Denver The Usenet draft does not have an "official" second round.  What we do is let teams without a first round pick, make a selection and do a team report.  The second of these picks belongs to the Denver Nuggets and Net GM Jeff Burgoyne.  The Nuggets first round pick went to the Orlando Magic. The the real draft, the Wizards pick #26 thanks to a last second trade with Utah.  Jeff selects: 

Jabari Smith, C, 6'11", LSU

I. Year Overview

Last year was a crossroads for the Denver Nuggets franchise. Was it time for fans to start to see the Nuggets as a team reaping the rewards of its rebuilding phase, or see the sacrifices of the last three years go for naught like rotten fruit? No, they did not make the playoffs. Actually, they were not even that close. Success for a franchise in Denver's situation (rebuilding from one of the worst teams ever), however, should be measured in small increments of positive news and developments, not in quantum leaps of games won. For a team that was coming off of a 22 win season (per 82 game record in the strike year), 32 wins was indeed a solid step forward as much for the win total as for all the little accomplishments that happened on an individual level. Now instead of competing with the Warriors, Bulls and Clippers for the top pick, they were competing with the Mavericks, Houstons and Cleveland's for some semblance of pride.

I think pride is now a word that can be used when describing the atmosphere around the Nuggets. Dan Issell has stepped in and filled the players with pride and it shows every time they step on the court. Denver is no longer an automatic win for an opposing team. They play hard every game and can beat any team in the league on any given night. They are fast, athletic, big and can run other teams ragged in the mile high air in Denver. The core nucleus of the team is young (second youngest in the NBA) and seem to have a commitment to stay in Denver. Indeed, all of Denver's players seem to be model citizens and even Nick Van Exel seems to have turned over a new leaf. All of this bodes well for the long term future of the Denver franchise, especially with the new arena and new owners.

What exactly did all of this pride and maturity translate into? 10 more wins (a 45% gain), moving from 12th to 10th in the west and moving from 18 games out of the playoffs to 9 games out of the playoffs. Not enough to make Issell sit back and accept the praise, but enough for him to go to the new ownership and show that he is moving the team in the right direction. There have been questions raised about Issell's future with the team as new ownership comes in and rumors abound that Issell will have to relinquish either his coaching or GM duties. In retrospect, that may not be a bad idea as Issell was a fairly busy GM last year (that is for a GM of a team other than Orlando). Coaching young players also takes a lot of time and patience.

Denver made their fair share of trades over the year. Players who Issell didn't think fit his overall franchise game plan (and it indeed Issell who is now the driving force and architect behind the franchise) were shipped out. Players who did fit his model were brought in. Those players who worked hard in practices got rewarded with playing time, and those who didn't were shown the bench or the door. This no nonsense approach sat well with many of the younger players, many who felt they had a lot to prove and deserved the chance to prove it. James Posey and Keon Clark were noted for their intensity in practice and that translated into golden opportunities in playing time. Issell has stated he has a core of about 9 players he expects to see back next year, the same 9 that he stuck with last year. He foresees few changes in the team over the next several years, although he has stated his desire to add a third scorer. He may challenge one of his current players (i.e. LaFrentz or Posey) to try and fill that role.

II. Draft History

Last year saw a deviation in the usual draft strategy of the Nuggets. In the past Denver seems to have been going after larger players, many underdeveloped, and making big moves on draft day. Last year they played it safe with the draft. Then again, when the player you wanted who was expected to go in the lottery falls to 17th and fills a gaping need on your team, you pull the trigger and sit back and laugh. This year I believe Denver will be looking at big men , and they will certainly be underdeveloped given Denver's second round status. They feel Herren is a solid backup at Point Guard, and this draft is quite weak in Shooting Guards's, certainly none better than they have or may be available via free agency and hence not worth a pick. A big man seems the way to go. Denver could use a real backup center instead of using undersized power forwards. Many bigger players are available in the second round that have an upside potential.

Notable past draft picks and their current status :

  • 1999 - James Posey (traded away their original first rounder which would have netted Wally Szerzbiak). Chris Herren
  • 1998 - Raef LaFrentz, Tyronne Lue (traded to LA with Battie for NVE)
  • 1997 - Tony Battie (Now an overpaid backup in Boston)
  • 1996 - Efthimis Rentzias (Denver traded his rights and a 2000 2nd round draft pick to Atlanta for Preist Lauderdale)
  • 1995 - Brent Barry (traded with other players for Antonio McDyess)
  • 1994 - Jalen Rose (dealt to Indiana, finally realized his potential this year).

As you see, Denver has not exactly done that well in keeping their draft picks. They have managed to make fairly good deals involving those players, however. Regardless, all these moves point to the basic problem that has hampered this team for the past 6 years; No concrete direction. Issell is trying to change that. He has a game plan and is sticking to it.

