9. Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets own the 9th pick and are co-GM'ed by:

    John Exby 
    Rick Grubin 

With the 9th pick, the Nuggets select:

    Ervin Johnson, C, 6-11, New Orleans.

==================================================================
History
-------

The MIGHTY NUGGETS are on the way back, following two dismal seasons
of sub-.500 basketball and lackluster effort on the court.  After a
rather successful history in the ABA, and NBA Midwest Division titles
in 1977, 1978, 1984, and 1987, the Nuggets courted mediocrity for two
years and then plunged headlong into oblivion with the firing of Doug
Moe and hiring of Paul Westhead as coach, and new (and stupid, too)
ownership in Robert Wussler/Comsat and Peter Bynoe.

Following Comsat's dismissal of Wussler and Bynoe, and buying the
controlling interest in the team, GM Bernie Bickerstaff was given the
opportunity to turn around the the franchise.  Their first opportunity
in the NBA's Draft Lottery (1991) netted center Dikembe Mutombo and guard
Mark Macon, and hope for improvement was evident.  Under Westhead's outer
space offensive/defensive schemes, the Nuggets improved from 20 wins
the previous to 24 wins, but only 7 wins after the All-Star break.  It
was time for Westhead to go.

Replacing Westhead with former Nuggets great and Hall of Famer Dan Issel
as head coach, the Nuggets second go-around in the Draft Lottery brought
LaPhonso Ellis, and another first-round pick became Bryant Stith.  With
a strong, young nucleus of talent and a no-nonsense coach with capable
assistants (Gene Littles, Mike Evans), the Nuggets looked to heading in
the right direction.  An early-season 14-game losing streak (a franchise
record) had the Nuggets reeling, but they righted things and played over
.500 basketball the rest of the season, winning 36 games and contending
for a playoff spot in the Western Conference until the season's final
week.


Team Needs
----------

The MIGHTY NUGGETS have a solid nucleus of young talent to build around,
including All-Star center Dikembe Mutombo, All-Rookie 1st Team player
LaPhonso Ellis, Most Improved Player Chris Jackson, and Bryant Stith,
Robert Pack, and Marcus Liberty.  Coach Dan Issel has the team playing
a modified motion offense, which has taken some time to master, and
more aggressive defense than in recent years.  The players are confident
in themselves (witness Chris Jackson's career revival) and their abilities,
and the re-establishment of a home-court advantage has been a big boost.
Renewed confidence in earning some road wins has helped alot as well.
The Nuggets are still young and prone to lapses (more mental than physical)
at times, but are coming on.  With an All-Star calibre center, good
young players at forward and in the backcourt, and a lottery pick, the
Nuggets look to improve significantly again this season.  By position:

    Center: 1991 All-Star Dikembe Mutombo anchors the Nuggets with solid
            defense and rebounding.  He can alter (though not really
            control) the tempo of a game with his defense, as he regularly
            ranks at the top of the league in blocked shots and rebounding
            (defensive rebounding is strong).  His offensive game is
            rapidly improving, as he's developed some low post moves to
            complement his jump hook.  Mutombo's still too mechanical on
            offense, but improving.  He's accepted the fact that his main
            scoring thrust is off the offensive boards, and his game has
            improved.  Entering his third season, Mutombo should be even
            stronger physically, just as tough defensively, and perhaps
            more of a scoring threat than in the past.

            The backup, Scott Hastings, is likely the most humourous backup
            center in the NBA.  Hastings's talent is limited offensively, but
            defensively he's hard-nosed and can work over an opponent pretty
            good physically.  He's had some stretches where he's played well,
            but going into his 11th season he's not the long-term solution as
            backup center.  He does provide leadership and help for the
            team's younger players.

            Rookie Robert Werdann was drafted with the 46th pick in last
            year's draft.  He showed enough promise to make the final roster,
            though he played sparingly and didn't really show that much.
            He needs to improve his footwork and strength for the banging
            inside, and to rebound better and score off some offensive
            rebounds.  He's not likely to stick around unless he makes these
            sorts of improvements.


    Power Forward: 1992-93 All-Rookie 1st Team player LaPhonso Ellis stepped
            in from the fifth spot in the draft and became one of just two
            Nuggets players to play in all 82 games (the other was Mutombo).
            Ellis played somewhat out of position at the power forward spot.
            Though he's big enough and rugged enough to play down low and
            bang defensively and on the boards, his size and quickness could
            make him an excellent, potentially dominating, small forward.
            Ellis was second on the team in blocked shots and fourth in
            steals, and his defense in the paint was solid.  He needs to 
            improve the range on his jump shot and work on his free throw
            shooting, but beyond that he had a good year, and will only
            get better.

