The Denver Nuggets are fully in draft mode.
With just 17 days remaining before the Phoenix Suns are on the clock as the first pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Denver has ramped up their pre-draft workout process. On Monday, the Nuggets finally brought in a prospect that is projected to be selected near the end of the lottery with Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State and Tuesday will be no different as the Nuggets host Jalen Brunson, Tony Carr, Aaron Holiday, and Elie Okobo among others.
The majority of the players working out on Tuesday have a realistic shot of being selected by Denver, so let’s dive into each prospect.
Jalen Brunson – Villanova
Brunson is one of the most NBA-ready pure point guards and boasts one of the best collegiate resumes of any player in the 2018 NBA Draft. He is a two-time NCAA champion with Villanova. Brunson won the John R. Wooden award and the Naismith Award — both of which are given to the best male and female basketball players playing colliegiatley in the United States. He was also a consensus All-American and was given NCAA All-Tourney honors as a cherry on top.
Brunson averaged 18.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 4.6 assists against 1.9 turnovers per game in the 2017-18 season — his senior campaign — while shooting 52.1 percent from the field, 40.8 percent from three-point distance, and 80.2 percent from the charity stripe en route to his second National Championship.
Brunson is one of the most NBA-ready point guards out of the entire 2018 NBA Draft class. He may not have anywhere near the highest potential ceiling, but he does have one of the higher floors because he can do virtually anything on offense.
Brunson has been a high-level shooter for his entire college career boasting a 39.3 percent mark from distance over four years on high volume. He manipulates pick and rolls with such elegance that it almost seems ike he is conducting a symphony. Quite simply, he is the epitome of a floor general.
Even looking at Brunson through a statistical lens he still shines as bright as any other guard prospect in the draft. According to Synergy — a database that breaks down each possession and build statistics out of the data — Brunson was in the 99th percentile in total offense including assists. That means that, statistically speaking, Brunson was in the top one percent of all collegiate basketball players in the nation offensively.
It is hard to foresee him not sticking around the NBA for a decade or more as a steady backup point guard who can stretch the floor and run a competent offensive unit. He may not have quality starter upside, but he can be an impressive backup lead guard for years and years.
Brunson is 6-foot-1 without shoes with a less-than-ideal 6-foot-4 wingspan. His standing reach is just at eight feet and he weights under 200 pounds. Physically, he is undersized and also lacks the athleticism required to make up for his physical shortcomings.
Because of his diminutive stature, there are serious questions about how effective Brunson will be finishing at the rim, getting his shot off over longer defenders, defending opposing guards, and if he will be able to find and use all of the passing lanes available. While being undersized is not a death sentence in the NBA, Brunson will need to find ways to mitigate his deficiencies. He was able to do so in college, but the National Basketball Association is an entirely different animal.
Brunson is also 21-years-old. There is little hope of future growth and much more development. Brunson may have one of the higher floors of any point guard in the 2018 NBA Draft, but his ceiling is much lower than most due to his age and size.
Fit with Denver
While it may not be an ideal fit, Denver does need a backup point guard and Brunson has the ability to step right into the Nuggets’ rotation. He may not be flashy of hyper-productive, but he will always run an offensive unit well.
For that reason, Brunson would not be the worst player to trade back for or to select with the 48th pick in the draft — if Brunson somehow fell that far. There does seem to be a mutual fit between Brunson and Denver, but that does not mean that there are not better options out there.
Tony Carr – Penn State
Carr was one of the most entertaining guards in all of college basketball during the 2017-18 season. He averaged 19.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, five assists, and 2.3 turnovers per game while shooting 40.8 percent from the field and a scorching hot 43.3 percent from three-point range on 5.5 attempt per game. He also shot 79.9 percent from the free-throw line.
Carr has decent size for a point guard at 6-foot-3 without shoes to pair with his 6-foot-8.25 wingspan. His standing reach is at a solid 8-foot-4 and he is just barely under 200 pounds at 198.8. He has all the size and quickness combo to terrorize defenses — especially when his jumper off the dribble is falling.
