Centers of Attention

“The ambition, the drive, the wanting to be the centre of attention, the wanting to succeed.  They’re all inside me somewhere.”

  • Philip Seymour Hoffman

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Outside of snowy Denver, this young and vivacious Denver Nuggets team doesn’t get much coverage; despite Danilo Gallinari’s almost All-star calibre season, the emergence of dynamic rookies Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic, and Will Barton’s breakout season, there was still very little coverage of the roster they’re building in the mile-high city. Denver currently has 6 players under the age of 23, and 8 under the age of 25 – with so much young talent on the roster, it’s hard to give everyone enough on-court time to develop, while also playing your veterans enough to win games.

This is especially difficult with the big men.  Head coach Mike Malone has an absolute plethora of young players at the 4 and 5 positions: Joffrey Lauvergne, Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic, all in their 1st or 2nd seasons. Malone has experimented with different line-ups and positions for each of them, playing them through both PF and at C to find solutions that provide the best chemistry between them and give the Nuggets the best advantage on the court.

There will come a time when the Nuggets have to choose between these 3 – there isn’t a need for so much depth at centre, and even though Joffrey is arguably a PF, he mainly gets his minutes at C.  The Nuggets will look to trade one of their assets, and it is most likely that the Nuggets would keep Jokic and Nurkic.

Feb 27, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Joffrey Lauvergne (77) shoots the ball during the first half against the Utah Jazz at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Nuggets forward Joffrey Lauvergne (77) shoots the ball during the first half against the Utah Jazz at Pepsi Center. Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Jokic and Nurkic are the two younger options, and in my opinion, the more talented of the three.  Lauvergne is a skilled offensive player, with a wide range of post moves, including a deadly hook, and he can space the floor with his 3-point shooting, which makes him a valuable trade chip.  His main shortfall is his defense, and for a defense-first coach like Malone, the anchor of your defense can’t be incapable of blocking shots or effectively guarding players in the post.

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nurkicheader_0Of the three, Nurkic is the most established defender; known for his shot blocking ability, he stands at 7 feet and 280 pounds and makes his presence known in the paint at both ends.  Nurkic isn’t afraid to to talk trash and, in just two short seasons, has gone head to head with both Marc Gasol and DeMarcus Cousins, two of the most dominant centers in the league.  He’s fearless.

One of the most exciting aspects of the young big man is that you can tell how much fun Nurkic has out on the court, especially on the defensive end:

It’s a good sign that he takes so much pride in his defense because he picked up a basketball for the first time when he was 14, and even now at the age of 21, Nurkic still has a lot of developing to do – this is why Nuggets fans were so excited by his unexpected emergence last season.

JOKICFINGER-495x412Jokic is just unbelievable: he has a wide variety of post moves, he can shoot jumpers with consistency, and he has a surprisingly effective 3-point stroke.  He rebounds well and has an uncanny basketball IQ for a rookie; but his ability to pass is what makes him stand out.  He dropped some amazing dimes this season that any point guard would be proud of, let alone a centre.  Jokic could eventually develop into a triple-double threat every time he steps foot on the court, so the Nuggets aren’t likely to give him up for any price in the near future.

The Nuggets have collected a gold mine full of young and talented assets. With 3 draft picks inside the top 20, there’s a legitimate chance that the team could move some of these picks, packaged alongside a player or two, in exchange for a higher pick.  The chances of the Nuggets stumbling upon a young player with the talent of of Jokic, Nurkic or Lauvergne, is slim.  It’s much more likely that the Nuggets would prefer to keep these 3 together for at least another season.  A smart pick in this year’s draft gives the Nuggets another young asset, pushing half of the roster under the age of 23 – a very young team.  Nuggets GM Tim Connelly isn’t one to sit around and let the off-season pass him by: he’ll be active in upgrading the roster this off-season, and is always willing to make a deal, even if it means moving one of Denver’s most prized assets.  I’d like to say for certain that the Nuggets young guns are safe, but you never know if the right trade will come along.

Until then, watch these 3 young big men: their best is still yet to come.

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