            The backups at power forward had rather spotty seasons.  Gary
            Plummer made the roster after a number of years in Europe.  He
            started strong but faded during the season, mostly due to the
            ever-improving Ellis getting more time.  Still, his rebounding
            was always tough and he could be counted on to make opponents
            pay for getting inside.  A late-season addition, Tom Hammonds,
            shored up the position.  A former high draft pick with Washington,
            Hammonds played in 35 games for the Nuggets.  He played well in
            spots, but was a bit sporadic.  After he becomes more comfortable
            with the offense, he should be fine.  Needs to get a bit tougher
            defensively.

            For the second straight year, Anthony Cook was lost for the
            entire season because of injury.  This year he tried to come
            back too soon and reinjured his knee.  Though he's always been
            strong and performed well prior to the season starting, his
            injuries have prevented his showing the talent in real games.
            He'd be a solid addition if he overcomes his past bad luck.

    Small Forward: After struggling through some rough years early in his
            career, Reggie Williams has finally shown the playing ability
            that his college days at Georgetown promised.  Williams was the
            team's second leading scorer (after leading the team last year),
            the leader in steals, third in blocked shots (1 per game), and
            unfortunately second in turnovers.  Williams provided some
            leadership for the Nuggets younger players, while continuing to
            run well on the break.  He's never been a particularly tough
            defensive player, and nothing really changed this past year.
            His outside shooting forces opponents to play him honest
            defensively, and Williams can drive to the basket and score
            and/or draw the foul.  He is prone to foul trouble (because
            he doesn't really move his feet well on defense) at times.
            If LaPhonso can be moved to this spot, Williams could become
            a good scorer off the bench, providing an offensive spark.

            The backups at the small forward spot struggled a bit this
            year, but came on at the end.  Marcus Liberty started the season
            with high expectations from the previous year, and a strong
            preseason.  Liberty started slow, trying too hard to produce
            immediately, and he struggled.  After slowing down a bit and
            letting the game action come to him, Liberty really played
            well, getting alot of minutes at big guard (when Stith and
            Macon were injured).  He disappeared in a couple of games, but
            by and large played well, at times keeping the Nuggets in games
            with his offense.  Liberty has all the ability to be a real
            player in the NBA, he needs to work on keeping his concentration
            and on his passing within the offense.  His shooting percentage
            ought to be higher as well.  All in all, a capable backup with
            the potential to play alot of minutes.

            Kevin Brooks has had two years to step up and show something,
            and he's yet to do it.  He came out of college as a somewhat
            heralded scorer, but his awkward, slow-release jump shot has
            hindered him in the NBA.  He's got a gunner's mentality but
            is lacking confidence to really score (of course limited playing
            time contributes to this).  His defense is poor, and he doesn't
            rebound that well.  It's likely that Brooks will be gone next
            year.

    Shooting Guard: The Nuggets started out the year with Chris Jackson
            (who will have changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul Faud by the
            start of next season) at this spot, and Mark Macon at the point.
            Mahmoud (get used to it) is too small to handle this position
            defensively, bigger guys post him up and push him around.  On
            offense, though, Mahmoud can create his own shot and jet past
            most bigger guys he faces.  After becoming the Nuggets highest
            NBA draft pick ever (#3 in 1990), being overweight and having
            a lack of confidence really hurt him for two years.  With the
            new coaching staff and minus about 35 lbs., Mahmoud showed the
            offensive form he had at LSU (he'd have been a rookie this
            year).  Mahmoud was named the league's Most Improved Player for
            this past year, after he led the Nuggets in scoring, shot over
            90% at the free throw line, led the team in 3pt shooting, led
            the team in assists and was third in steals.  He also drives
            to the basket well and is learning to function within the
            passing game offense.  Mahmoud won two games at the buzzer for
            the Nuggets this year with last-second 3ptrs.  His rediscovery
            of his outside game opened up the inside for players like
            Ellis and Mutombo.  Mahmoud ended playing quite a bit at the
            point this year, when Bryant Stith was healthy, or when Marcus
            Liberty was at big guard.  Mahmoud doesn't really have the
            mentality to be a point guard, and with Stith stepping up and
            likely into the starting lineup next year, Mahmoud could become
            instant offense off the bench.  He enters the option year of
            his contract, and at $4M, the Nuggets won't exercise the option.
            He'll get a qualifying offer, and then the negotiations begin.

