Nuggets offseason moves part 3: The draft and free Agency

Bailey Bassett

Earlier we looked at ways the Denver Nuggets can improve to championship contender status through internal growth and trade packages. While these methods of improvement would be wonderful, not all players progress at a consistent or typical rate, and trades require an agreement from two sides.

Free-agent signings and draft picks are two ways the Nuggets can get better without giving up any other assets. 

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“Twenty-two might not be a bad spot to pick this season because you’ll avoid the potential bust players and can still pick up an immediate role contributor or a long term prospect.”

While the Nuggets are a bit financially capped due to Nikola Jokić’s max deal and Jamal Murray’s extension, which is set to kick in this year, there are still veteran players they can sign to cheap contracts that can help fill roles the team needs.

The Nuggets also have the 22nd pick in the first round this season, courtesy of the Houston Rockets. They traded away their first-round pick to acquire Jerami Grant, but actually slid up the draft board in the Malik Beasley trade that netted them their only pick in 2020.

Draft options:

The 2020 draft class is considered one of the weaker classes in recent memory, but this is mainly due to the lack of top-tier talent and guaranteed prospects. However, there are still many role-players who can contribute to good teams. Twenty-two might not be a bad spot to pick this season because you’ll avoid the potential bust players and can still pick up an immediate role contributor or a long term prospect.

Cole Anthony is one guy who may slide in the draft. Once viewed as a top-five pick, most mock drafts now have Anthony falling out of the lottery. If Anthony were to fall to the Nuggets, they could snatch him up with the same mindset that landed them Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol. Both players had injury concerns and fell in the draft after previously being viewed as top offensive talent who would be picked early. 

Anthony doesn’t have any injury problems, a key for the Nuggets, who constantly have an injury-prone roster. But he does have his fair share of concerns after his lone season at the University of North Carolina. Anthony had major efficiency problems at UNC. He shot a poor 38% from the field. For a guy whose main role is bucket getting, this is worrisome.

Anthony developed a little bit of a chucker mentality at UNC. This can perhaps be attributed to the poor play around him. Anthony played on a bad team and had to do extra just to give his team a chance to win. 

Anthony is undersized, not good at defense, and a poor playmaker for a point guard. But if he can become the great scorer he was once viewed as, he could possibly become the Nuggets’ next great draft day steal.

The Nuggets won’t need Anthony right away. Allowing him to develop and mature on the bench for a year or two can be good for his development, and he could potentially become a spark plug sixth man in the future. 

Jalen Smith from the University of Maryland is another option at 22 for the Nuggets. Smith returned to college to improve his game, and he did just that, improving at nearly every facet of the game.

Mason Plumlee isn’t a lock to return to the Nuggets next season, as his three-year deal is expiring. Bol Bol is still developing, and Mike Malone views him more like a stretch four. This means the Nuggets could be in the market for a backup center this offseason. 

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Smith was at 15.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game last season. As a second-year player, he is more mature and ready to contribute now than most prospects. If the Nuggets trust a young guy to backup Jokić, Smith would be a great option.

Plus, there would be no better mentor than Jokić, who is the best center in the league, and Smith won’t be asked to do too much as Jokić will play roughly 31 minutes per game next season.

Smith can do everything you want from a backup big. He protects the rim, is a good pick-and-roll option and gets rebounds. What can set Smith apart is his ability to stretch the floor. He hit 36.8% of his threes last season. Having a catch-and-shoot backup big can be a game changer for the Nuggets as that is one thing that Plumlee couldn’t do at all. 

An external free agent option:

It is to be determined how much money soon-to-be free agent Jae Crowder will demand this summer. A few months ago, he was a filler in the Andre Iguodala trade. Now he has proved to be a key piece for the Miami Heat in the NBA finals.

Crowder has been great on defense, and at 6 foot, 6 inches and 235 pounds he has been lockdown on defense against one of the best wings in the league in LeBron James, while also successfully guarding the massive Anthony Davis down low. 

He is versatile defensively but also has been a key piece for the Heat offense. He got 11.9 points per game on 44.5 shooting from three since joining the Heat during the regular season. Crowder has often bailed the Heat out from deep with the shot clock expiring. He has been dynamite from the corners as well and fills a role that would be great on the Nuggets. 

It’s possible the Nuggets could sign Crowder to the mid-level exception, although luring Crowder away from a team who went to the finals will be tough, especially if the Heat offers good compensation.

There are some concerns with Crowder. He is a career 34% shooter from deep and has been very streaky. Three shooting would be his main role on the Nuggets, but it does seem that Crowder has truly improved in that aspect of his game. His release is quick and clean, and he has been making the open shots and knocking down the tough ones in the finals. 

The price tag will be the determining factor for if the Nuggets pursue Crowder. If Crowder is after a big deal thanks to his postseason run, he may be out of the Nuggets’ price range. But if Crowder just wants to chase a championship and will take a lower veteran contract, the Nuggets would be a perfect destination. 

Bailey Bassett can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @baileybassett_.