Denver’s first pick was a bit of a surprise, but has a lot of upside
What was the first thought that came to mind when you saw Zeke Nnaji drafted 22nd overall?
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): This pick was definitely a confusing one initially, but after seeing the R.J. Hampton selection, it makes more sense. The Nuggets decided they wanted to go with a big man prospect that they trusted to be solid at the next level. Nnaji was lower on my personal board, but if the Nuggets believe in him, then that’s all that matters.
Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): I don’t know that disappointed is the right word, but, with some of the other guys available on the board, that’s probably what you would have to go with. A move for a young center makes it clear that that Mason Plumlee likely won’t be back next year. If Denver wanted to go in the direction of a backup center or power forward, I would have like to have seen them grab some of the other options that were on the board.
Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717): Who is this guy? No seriously, I had no idea who Zeke Nnaji was until about 20 minutes ago. Upon further research, I’m excited about the Nuggets selection. Nnaji is a high energy player and could help provide the Nuggets with a nice boost off the bench. With all the uncertainly surrounding the Nuggets big men this offseason, Nnaji is great insurance in cause one of Mason Plumlee, Paul Millsap, or Jerami Grant depart in free agency,
Daniel Lewis (@denverstiffs): Well at least he’s athletic. I’m still recovering from the 2017 first round, and it doesn’t help when the Nuggets take someone I had ranked No. 50 on my board (50 out of 50). He’s the Plumlee replacement, because he dunks and rebounds, and that’s about it. Hopefully he improves his outside shot a little bit, he’s not bad but it’s not a strength for him.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): “Kenneth Faried with a shot outside 5 feet is not a bad player.” He can play some small ball 5 but is a bit light to hold up there against the Nurkics of the NBA. He’s a bit of a tweener but has a huge motor and is a willing screener and hungry rebounder. His shot looks fine, just not used for his college team. And in reviewing my impressions from his college tape his defensive potential is there too, which makes him a step up from a Faried type. The Nuggets might have just drafted rebounding Jerami Grant, because this is how Jerami looked in college too. Nothing wrong with that.
Was this pick a “best player available” or “best fit” move?
Blackburn: This was definitely a “best fit” selection. Nnaji represented one of the final big man prospects left on the board that the Nuggets felt comfortable selecting in the first round.
Bridgford: I think it has to be best fit because there were better players on the board. They needed more wing depth, and they didn’t address that with this pick. Zeke fills a role on offense that they don’t have right now, and is different from Bol Bol and Nikola Jokic. He could fit in well with Monte Morris in the pick-and-roll on the second unit.
Ewing: Best player. A part of me wanted to say best fit, but the Nuggets almost always go with BPA, which makes me think Nnaji was high on their draft board.
Lewis: Best player. I honestly think they bought into his measurables and felt like he had the highest ceiling of any other player left on the board.
Gross: Best player. They don’t know his fit, but even though Denver is light on front court players at the moment they aren’t likely to view a teen with part of one college season under his belt as an immediate help move. They like Zeke, and think they can develop him. Who am I to say otherwise?
Will Nnaji have a significant role in the 2020-21 season?
Blackburn: It’s possible, but I’d lean no. With Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, and Paul Millsap heading into free agency, this pick feels like insurance on a big man ready to contribute in small bursts right away. Nnaji is a more traditional post scorer and rebounder who has some touch and feel on the perimeter, but probably not enough to play a significant role right away.
Bridgford: I have my doubts. The team has Jokic at the center position, and, if they bring back Jerami Grant, he’d be the starting power forward with Michael Porter Jr. sliding up to that spot when they put more guards on the floor. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nnaji ride the pine for the majority of the year unless the team gets into a big blowout scenario.
Ewing: I don’t really see Nnaji having an instant impact unless one of the Nuggets big men — Plumlee, Grant, Millsap — depart in free agency. Even then I think it might be tough for Nnaji to see the floor next season.
Lewis; I hope not! I don’t think he’s ready to play in the NBA. He’s going to need some polish in the G-League.
Gross: I expect it to be a development year. He shouldn’t have an immediate rotation spot, especially with no Summer League or extended pre-season. His job is to understudy Jerami Grant (assuming he’s back) and hopefully learn how to do what he does. Immediate minutes don’t look to be in the cards, especially if Bol Bol is still here.
Grade the draft pick:
Blackburn: Let’s go C. I would have preferred Xavier Tillman in this spot, but Nnaji represents a player who complements Bol Bol’s skill set reasonably well. Maybe those two can develop into Denver’s backup frontcourt together.
Bridgford: I’ll give it a C-. I can’t dog the pick a ton because we haven’t seen him play at the NBA level yet. However, I have to knock it down a fair bit because there were other players that I think would have been better at making an impact this season. With Jokic ahead of him, he’ll likely be nothing more than a rotational big off the bench with some lob ability.
Ewing: I’ll go with a B. Not the most exciting of moves, but Nnaji is a high energy player who could earn a spot in the Nuggets rotation down the road.
Lewis: A D. If you’re going to draft a big, why not take Xavier Tillman, who was an elite defender, and can do things like dribble and pass?
Gross: B-. The issue for Denver is whether they can turn him into a player capable of playing next to Jokic, which means defending multiple positions and finishing rolls and back cuts. He can handle the last couple of duties, but it’s the defense that will need work. But Denver knows what they need, and had to draft for it – they just don’t want a Trey Lyles situation. But at #22 in the draft, taking fliers on upside fits Denver’s front office to a T.