Should youth be served again for the Nuggets with the 26th pick?
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: there is a talented-but-raw scoring guard who might find his fit with the Denver Nuggets. This time around, that guard is Josh Primo, an 18 year old off-guard who played his one year of college ball with Alabama. Primo is Canadian, born in Toronto but who played high school ball in West Virginia and then tried out a school in Arizona. He moved back to Canada to finish up his high school career after breaking a finger, then reclassified to get to college (and therefore the pros) faster.
As the youngest player in Division 1 college basketball he only played one year at Alabama, obviously, but showed great shooting form and touch to go with an athletic build and skillset that shows huge promise going forward in his professional career. If Josh had played more college ball he would likely be a lottery pick next year, but there are some rumblings that he already has some helium and is getting workouts with teams in the teens this year. Since Denver has bitten on this kind of player before (think Malik Beasley and RJ Hampton) it’s entirely possible the Nuggets might take another bite of that apple.
But is Josh Primo a good fit for the Nuggets organization?
Josh Primo, Shooting Guard, Alabama
Age: 18 (12/24/2002)
Primo spent most of his time at Alabama off-ball as the incoming freshman, and excelled there after some rough early minutes. He shot 38.1% from 3 and 44.4 as a spot-up shooter, excellent marks for someone so young. He shot 75% from the line but it was on just 44 total attempts – not a large sample size to judge from. He has a quick, fluid release, the willingness to catch-and-shoot anywhere and to step back into perfect shots when necessary. He gets his legs into the shot and keeps his body in alignment, which helps him capitalize on that form. Shooters with length will always have a job in this league, which gives Primo a high floor long-term.
Capability as a secondary ball-handler
Primo didn’t get a lot of chances to showcase his ball-handling or passing skills in college. He took just 15 shots off the bounce at Alabama (h/t Sam Vecenie’s excellent work at The Athletic) and was not entrusted with much on-ball work at all. His job was to catch the ball and shoot the ball, and he did that. At the combine, however, Primo worked his way into the first round conversation by flashing some skills that scouts hadn’t gotten to see in college as a passer and creator. With Will Barton potentially on his way out and Jamal Murray expected to miss much of the year, Denver could use another creator, especially one who can hit his own shot.
Alabama’s Josh Primo had arguably the best day of anyone at the NBA Combine yesterday, especially considering he’s just 18-years old. Made shots as always but also showed more upside as a creator than we had previously seen, with some really nice passes. pic.twitter.com/B7NxevGGoz
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) June 24, 2021
Again, Primo moves well but was not asked to do a ton of work against lead guards in the SEC. He has the wingspan and the hips to stay in front of guys, though, and certainly should not be at a positional disadvantage against most other guards from a length and quickness perspective. His film shows some good rotations and a willingness to match up with forwards as well, despite some strength limitations.
Primo just hasn’t seen a bunch yet. Much as Jamal Murray came out as a scorer and had to learn the point guard position, tighten up his handle, and learn how to play defense against the lightning-quick guards that plague the NBA, Primo will have the same issues. Malik Beasley was not able to master defensive rotations for coach Michael Malone and thus couldn’t get past the defensively apt Gary Harris for more minutes or a bigger role. Primo might be in the same position.
Handle and lead guard duties
The one thing that teenage guards tend to struggle with when they make it to the NBA is on-ball pressure. Drives to the basket that were there in high school or college are not available in the NBA. Primo is not an amazing athlete and doesn’t have the fastest first step or the most burst to get by defenders. He will have to tighten up his handle and take care of the ball to succeed as more than an off-ball scorer. He had more turnovers than assists in college, so projecting him as a guard capable of running the offense without another point guard next to him is currently wishcasting. His talents look like he should be able to expand into that area, to do what Barton was doing as a lead guard off the bench and a scoring guard in the starting lineup, but his skills aren’t there yet. It will take time – time that Denver may not have.
Projected Draft Range: First round, Late teens to late 20s – some team wants the four-year contract that a first rounder brings with a player like this who will need time to grow into his talents.
Denver Stiffs Big Board: 33rd overall
NBA Comparison: Pick a long guard, it all depends on his development. Could he be Malik Beasley? sure. Will Barton, Gary Trent Jr, Derrick White? All comparisons are valid. Throw Devin Booker in there while you’re at it, drafts are the time to dream. I don’t expect him to be a failed NBA prospect – he wants to be good, has the tools and the reported work ethic to be good, and can be diverse in his skillset. It’s just a matter of how long it takes for it all to come together. Will Barton and Derrick White got good around age 24 – which would be well into Primo’s second contract. So they need him to be a fast learner as well.
Josh Primo is a fascinating test of talent evaluation. Do you like your prospects filled with experience and sustained collegiate instruction so that they are plug-and-play? If so, then Primo is not your player. Do you like them young, moldable and brimming with untapped and unrefined talent? If so, Primo is more your kind of guy. The Nuggets have made this call before. They took the raw gunner Malik Beasley in the middle of the first round and helped turn him into a fearless force from behind the arc. Of course, that force is no longer with them, and started just 19 games for them before getting a four-year, $60 million dollar contract from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Is it worth drafting a raw talent if you’re only doing it so that they can have a larger role somewhere else?
The Nuggets have indeed made this call several times, and have been patient with their young stars. They rode out the bumps in the road with Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr, all raw players with very little seasoning when they got to Denver. But Denver is trying for a championship now. This is their window. Can they afford to wait for their bet on Primo to mature? Another year in college would have likely had him in the lottery – but can Denver devote the time to developing him now that they are a title contender, or will he be a bench-warmer when the Nuggets could use an immediate contributor?
My gut tells me Denver needs a player with a few more years under his belt, someone who can push them over the top in the next couple of years and not in 2025. But I thought that last year and instead the Nuggets added Zeke Nnaji and RJ Hampton, both teens. Nnaji should have a big role with the team this year, and Hampton would if he were still here. Based on trends, I expect Denver to take a good long look at Primo – they hate turning down upside, and Josh has a lot of it.