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Denver Nuggets free agency preview part 1: A deep big man class makes up for this summer's lack of star power

Harrison Wind Avatar
June 28, 2016


The Denver Nuggets are in an interesting spot as free agency is set to begin on July 1.

They’re one year into a rebuild around Emmanuel Mudiay, Nikola Jokic, and others, but still have veterans like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Kenneth Faried in the fold to help push for a playoff spot that’s high on general manager Tim Connelly and coach Michael Malone’s priority list.

Add in draft picks Jamal Murray, who should be a key contributor this season, and Juan Hernangomez and Malik Beasley, who likely won’t, and Denver has an interesting mix of youth and veterans that your rarely see in the league.

Potential Free agents: Darrell Arthur (unrestricted), D.J. Augustin (unrestricted), Mike Miller (unrestricted).

The Nuggets could go one of two ways this summer.

If they’re frantic to make the playoffs after three years of sub-.500 basketball and dwindling attendance, Denver could easily enter the conversation for a star player like Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, or Jimmy Butler, who could all seemingly still be had for the right price this summer. If they favor continuity, Denver can role with their current group, re-sign some of their free agents, maybe splurge on one guy in free agency, and likely contend for the eighth seed this season as long as they stay healthier than they did last year.

In terms of what direction I see the Nuggets going, I strongly lean towards the latter.

Today on BSN Denver, we’re looking at the best free agent frontcourt options for the Nuggets.

Darrell Arthur has said he wants to be back in Denver, but may be able to attract a more lucrative offer on the open market. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports
Darrell Arthur has said he wants to be back in Denver, but could attract a more lucrative offer on the open market.
Credit: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports

While the 2016 free agent class is weak across the board, one area where it’s surprisingly deep is in the frontcourt.

Starting at the top with Andre Drummond, teams legitimately have four franchise centers to choose from. Granted Drummond, who’s reportedly committed to Detroit who will give him the full max once free agency opens on July 1 is likely off the market, but Al Horford, Hassan Whiteside and Dwight Howard are very much up for grabs.

The Nuggets won’t be setting meetings with any of those top four big men, nor will they approach Tim Duncan or Dirk Nowitzki, two franchise stalwarts who aren’t likely to leave the cities they’ve called home for their entire careers. However, after the smoke clears from the top two tiers, there are some intriguing options for the Nuggets that you can start talking yourself into.

BSN Denver’s free agent frontcourt rankings-

  1. Andre Drummond | C | Detroit Pistons | Age: 22 | Restricted
  2. Al Horford | C | Atlanta Hawks | Age: 30 | Status: Unrestricted
  3. Hassan Whiteside | C | Miami Heat | Age: 26 | Status: Unrestricted
  4. Dwight Howard | C | Houston Rockets | Age: 30 | Status: Unrestricted
  5. Pau Gasol | PF/C | Chicago Bulls | Age: 35 | Status: Unrestricted
  6. Tim Duncan | PF/C | San Antonio Spurs | Age: 40 | Status: Player Option
  7. Dirk Nowitzki | PF/C | Dallas Mavericks | Age: 37 | Status: Unrestricted
  8. Bismack Biyombo | C | Toronto Raptors | Age: 23 | Status: Unrestricted
  9. Marvin Williams | PF/SF | Charlotte Hornets | Age: 30 | Status: Unrestricted
  10. Ryan Anderson | PF | New Orleans Pelicans | Age: 28 | Status: Unrestricted
  11. Festus Ezeli | C  | Golden State Warriors | Age: 26 | Status: Restricted
  12. Ian Mahinmi | C | Indiana Pacers | Age: 29 | Status: Status: Unrestricted
  13. Darrell Arthur | PF/C | Denver Nuggets | Age: 28 | Status: Unrestricted
  14. Trevor Booker | PF/C | Utah Jazz | Age: 28 | Status: Unrestricted
  15. Boban Marjanovic | C | San Antonio Spurs | Age: 27 | Status: Restricted
  16. Joakim Noah | C | Chicago Bulls | Age: 31 | Status: Unrestricted
  17. Dwight Powell | PF/C | Dallas Mavericks | Age: 24 | Restricted
  18. Jon Leuer | PF | Phoenix Suns | Age: 27 | Status: Unrestricted
  19. Andrew Nicholson | PF | Orlando Magic | Age: 26 | Status: Unrestricted
  20. Meyers Leonard | C/PF | Portland Trail Blazers | Age: 24 | Status Restricted
  21. Al Jefferson | PF/C | Charlotte Hornets | Age: 31 | Status: Unrestricted
  22. Mirza Teletovic | PF | Phoenix Suns | Age: 31 | Status: Unrestricted
  23. Derrick Williams | PF | New York Knicks || Age: 25 | Status: Unrestricted
  24. Donatas Motiejunas | PF/C | Houston Rockets | Age: 25 | Status: Restricted
  25. Terrence Jones | PF | Houston Rockets | Age: 24 | Status: Restricted

