Nuggets journal: What clues are there for Denver’s No. 22 pick?

There are three prevailing schools of thought as to how the Nuggets will utilize their 22nd overall pick in the NBA draft next month.

The first, and perhaps most tantalizing, is to trade it. The Nuggets could use it as a sweetener in a deal for an immediate upgrade. The thinking here is that Michael Porter Jr. just wrapped up a promising rookie season, next year is still technically Bol Bol’s rookie season despite showing glimpses of his vast potential in the bubble, and regardless of the caliber of player who will be drafted, there’s no obvious path to playing time.

Think about it. At minimum, the Nuggets are expecting to return their top seven players, which doesn’t include Bol and hasn’t accounted for free agents Paul Millsap or Mason Plumlee, either of whom could be back.

The Nuggets’ train is moving. Do they have time or interest in waiting on another rookie?

If Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly keeps the pick, logic dictates he’ll be looking for help on the wing. No prospect is supplanting Jamal Murray or Nikola Jokic. As indicated by their dual max salaries, Murray and Jokic are fixtures for years to come.

Gary Harris, on the other hand, has been trending down the past two seasons due to injuries. Will Barton’s status remains unknown after he left the bubble with a knee injury. Porter, a possible replacement at small forward, has never been a consistent starter. And presumed starting power forward Jerami Grant still needs to play out his free-agent process. The Nuggets are facing a ton of questions on the perimeter.

One league source made the point that due to the Nuggets’ injuries in the bubble, coach Michael Malone had to get comfortable quickly with playing little-used, funky lineups. That bodes well for the Nuggets favoring versatile, switchable players like Villanova’s Saddiq Bey, Memphis’ Precious Achiuwa or Barcelona’s Leandro Bolmaro. While Bey and Achiuwa can offer switchable options on defense, it’s tempting to think about Bolmaro, a deft, playmaking wing, working in concert with Jokic on offense.

Another wing who has impressed the Nuggets with his defense: Josh Green, a 6-foot-6 freshman out of Arizona. Green has a soft, fluid outside stroke with a stout frame to switch seamlessly at the defensive end.

As much as the Nuggets would benefit from prototypical 3-and-D guys like Aaron Nesmith (Vanderbilt) or Devin Vassell (Florida State), the reality is those two are likely out of Denver’s range, assuming they stay put.

And maybe that’s a faulty assumption. Outside of a relatively firm top eight to 10 players, teams are believed to have a wide difference of opinion on prospects beyond that. Say the No. 14 pick comes around and a player the Nuggets had ranked in the top-8 is still available. They pride themselves on seizing opportunities, like they did last season in trading for Bol in the second round or in balancing risk-reward in taking Porter the year before that at No. 14.

Trading up in the event a target becomes available shouldn’t be ruled out. That could be for a prospect who fits into their immediate plans or for a player who’s simply too talented to let slip.

And that’s the third option for Denver. The Nuggets aren’t going to be hamstrung by positional fit if there’s a player they feel has too much upside to still be on the board. They’ll gladly take the talent and figure out the rest later. As stated above, it’s not as if any draft prospect has an immediate path to playing time in Denver anyway.

This is where their diligence (and in this season, over-diligence) might pay off. The Nuggets weren’t a particularly athletic team last season, were average from the 3-point line in the regular season, and outside of Jokic, didn’t have a ton of playmaking. There are prospects that check all three boxes, even if the fit isn’t perfect.

Jahmi’us Ramsey, 6-foot-4 out of Texas Tech, is one. He’s an electric athlete who shot 43% from outside in his lone season. Malachi Flynn (6-foot-1, San Diego State) and Desmond Bane (6-foot-6, TCU) are two others.

Going into draft night on Nov. 18, the Nuggets should have a feel for free agents Grant, Millsap and Plumlee. If Connelly thinks they stand to lose two of three, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him replenish the frontcourt. Two to watch are Isaiah Stewart from Washington and Vernon Carey Jr. from Duke. Both play a physical, throwback style that would immediately inject toughness into Denver’s frontcourt.

Whatever the Nuggets do, they’re already operating from a position of power. Their core is set, and the draft only affords them another chance to improve.

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