Top five NBA Draft picks in Denver Nuggets franchise history
The current iteration of the Denver Nuggets is mainly a result of impressive scouting, draft selections and player development. In the 2018-19 season, the Nuggets won 54 games, made the Western Conference semifinals and had seven players that scored in double figures. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Denver’s 2018-19 team is that five of those seven players were under the age of 24.
The Nuggets have drafted and developed key players in the team’s rotation, which has set Denver up for an extended run of success as their players begin to enter their prime years.
However, the Nuggets also have a history of nabbing All-Star and Hall-of-Fame talent in the draft. With the 2019 NBA Draft set to take place on Thursday, June 20, let’s take a look back at the top five draft picks in Nuggets history.
With the fourth pick in the 1991 Draft, the Nuggets drafted big man Dikembe Mutombo from Georgetown University. After getting to college at 22, Mutombo played for Georgetown for three years, where he established himself as a fierce shot-blocker and rim protector. Mutombo went on to average 12.9 points, 12.3 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game across five seasons with the Nuggets.
Mutombo also played a key role in one of the most significant upsets in NBA history, as the eighth-seeded Nuggets upset the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics in the first round of the 1994 playoffs. Mutombo was a three-time All-Star with the Nuggets and won Defensive Player of the Year in the 1994-95 season. Mutombo went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career as he was an eight-time All-Star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year during his 19-year career.
After missing the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season in 2002-03, the Nuggets entered the 2003 NBA Draft with the third pick. With that selection, Denver drafted Carmelo Anthony, who had just completed his freshman year at Syracuse University, where he led them to the NCAA championship.
Although Anthony didn’t make his first All-Star team until his fourth season, he instantly helped turn around the team’s fortunes. Starting in Anthony’s rookie season, the Nuggets began a streak of seven consecutive playoff appearances with Anthony leading the way.
Anthony made four All-Star teams during his eight-year tenure with Denver, as he averaged 24.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Anthony also played a key role in leading the Nuggets to the Conference Finals in 2009, which was the teams’ first trip to that stage since 1985.
In due time, Jokić will likely be topping this list. Despite only playing in 308 games across four seasons, the Serbian big man is already ninth in total Win Shares among Nuggets’ draft picks. At 24 years old, Jokić has yet to hit his prime, but that hasn’t stopped him from taking over the NBA.
Jokić just wrapped up a 2018-19 season that was for the ages. Not only did the former second-round pick averaged 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game, he also made his first All-Star team and was rewarded with All-NBA First Team honors. Also, Jokić led the Nuggets in points, rebounds, assists and steals, as he joined LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo as the only players to do that during the 2018-19 campaign.
More importantly, Jokić stepped up his play in the playoffs, as he averaged 25.1 points, 13 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game as he led Denver to the Western Conference semifinals.
"I would say it [Jokić’s playoff performance] has only strengthened my belief that he is a future Hall-of-Famer, All-NBA player and MVP candidate,” Nuggets head coach Malone added. “Nikola embraces the moment."
One-year after drafting Mutombo, the Nuggets found themselves back in the top-five of the 1992 Draft, where they selected LaPhonso Ellis, a power forward to slot in alongside Mutombo. Ellis instantly made his presence felt, as he averaged 14.7 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in his rookie season, which led to him being named to the 1992-93 All-Rookie First Team.
Ellis also played an important role in the Nuggets’ first-round upset of then top-seeded Seattle in 1994, as he averaged 16 points and eight rebounds per game in that series. Although Ellis never became an All-Star in his career, he averaged 15.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game across six seasons for the Nuggets.
After drafting Ellis to pair with Mutombo, the Nuggets focused on adding to their backcourt with their second pick of the 1993 draft. With the 13th overall selection, Denver drafted Bryant Stith, who had just completed four impressive seasons at the University of Virginia. Stith was named First-Team All-ACC in three of those seasons and also led Virginia to an NIT championship in 1992.
Upon joining the Nuggets, Stith developed into a physical perimeter defender and capable support-player on offense. Across eight seasons with Denver, Stith averaged 10.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Stith stepped up his play when it mattered most, as he averaged 12.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game across two playoff appearances with the Nuggets.
With the Nuggets currently being led by players such as Jokić and Jamal Murray, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see several changes to this list in years to come.