No playoffs, so Nuggets look to draft

The NBA regular season ends tonight.

Playoffs will start Saturday and, in case you missed it, the Denver Nuggets will be vacationing as the San Antonio Spurs — won’t Tim Duncan ever retire? — quietly chase another title.

Nuggets fans spent the last month of the season hoping the New York Knicks would stumble toward the bottom of the standings because the Knicks owe the Nuggets their first-round draft choice.

Instead, the Knicks staged a mini-rally, and although they still missed the playoffs, relatively good play over the last couple of weeks likely dropped the Nuggets as many as four spots in the first round of the upcoming draft.

Yes, the Nuggets, as could any team that did not make the playoffs, could gain the top pick by having the correct combination of balls picked in the May 20 draft lottery. That, however, would be akin to winning Power Ball or the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. Denver will have approximately a .07 percent of gaining the top pick, just slightly better to win the second or third pick.

Instead, the Nuggets will likely end up picking 12th — not bad, but not what the doctor ordered in terms of changing the direction of your team for the next decade or so.

The Nuggets, by the way, do have a pick of their own, but it goes to the Orlando Magic because of an earlier trade.

Let’s assume the Nuggets do not luck out and gain entry to one of the top three picks. Then it will be time for General Manager Tim Connelly, who has just finished his first season on the job, and head coach Brian Shaw to try to upgrade a roster that is full of interchangeable parts — all of whom may be available for a trade, possibly for a veteran, possibly to move up in the draft.

Point guard Ty Lawson is Denver’s best player, but he does not guarantee playoff success a la Kevin Durant, LeBron James or the afore-mentioned Duncan. Make Connelly the right offer and the Nuggets will find another point guard.

Denver’s second-best player, 6-10 shooting forward Danilo Gallinari, didn’t play one second this season due to a knee injury, but should be ready to go next season. He, however, is not a high-powered trading chip because of the knee.

Power forward Kenneth Faried was available early in the season, but played superb ball the second half. He is now n asset whether if he stays or if he brings other talent to the Pepsi Center.

Those veterans and others like Timofey Mozgov and Wilson Chandler will all play into Connelly and Shaw’s thinking, as will the upcoming draft process that should bring a player who will make an impact, if not as a starter, at least with plenty of minutes off the bench to take on the learning curve.

There are at least six collegians who just completed freshman seasons and one Australian high school-aged star who are virtual locks to be gone before Denver would pick 12th.

Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid of Kansas and Jabari Parker of Duke should go 1-2-3 in some order, even though Parker has not declared for the draft, but why would he hang around in college when he can’t improve his portfolio one iota?

Other freshmen who will go immediately will be Julius Randle of Kentucky, Noah Vonleh of Indiana and Aaron Gordon of Arizona. The Australian star is 18-year old Dante Exum, a 6-5 guard who can play the point and shoot the eyes out of the basket.

Even if the Nuggets don’t end up with one of these young prospects, they are going to end up with a good player.

Players who could be available include Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State, Doug McDermott of Creighton, or Tyler Ennis of Syracuse.

Another player who also might be available just made a huge case for himself in the NCAA tournament and moved up as many as 30 spots on draft boards: Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier. He would look wonderful dashing toward the hoop or ripping 3’s in the Nugget Carolina Blue (or Gawd-Awful Yellow).

Yes, the playoffs are set to open.

Current Nuggets will be scattered far and wide. Future Nuggets galore are waiting to be discovered.

And the work is just beginning for the Nugget staff. Stay tuned; headlines and stories to follow.


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