Denver Nuggets: 2017 NBA Draft grades

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets went a long way towards building around star center Nikola Jokic at the draft. We present their 2017 NBA Draft grades for the night.

The 2017 NBA Draft was interesting for the Denver Nuggets.

After Malik Monk fell all the way to the Charlotte Hornets at No. 11 and Luke Kennard went No. 12 to the Detroit Pistons, most thought Denver had an easy choice in front of them: Donovan Mitchell.

And that is who the Nuggets picked! Except, not really.

Apparently, Denver was awestruck by an offer they received from the Utah Jazz, and found it too good to pass up. So the following trade happened:

Jazz get No. 13 pick

Nuggets get PF, Trey Lyles
No. 24 pick

A surprising deal, and to be totally honest, kind of a weird one.

The Nuggets’ defense was terrible in 2016-17. Though future superstar center Nikola Jokic made his team’s offense scorch once he became the full-time starter on Dec. 15, his presence in the middle had the opposite effect on the less glamorous side of the ball.

From that date through the end of the regular season, Denver ranked first in offensive rating at 111.3, but placed dead last in defensive rating, with a paltry 111.9 mark. Simply put, Jokic’s lack of athleticism kills his ability to protect the paint, and thus, the Nuggets’ defensive efficiency.

One way to mask that problem is by filling the roster with elite perimeter defenders. Players like Mitchell — who is heralded as the best defensive guard in his class, and boasts a freakish 6’10” wingspan — and who was there for the taking.

Instead, Denver drafted him and traded him to Utah — a totally inexplicable move.

Nonetheless, the Nuggets made three picks on the night, so here are their draft grades.

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No. 24 — Tyler Lydon, SF/PF, Syracuse

The Nuggets used the 24th overall pick on Tyler Lydon — a small forward/power forward out of Syracuse.

Lydon spent two years in college, averaging 11.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.6 blocks in that time. He shot 47.5 percent as a collegiate, 39.8 percent from three and 80.9 percent from the foul stripe.

The talented big man’s biggest strength is his ability to space the floor from his frontcourt position. At 6’10”, Lydon will be most effective if he can play stretch-4 for the Nuggets — something that may have to happen over time, as he’s not great as a rebounder at the moment and needs to get stronger.

Is he ever going to be a star? Not a chance. But he can eventually become a great role player, who can hit the long ball and throw down the occasional, high-flying dunk.

Along with his bounce, anther underrated aspect of Lydon’s game are his defensive instincts, as he often jumps passing lanes and protects the paint at a high level; the 3/4 hybrid averaged over a block and a steal in each of his seasons at Syracuse.

If he can eventually bulk up and get tougher as a rebounder, he could be a sort of safety valve at power forward next to Jokic, who will block shots and hit a lot of three-pointers. In all, Lydon was a safe pick by Denver, and not one with much upside.

Grade: B-

No. 49 — Vlatko Cancar, SF, International

As is, the Nuggets are going to have a hard time trimming their roster.

Thus, drafting a player like Vlatko Cancar was a smart move.

Cancar, by almost all accounts, won’t be in the NBA next year. In fact, it may be many years before he makes his way stateside. Regardless, his upside makes him good gamble by the Nuggets. ESPN‘s international basketball expert Fran Fraschilla is a big fan of the kid:

According to Draft Express, the Slovenian wing is 6’8″ with a 6’11” wingspan, with the following strengths:

“Cancar’s best asset at this stage is his jump shooting potential. After shooting the lights out from beyond the arc last season, he’s connected on a serviceable 34% of his attempts this year, but 42% in true spot up situations. A capable shooter off the dribble when given space, Cancar’s lower overall mark is rooted in his still developing pull-up game and his shot selection than his actual ability to spread the floor.”

Meanwhile, Cancar’s weaknesses, as listed by the same site, are as follows:

“Cancar lacks the elite burst to beat wings off the dribble, and can be a bit passive in his approach. He’ll also have to continue to develop more ways to finish over length at the rim given his average explosiveness.”

In all, it’s hard to grade a guy who’s still so early in his development, and won’t have an NBA impact for the next few years, if at all. So as far as a grade, I’m going to cop out and give him an incomplete until he’s ready to make the jump to the best league in the world.

Grade: INC

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No. 51 — Monte Morris, PG, Iowa State

With the 51st overall pick, the Nuggets selected former four-year point guard Monte Morris out of Iowa State.

As a senior in 2016-17, the floor general averaged 16.4 points, 6.2 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game on .465/.378/.802 shooting splits. He also had the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the NCAA last season, at 5.17.

Although his numbers are outstanding, he lacks athleticism, and at 6’3″ with a 6’4″ wingspan, he’s not a great finisher near the basket. Add in the fact he’s already 22 years old, and we can surmise why he fell to the middle of the second round.

Nonetheless, it was a great pick by the Nuggets.

Per NBA Math, Morris ranked No. 7 in offensive points added as a senior (with 170.3), a metric which is broken down right over here. Three of the players who finished ahead of him (Lonzo Ball, Luke Kennard and Justin Jackson) were drafted in the first round.

To get a guy who was that productive in college with one of the last ten picks is a steal. And I’m not the only one who thinks so:

While others believe Morris falling that late in the draft was absurd:

At worst, the Nuggets may have landed a top-notch backup point guard, who can score a bit, distribute and, most importantly, take care of the basketball. There’s not much more you could ask for from your floor general.

Grade: A

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

What to make of the Nuggets draft

So, overall, it was a weird night for the Nuggets.

They could have taken an elite perimeter defender at No. 13 — who could have formed a terrific duo next to Gary Harris — but opted to trade down.

We already went over who they landed with the No. 24 pick, so let’s briefly touch on the other asset they received in Trey Lyles.

Lyles went 12th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, after spending one season at Kentucky. The former Wildcat showed some promise as a rookie, averaging 6.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game on 43.8 percent shooting and 38.3 percent from three.

However, as a sophomore, he regressed. In his second year, Lyles averaged 0.1 more points, while his shooting plummeted to 36.2 percent overall and 31.9 percent from three.

It’s irrefutable that he’s a talent: He’s agile with a solid ball handle and a pretty jumper, while standing 6’10” with a 7’1.5″ wingspan. If Denver’s staff can get him to regain his rookie-year form — and improve upon it — their move to acquire him looks a lot better. Plus, he’s still just 21 years old.

If you need further comforting on the trade, just relive the best performance of Lyles’ young career, when he dropped 22 points, six rebounds and four three-pointers on…the Nuggets!

Aside from Lyles, Lydon could eventually become a solid role player at power forward, Cancar may be a solid wing when (if?) he comes over, who plays with great instincts and possesses a solid jump shot, and some called Morris the steal of the second round.

The Nuggets have built a solid young core over recent years; team management deserves the benefit of the doubt. If Lyles becomes Chris Bosh 2.0, then tonight was a great success for the franchise, and even if he doesn’t, at least they swung for the fences on a 21-year-old who, at one point, appeared to have a bright future ahead.

Grade: C-

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