Now, who I should have drafted was . . . Denver Nuggets Edition

Consider today a tribute to two people; @Smooth_Operatah, a Colorado fan on Twitter, who produces great Twitter content (although sometimes the content is more adult, so follow at your own risk) and Mike Birbiglia(@birbigs), an amazing standup comic.

A few days ago, Twitter Smooth was lamenting the terrible performance of Dan Issel in the head office of the Nuggets from 1998-2001. Mike Birbiglia has a fun joke setup which goes “Now, what I should have said was <fill in with intelligent thought out remark> What I did say was <fill in with much worse remark>” So putting these two great thinkers trains of thoughts together I bring you. . . .

Now, who I should have drafted was …,  who I did draft was …

I’ll go back through the last 10 drafts the Nuggets participated in, which coincidently starts in 1998 ( Dan Issel’s first year in the Nuggets front office) I’ll only review picks where a quality player was “missed” by the Nuggets, so a few picks may be left out.  And I am only going to look at performance across the player’s rookie contract (the first four years the player played)

1998 With the 3rd pick the Nuggets selected:

  • Raef LaFrentz – 7734 MP, 0.125 WP48, 20.1 WP
  • Should have drafted: Paul Pierce – 10637 MP, 0.219 WP48, 48.5 WP

Pierce was a beast in his rookie contract while Raef was a slightly above average player. Pierce would go on to a great career and a Finals MVP (arguably undeserved) while Raef would go on to be a large cap relief piece to the Blazers.

1998 with the 23rd picK the Nuggets selected:

  • Tyronn Lue – 2261 MP, 0.004 WP48 0.2 WP
  • Should have drafted: Ruben Patterson – 6065 MP, 0.189 WP48, 23.9 WP

Tyronn Lue ended up being a complete waste. Ruben Patterson was a very productive rookie. He’d eventually end up on the Nuggets, so all good right?

1999 with the 18th pick the Nuggets selected:

  • James Posey – 9063 MP, 0.131 WP48, 24.7 WP
  • Should have drafted: Andrei Kirilenko – 8608 MP, 0.281 WP48, 50.3 WP

James Posey wasn’t a bad pick, but Kirilenko was a super productive machine (a statement that might surprise fans of the Jazz). The Nuggets left almost 25 wins on the table with this miss.

1999 with the 33rd Pick the Nuggets Selected:

  • Chris Herren – 1005 MP, -0.040 WP48, -0.83 WP
  • Should have drafted: Manu Ginobili – 7698 WP, 0.238 WP48, 38.2 WP

Would you rather have a completely useless player that played limited minutes or the best 6th man since Bill Walton? The Nuggets picked the former. The Spurs would go on to win a title in 2003, while the Nuggets would win 17 games. . .

1999 with the 41st pick the Nuggets Selected:

  • Fransisco Elson – 4724 MP, 0.036 WP48, 3.52 WP
  • Should have picked – Todd MacCallough 3440 MP, 0.153 WP48, 11.0 WP

Let’s call this strike three. Had the Nuggets used their three picks correctly they’d have added 100 wins across their next four seasons. Instead Elson was a marginal player at best.

2000 with the 26th pick the Nuggets selected:

  • Mamadou N’diaye – 781 MP, 0.076 WP48, 1.2 WP
  • Should have picked – Michael Redd – 6788 MP, 0.171 WP48, 24.2 WP

The 2000 draft was not a good one. Of course there was a 2nd round gem with Michael Redd. The Nuggets picked N’diaye instead, who played limited minutes at a below average level.

2002 with the 5th pick the Nuggets selected:

  • Nikoloz Tskitishvili – 1946 MP, -0.172 WP48, -6.96
  • Should have picked: Amare Stoudemire – 7534 MP, 0.142 WP48, 22.35 WP

Adam Resinger (@TheAkronHammer), who incidently is listed in Tskitishvili’s Wikipedia article, had this to add: “Hey, it’s not like they could have had Nene and Amare in the same frontcourt. Oh, wait…” It gets worse. . .

