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Editor’s note: The third of a five-part series previewing the Nuggets’ positional outlook heading into the July 29 NBA draft. Today: small forward.
When the Nuggets made their all-in, blockbuster deal for Magic forward Aaron Gordon, they did so with positional versatility in mind.
Not only would Gordon be interchangeable with Michael Porter Jr. at either forward spot, serving as the interior ballast to Porter’s 3-point shooting, the hope was that he could cover their defensive warts. In the postseason, Gordon’s defense on Damian Lillard cooled Portland’s superstar enough to survive the Blazers, even without two starting guards.
Even though his offense abandoned him against Phoenix, Gordon’s flexibility was crucial to the fit. His positional prototype should serve as an example if the Nuggets opt for a small forward with the No. 26 pick in the July 29 draft.
Gordon, with one year left on his deal, is extension eligible. It’s fair to assume the Nuggets wouldn’t have traded R.J. Hampton, a future first-round pick and Gary Harris for a guy they weren’t prepared to keep. So any wing would theoretically sit comfortably behind Gordon on the depth chart.
But just because a longer commitment to Gordon could be coming doesn’t mean the Nuggets should rule out drafting a wing — arguably the most coveted position in the league. Consider their recent history. Before the trade, Will Barton was their starting small forward even though he’s a natural shooting guard. He played slightly out of position because of Harris.
Barton’s impending free agency could make the need for a replacement even more pressing.
And P.J. Dozier, whose stock within the organization soared after proving trustworthy in the Bubble, is bound to see his minutes rise next season. Nuggets coach Michael Malone has deployed him at every position except center. Switchable, versatile wings are always sought-after regardless of which positions demand the most attention heading into the draft.
Between rotation mainstays Gordon, Dozier and Facu Campazzo, Denver is lacking consistent 3-point shooting. An audit of the roster shows most of the 3-point production will come via the frontcourt (Porter and Nikola Jokic), a fact that will only get amplified until Jamal Murray returns.
With that in mind, a 3-and-D wing might be ideal for the Nuggets on draft night.
1. Trey Murphy, 6-foot-7, Virginia, junior: While not overly athletic, Murphy stretches the floor, moves well without the ball and connected on 43% of his outside looks on 4.8 attempts per game last season. A versatile defender, his frame suggests his defensive instincts will translate well at the next level. He’d check a lot of boxes for the Nuggets if he happened to be sitting there at No. 26 (which might be a longshot).
2. Jalen Johnson, 6-9, Duke, freshman: Has all the physical tools and even an NBA-ready body. Johnson can handle the ball well for his size and make plays – two areas the Nuggets covet. He has the defensive potential to switch all over the court, but his offense is still a work in progress. He doesn’t score at a high volume and only played 13 games at Duke. It would probably take a draft-night slide for Denver to get him.
3. Ziaire Williams, 6-8, Stanford, freshman: A ball-handling wing with some shot-creation and playmaking abilities, Williams has some Jerami Grant in his game. He’ll need to put on pounds at the next level and his shooting is far from reliable, but it’s not hard to see the framework of a rotation player in Williams. Has the length and anticipation to be a versatile defender.
4. Moses Moody, 6-6, Arkansas, freshman: Moody has a good defensive profile even if he’d be undersized as a three at the next level. He shot nearly 36% from outside in over five attempts per game. Not much of an offensive creator, but he might not have to be alongside Nikola Jokic. He’s also just a freshman, so he probably wouldn’t contribute immediately next season.
5. Joe Wieskamp, 6-6, Iowa, junior: A knockdown shooter, Wieskamp buried 46% of his 3-point tries last year. He moves well without the ball and is comfortable driving off the dribble after defenders fly out for contests. He might be better suited as a second-round option if the Nuggets maneuver for another pick on draft night.