            Bryant Stith, the Nuggets pick at the 13th spot in the draft,
            really played well as a rookie.  After coming off the bench and
            contributing early, Stith broke his foot and missed a number of
            games.  It was unfortunate timing, he had worked his way into
            the starting lineup and was playing well, especially in the
            clutch.  Upon his return, Stith was back into the thick of things
            when he broke his hand.  This effectively ended his season, but
            it was a promising one.  He's likely to be the starting big
            guard for the Nuggets next year.

            Mark Macon opened the year at the point, where it became
            painfully obvious that he wasn't a point guard.  A difficult
            rookie year (horrendous shooting and alot of turnovers) gave way
            to a solid start in his second year.  The bad habits of the
            previous year (poor shot selection, turnovers) seemed gone and
            Macon's defensive tenacity kept opponents in check.  But an
            injury slowed him down, and upon his return to the roster, he
            brought along the bad habits again.  Never known as a great
            passer, this coupled with his bad shot selection spelled doom
            at the point.  Macon finished the season backing up others at
            the big guard spot.  He's under pressure to perform this year
            and demonstrate that the 8th pick two years ago wasn't wasted
            on him.

            Todd (the Godd) Lichti, Mr Injury.  Lichti's career has been
            filled with injuries that have cut into his playing time and
            hampered his development as an NBA player.  A tough driver to
            the basket from day one, Lichti improved his outside shooting
            and defense and was playing well.  He was a victim of the 
            numbers game at big guard, where the Nuggets have many players
            who want playing time.  After this year's injury, and the
            emergence of Stith (and to some extent, Liberty) and Macon's
            presence, Lichti is probably gone.  He's always been tough and
            worked hard, but this looks like the end of the line for him
            in Denver.

    Point Guard: As mentioned earlier, Macon started the year here, but
            injuries and the emergence of Robert Pack moved him from this
            spot.  While Chris Jackson/Mahmoud Abdul Faud saw alot of time
            here as well, Pack showed, from about mid-season on, that he
            is the jet the Nuggets running game needs at the wheel.  Picked
            up as a free agent from Portland, Pack turned into a steal.  His
            outside shot is erratic and needs work, he needs to improve on
            his 80% FT shooting, and cut down on the huge amount of turnovers.
            However his passing on the break and in traffic is rather good,
            and his drives to the basket are outstanding (as are his dunks
            to finish them).  Pack could be the guy the Nuggets need running
            the show with more experience.  He definitely figures in the
            Nuggets backcourt plans.

            (see also Shooting Guards for more on Chris Jackson, Mark Macon).


Selection
---------

Ervin Johnson, 6'11" 243 lbs, University of New Orleans

The Nuggets need help in the frontcourt, the backcourt has capable players
that have shown the ability to be (somewhat) interchangeable.  A big power
guy that can rebound and play some defense would allow for moving LaPhonso
Ellis to small forward, where he can play because of his quickness, and
potentially dominate opponents with his size, rebounding ability, and his
ability to get out on the break and run the floor.

We had hoped that Rodney Rogers would slip, after he didn't go in the first
six picks.  And then Malcolm Mackey was taken, leaving a choice between
Johnson, Dobard and Edwards.  Luther Wright was intriguing, as was Acie
Earl.  Johnson's low-post game defensively and on the boards, and his strong
work ethic were the deciding factors.  His lack of consistently tough
competition in college is a concern, to some extent.


Others Considered
-----------------

Two FSU players, Rodney Dobard and Douglas Edwards were considered at
this pick, as possible power forward candidates.  Edwards has the offensive
skills, a good passer and shooter, to fit into the Nuggets offense with
little problem.  His physical strength is impressive, and his rebounding
is good, as is his defensive skills.  The big question is his attitude:
he'd have to improve that if he were to play for Dan Issel.

Dobard's defensive ability is terrific, and that'd help the Nuggets right
away.  His rebounding is acceptable, but he'll need to step it up a bit
in the NBA.  Dobard's lack of outside shooting could hurt him in the passing
game, though he could work on his shot.

Malcolm Mackey was considered, based on his defense, rebounding and shot-
blocking.  His post moves are good, and he's an effective scorer.  Also,
his strength would keep him from getting pushed around in the paint.  His
main weakness is his inconsistent play -- sometimes he's a force, other times
he's nowhere to be found.  If he can find the dedication to play, he's a 
force.

