Grading both trades the Nuggets made prior to the 2019 NBA trade deadline

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Keita Bates-Diop (31) dribbles in the third quarter against Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton (5) at Target Center.
Jan 20, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Keita Bates-Diop (31) dribbles in the third quarter against Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton (5) at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 NBA trade deadline has finally come and gone and the Denver Nuggets were active all the way up to the final buzzer.

No, the Nuggets did not find a way to lure Jrue Holiday away from the New Orleans Pelicans or any other splashy moves, but they did pull off two trades which seem minor on the surface, but are much more impressive when looking at what these trades accomplished beneath the surface.

Without any further delay, here are the grades for the two trades the Nuggets completed before the 2020 NBA trade deadline.

The four-team mega-trade 

Nuggets send Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez and Jarred Vanderbilt to the Minnesota Timberwolves and receive Noah Vonleh, Shabazz Napier, Gerald Green, Keita Bates-Diop and Houston’s first round pick as a part of the four-team trade involving the Rockets, Timberwolves, Hawks and Nuggets.

This was no ordinary trade.

This four-team trade featured 12 different players and multiple picks being sent every which way. By the time the final tally was counted up, it was the largest trade since the year 2000, according to Bobby Marks of ESPN.

The Rockets sent both Clint Capela and Nene to the Hawks as well as sending Gerald Green to Denver. They received Robert Covington and Jordan Bell from Minnesota.

The Timberwolves sent out Covington and Bell to the Rockets. They also sent Shabazz Napier, Keita Bates-Diop and Noah Vonleh to the Nuggets. In return, they received Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez and Jarred Vanderbilt from Denver; Evan Turner from the Hawks; and the Atlanta Hawks first round pick which was originally owned by the Brooklyn Nets.

For the Hawks, they chose to send out Turner and the first round pick they acquired from Brooklyn to Minnesota. For their work, they received Capela and Nene.

The Nuggets sent out Beasley and Hernangomez as well as Vanderbilt, who was Denver’s second round pick in 2018. In return, they received Vonleh who can play center or power forward, Napier, and Bates-Diop who is a young forward the Nuggets could utilize down the road. Additionally, the Nuggets received Houston’s first-round pick for this coming draft. The Nuggets also technically acquired Gerald Green from Houston, who is currently out with a broken foot, but a league source has told Mile High Sports that Green is expected to be waived.

That is a ton of player movement, but let’s look at what this trade actually accomplished for the Nuggets.

First off, both Beasley and Hernangomez had hoped for more minutes this season, but the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. cut into each of their roles. It was not until the Nuggets suffered multiple injuries across their roster that both Beasley and Hernangomez were able to get playing time. With both headed for restricted free agency this coming offseason and the Nuggets financial outlook looking quite expensive, it became clear that neither of them were in Denver’s long-term plans. Instead of letting both walk without getting anything in return, Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly preemptively traded them away to extract some value.

Secondly, despite trading away two of their wings, the Nuggets did not lose much depth because of the haul they received in return. Napier is a more than serviceable backup point guard, Vonleh could fill minutes at backup center and Bates-Diop is far from just a throw-in for this deal. Connelly has valued Bates-Diop for some time and he even worked out for the Nuggets during the pre-draft process. Yes, Napier was then flipped to the Washington Wizards (more on that later), but the Nuggets did a good job of replacing the depth they traded away.

The third reason why this trade made a lot of sense was because it helped get Capela out of the Western Conference and away from the Rockets. When the Nuggets and Rockets battled in past games, the Nuggets usually do a good job of limiting Harden to some degree, but the lob threat of Capela stretched Denver’s defense past its limits. Now that Capela is with the Hawks, the Rockets are a significantly less-menacing matchup.

Lastly, the Nuggets were able to make this deal without sending away anyone that would be in their playoff rotation when healthy. There are 10 members of the Nuggets roster who are sure to be in the playoff rotation in some fashion. Denver would start their normal starters of Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton III, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic while bringing Monte Morris, Torrey Craig, Michael Porter Jr, Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee off the bench. There is no doubt that Beasley and Hernangomez both have the skills to help Denver in a playoff matchup, but it is tough seeing Denver play either of them over the 10 players listed above. Because of that, Denver could trade away both of them without hurting their odds at competing in the playoffs.

Grade: B-

No, this trade did not make the Nuggets more formidable in a playoff matchup and there is no getting around that fact. Even though Denver did not add talent, this trade did allow them more future flexibility with their finances and in terms of building trades this coming offseason now that they have a first round pick.

Denver managed to recoup a first round pick, received multiple players who can help keep Denver’s roster deep, helped make the Rockets less threatening, and they did so without taking on any future money. To pull that off, all they had to do was trade three players who were not going to be in their long-term plans in Beasley, Hernangomez and Vanderbilt.

It is hard to find fault with that decision by the Nuggets front office.

Nuggets trade depth for depth

Nuggets send newly acquired Shabazz Napier to the Washington Wizards for Jordan McRae.

When it was announced that the Nuggets had acquired Napier as a part of the four-team deal, there was quite a bit of confusion.

The Nuggets already have Murray holding down the starting spot and Morris has emerged as one of the league’s premier backup point guards behind him. In addition to both of Murray and Morris playing well, the Nuggets have found another talented guard in P.J. Dozier who is on a two-way contract with the Nuggets. Dozier had filled in admirably with Murray and Harris missing time in the month of January and he earned head coach Michael Malone’s trust.

So why would the Nuggets need a fourth point guard?

Well, it became clear that they did not want a fourth point guard. That is why Napier was traded before he every even put on a Nuggets uniform. Denver sent Napier to the Washington Wizards and received guard Jordan McRae in the deal.

This was a great decision by Connelly. With the loss of Beasley, Denver needed another guard who could also play some small forward when the Nuggets go small while still stretching the floor. McRae is 6-foot-6 and is sporting a 7+ foot wingspan. He is shooting 37.7% from three-point range this season and can play either guard spot or slide up as a small forward. This season, McRae is averaging 12.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in 22.6 minutes per game. He is shooting 42% from the field, 37.7% from three-point range while only committing 1.3 turnovers per night.

That is the type of versatility the Nuggets were looking for.

Grade: B+

This was quietly a terrific addition by Connelly. Napier did not fill a need so Connelly managed to flip him for the much more dynamic McRae who can fill multiple different roles.

McRae is bigger than Beasley, he is a better creator than Beasley, he is shooting a higher percentage from three-point range than Beasley, and Denver was able to trade for him by sending out a player that they did not fit their vision.

Who knows if McRae forces his way into the Nuggets playoff rotation or not, but even if he doesn’t find a way to play consistent minutes, having his skill set on the bench as a break-in-case-of-emergency guard could end up being extremely important.

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