After two days of postdraft analysis from every writer in the basketball blogosphere, it’s time RMC takes the pulse of its own contributors (and one fan) to determine just how high Tim Connelly and co. got our heart rates going on June 26. In our latest 5-on-5 we hand out draft grades, trade grades and a few kind words to Nuggets’ management all while assessing where Denver goes from here. Joining us again is loyal reader Frederick Barteldes. As always, feel free to leave your thoughts on the following questions in the comments section below.
1. What letter grade would you give the Nuggets’ draft and why?
Tom: A. Gary Harris has the mentality and the physical tools to become a Tony Allen-like defender with a better shot. I would have been happy with him as the 11th pick. Getting an extra asset in Jusuf Nurkic while clearing Anthony Randolph from the books was a savvy move. Both Nurkic and fellow Adriatic League big man Nikola Jokic are raw and inexperienced but have shown good development over the last two years.
Charlie: A. The Nuggets turned the 11th pick into two lottery-caliber talents and a future second rounder, in addition to shedding the wholly unnecessary Anthony Randolph. From a value standpoint, that’s a win. Tim Connelly could have made the safe play with McDermott, whom I liked, but instead took the long view with three developmental picks. Nurkic, Harris and Jokic are three of the youngest players in the draft with a great mix of physical tools and upside.
Joel: A. The Chicago deal was a masterstroke. By trading down, Denver got a two-for-one without losing out on Harris, their primary draft target at 11. Both he and Nurkic were steals, falling lower than most mocks projected, and Connelly prognosticated that development very well. Moreover, packaging Randolph not only opened up a roster spot and got his dead weight off the team, but also helped the Nuggets cut nearly $1 million in guaranteed salary in 2014-15.
Frederick: The excitement might still be carrying over but I give it a solid A, not only because I had a blast but because they did everything they set out to do. I thought their biggest weaknesses were perimeter scoring and perimeter defense, and they acquired both in spades. I would have been perfectly content to snag Harris at 11, but trading down to get him at 19 means Nurkic was somehow free, a bonus that was awarded to the Nuggets for their foresight. After listening to the interviews with these guys (Harris in particular, since Nurkic’s English is a little shaky), I’m convinced they’re serious competitors and high-character guys, which I put a premium on considering the Spurs’ model (also because I’m getting old). The last offseason felt bad and turned out bad; this one feels good.
Kalen: Considering the Nuggets drafted the best remaining players on my Big Board in both the first and second rounds, I can’t give them anything but an A-plus. I studied all year long and wrote upwards of 10,000 words on this draft. I’m not saying my opinion is more valuable than anyone else’s, but I feel fairly qualified in assessing the talent Denver acquired on draft night. McDermott may end up being a stellar shooter in the NBA, but he was considered a second-round pick for three years leading up to 2014 and still has major question marks about his athleticism and defense. Meanwhile the Nuggets got not one, but two of most every expert’s favorite late-lottery talents in this draft and shipped out Anthony Randolph in the process. How is this anything but spectacular?
2. If you could change one thing about the Nuggets’ draft what would it be?
Tom: In keeping with this year’s theme of drafting 19 year olds, I would have used the 16th pick on Tyler Ennis. He and Harris could have made a potent backcourt duo.
Charlie: It sure would have been nice to unload the contract of Anthony Rand… oh, that happened too, didn’t it? Forgive me for drawing a blank here, but short of just having a better pick, I like what the Nuggets did with the assets they had.
Joel: Honestly, given the assets the Nuggets had to work with, I’m not sure it could realistically have gone much better. That said, draft night is a golden opportunity to swing trades, and I have it on good authority that every time the Nuggets pass up the chance to trade Hickson, a puppy dies.
Frederick: I’m not sure I would. I’m concerned about the next phase of the offseason, really. This feels a bit like the Nuggets of the season before last — save George Karl — which comes with familiar philosophical questions about what an NBA team needs to be. I believe the Nuggets are a very good team with the current roster; they had some clear weaknesses last season and I think they patched them up beautifully. But it’s easy to look at them from a different angle and see a glut of good-not-great players at every position and the team feels suddenly flat, and you wonder if it really is possible to win without a “star player.” I hope the front office doesn’t act on that, and that the current roster gets a chance to play for a while.
Kalen: I’d change the way people responded to the Nuggets’ two overseas selections. Quite frankly, I was disgusted with some of the things I was reading on Twitter and in the comments section of this blog. It verged on xenophobic, with no justification whatsoever for the entirely undeserved, flat-out ignorant criticism of Nurkic and Jokic. As a blog owner with writers from around the world, I take great exception to this type of commentary and hope fans learn from this draft to avoid future embarrassment.
3. What letter grade would you give the Arron Afflalo trade and why?
Tom: A. The Nuggets’ most glaring hole coming into the season was the lack of a starting shooting guard. Randy Foye is a fine backup, Evan Fournier was inconsistent and Gary Harris (or any other shooting guard drafted in the mid-first round this season) will need time to adjust to being in the NBA. The Nuggets filled that hole with a solid veteran on a nice contract, and got him for a very good price. That also allowed the Nuggets to trade picks with Chicago, rather than feeling like they had to take Harris at 11.
Charlie: B+. Fournier didn’t seem to be on a steady track towards improvement with Brian Shaw, so moving him for a known quantity in Afflalo is a big upgrade in the short term. Afflalo’s size and efficient scoring are a welcome addition, but he’s never started for an above-average defensive team. As a supposed perimeter defender in Orlando and Denver, the best defense he’s been a part of were the 16th-ranked Nuggets in 2010-2011. That’s a worrying trend when you consider what the Nuggets are asking him to do next season.