Centers were considered, among them Luther Wright and Acie Earl.  Wright
would be a project, though with alot of upside should he pan out.  A
backup to Mutombo is important, essential in the next two-three years.
Earl is a good shot-blocker and defensive player, but hasn't a rounded
offensive game.  He'd be a bit of a project as well, not as much as Wright
however.

Alan Houston was considered, despite the abundance of backcourt players
on the roster.  His scoring ability is difficult to overlook at the shooting
guard spot.  Houston would likely fit well into a passing game type of
offense, and his ability to create his own shot makes him attractive.
However, assuming no roster moves are made, Bryant Stith is solid at this
spot.  Terry Dehere is a good scorer, and would fit well within the offense.
However, his defense is lacking, and again, Stith can fill this spot.
Thomas Hill's athletic ability and defensive skills are intriguing, but
not at the 9th spot.

Despite dissension amongst the co-GMs, Bobby Hurley was considered here.
His ability to distribute the ball, go all-out, compete every moment and
play some good defense seem to make him a candidate to help out a team that
runs the passing game, and runs the break given the opportunity.  His
tireless play makes him an attractive player for the Nuggets.  Hurley is
likely to need some time apprenticing with a proven point guard, something
the Nuggets do not have.  Throwing him to the wolves might not be very
productive. However with the emergence of Robert Pack and Mahmoud's abilities
are solid here.

Nick Van Exel was briefly considered, but seemed much like a Mahmoud Abdul
Faud.  If Doug Moe were around, Sam Crawford would get a look for sure.



Who the Real GM Will Probably Draft
-----------------------------------

The MIGHTY NUGGETS are likely to go for size and strength up front and
draft a power forward.  The Nuggets need more rebounding and defense in
the frontcourt, a player who can rebound with Mutombo, clog up the lane
on defense (freeing Mutombo to go after more blocked shots), and perhaps
take a bit of pressure off of Mutombo on the offensive end inside.  With
the 9th pick (assuming that the Nuggets do pick there), and all the
underclassmen who declared their eligibility this year, the Nuggets are 
likely looking at one of the senior big men available (Dobard, Edwards,
E. Johnson).


Other Moves
-----------

Ideally, the Nuggets would like to package a deal involving their pick
(9th overall) with a current player (players ?) for a higher pick.  This
is rather unlikely, given that the players the Nuggets would be willing
to part with (Macon, Lichti, Brooks, Werdann, possibly Liberty) would not
draw much interest from other teams.  All are unproven or have not shown
enough in their years in the league.

Another possibility is trading the pick and a player (players ?) for an
established (but young) power forward.  There has been some talk about
going after Dennis Rodman.  The last thing the Nuggets need is a head
case who decides at the drop of a hat to play or not play, talent
notwithstanding.

There is virtually no way players such as Mutombo, Ellis, and Stith will
be traded.  It's possible others, such as Williams or Mahmoud, would be
dealt if the right deal came along.  With Mahmoud's play last year, he
would command some interest, but his hefty contract (calling for $4M this
year) is a burden.

=========================================================================
Draft Summary:

1.  Orlando
    GM:   Tom@Orlando 
    Pick: Chris Webber, PF, 6-10.  University of Michigan
2.  Philadelphia
    GM:   Dave Meeks 
    Pick: Shawn Bradley, C, 7-7. BYU
3.  Golden State
    GM's: Mike Moore 
          Terry Wong 
    Pick: Jamal Mashburn, SF, 6-8. Kentucky
4.  Dallas
    GM:   Curtis Hill  
    Pick: Anfernee Hardaway, SG, 6-7, Memphis State
5.  Minnesota
    GM's: Kevin Hansen 
          Toni Morgan 
    Pick: Calbert Cheaney, SF, 6-7. Indiana
6.  Washington
    GM's: The Crossjammer 
          Jim Nagle   
    Pick: J.R. Rider, SG, 6-5, UNLV
7.  Sacramento
    GM:   TODD FURESZ 
    Pick: Rodney Rogers, PF, 6-7, Wake Forest
8.  Milwaukee       
    GM's: Brian Saunders 
          Morgan Edwards 
    Pick: Malcolm Mackey, PF, 6-11, Georgia Tech
9.  Denver
    GM's: John Exby 
          Rick Grubin 
    Pick: Ervin Johnson, PF, 6-11, New Orleans

Next up:
10. Detroit
    GM:   Rob Skrobola 

Craig Simpson - Usenet Draft Commissioner