Since the departure of Carmelo Anthony in 2011, the Denver Nuggets have been operating with a deep, yet utterly unspectacular roster. True, the days of the one man show are now a distant memory, but gone too are the days of a reliable scorer with the game on the line.
The Nuggets have been stuck in the perpetual purgatory of the NBA’s middle class — too good for a top draft pick, and too mediocre for playoff success. This Thursday, the Nuggets will make the 11th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, their highest pick since they selected Anthony with the third overall pick in 2003.
Their draft history since that franchise changing selection has been overwhelmingly pedestrian, and that is putting it kindly. Sure, Jameer Nelson and Jarrett Jack have gone on to have respectable careers, but neither spent more than a few fleeting moments wearing a Nuggets hat on their respective draft night.
Nelson was traded to the Orlando Magic in return for their 2005 first-round pick, who ended up being Julius Hodge, best known around Denver for his involvement in high-speed shootouts on state highways but certainly not for anything he ever did on the court. Hodge appeared in only 14 games as a Nugget and averaged less than one point per contest.
Jack was traded on draft night to the Portland Trail Blazers for Linas Kleiza and a bag of nickels.
Following the Hodge debacle, the Nuggets wouldn’t have another first-round pick until 2011, when they selected a high-energy, relatively unknown power forward out of Morehead State named Kenneth Faried.
Since the selection of Carmelo, the Nuggets have made 11 total draft picks, only three of whom are still on the team. Not a great track record no matter how you do the math.
Enter 2014 where the draft is deep, the Nuggets have a lottery pick and they need a difference maker.
Plenty of names have been thrown around. Gary Harris would certainly fill a need, but he also puts me to sleep when I watch more than one minute of his game film. Dario Saric’s name has come up on numerous occasions, but he just signed a three-year deal with a Turkish team and couldn’t play for the Nuggets until 2036, or something like that. Zach LaVine has become the hot new name, but he is so raw that he couldn’t even crack the UCLA Bruins team’s starting lineup save one time last season.
I think the answer for the Nuggets hails from Michigan and played his college ball in Kentucky.
James Young committed to the Kentucky Wildcats as a five-star recruit and had plenty of hype surrounding him, as most Kentucky players now do. He certainly made good on that hype. He finished second in Kentucky history for most three-pointers by a freshman with 82. He was named to the All-SEC Second Team and made the SEC All-Freshman Team.
He has great NBA size, possesses all the athleticism needed to finish strong at the rim and has a sweet stroke from the outside, although it still needs plenty of refinement. Bottom line, the kid is legit, and he is only 18.
The Nuggets have been so mediocre for so long that they need to take a risk on someone like Young who has more upside than anyone available this late in the draft, including LaVine.
Young would give the Nuggets an immediate perimeter presence that would need to be respected, opening up lanes for Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari to slash through. And with Faried, J.J. Hickson and Timofey Mozgov in the middle to pick up the offensive boards, Young would be given the green light by Brian Shaw to fire away, something he wouldn’t have in most situations.
The Nuggets could certainly make a much safer pick, but honestly what’s the point? Is the goal to win championships or is it to win 50 regular season games and make another early-round exit in the playoffs? If it’s the former, and I’ll assume it is, Young should be the pick at No. 11.