MHS Mailbag: Who could the Nuggets trade for before the deadline?

Denver Nuggets forward Juancho Hernangomez (41) reacts with guard Malik Beasley (25) after a play in the second quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at the Pepsi Center.
Dec 18, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Juancho Hernangomez (41) reacts with guard Malik Beasley (25) after a play in the second quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

While many Denver Nuggets fans celebrate the 15th day of December to commemorate Nikola Jokic’s emergence as the Nuggets future, it also represents something a bit more dire for the players involved.

December 15th is the day that nearly every player in the National Basketball Association becomes available for trade which makes the 15th day of the final month of the calendar year the unofficial start of the 2019-20 NBA trade season.

With that being said, there were quite a few questions that came in over the past five days about the Nuggets and their odds of being active at the trade deadline, so let’s dive into some questions, shall we?

Who should the Nuggets target in a trade? – @bwill628 via Twitter

This has been the most common question sent in to Mile High Sports to be answered.

Before getting into specific players that Denver could or should target, it is first important to look at what type of a player they need.

One of Denver’s most glaring roster omissions are their lack of one-on-one offensive players who can break down a defense. At the time of this writing, the Nuggets are tied for the fourth-most shots taken per game during the last four seconds of the shot clock and they are making only 33.8% of those looks which slots Denver as the 19th-most efficient team when shooting those type of shots.

The reason for their abundance of shots late in the clock and their struggles converting those looks are because Denver does not have many players who can break down a defense in isolation.

Will Barton III has been able to do this for the Nuggets, which is one reason why his importance cannot be overstated this year, but Denver needs more players who can reliably break down a defense, draw a help defender, and either score or find the open man.

(While it would be nice for Jokic to become this type of player, he has shown that he cannot be relied upon to attack a defense with the level of aggression it takes to be a one-on-one creator in this way. Jokic is wired to always make the right play; it is an instinct and not a conscious decision by him. Because of that, Denver needs additional creators surrounding him to optimize their offense.)

The most obvious answer is also the best-available choice: Jrue Holiday.

This season, Holiday is scoring 1.108 points per possession in isolation settings which is in the 89th percentile according to Synergy. When accounting for assists as well as scoring in isolation, Holiday still ranks in the 80th percentile. His ability to turn the corner and attack the rim has always been an integral part of his skill set and it is a trait the Nuggets offense needs a lot more of.

In addition to Holiday’s one-on-one aggression, he has also played at one of the fastest speeds in the league with the Alvin Gentry-led New Orleans Pelicans, who are seventh in the NBA in terms of pace this season. Over the past five years, New Orleans has never fallen out of the top-10 in terms of pace.

Malone has begged his team to play with more pace all year long and Holiday would be a shot of adrenaline in that regard.

Holiday is a strong finisher at the rim, an intelligent passer, unselfish teammate, and has proven that he can play with an elite center who needs lots of touches. While his fit in the backcourt with Jamal Murray remains a question mark, there is no doubt that Holiday has skills that could help boost the Nuggets into a true contender in the Western Conference.

While acquiring Holiday sounds like a home run type of a trade, building that deal will be an entirely different obstacle to overcome. The Nuggets do not own their own first-round pick this year, they cannot trade Murray easily due to the poison pill provision in his contract, Porter is reportedly untouchable in trade talks, and the Pelicans already have a full roster so any deal would have to end with both the Nuggets and Pelicans sending the same amount of players to each other. While Holiday is a near-perfect fit, the path to acquiring him is difficult to say the least.

The next issue the Nuggets have dealt with this season is their lack of shotmaking; especially from three-point distance.

Through 26 games this season, the Nuggets are only taking 30.3 three-point shots per game which is 25th in the league. To make matters worse, they are only converting 35.6% of their shots from distance. Simply stated, the Nuggets need to take and make more triples going forward.

While there is internal hope that the likes of Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic and others on the Nuggets roster will finally snap back into the lethal shooting team they were a few seasons ago, there is no current evidence to back up those hopes.

With that being said, which lights-out shooters could be available at the trade deadline?

The name most mentioned when discussing automatic outside shooters is JJ Redick of the Pelicans. At the time of this writing, Redick has drilled a blistering 45.8% from three-point range while taking 7.1 attempts beyond the arc in 29 minutes of playing time per game. Currently, the Pelicans have reportedly shied away from trade talks involving Redick according to Marc Stein of the New York Times, but as the trade deadline nears, his availability could shift.

Other than Redick, there are other notable snipers who could be available.

Indiana Pacers forward Doug McDermott is currently making an absurd 47.2% of his 3-pointers this season and could be an interesting option if Denver was looking for a shooter with some size.

In the same vein of McDermott, the Nuggets could also turn their attention to Joe Harris of the Brooklyn Nets, who has converted 43.7% of his 6.2 three-point shots per game. Harris has been one of the premier off-ball shooters in the league over the past couple seasons and could be a brilliant pairing with Denver’s egalitarian style.

The last three shooters who could provide the Nuggets with a lift are Patty Mills of the San Antonio Spurs, Tony Snell of the Detroit Pistons, and Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings.

