Deandre Ayton. Marvin Bagley III. Luka Doncic…
As the names were called out, Tim Connelly and the entirety of the Denver Nuggets draft room were hard at work, making phone calls and chatting about the players listed on their draft board.
In the weeks leading up to the 2018 NBA Draft, Connelly told members of the media that the plan was to be aggressive when and if the opportunity presented itself. As Draft Day drew closer, there were speculations that the Nuggets would try to trade up as high as No. 4.
Mikal Bridges. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Miles Bridges…
But ultimately, the Nuggets remained at 14. When Jerome Robinson was selected by the Los Angeles Clippers at 13 overall, the Nuggets found themselves in the position to land a top-level guy in former Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr., who had slipped back in the draft due to injuries.
In his first game with the Tigers last fall, Porter suffered a back injury that would ultimately require surgery to fix. He would return the following March for the SEC Tournament quarterfinals before playing in his third and final collegiate game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He would declare for the draft 11 days later.
If he was healthy, Porter would have easily been a top-5 draft selection, but questions about his health saw his draft stock fall. Where others saw risk, Denver saw opportunity.
“At some point, it becomes a risk/reward ratio. We think he is an elite talent. A guy with no back issues and we wouldn’t have the good fortune of drafting him. I think you have to take a swing at guys like that,” said Connelly. “I think we are going to be extremely patient, we are going to take the long view with everything we do with him.”
During the offseason, Porter continued to rehab and train, and although a hip strain and muscle spasms still plagued him a week before the draft was set to begin.
With the excitement surrounding Porter, the Nuggets kept their eyes fixed ahead for their second round picks.
With the 43rd pick, the Nuggets went with Maryland forward Justin Jackson, only to trade him to Orlando for their 41st pick, Kentucky forward Jarred Vanderbilt, and a future second round selection. The Nuggets have made some sort of trade in five of the last six drafts.
“He’s a fascinating prospect. I was at the hoops summer practices last year with the rest of our staff and the games and he was a guy we thought at the start of the season would be a top 20 pick because his motor never stops. His rebounding numbers are almost hard to find a comparison,” Connelly explained, adding that he’s the type of player Doug Moe would like. “He is a bulldog and he plays with a chip and a toughness that can accent a lot of our skill guys. He is very different than what we presently have. We had circled him in the second round as one of the biggest upside guys and if we could get him, we wanted to be aggressive to get him.”
Denver’s third and final draft pick was for UCLA big man Thomas Welsh, a rare four-year college player who averaged 9.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game with the Bruins. Although he was one of the last guys to be on the Nuggets draft board, they’re very excited to see if his unique style will translate to the NBA court.
“Thomas Welsh is an elite shooter and an elite rebounder at seven foot one. Extremely intelligent guy, McDonald’s All American, bright, tough, we were really impressed by the workout here and we think he has such an elite skill set where the league is going. You can make threes consistently, rebound your position and he is big and strong enough to be an impediment at the rim.”