Carr relied heavily on his drastically-improved shooting from his freshman to sophomore season as a crux to his rapid improvement. Prior to his three-point shot becoming such a weapon, Carr’s turnovers were up and his assists were down.
Carr’s three-point shot jumping 11.3 percent on 2.4 more attempts per game from his freshman to his sophomore season is what spread the floor for his quickness to become functional. Once his quickness became functional, so did his playmaking.
That is when the innate talent within Carr was able to explode onto the scene. He began hitting threes from 30 feet or more and making them. Once defenses had to bend to contest shots that far away from the basket, it was game over for opponents.
The biggest worry with Carr is if his three-point shooting from last year was a fluke or a realistic jump. Seeing a player who shot 32 percent on 3.1 attempts raise their shooting percentage up to 43.3 percent from deep on 5.5 attempts is an immediate cause for concern. Thankfully, his free-throw percentage is hanging right below the 80 percent mark which is a good indicator as to how good of a shooter Carr really is.
The other issue with Carr is that he likes to play hero ball from time to time. Last year at Penn State, Carr had a 29.9 usage percentage and would highjack the offense more than he should. He would bog down the offense and become their only scorer.
Carr also needs to focus in on defense. As of right now, it seems as if defense is a game that Carr is only willing to play from time to time. He is not a committed defender and that will hurt him badly thought the pre-draft process.
Fit with Denver
While Carr undoubtedly has massive amounts of talent it is his mixture of hero ball, streaky shooting, and lack of defensive effort makes it hard to justify picking him. He has all of the tools to become a high-level NBA guard, but as of right now he is still a ways off. For a Nuggets team that is looking to make the playoff for the first time in five years, there is not enough time to wait for Carr to grow into his own.
Denver needs a point guard, so Carr does fit for that reason, but beyond playing a position that Denver is in need of, it is hard to see Denver selecting Carr on June 21st.
Aaron Holiday – UCLA
Aaron Holiday — brother of Jrue and Justin Holiday, who both play in the NBA — is another lead guard that will workout for Denver on Tuesday. The 2017-18 Pac-12 All-Defense selection hailing from UCLA stands just 5-foot-11.75 without shoes but have a gigantic 6-foot-7.5 wingspan to make up for his vertical issues.
He averaged 20.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 5.8 assists but turned the ball over 3.8 times per game last season. 2017-18 was the first season that he transitioned from the off-guard role to being a true lead guard and it has been a shaky transition at times. Regardless, he shot 45 percent from the field, 42.2 percent from three-point distance, and 82.8 percent from the charity stripe.
Where Holiday is going to make his money is on the defensive end of the floor. He is an absolute hound of a defender at the point of attack who knows how to use his enormous wingspan for his size to his benefit. There is not a point guard who wants to match across from Holiday over and over again.
You can also tell that Holiday cares about his defense and plays with an extremely active motor. There is never a point where he does not seem like he is giving 110 percent. That shows has he lays out for 50/50 balls and flies from out of no where to contest shots at the rim and just be disruptive.
He also was a lethal three-point shooter at UCLA. The three-year collegiate player took 427 total threes over his career and hit 42.2 percent of them. Being able to pair his strong defense at the point of attack with a consistent three-point shot is huge for him. Those are rare archetypes of players.
Having a strong basketball linage of Jrue Holiday and Justin Holiday does not hurt his case either.
Holiday did not take over primary ball handling duties until after Lonzo Ball left UCLA for the Lakers during the 2017 NBA Draft. That steep learning curve that Holiday has to fight through left him with a mess of bad turnovers. Averaging 3.8 giveaways per game is an astronomical number in the worst way. He has to find a way to limit that number against better opponents.
Holiday’s lack of height will also work against him more at the NBA level than it did collegiately. When bigs get switched onto him, he struggled dealing with the pressure. Even though he is a tough-as-nails defender, opponents can just shoot directly over top of him. His height also limits him to being a full-time point guard and not an off-ball guard.
Even with those things working against him, Holiday has skills that will translate immediately. Unfortunately, he also has deficiencies that cannot be fixed.
Fit with Denver
Holiday fits surprisingly well with Denver.