2002 with the 25th pick the Nuggets selected:

  • Frank Williams – 952 MP, -0.009 WP48, -0.2 WP
  • Should have picked: Carlos Boozer – 7438 MP, 0.233 WP48, 36.0 WP

Amare wasn’t even the best big in the draft. Boozer was still around into the 2nd round, but instead the Nuggets picked up a useless Frank Williams who couldn’t even crack 1000 minutes (or positive wins).

2002 with the 32nd pick the Nuggets selected:

  • Vincent Yarbrough – 1381 MP, 0.0271 WP48, 0.78
  • Should have picked: Luis Scola – 9593 MP, 0.126 WP48, 25.1 WP

Vincent was next to useless right out of the gate. Scola waited a few years before joining the league, but has been a productive player his “rookie years”. Amazingly the Nuggets got to strike out on 3 solid bigs in one draft.

2003 with the 3rd Pick the Nuggets Selected:

  • Carmelo Anthony – 11028 MP, 0.042 WP48, 9.61 WP
  • Who they should have picked: Dwyane Wade – 9922 MP, 0.230 WP48 47.5 WP

Wade picked up almost 50 wins, willed his team to a title, and was just a joy to watch. Carmelo on the other hand was both unproductive and overrated. I’m still bitter.

2004 with the 20th pick the Nuggets Selected:

  • Jameer Nelson – 7686 MP, 0.110 WP48, 17.6 WP
  • Who they should have picked: Kevin Martin – 7400 MP, 0.170 Wp48 26.2 WP

Nelson wasn’t a bad pick and never ended up playing for the Nuggets (and even let them make another mistake in 2005). That said, Kevin Martin would have been a great addition to the Nuggets who seemingly had every position covered except SG in 2004.

2005 with the 20th pick the Nuggets Selected:

  • Julius Hodge – 98 MP, 0.059, 0.1 WP
  • Who they should have picked: David Lee – 8036 MP, 0.280 WP48, 46.7 WP

Injuries kept Hodge from ever becoming anything but trade fodder. David Lee was an amazing talent that was wasted on New York. The Nuggets missed 40+ Winners in two consecutive drafts. No big deal, right?

2005 with the 22nd pick the Nuggets Selected:

  • Jarrett Jack – 9129 MP, 0.048 WP48, 9.2 WP
  • Who they should have picked: Marcin Gortat – 3953 MP, 0.218 WP48, 18.0 WP

Jarrett Jack never amounted to much. Gortat was amazingly productive despite being underused by Orlando. Luckily, Gortat has a new home now in Phoenix where he’s getting solid minutes.

2009 with 34th Pick the Nuggets Selected

  • Sergio Llull – Hasn’t laced up yet. Rights sold to Houston
  • Who the should have picked: DeJuan Blair – 3228 MP, 0.203 WP48, 13.6

From 2006 to 2008 the Nuggets did not keep a draft pick (including giving away a very productive Leon Powe).  In 2009 they had a shot at a great big in the 2nd round but chose to sell their pick to Houston again. San Antonio is currently underplaying Blair, which makes the situation even crueler.

Summing Up

In reviewing the Nuggets recent history of drafting I am not filled with happiness. While the draft is hard to predict — and the Nuggets are not alone in their mistakes — the truth is they have made many. Using hindsight like this is akin to realizing you could have picked the winning lottery numbers multiple times (okay, that is a bit of an exaggeration — drafting is a challenge but it is not exactly like guessing lottery numbers). In 1998, 1999 (two of Issel’s seasons in the Nuggets front Office), 2002 and 2005 the Nuggets let over 50 wins go in the draft. Could the Nuggets have changed their fortunes in the draft? Absolutely! Will they draft a game changing player in this year’s draft? I wouldn’t count on it.

-Dre (@nerdnumbers)

The draft info was taken from Basketball-Reference, who had all of the Nuggets picks in a handy single page. I’d love to see similar takes on other franchises.

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