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Denver Nuggets NBA Draft Big Board 1.0

Kalen Deremo Avatar
May 26, 2015


As of today, May 26, Tim Connelly and the Denver Nuggets are less than a month away from the 2015 NBA Draft. While speculation about what the Nuggets will do on draft night is abundant, there is one aspect of the Nuggets’ strategy we can likely rely on: that Connelly and Co. will either retain the seventh pick in the draft, move up or obtain another lottery selection. No matter what happens on June 25 it’s nearly impossible to envision the Nuggets moving back in the lottery given their structural need for a superstar as well as management’s incessant chatter about obtaining one.

Knowing this, the Nuggets’ big board — however it may be organized — is without question the team’s most pivotal in years. As has been repeatedly stated by yours truly over the last few months, this year’s draft is one the Nuggets simply cannot afford to whiff on.

While the Nuggets’ big board is likely to differ from ours at BSN, chances are the proximity between players isn’t monumental. Though opinion across the NBA and the Internet are bound to vary, the general grouping of the top players in the upcoming draft is roughly the same. So, if for example you disagree greatly with the order of the players below, keep in mind the talent gap between them isn’t catastrophically expansive.

This listing is likely to change over the next month and as it does we’ll post updated versions of it here at BSNDenver.com. But, as of now, these are my top 10 players (in order) available in the upcoming 2015 NBA Draft:

1. D’Angelo Russell | SG | 6-5 | 19 years old

Russell is the complete package. He can shoot, score off the dribble, rebound and pass like a wizard. Players of this mold (i.e. Kobe Bryant, James Harden, Dwyane Wade, etc.) tend to do great things in the NBA — most notably, they change the course of a franchise for decades. The Timberwolves appear poised to pass on Russell with Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins on the perimeter — which is understandable given a few other players will also make fine No. 1 overall picks — but I’ll stake my claim now by saying Russell will end up being one of the two most talented players in this draft.

2. Jahlil Okafor | C | 6-11 | 19 years old

Unlike Russell, Okafor has a few glaring weaknesses: free-throw shooting and defense. While it’s been NBA tradition for bigs to drown at the free-throw line, poor defense is a bit more worrisome. Still, Okafor’s positives far outweigh his negative traits. He’ll improve on defense immediately under the tutelage of NBA coaches and the pressure of teammates, and once that happens there will be no stopping him. Okafor’s body is already comparable with the best bigs in the league and his post moves are even more advanced. There will be a period in the future where, like Shaquille O’Neal, Okafor will be virtually unstoppable down low.

3. Justise Winslow | SF | 6-7 | 19 years old

There are two types of superstars in today’s NBA: those who excel at defense and those who do not. The ones who cherish playing defense are the ones who win you titles and change your culture, who attract other notable free agents and make the lives of their coaches easy. While Winslow isn’t projected to be a superstar he is undoubtedly the best two-way player in the draft, complete with no glaring weaknesses and enough offensive firepower to carry you late in games if needed. Winslow might not win you titles on his back alone but his defense will prevent opposing superstars from doing so against the Nuggets.

4. Karl-Anthony Towns | C | 7-0 | 19 years old

Towns is a virtual consensus No. 1 pick on most mock drafts across the Internet — and deservingly so. Like Russell, his weaknesses are few and his strengths many. But what is it that makes Towns elite? Sure he does many things well and defends the paint honorably, but in the NBA you need to have at least one elite skill translatable to the next level. For Towns I’m not sure what that is. He’ll have a fine NBA career by any standard but until someone can make the case he’ll be more potent and prolific than Russell or Okafor, I have him as a solid franchise building block down low rather than a transcendent superstar like other former No. 1 picks.

5. Emmanuel Mudiay | PG | 6-5 | 19 years old

Mudiay is somewhat of a wild card. He’s clearly one of the more talented prospects in the draft but the question is: How is that talent channeled? Whereas some players fuse their talent with defense, drive or offensive firepower, Mudiay seems to combine his with flashy passes. He’s also a mediocre shooter and isn’t necessarily known for playing tenacious defense. Like some of the other top prospects in this draft, Mudiay will likely go on to have a long and successful career in the the NBA. But amidst the golden age of point guards I have a hard time seeing what Mudiay does that’s going to separate him from the herd.

6. Stanley Johnson | SF | 6-7 | 18 years old

I’ve said it once before, I’ll say it again now and I’ll repeat it even more as the draft nears: Johnson is underrated. He’s criminally underrated by some mock “experts.” Point to one thing Johnson does that could be seen as a portent for an underwhelming NBA career and we can talk. I’ll wait… Now, look at the opposite. He’s got one of the best bodies we’ve seen from an 18-year-old in years, he’s got an appetite for defense, he gets to the rim and can shoot it at an efficient clip from downtown. Sounds to me like Johnson is pretty much everything that’s been proven to succeed at the next level. This kid’s gonna be a stud.

7. Willie Cauley-Stein | C | 7-1 | 21 years old

There are two things working against Cauley-Stein right now: age and offense. Concern about his scoring abilities are valid. Cauley-Stein is not a good offensive player and he likely never will be. If he ever averages over 15 points per game in the NBA I’ll be shocked. But his age should be a nonfactor. Cauley-Stein would have been a lottery pick last year and likely the year before that as well. Though he’s not the type of player the Nuggets are looking for, Cauley-Stein is still one of my favorite players in this draft and will undoubtedly challenge for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award on an annual basis.

8. Mario Hezonja | SG | 6-8 | 20 years old

If Nuggets Nation had their say in who Connelly should select in this draft (and thank god they don’t considering their feelings towards Nurkic last year) Hezonja would already be a Denver Nugget. For whatever reason, Nuggets fans seem to love this guy — and the fervor is understandable. He’s super athletic and can shoot lights out from deep. He’s got that “It” factor scouts love and enough confidence to give Floyd Mayweather a run for his “money.” Truth be told, there’s not much to dislike about Hezonja. Still I can’t find reason to place him ahead of the seven prospects above (his handle and isolation abilities perhaps?) so eight is where he remains.

9. Cameron Payne | PG | 6-3 | 20 years old

As I’ve said numerous times already, Payne is my guy. This is just about as high as you’ll find him on any mock draft board around yet I feel more than justified in placing him here. Why? Because he crosses all the vitals off on the checklist. He’s got great size, he’s still fairly young, he’s got an elite skill (passing), he’s athletic, he can shoot, he can create for himself, he can be a junkyard dog on defense and he supposedly killed it in the interview process at the NBA Draft Combine. Guys like this who pass so many tests with flying colors just do not fail at the next level. Again, I’d love for Payne to be a future Ty Lawson replacement.

10. Myles Turner | C | 7-0 | 19 years old

There are a lot of guys I wrestled with for rounding out my top 10. I really like R.J. Hunter while scouts continue to swoon over Kristaps Porzingis. But in the end I went with Turner as he’s still a young, tall, skilled, defensive-minded big who can shoot the three and block shots at an extremely high rate. That combination of assets will get you drafted in the lottery no matter what year it is. Turner does move awkwardly and needs to refine his role on the floor, but in the grand scope of projecting talent at the next level Turner just has far too many impressive attributes to dismiss.

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