The Denver Nuggets had a very intriguing 2018 NBA Draft.
They came into draft night armed with the 14th, 43rd, and the 58th pick. With tons of speculation circulating that Denver wanted to move up or out of the lottery, anything was possible on draft night, but what transpired could not have been predicted.
Somehow, Michael Porter Jr., the highes-ranked high school prospect in the nation prior to the 2017-18 college basketball season, fell all the way down to the 14th slot where Denver had the good fortune of selecting him. Even with Porter Jr.’s back injury, the choice to draft him was a calculated move.
Denver than followed up that shell-shocking draft pick by trading the 43rd pick and a future second-round pick to move up to grab Jarred Vanderbilt prior to selecting Thomas Welsh with the 58th pick.
After all that chaos, here are the draft grades for the Denver Nuggets’ 2018 NBA Draft picks.
14th pick – Michael Porter Jr.
It seemed that there was absolutely no way that the Nuggets would have been able to acquire someone as talented as Michael Porter Jr. with the 14th pick, but as he continued to fall and fall, Denver’s level of excitement grew.
“We were very surprised and happy that Michael continued to fall down the board,” Connelly told the media after the conclusion of the draft. “We think he has elite tools, certainly a high pedigree guy as a guy that’s succeeded at every level. So, it’s a guy that we’re unbelievably excited to add to our group.”
The Nuggets did not draft Porter Jr., as Connelly said, “with their heads buried in the sand.” They know the they are bringing in a player who had back surgery and relies on his superior athletic and physical talents, but the team saw this as a risk worth taking to potentially reach new heights. Denver made this informed decision to draft Porter Jr. as a team. According to Connelly, the Nuggets had their ownership, coaching staff, medical staff, performance staff, and front office all in the draft room and, together, they made the decision to select Porter Jr. even with the risks involved. That group effort should not be overlooked.
That is what makes this draft pick such a home run: Denver basketball does not need saving right now and the team knows it. Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap have things under control for the foreseeable future which removes all pressure off of Porter Jr. to immediately get healthy. The Nuggets can take an ultra-conservative approach with their highly-touted new prospect to allow him time to get fully healthy.
“He’s injured?” Tim Connelly joked. “At some point it becomes a risk/reward ratio. We think he’s an elite talent. A guy with no back issues we wouldn’t have the good fortune of drafting. I think you have to take a swing at guys like that to get lucky. We have some of the best trainers and doctors in the world in Denver. They’re confident. I think we have a plan in place. I think we’re going to be extremely patient, we’re going to take the long view with everything we do with him. But, he was there certainly because of concerns with his back.”
Denver needed their small forward of the future as well as more top-end talent and that is exactly what they got in Porter Jr.
Porter Jr. needed a team that could allow him the time to get back to 100 percent health while also still valuing him as an important piece for their long-term success.
Because of that, the selection of Porter Jr. gets nearly a perfect mark.
41st pick (via trade) – Jarred Vanderbilt
The Nuggets mixed in a trade in the second round to ensure that they were able to snap another highly-valued prospect who was plagued by injures throughout the 2017-18 college basketball season in Jarred Vanderbilt.
“He is a fascinating prospect,” Connelly explained. “I was at the hoop summit practices last year with the rest of our staff and he was a guy that entering the season was going to be a top-20 pick. His motor never stops and his rebounding numbers are hard to find a comparison for. I think he is a three-position defender, can really handle (the ball). He is very different than what we have. I joked with (Malone) that we finally got one of his guys. He is a bulldog. He plays with a chip and a toughness that can accent a lot of our skill guys. He is very different from what we presently have. We circled him in the second round as one of the biggest upside guys and if we could get him, we wanted to be aggressive to do so.”
And aggressive they were. When Denver saw that Vanderbilt was still on the board after the 40th pick, they felt the need to trade up to acquire the 41st pick to ensure that he would be a member of the Denver Nuggets. Connelly and his staff sent the 43rd pick and a future second-round pick to the Orlando Magic to get the 41st pick that eventually resulted in Vanderbilt and Denver could not be more happy to get their hands on him.
“In the second round we added Jarred Vanderbilt, one of the best rebounders we’ve ever seen,” Connelly explained. “High-energy guy, multiple position guy, just plays with a real passion, plays with a constant motor. His rebounding numbers fly off the page. The numbers almost have no parallel. When you watch his high school tape, he is handling the ball, and he is defending all over the court. He is a faceup four who can defend, push the ball, and rebound. He has fought injuries for the past year so you didn’t see the guy that you saw in high school — a guy that was a top recruit. ”
Unfortunately, Vanderbilt will likely not be healthy enough to take part in Summer League, which is why this selection will not receive an “A”, but nonetheless; the Denver Nuggets chose another high-quality prospect that adds a new dimension to an already versatile Nuggets’ roster.
58th pick – Thomas Welsh
Denver took a shot on a big man from UCLA that does not fit the status quo of a center — and that was the plan. Connelly wanted to find a more unique-type player with his 58th pick and did so when he selected Thomas Welsh.
“Very late, we added Thomas Welsh,” Connelly explained. “A spread five that makes shots, rebounds, and is a very bright kid. So, all-in-all, relative to what are expectations were within that room tonight, we were extremely excited.”
Welsh played four years at UCLA and always had soft touch as a scorer, but this year he extended that touch out to the NBA three-point line and beyond. He hit 45 of his 112 attempted three-pointers last season after taking just one three-pointer combined in the three years prior.
When the Nuggets were finally up with the third-to-last selection of the 2018 NBA Draft, Connelly felt that Welsh’s talents were too good to pass up.
“It is funny. When you go into the night, you dont expect to pick twice in the second round,” Connelly explained. “The board developed in such a way that we began to talk ourselves into it. You get draft mania, but we had circled guys two or three guys that are really unique prosepects — not fastball pitches but different.”
Denver found their “different” player in Welsh. Because he is still an unknown quantity, this selection gets a middle-of-the-pack grade — it was neither good nor bad.