With the NBA draft and free agency just around the corner, the Denver Nuggets need to figure out the point guard position for the 2017-18 season and for their future.
It seemed that just two years ago Denver found their point guard of the future. The Nuggets selected Emmanuel Mudiay with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft, and had very high hopes for him. In fact, the selection was considered a steal around the league at the time.
Mudiay’s rookie season seemed promising; however, his numbers fell off fairly drastically during his sophomore campaign. Mudiay’s point production, field goal percentage, assists and rebounding all dipped considerably in 2016-17, and it led to the point guard spending much of the last part of the season on the bench as a healthy scratch.
To Mudiay’s credit, he has been working hard on his game and has maintained a positive attitude while trying to figure out his struggles. He has even called on Nuggets’ great Chauncey Billups to give him advice and to work with him.
There remains a possibility that Mudiay will eventually find his way and turn out to be Denver’s franchise point guard. Unfortunately, there remains an equal. if not greater possibility that Mudiay will still struggle with turnovers, finishing at the rim and shooting.
The Nuggets currently have two other realistic options at point guard on their roster. Jameer Nelson can start; however, Denver realistically would like to use Nelson in a backup role until the team has an everyday starting option at point guard.
The other option on the roster is Jamal Murray. Murray was drafted seventh overall in 2016 as a shooting guard. Murray saw quite a few minutes at the end of the season at point guard due to injuries and has shown the ability to be a good combo guard.
The question is does Denver want to attempt to make Murray their full time point guard. It would make sense given the logjam the Nuggets have at the shooting guard position with Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton and Malik Beasley. This move would free up the rotation immensely; however, the team must figure out if that is the correct direction it wants to go.
There are other point guard options in free agency and in the draft. It is very unlikely that Denver adds one of the two top point guards in free agency this summer in Stephen Curry and Chris Paul because of obvious reasons.
A realistic option could be Kyle Lowry, whose name has popped up in the news recently. Lowry will opt-out of his current deal with the Toronto Raptors and test free agency this summer. He reportedly has interest in Denver and wants to take his career out west.
Lowry is a ball-dominant point guard and may not be the best fit with the way Nikola Jokic plays. Ideally, Denver wants a guy that can distribute the ball to Jokic in the high post so Denver’s franchise player can go to work. Lowry does not fit that bill exactly; but, can Denver really pass up on 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds per night?
The draft has intriguing point guard options at the top. Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and De’Aaron Fox are likely to all be gone prior to Denver picking unless the Nuggets get lucky in the lottery or make a trade, which I do not see happening.
A more realistic option for Denver in the draft could be Dennis Smith Jr. from North Carolina St. If the Nuggets pick at 13, I think Denver can make a reasonable trade to go up and take him or perhaps he may still be there. Smith is one of the most explosive offensive point guards in the draft and tends to be inconsistent on defense. A head coach like Michael Malone, who is a defensive-minded coach, might be able to fix that aspect.
One thing should be for certain as the Nuggets try to figure out the point guard position: Mudiay and Nelson need to stay on the roster to backup whoever is starting. Murray is the best in-house option to start at point guard next season.
If Denver decides Murray is a better fit at shooting guard, the team should immediately try to sign Lowry. He will likely command a max-contract and the Nuggets have the cap space to pay him. If this is the way it goes, hopefully Lowry and Jokic can learn to co-exist. If they do, Denver is likely to attract more high-profile free agents in the near future.
If the above are not legitimate options for Denver at point guard the team should go after Smith in the draft. He will be able to develop with Mudiay, while the combination of Murray and Nelson start at point guard for the Nuggets next season.
I would hate to see Denver use a top-15 pick on another guard. The truth is it is worth it to keep taking point guards in the draft until the team finds one. Point guard is the most important position in the NBA and the Nuggets are not going to make the postseason until they find one. Filling the point guard position should be the priority of the summer for Denver.