The 2017 Draft is here and in preparation for the Nuggets’ offseason here’s what to watch for tonight (5 p.m. MDT, ESPN/NBATV) when the draft kicks off from Barclays Center in Brooklyn and going forward this summer.
After finishing the season as the ninth seed in the Western Conference with a record of 40-42, Denver owns their own first round draft pick which is slated to be the 13th overall selection in the draft.
The Nuggets also own the rights to the Memphis Grizzlies’ 49th pick and the 51st pick, originally owned by the Thunder. Both second round picks came from Oklahoma City when Denver traded Joffrey Lauvergne to the Thunder in August of 2016.
Denver once owned the rights to the Memphis Grizzlies first round pick as well, which is the 20th selection, but it was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers in the Jusuf Nurkic for Mason Plumlee swap before last season’s trade deadline.
Players to keep an eye on for the Nuggets in the first round are Wake Forests’ John Collins, Indiana’s OG Anunoby, UCLA’s T.J. Leaf, and Terrance Ferguson, who played last season abroad in Australia.
Denver also owns their own first-round pick in each of the next few seasons.
Denver currently has all 15 roster spots occupied but on July 1 that number will fall to 12, once Danilo Gallinari officially opts out of his contract and Roy Hibbert is erased from the books. That gives the Nuggets a total of $40 million of cap space to work with when taking into account the new projected cap of 99 million.
Mason Plumlee – Restricted Free Agent
Plumlee’s restricted free agency is about as mysterious as it gets. No one really has a definitive idea of what it will take to keep Plumlee in Denver. On one hand, Plumlee was fifth among centers with 3.5 assists per game and is valued for his athleticism and mobility. But Plumlee does not provide any spacing or much shot blocking and is very average at finishing at the rim considering his athletic talents.
The other side of the argument is that Denver has already sent out a talented and young center prospect in Nurkic, as well as a first round pick, to acquire Plumlee. It is highly unlikely that Denver’s front office was willing to part with those assets for a half-season rental of Plumlee so it seems that the Nuggets will do what they can to re-sign the 27-year-old. The only question remaining is how the market for Plumlee shakes out.
Danilo Gallinari – Unrestricted Free Agent
Gallinari is hitting free agency for the first time in his career and is looking for what is likely his last big contract. He has not been shy talking about how much he loves Denver and that he would enjoy re-signing with the Nuggets but the big question is if Denver values him enough to give him the contract he desires.
The 28-year-old will be a hot commodity in free agency after enjoying one of his best seasons to date but there are still worries when giving Gallinari a four-year contract factoring in his injury history. He’s played in just 170 of 328 games since the 2013-14 season due to a plethora of different injuries and has not played more than 70 games in a single season since 2011. He has only reached 70+ games played twice in his nine-year career.
If Gallinari gives Denver a hometown discount and takes a three-year deal, then maybe Denver thinks about re-signing him but with the youthful direction of the team, it seems that the Nuggets may want to turn the page from the George Karl era and let Gallinari walk. Gallinari has been the face of the Nuggets’ franchise for quite some time but it seems that he may be on his way out of town.
Roy Hibbert – Unrestricted Free Agent
It would be surprising if Denver brought back the aging Hibbert after picking him up for what seemed like salary purposes last season. Hibbert has no role with the Nuggets going forward and it’s hard to see him fitting in with this group next season.
Gary Harris – Eligible until October 31
Harris has officially solidified himself as one of the premier two-way shooting guards in the league which means that when it becomes possible to extend Harris, it should be Denver’s first priority. Harris has the perfect skill-set to complement the Nuggets’ style of play. A defensive-minded shooting guard who can hit 42 percent of his three-pointers and cut off-ball at an elite level is the perfect player to have alongside Jokic.
Make no mistake, some team out there will be willing to throw a maximum contract offer sheet at Harris if he makes it to restricted free agency next summer. With each ticking second of the clock Harris is becoming more and more desirable to other teams and if Denver wants to ensure their core remains intact, they need to prioritize extending Harris above all else this offseason.
There are a few glaring needs when looking at Denver’s roster. First and foremost is their defense after the Nuggets gave up 111.2 points per game last season — the fourth-worst in the league. Denver’s perimeter defense was nearly non-existent and Jokic is far from an eraser as a rim protector so most teams were able to score at will.
Second is rim protection. Last season Denver was a bottom-three team in blocked shots per game at 3.9 and allowed their opponents to shoot 47.7 percent from the field, which is second-worst in the league in the restricted area. Finding rim protection to pair with Jokic will be difficult because it will have to come from the power forward position by a player that won’t clog the paint on offense.
Third would be seeking out a defensive-minded power forward to play alongside Jokic as referenced above. Finding a defender to play the four who can switch and play defense on the perimeter and just as easily protect the rim is much easier said then done but if Denver wants to build a contender around Jokic, it is necessary to find a player who fits that mold.