Considering that between Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, and Mason Plumlee, there will always be a playmaking big on the floor to take pressure off of Holiday. His mixture of lethal three-point shooting, toughness, and hard-nosed defense at the point of attack fits very well in Denver.
Elie Okobo – Pau-Orthez
There may not be a more underrated and unknown prospect with more talent than Elie Okobo.
Okobo plays for Pau-Orthez of the French Pro A league — a league that many consider to be a better level of comepetion than the NCAA — and logged 26.5 minutes a night as a 20-years-old among grown professional basketball players. Okobo being just 20-years-old — the equivalent of a college sophomore — while standing 6-foot-3 with shoes on to go with a 6-foot-8 wingspan is insane.
Okobo averaged 13.8 points, 2.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 2.8 turnovers while shooting 48.9 percent from the field, 41.6 percent from three-point distance and 83.5 percent from the free-throw line as he found a way to produce at a high level regardless of his lack of experience.
The foundational skill set that Okobo possesses is as complete as any player not projected to go in the top-five picks.
He is a phenomenal shooter in every way; catch and shoot, pulling up in the pick and roll, coming off screens, moving or set, guarded or unguarded, or simply just off the bounce. Okobo can rain down there-pointers from anywhere within 35 feet of the rim and is not scared of pulling up from 30 feet at any moment. Okobo’s shooting is what opens up the rest of his game and allows his supplemental skills to shine.
Okobo has only been operating as a lead guard with the ball in his hands for about two years so there are still mistakes he has to work through, but his vision with the ball in his hands is undeniable. Once his shot opens up the floor for him and defenders have to go over screens, Okobo penetrates and kicks out to shooters with such ease that it he makes these reads almost look too simple considering the level of difficulty — it almost feels unnatural and leaves you shaking you head. That is when he is at his best as a facilitator is when he is functioning out of the pick and roll and finding open shooters or cutters for open looks and dropping off dump passes to rolling bigs.
Kobo thinks through the game of basketball as well. When he is playmaking, he uses his eyes to move off-ball defenders where he wants them so that he can create passing lanes to get shooters more open looks. It is rare that a player who is new to playing as a lead guard can already see the game that well.
Another reason that he is so good with the ball in his hands is because his handles are much tighter and more creative than advertised. Okobo has every step-back jumper in the book, a nasty spin move in the paint, crossovers and more. He can drive right or left and finish with either hand as well as whip skip passes with either hand as well.
Just as a cherry on top, there is very real defensive upside with Okobo as well. Being a bigger point guard who used to play as a shooting guard means that Okobo can already defend both backcourt positions. His effort comes and goes as of right now, but when he is locked in he has an intense motor. When he is locked in, he closes out with tons of aggression, attempts to contain penetration on the perimeter as if his life depended on it, and causes chaos in passing lanes and stunting down off-ball. He has a high defensive IQ and even battles when switched onto a big.
Okobo really does have the size and skill to be one of the ten-best prospects to come out of the 2018 NBA Draft.
Okobo, for all of the wonderful skills that he possesses, still has a ways to go in other facets.
He is still turnover prone has he continues to learn how to become a better lead guard. Again, he just began playing with with the ball in his hands in the past two years or so. There will be a steep learning curve when learning how to be the point guard of an NBA team.
His decision making can leave a lot to be desired as well. When a player thrives on taking off-the-dribble threes, there will be issues with bad shot selection from time to time.
His consistency wavers as well. According to Mike Schmidtz of ESPN, Okobo now has a mental skills coach that is working with him on rounding out his mental game. It has helped so far, but there is still a ways to go to becoming a consisitely terrific player.
Fit with Denver
Of all of the point guards that will be attending Tuesday’s Nuggets’ pre-draft workout, Okobo fits the best.
His balance of lights-out shooting, shot creation for others, size, and versatility on defense is ideal for a Nuggets’ team that needs a backup point guard. He can play on or off of the ball and fit with virtually any lineup that can be thrown together.
Okobo is flying up draft boards, but odds are that he will be available when Denver drafts at 14. It will be interesting to see if Denver reaches for him.