Position Analysis

Player Pos G M/Gm FG% 3% FT% AVG AS/g ST/G TO/g BK/g TR/g Ht Wgt Yrs Contract FA
McDyess PF 81 33.3 .507 .000 .626 19.1 2.0 0.9 2.8 1.7 8.5 6'9 220 5 9,900,000 2004
Van Exel PG 79 37.3 .390 .332 .817 16.1 9.0 0.9 2.8 0.1 3.9 6'1 183 7 8,354,614 2004
Lafrentz C 81 30.1 .446 .328 .686 12.4 1.2 0.5 1.2 2.2 7.9 6'11 235 3 2,777,160 2002
Gatling PF 40 19.2 .456 .234 .742 10.4 0.8 0.8 1.6 0.3 5.1 6'10 230 9 4,875,200 2001
McCloud SF 78 27.2 .417 .378 .818 10.1 3.2 0.6 1.7 0.3 3.7 6'8 225 10 2,000,000 2002
Abdul-Wahadi SG 15 24.9 .389 .500 .738 8.9 1.7 0.4 1.3 0.8 3.5 6'6 223 3 1,594,920 FA
Clark PF 81 22.8 .542 .125 .688 8.6 0.9 0.6 1.5 1.4 6.2 6'11 220 2 1,289,400 2002
Posey SF 81 25.3 .429 .373 .800 8.2 1.8 1.2 1.2 0.4 3.9 6'8 215 1 974,520 2003
Stith SG 45 15.4 .455 .304 .831 5.6 1.4 0.4 0.7 0.3 1.9 6'5 208 8 5,290,000 2002
Herren PG 45 13.3 .363 .358 .675 3.1 2.5 0.3 0.9 0.0 1.2 6'2 185 1 301,875 FA

Major players stats, size and contract status

Other notable salary considerations
Popeye Jones ..................2,531 2502001
Corey Alexander ...............1,980,0002003


Ever since Mutombo left, the center position has been a hard one for Denver to fill. Even when they believe they had got their man (such as Garrett or Johnson), they found out they got a whole lot less (or in some cases a whole lot more) than they bargained for. Despite all the negative backlash from the fans when LaFrentz was drafted, Denver had high hopes that he could return from his ACL injury and perform to the level that was shown his rookie year. In short, he did not disappoint and actually seemed to improve. He hit the proverbial rookie wall (last year should be regarded as his rookie year) in February, but day in and out was one of the best Nuggets on the floor. He scored fairly efficiently, rebounded and blocked shots. He was criticized for his small body and the fact that he couldn't stop the Shaq's of the leagues, but then again neither can other centers much larger than LaFrentz. He played on the run and hit the outside shot that Issell claims makes him valuable within Denver's offensive scheme. There were questions about his health, but LaFrentz showed up stronger than the year before and you never would have known how seriously he had been injured the year before. At the end of the year he finished with a career game of 32 points, 17 boards, 4 assists, 3 steals, 6 blocks against 1 turnover, 11-18 from the field and 7-8 from the line. This went a long ways to boosting both his and Issells confidence that LaFrentz could be a bigger star in this league than many originally forecast.

The only other center on Denvers roster last year was Roy Rogers, who saw more mop up duty than the janitor at the Pepsi Center (about 8 minutes a game). Don't expect him to return. When Lafrentz was not in the game, the center duties were "officially" manned by Antonio McDyess and Keon Clark, both adequate backups at the position, especially as they play a style in different contrast with LaFrentz. Then again, they were both undersized for the position as well (at 220 pounds) and Denver would be well advised to get a backup center in this years draft.

Power Forward

Antonio Mcdyess took a step backwards last year. In Issells own words "Antonio has to make a decision: Is he going to be satisfied being a really, really good player, or does he want to be one of the best players in the game. ... If he wants to work at it, he has the ability to be one of the best players in the game."

Simply a look at Mcdyess's stats shows what Issell was talking about. His minutes went down over 5 per game (to 33), his FT% dropped to 63% (from 68%), scoring 2 points from 21 to 19, rebounds down over 2 a game, and blocks down over .5 per game. For a player of 24 years of age, to decline like that points to problems, especially the minutes. How does such a young player get significantly less minutes when the previous year he was third team all-star PF? Obviously as the team improves he will play less of a central role in the offense and his numbers perhaps should decline slightly, but the fact is that this team did not have significantly more talent than the previous years team. Last year McDyess was a third team all star. This year he would have been hard pressed to make the 7th team (if they had one).

