Bryan

      I’d prefer neither. Harris looks like he’ll be a poor man’s Afflalo to me (which is not meant as an insult, I just think you need to get more bang for your buck with a lottery pick) and Saric appears to be incredibly flaky about the NBA. Plus, he’d apparently said previously that he only wanted to play for Boston or LA.

    • http://www.roundballminingcompany.com/ Charlie

      Harris. I think the Nuggets are going to be tempted to trade this pick for a starting SG or a proven guy who can be another reliable, consistent scorer. Problem is, the possibilities just don’t excite me. Does the oft-injured and highly paid Eric Gordon move for the needle for Denver? Is getting Afflalo back really worth ANOTHER lottery pick even after the Nuggets already gave one up to trade him for Iguodala?

      Denver can be playoff caliber with the return of Gallo/JaVale to 2012 levels and a healthy season from Ty. The #11 pick probably wont yield another building block for the future. However, I still think the team will be a lot better with a different type of guard. Someone who can play off Lawson and defend the longer PGs and wings that Denver’s small guard really struggled with.

  • Andrew

    I like Adreian “Bring The” Payne! Ha ha. Just get this thing going. I just want to know who the Nuggets get.

  • Cullen

    If the Nuggets draft Saric I will quit. I would be so mad if they decided to waste a pick on a player we will not see for two years at least, maybe never. I cannot quite communicate how upset I would be… they just need to take a player that can make a splash now and get ready for next year.

    • heykyleinsf

      I can’t fathom how Saric at this point would be anything less than complete insanity. The notion that there is the slightest possibility of any sort to waste a completely good draft pick, let alone a lottery pick.. on a future outside chance bums me out.

      I can’t see this happening.. And I don’t think it will.
      But if it does.. hah! I give up too.

  • Sharkboy242

    I don’t want them to draft Saric either, but wouldn’t it be funny if we were all eating crow in three years?

  • mattuf1

    I really hope they Nuggets don’t draft Saric, that would be so disappointing. Waiting two years for a player you draft is crazy. Your whole team could be different by then and who knows if this guy will ever commit to the NBA. It would be a terrible decision. Which is probably why the Nuggets will do just that…