When you’re drafting at No. 7 overall, like the Denver Nuggets were tonight, it’s often a waiting game.
Last summer, the Kings inexplicably took Willie Cauley-Stein, with Emmanuel Mudiay still on the board at seven, allowing general manager Tim Connelly to draft the Nuggets’ franchise point guard of the future.
This year, it was Jamal Murray who slid, all the way to seven after he was projected to go as high as No. 3 at times during the pre-draft process.
Once again, Connelly and the Nuggets’ front office got their guy.
“We’re extremely excited about what happened this evening,” Connelly said. “We got our top ranked guy that we could conceivably get in Jamal.”
Murray was actually ranked No. 3 on the Nuggets’ big board behind Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram. It was a selection that went with the “best player available” mindset, but also filled a huge need for the Nuggets.
“His shot-making certainly was a huge need,” Connelly said. “I think you won’t find a harder working guy. He fits the mold of the type of player we’re trying to get to Denver.”
The Nuggets ranked 26th league-wide in 3-point percentage last season and their spacing at times on the offensive end was lacking. Murray ability to hit from three will help.
“Our shooting was a big concern,” Connelly said. “When you look at the skill-set at some of the guys we got this evening it certainly helps us in a positive manner.”
One of those other guys the Nuggets picked up Thursday night was Juancho Hernangomez, a 6-foot-9 versatile four-man who can step out and also shoot the three but has potential as a penetrator as well.
“We had targeted Juancho Hernangomez several weeks ago,” Connelly said. “We were quite concerned with some competition for him. I thought our staff did a fantastic job.”
Hernangomez represents the way the NBA, at least for now, appears to be headed. Versatile wings and big men who can step out and stretch the defense. The 20-year-old Spaniard’s offense is ahead of his defense, but Connelly thinks all three players Denver selected tonight can be effective defenders down the road.
The Nuggets had competition for Hernangomez and didn’t want to take a chance that he wouldn’t be there by the time they got to 19, where the Nuggets had their third pick of the first round.
“He’s a very difficult guy to find right now,” Connelly said of Hernangomez. “Those 6-9, 6-10 guys who can defend stretch-4’s, who can switch off a 4/3 pick and roll, can make a shot, rebound. He’s not a ball-dominant guy.”
At 19, Connelly found another guy high on Denver’s board.
He was surprised Malik Beasley, a freshman shooting guard out of Florida State, was still available when the Nuggets were back on the clock at 19.
“We thought Malik just had too much talent to pass up,” Connelly said. “We’re pretty close with the Florida State program. He’s a guy that we’ve interviewed several times. We felt comfortable with him – elite athlete, shot maker, again a live in the gym guy. We were shocked he was there at 19.”
Beasley is an interesting prospect. He projects as a plus shooter after hitting 38.7 percent of his attempts from 3-point range during his freshman year in Tallahassee.
“Malik Beasley, an elite athlete, I think a guy that will grow into being an excellent defender,” Connelly said. “Playing for coach Malone that’s an emphasis.”
The most surprising result of tonight’s draft from Denver’s perspective may have been that they ended up keeping and selecting all three of their first-round picks and not making a trade to consolidate assets.
“We had three first-round picks, the options that we had to trade those picks weren’t appealing to us,” Connelly said. “We thought it was best to use those picks.”
The Nuggets ended up with three prospects they heavily targeted, but once again the time Connelly and his staff put into preparing for Thursday showed once again.
Denver didn’t chase guys that may have been out of their range, let their targets fall to them, and came out of the draft with one of the best hauls among the entire league,
“I’ve seen all these guys play numerous times,” Connelly said. “I was just in Europe back-to-back nights, saw Cornelie (the Nuggets second round pick) and Juancho. Jamal Murray’s been a favorite of all ours all season.”
Like it usually does come draft day, preparation wins out.
Connelly and the Nuggets once again got their guys.