For all the negatives though, it must still be remembered that he is a really good player with a lot of potential. Backing up McDyess was Keon Clark, Popeye Jones and Chris Gatling. Each of those players brought something different to the court, and performed adequately as backups. If one could combine Gatling's scoring, Jones rebounding and Clarks defense, you'd be awful close to another Chris Webber, but unfortunately they are all pretty specialized. None of them played well enough to justify the loss of minutes for McDyess, however. These three backups are likely trade bait, but only Clark has any real value and Denver would be advised to hang onto him as I see him having a nice upside. Clark started to come into his own at the end of the year when he was appointed a starter. He could be a double digit rebounder with many other teams in the league. Unfortunately for Denver, he seems to be in the same position as Danny Fortson was last year, namely a player with trade value and no position to play.

Small Forward

Small Forward was the question mark going into last year, and to some extent really has not been resolved. James Posey got a lot of time at the start of the season when Ron Mercer started at SG. Once Mercer was gone Posey slid to the SG spot and the rapidly improving Keon Clark started at SF. With Clark at SF and Posey at SG, this provided Denver with a big and athletic starting lineup. Unfortunately, that also meant a sacrifice in speed. George McCloud also saw significant time at SF last year, but really was nothing more than a gunner off of the bench. Expect Issell to move Posey into the starting lineup this year, especially if Posey works on his jump shot this off season or if he fails to find an adequate backup PF/C (as Clark would have to assume those duties). McCloud will provide Posey with a stable veteran backup.

Poseys defense will be a key for this team in years to come. He has the ability to become an all-NBA defensive player while making very few mistakes on the offensive end. Posey needs to work on his post moves, slashing and jump shot to reach his offensive potential, however. While his 37% from three point land seems quite good, I would call that number deceptive. Because he is not usually involved in the offensive flow of the Denver team, he sees a lot of open looks. If he was more involved, he would not see these open looks and his percentage would suffer accordingly. Teams will gladly double down on McDyess and let Posey have open looks as long as he doesn't shoot the lights out.

Shooting Guard

Issell wants a third scorer, and the fact that he shipped out Mercer should speak volumes about Mercer. Abdul Wahad played reasonably well at SG, but was not impressive enough to get an endorsement from Issell. Posey manned the position as well, but really is more suited to the SF position. McCloud got some time at SG as well, but again as nothing more than a shooter off of the bench. Brian Stith (not Stiff) got token playing minutes, and while a great leader and a hard player, he is just not very good. If anyone would take on his salary he would be quickly gone. It is unfortunate that what started as a position of strength last year has turned into such a question mark this year. Brian Stith is the only SG currently under contract, so expect Denver to do something to shore up this position with a veteran.

Point Guard

The Nick Van Exel that now plays for the Denver Nuggets seems to be a very different player than the Nick Van Exel that played for the LA Lakers. Not that he has changed his game that much, but that he has changed his attitude. At one time his run-ins with refs, teammates and coaches seemed to be a weekly news topic. I cannot remember once last year when he went overboard. He produced his usual array of three pointers, assists, low turnovers and bricks.

Herren was called a great pickup by Issell last year and provided solid backup duty for Denver at PG. Expect him to be back in Denver. Cory Alexander now seems to be an afterthought.

Team Needs

Denvers Team Salary : $43,205,814

Quite obviously Denver is capped out and will get minimal help in the free agent market. Denver is obviously in no room to clean up any cap space soon.

What do the stats say? Denver is still shooting worse than their counterparts, but now at only a .8% clip, far better than the 4.8% difference from last year. Denver as a teamshot 2.1% better and held opponents to a 1.9% lower fg%. This translated into only being outscored by 2.1 points per game, a huge improvement on last years 6 difference. Most of the difference can be explained in the fact that Denver gave up one more steal per game and 1.5 turnovers more per game. Those were both improvements from the previous year, however. Denver also out rebounded thier opponents, a strong feat considering they missed more shots than their counterparts and hence had less opportunities at the easier defensive boards rather than the offensive ones.

If Denver was able to make a big move for their team, they need to look for a shooting guard who can hit the three and get some steals while producing few turnovers. This should start to eleviate the notable difference in their stats compared to other teams. (I put a lot of stock in comparing a teams FG%, turnoves and steals difference with other teams). Obviously blocks is what the team excels in and would likely lose ground in this category if they traded Clark.

I'm not sure they need to make a big move, however. To put it short, and in the words of Issell "I think it's extremely important to keep our core group of eight, maybe nine players together ... We can be a lot better next year than we were this year with just making a few changes.". On the other hand, he also states "No Nugget is untouchable".