Mills has been a microwave scorer for San Antonio for seemingly a generation, but with the Spurs headed toward their first rebuild since drafting Tim Duncan, San Antonio may look to move on from their long-time guard. Over the past four years, Mills has taken 1316 three-point shots — which equates out to just over four triples per game — and has made 39.7% of them. His shot is consistent and dependable as is his offensive savvy.

Snell is an ideal off-ball wing who will give great effort on defense. He has not shot worse than 39.7% from three-point range in the last four years and is currently drilling 42.9% of his 4.7 triples per contest which is one of the better marks in the NBA. With the Pistons sputtering, Snell could become available which may interest the Nuggets.

Lastly, but most certainly not least, is Jokic’s teammate on the Serbian National Team; Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Bogdanovic is a fearless scorer from anywhere on the floor. He is a crafty finisher at the rim, a nuclear shooter from distance, and has the balance to shoot of the dribble from the mid-range or from three-point range. According to Synergy, Bogdanovic is in the 91st percentile as a jump shooter, in the 80th percentile on catch-and-shoot jumpers, and an excellent 94th percentile on jump shots off of the dribble.

Denver needs to generate more three-point looks and Bogdanovic can provide in spades. His shot creation — on and off of the ball — is something the Nuggets team could really use if they want to unlock the best offensive version of themselves.

Additionally, and this is purely anecdotal, but having a fellow Serbian on the roster would only help Jokic on and off of the floor. There is no denying that Jokic feels most at home when surrounded by people from his home country and when Jokic feels comfortable and carefree, his play tends to take a gigantic step forward. Joy is such an important factor when dissecting why Jokic’s aggression comes and goes. Having Bogdanovic could also help in that regard.

Who do the Nuggets have on the trading block? – @Shann0nBe via Twitter

The answers to this question are incredibly obvious, but still wildly surprising.

There are four players on the Nuggets roster who seem like possible trade candidates: Gary Harris, Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, and Torrey Craig.

(This list could also include any of Mason Plumlee, Paul Millsap or Barton depending on who Denver is trading for and who the other team would ask for. All three of those players are integral to Denver’s success this season, but their salaries could become assets to build functional trades. Still, despite that fact and for the sake of this exercise, none of those three players will be discussed.)

While it may seem surprising, Harris’ name has to be included on this list for a two reasons.

First, Denver has floated his name multiple times over the past few years in trade talks when trying to make a big splash. Harris was almost traded in a deal for Kevin Love a few years ago, was mentioned in a possible deal for Jimmy Butler when Butler was still in Minnesota, had his name linked to Kyrie Irving before he ended up in Boston, and so on and so forth.

Secondly, the Nuggets are virtually unable to trade Murray — who signed a maximum contract extension this past offseason — because of the poison pill provision. If a team is looking to receive a strong and established young player back in a trade, they will have to settle on Harris instead of Murray.

(The poison pill provision essentially means that if a team wanted to trade for Murray, they would have to have enough cap space next season to fit in his maximum contract extension despite the fact that Murray is still currently on the final year of his rookie deal. This keeps teams who are over the salary cap from trading for players on rookie deals who also have impending extensions.)

Simply stated — with there being no chance the Nuggets trade Jokic, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reporting that Michael Porter Jr. is untouchable in trade talks, and with Murray’s poison pill provision on his contract — the last remaining high-upside young player on the Nuggets roster is Harris which puts him at risk of being traded.

While the Nuggets assuredly do not want to trade Harris, he may be their only chance of discussing the framework of a deal for Holiday. Simply stated, if Denver wants to trade for a player who is at a near All-Star level, Harris will have to be included.

The other three candidates to be involved in trade talks are Beasley, Hernangomez, and Craig, who are all in the same frustrating situation.

Nuggets head coach Michael Malone has desperately been trying to find time to let Porter work through his rookie mistakes, but the logjam at the wing position off the bench is making the rotation incredibly difficult to manage. All four of Porter, Craig, Hernangomez and Beasley have played in spurts and all four of them have been out of the rotation all together at different points throughout the season, but the only constant has been the understanding that Porter needs minutes. That leaves Beasley, Hernangomez and Craig fighting for one remaining spot in Malone’s 10-man rotation.

The easiest way to address Malone’s constant shuffling and reshuffling of the bench rotation is to eliminate some of his options by moving on from one or two of their reserve wings.

Beasley seems like the most obvious choice to be moved. During the offseason, he reportedly turned down a three-year contract extension with $30 million which led to him signing with the infamous Rich Paul of Klutch Sports. Beasley, who had a breakout year during the 2018-19 season, is looking to get paid, but his removal from Malone’s rotation has clouded what was sure to be a big second contract for the young sniper.

At this point, it is impossible to know what type of money Beasley could command in restricted free agency, but the obvious fact is that Denver does not have the room or money for him anymore and trading him before losing him in free agency for nothing seems likely.

Both Hernangomez and Craig, despite their contributions at different times, are also the type of players that the Nuggets just do not have room for anymore. Including either of them in a trade would not mean that they are bad NBA players, but would be more about Denver’s vision of the future. Both players will be restricted free agents at the end of the season and capitalizing on their value now, as opposed to losing both for nothing, seems possible.

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