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.