He is quite right on both accounts. This team will improve as the overall maturation process continues. The real question is whether it can improve fast enough for Issell to remain in control. He cannot continue to miss the playoffs. He may be able to for one more year, but if he doesn't make the playoffs within two years, his job will likely be forfeit, and this team has a long way to go and currently has no cap room nor high draft picks. Improvement will have to come from within, or through the sacrafice of one of his young players.

Indeed, trading one of his young players for a need is certainly possible. Unfortunately, his best assets on the market are LaFrentz, NVE and McDyess. It is hard to justify trading McDyess at this point. NVE still has limited trade value and LaFrentz fills a position that is very hard to fill in the NBA these days. Trading away any of these players will just create another hole that I would be writing about next year. That really leaves Keon Clark as the only valuable asset to be traded that will not cause problems with the team balance.

The holes to fill? According to Issell a third scorer. While I suppose he is right I believe he would be better off to work with LaFrentz. LaFrentz is not far off from being a viable third scorer and brings other tangibles to the floor as well. Issell already had a third scorer in Mercer, and hopefully he's learned that the team needs more than "just a scorer". His immediate concern should be to find a shooting guard in the free agent ranks as he will not find the answer in the draft.

Players Considered

I have to agree with Issell that this team needs some size to backup the center and PF position and that they will not get a SG in the second round. LaFrentz is their biggest player, and he is only about the size of an Oliver Miller buffet meal (OK, maybe a bit smaller than that). The players of size scheduled to go in that area include :

Hanno Mattola - Lacks size at 6'10, 245, but does have a nice shooting touch. He is the most polished of all the players I considered, but does not seem to have the size to backup at center. I expect he'll go before the Nuggets pick. 

Jabari Smith - 6'11, 255 is a nice size, but he lacks athleticism. Still, he seems to be a decent ball handler (2.2 assists is not bad at the college level for a big guy) and did play on a winner. Talk is that he couldn't handle the air during his workout in Denver and was left sucking up more air than we usually see on a Shaq free throw.

Soumaila Samake - Needs to put on some weight. At 7'2, 230, he'll be less effective than Keon Clark in guarding big players. He has shown a nice shooting touch, however, and is a strong defensive player. I have not seem any IBL games, so I'm not sure if that was the right route for him to go to the NBA. Can't see Issell going for someone so raw, however.

Dan McClintock - 7'0, 250 and is really mediocre in all areas of the games. Has no great benefits, but few question marks. He will be a career backup, but then again Denver is only looking for a backup. Remains a possibility because Issell does not want a guy who is raw if he can help it; He wants help now. 

Brandon Kurtz - 6'10, 245 is a bit small, and while he has a nice shooting touch, he is likely only going to see time at PF.

Brad Millard - The Beast from the East. They say size is something you cannot teach, but how to use your size is a different matter. At 7'3, 345 he is as big as they come. Has been quite injury prone, however (only 16 games his last three years), and just not very proficient. Gets few boards for someone his size (apparently has trouble jumping over a basketball). A project in the works whose biggest cost would probably be renovating door frames in your arena to accomodate him.

Ernest Brown - Has size (6'11, 250). Shoots a higher FG% than FT% (nice way of saying he has hands of granite). Not the most impressive player for a community college, but never the less seems to be highly thought of. Jason Collier - 7'0, 243 Not tough enough for someone his size, but does have a nice shooting touch. Probably will not be a physical force that Denver is looking for.

N'dongo N'diaye - He has the size (7'0, 250) needed to backup center and PF. Could use some more muscle. Unfortuantely I expect he will go much sooner than Denvers pick.

Jamaal Magloire - A bit undersized at 6'10, he does carry good weight at 245. Has some potential, but strictly a career backup. Could be ideal for Denver simply because he'll at least try to push around bigger players.


Jabari Smith, C, 6'11", LSU 

Denver lacks size, and there was not a swingman worth taking at this position. Denver needs help now, and at least a big man can contribute ten solid minutes if required.

The Team Will Take

I would not want to predict what Issell could do because he seems to always have a surprise up his sleeve. While he was conspicuously quiet on draft day last year, he certainly made up for it by trading for Mercer. I don't expect him to stand pat this off season. Then again, I don't think the team will make a deal on draft day as Denver just cannot get themselves in a position to draft an impact player at SG/SF. They may very well look to trade up and grab a Redd, Peterson or Richarson by trading Clark, but I believe if they do trade Clark it would be for an established NBA shooting guard. It is likely they will draft a backup PF/C in the second round as they don't have to commit money, see during the summer and training camp if they will fit the bill, and trade Keon Clark for a SG if the draftee fits the bill. Therefore I would predict that Denver will take a big man, namely the one who will help out most now, not a project. That could be any of the ones I listed above.

Craig Simpson - Usenet Draft Commissioner
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