The top name on my board if I’m Nuggets’ general manager Tim Connelly this summer is Marvin Williams. He’ll cost a good amount because of his versatility and how much teams value defensive guys who can also spread the floor, but he’s worth it. Did I mention he’d also instantly be the best 2-way player on the Nuggets? Williams shot a career-best 40 percent from three last season and his defensive mentality would surely jive with coach Michael Malone. He might be out the Nuggets’ price range but if Charlotte gets preoccupied with Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lin and their other free agents, Williams could slip through the cracks.

Darrell Arthur is the next highest guy on my board that the Nuggets should go after and while he’s on record stating to Connelly that he wants to be back in Denver, there’s no guarantee he is. Arthur, as he should, will be looking for the what’s most likely the last big pay day of his career and some added security on a multi-year deal. The Nuggets should, and I’m sure they will, be knocking on his door at 12:01 am on July 1 with a two or three-year contract in hand. Arthur could give Denver a bit of a home town discount, but he still wants to get paid. The Wizards are reportedly hot on Arthur’s tail already.

Former Utah Jazz bulldog Trevor Booker is an under-the-radar four-man who you may be able to get for relatively cheap this summer. He’s not going to fill up the box score but is a grinder, and could excel on a second unit playing about 18-20 minutes per game next to Jusuf Nurkic or Arthur. He’s still fairly young , but his 3-point shot fell roughly 15 percentage points last season to just 29 percent, which is worrisome.

The last three guys on my list are a trio power forwards who are getting overlooked. In Dallas, Dwight Powell showed flashes last season that he can be a quality starting four one day, but didn’t get the playing time to really put it all together. He’s also just 24-year-old, ultra-athletic and has more outright potential and a higher ceiling than a lot of big men that made my list. Dallas might have all their attention on Whiteside, Horford and other centers to pair with Dirk and whichever hodgepodge of free agents they can put on the court together, making Powell potentially gettable.

Jon Leuer is maybe the most boring player in the league, but don’t let that scare you off; he produces when called upon. The 27-year-old averaged 8.5 points per game last season in a reserve role for Phoenix and shot a solid 38.2 percent from three. He could space the floor next to Nurkic and be a reliable player off the bench that could play ahead of Joffrey Lauvergne but behind Arthur. He’s developed a nice in between game over the past couple of years and can even punish smaller players on the block. You may be able to get Leuer for cheap compared to some of the big men higher up on the list and his production and value could turn out to be sneaky good.

Andrew Nicholson, as CBS Sports’ Matt Moore pointed out in his free agent rankings could be one of the steals of this summer. He’s just 26-years-old, kind of got buried over the last couple of seasons in Orlando and likely to be on the way out of South Florida this summer after the Serge Ibaka trade coupled with Orlando’s reported pursuit of Chandler Parsons, Horford and other big names. Orlando also has to decide what they’re going to do with Evan Fournier who’s likely to command near-max money. Nicholson is an interesting player. He’s super efficient in the restricted area and shot 66.7 percent in the paint last season, but struggled from mid-range which plummeted his overall shooting percentage. He’s got an ultra slow and mechanical release, but can hit threes when left open.

+1 If all else fails the Nuggets should at least consider taking a flier on Jiles Llumlee.

Check back tomorrow for the second installment of our free agency preview focusing on the point guards available this summer and which ones could be a fit in Denver.

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