The Minnesota Timberwolves should take a cue from the Denver Nuggets

DENVER, CO - MARCH 12: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets celebrates after scoring on Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - MARCH 12: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets celebrates after scoring on Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images) /
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Minnesota Timberwolves, Jamal Murray
DENVER, CO – JANUARY 12: Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets handles the ball. Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The First Rounders

There’s a fair amount of luck involved when it comes to the NBA Draft each June.

But each draft is also an exercise in risk management and asset assessment, and the Nuggets have nearly mastered the art of succeeding despite the impossible challenge that is the first round of the draft.

Wait, you say. Didn’t the Nuggets draft and then trade Donovan Mitchell to the Utah Jazz for basically nothing? Yep, that happened. And while I’m not about to argue that it was a good thing that Mitchell was traded, it does underscore the point: Denver has succeeded despite not quite acing the first round. Because who can actually do that, anyways?

Believe it or not, there simply haven’t been many first-rounders who have stuck around the Mile High City. As we’ll see in our next section, the Nuggets have done much of their damage through the trade market, which includes draft night trades. In terms of using their own first-round picks, Denver has actually seen fairly mixed results.

In 2013, the Nuggets drafted future Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert with the No. 27 pick and traded him to Utah for Erick Green and cash. In 2014, Denver selected Doug McDermott but traded him as part of a much larger deal that ended in positive returns for the Nuggets — more on that later.

In 2015, the No. 7 pick was spent on Emmanuel Mudiay, who was injured and ineffective in Denver before being sent out in a three-team deal, bringing only a second-round pick back to the Nuggets.

But then, the Nuggets crushed the first round of the 2016 draft. They thanked Tom Thibodeau for taking Kris Dunn at No. 5 and allowing Jamal Murray to slide all the way to No. 7. He’s since re-upped and is a key piece of the future.

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At No. 15, the Nuggets took Juan Hernangomez, who has been a cursory yet still effective member of the Nuggets’ rotation over the past three-plus seasons. He started 25 games among 70 appearances last year and played 19.4 minutes per game for a 54-win squad.

Malik Beasley was the pick at No. 18. The dynamic guard has improved his shooting each year and has also been a rotation mainstay.

In 2017, the Nuggets drafted and traded Donovan Mitchell, only receiving what amounted to a pair of expiring contracts in return. But they also took Monte Morris in the second round — more on that later.

In 2018, Denver rolled the dice and selected Michael Porter, Jr. with the No. 14 pick in the draft. Porter carried the talent of a No. 1-overall pick but had only played in three collegiate games at the University of Missouri due to a serious back injury. But the Nuggets, secure in their 46-win, near-miss team in 2017-18, gambled.

Denver had already traded their 2019 first-round pick to Brooklyn in order to shed Kenneth Faried‘s contract, but they were still comfortable trading their first-round pick in 2020. They sent that pick Oklahoma City for Jerami Grant (more on that trade later). Porter is their rookie this year, and he’s proving to be a key contributor to a bruised and battered roster.

Clearly, the Nuggets have been all over the map with first-rounders. From busts (Mudiay) and missed opportunities (Mitchell) to home runs (Murray) and base-hits (Hernangomez and Beasley) and even savvy trades, Denver has succeeded despite the typical volatility of first-round selections.