From start to finish, Nuggets enjoy productive draft day

Denver trades for Afflalo, adds three talented prospects
by Aaron Lopez

Nuggets general manager/executive vice president of basketball operations Tim Connelly vowed to be aggressive on draft night.

He didn’t disappoint.

Connelly began the day by acquiring shooting guard Arron Afflalo from the Orlando Magic in exchange for guard Evan Fournier and the rights to the 56th overall pick (Roy Devyn Marble) of the 2014 NBA Draft.

Once the draft began, the Nuggets remained in deal-making mode. They selected Creighton forward Doug McDermott with the 11th overall pick but then traded his rights to the Chicago Bulls for the rights to 7-foot center Jusuf Nurkic (16th overall) and guard Gary Harris (No. 19).

Denver also sent forward Anthony Randolph to the Bulls and received a second-round pick in 2015.

“When the day started, if you said we’re going to walk away with Afflalo, Nurkic and Gary Harris, I would’ve been pretty excited,” Connelly said.

In Afflalo, the Nuggets receive an outstanding two-way player who flourished in Denver from 2009-12. He averaged a career-high 18.2 points last season, while shooting .427 from 3-point range.

“He brings the ability to play on both sides of the court,” Connelly said. “We were hoping to add toughness and a defensive mindset. He brings both of those things. It was really hard to trade Evan. I think he is going to be a heck of a player.

“On our end, we wanted to make sure we were putting the best team of the floor for next year. We liked how Arron and (point guard) Ty (Lawson) had success previously. We think he is one of the elite 2-guards in the league.”

Harris, also a shooting guard, is an outstanding defender who can develop behind Afflalo and veteran sharpshooter Randy Foye. He averaged 16.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a sophomore at Michigan State last season and was a First Team All-Big Ten selection.

Many draft prognosticators had Harris pegged as a lottery pick, so the Nuggets were able to secure the 19-year-old for a better value at No. 19.

“We were very excited to get Harris,” Connelly said. “We didn’t expect him to drop. It was a pleasant surprise.”

Harris, the 2012-13 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, did his best to stay calm as the first round unfolded.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “I was just waiting patiently until my name was called. I’m just happy to be drafted and I’m looking forward to getting to Denver and getting to work.”

As for Nurkic, he was considered one of the top centers available in the draft. At 280 pounds, he provides unique size in the middle and has drawn comparisons to Minnesota Timberwolves big man Nikola Pekovic, who averaged 17.4 points and 8.7 rebounds last season.

Connelly said Nurkic will be with the Nuggets next season rather than remain overseas. That will allow him to adjust to the American culture and work closely with Denver’s coaching and player development staff.

“He is a guy that has a world of talent,” Connelly said. “He’s got a skill set you don’t see. He can shoot. He can really pass. He’s a bear. He gets fouled at an unbelievably high rate. He’s got to work on his body. He’s got to work on his ability to defend. These are things that are not uncommon difficulties for a 19-year-old kid.”

The Nuggets later added another 19-year-old with the 41st overall pick, selecting Nikola Jokic out of Serbia. Jokic, 6-10, 254, averaged 7.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists for Mega Vizura Belgrade of the Serbian League last season.

“Given his age and size and ability to pass and shoot the ball, we were very excited to get him at 41,” Connelly said. “We were nervous he wasn’t going to be there.”
Asked to assess his second draft as Denver’s GM, Connelly said: “I got 20 calls saying it was great and 10 saying it was awful.”

“With our current roster, you kind of roll the dice. The expectations for these first-year guys are really low. Our goal is to be sustainable. We kind of helped replenished the ranks a little bit.”