Joel: B. The Nuggets get better in the short term with an unquestionably legit starter at the two. Fournier had a disappointing season, making his ceiling appear lower, and flipping him for Afflalo is great value. The biggest downside is financial. After this trade and the draft, Denver’s about $9 million over the salary cap and just $4.5 million under the luxury line. Extending Faried and staying out of the luxury tax is now impossible without further trades.
Frederick: A+. I love Fournier and still think he could be a great player, but Afflalo is my guy. He is a workhorse, a level-headed competitor, the kind of veteran that I’m proud to have on this team. Honestly, even with Harris on the roster, I hope Denver can retain ‘Flalo after the following season. I’m obviously a huge fan of this dude (I’m thrilled that my navy-and-gold Afflalo jersey is no longer just a throwback), so maybe that weakens my point, but I think it’s worth repeating that this trade powerfully addresses the team’s biggest needs (perimeter scoring and perimeter defense), while adding a guy that could very easily be considered a star on a team that’s getting enough attention. (He’s an assassin, after all.)
Kalen: A. Remember, the Nuggets acquired the trade exception used in this deal through the Iguodala move last year. So kudos to Tim Connelly for actually utilizing the full extent of his assets, unlike the previous regime. Afflalo is one of the top-10 3-point percentage shooters in the entire NBA and can be an elite defender when not carrying a heavy scoring load. The original Iguodala trade was always way more dysfunctional than people realized. It’s fantastic to get such a high-character guy like Afflalo back in a Nuggets uniform.
4. How has the 24 hours surrounding the draft changed the way you view Tim Connelly?
Tom: Tim Connelly’s earliest moves with the Nuggets were of mixed quality, and his philosophy was unclear. His draft day moves were uniformly excellent. Each move made sense individually, and the moves made sense as a whole. I also had the opportunity to chat with him briefly about the salary cap and came away impressed.
Charlie: Connelly has proven to be shrewd and patient in the draft, twice opting to stretch his picks into multiple assets by trading back. I find the long-term, process-oriented additions of Harris and Nurkic a welcome departure from last year’s focus on low-risk, low-reward veterans. Only time will tell if the assets Connelly has acquired can provide the means for the Nuggets to become a contender.
Joel: Favorably. My mantra last season was “give him the benefit of the doubt until after next offseason,” and his opening moves help alleviate that doubt. The draft and Afflalo trade were both successes. More importantly, the latter was only made possible by the Iguodala sign-and-trade traded player exception (TPE). Connelly deserves credit for not letting Iggy walk for nothing, and using the TPE well when the chance came. Hopefully he won’t stop with the draft, and will impress us with further moves this offseason.
Frederick: Last time, I said I didn’t know enough about him to really make a judgment, but I am very happy with what the Nuggets did on draft night. He made a savvy move and got a great return. I’ve heard a lot of people say he’s going to try to swing for the fences, but I no longer hope he will. What the front office did on draft night was subtle and powerful, and it feels like the ship that rocked so violently last season has been righted again.
Kalen: I’ve turned 180 degrees on Tim Connelly. For the past year I’ve repeatedly said we must be patient and wait until he has a full draft and free agency period to prepare for before judging him, yet even I was growing skeptical and somewhat cynical. The J.J. Hickson signing is still bad no matter how you slice it, and I wasn’t a fan of the Nuggets moving back in last year’s draft, but outside of those moves Connelly’s quietly shown some very impressive savvy.
5. Given their increased array of assets, should the Nuggets stand pat or continue their pursuit Kevin Love in free agency?
Tom: The Nuggets should continue to pursue ways to get better. A likely one-year rental of Kevin Love isn’t the right way to get better. There will be other players for the Nuggets to pursue in trades and free agency.
Charlie: The Nuggets are somewhere in between full on win-now mode and developing for the future. They’ve kept all their picks and possess a good mix of assets and reasonably priced talent entering their primes. However futile, the Nuggets must continue to put everything on the table for a star.
Joel: This Nuggets regime is intent on building a highly competitive roster which can soon contend, which raises the question of where they fall in the pecking order of the ultra-stacked West. And despite improving with the Afflalo trade and draft, it’s implausible that the current squad could be much more than a low playoff seed. So whether it’s Love or other high-impact players, yes, the Nuggets should aggressively pursue top talent to help take them to the next level.
Frederick: Stand pat. Slip out the back, Jack. Love still smells funky to me; I don’t think the Nuggets would retain him for more than a season. I know there aren’t enough minutes to go around, but I want to see the current roster play. Maybe Denver has the pieces to pull off a blockbuster trade, but I want to see who rises to the top. Karl was great about reinforcing how starting roles (and even minutes) must be continually earned; Shaw is poised to send the same message to this team. I want to see who rises to the top and who the clear trade chips are. When you take into account how badly the Nuggets were struck by injuries last season, you’d think they’d want to keep the depth anyway.
Kalen: As tempting as it is to want to see what this roster can do, I’m all for going after Love now. This draft solidified Connelly as a shrewd negotiator in my mind, and now that the Wolves have Zach LaVine, I doubt they’d be insistent that Denver include Afflalo — who deserves to remain a Nugget for a long time. If the Nuggets can swing a deal for Love without giving up a Knicks-like ransom, Denver could become a hot spot a for another top-tier free agents given their sensational depth.