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Denver Nuggets: Drafting upside has shaped reliable bench

The Denver Nuggets, the third seed in the Western Conference, have been a respectable foe in each of the last three seasons. The difference in the 2019-20 campaign is depth. They developed it by selecting upside in back-to-back NBA Drafts.

Prior to suffering a back injury early in the 2017-18 college basketball season, Michael Porter Jr. was a presumed top-five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. The Missouri guard was limited to three games and subsequently fell in the draft. So much so, in fact, he was available for the Nuggets at 14.

Sure, Porter missed his entire rookie season. At the same time, he has been as advertised for head coach Mike Malone’s rotation this season: a speedy scorer.

Across 50 games, Porter is averaging 8.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game while shooting 42.2 percent from beyond the arc. He’s scoring well off the dribble, serving as an offensive spark plug off the bench.

Prior to suffering a foot injury early in the 2018-19 college basketball season, Bol Bol was a surefire lottery pick. Unfortunately, said injury limited him to nine games, and teams were extremely hesitant to select him. He fell to the Miami Heat at 44. After swinging a trade with Miami, Denver got the rights to Bol.

Now, the big man has missed most of his rookie season due to health precautions. On the other hand, he played for Denver in the exhibition games held in Walt Disney World over the last two weeks and wowed with his athleticism at 7-foot-2. Bol made his NBA regular season debut on August 1, finishing with five points and four rebounds across 11:50 minutes.

Bol averaged 21.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game across nine games at Oregon. He showcased a knack for putting the ball on the floor and sticking mid-range jump shots while serving as a defensive backbone.

Porter and Bol each had red flags from a health standpoint coming out of college, and many teams passed on them because of that detriment. Denver embraced it. They decided to bring in their tantalizing talents, waited for them to get healthy, and gradually worked them into their rotation.

While there’s always merit behind drafting out of need, a contender can’t have enough raw talent, especially when they’ve recently entered their championship window.

Sometimes when teams prioritize need in the draft they miss out on a more well-rounded player. Surely, the Nuggets could’ve drafted out of need in 2018 and 2019 and been fine; the players could’ve been selected based on how they complemented Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.

Instead, they took the player who was perhaps the best talent at the particular points of the respective drafts, who at one point each looked like franchise talents.

Imagine what Porter and Bol will be two years from now, full healthy and accustomed to the NBA game? In the meantime, they will improve with playing time, which dangerously weaponizes Denver’s bench for a deep playoff run.

The familiar faces will be the heart and soul of Malone’s offense in the playoffs: Jokic, Murray, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, Will Barton, and Monte Morris. They’re the foundation.

At the same time, no contender can be labeled as such without depth and versatility. Porter can be a high-minute scorer; Bol can hold his own starting at center, if need be. Malone could go with an overarching inside duo of Jokic and Bol at select points of games. He can also get considerable scoring from Porter off the bench.

Just look at what Porter did Monday afternoon against the Oklahoma City Thunder. With Murray, Harris, and Barton nursing injuries, Porter stepped into the starting five and was the impetus behind the Nuggets pulling off an overtime victory. The Missouri product finished with 37 points and 12 rebounds.

At full force, Porter and Bol are around a Nuggets team they can feed off, as opposing teams aren’t focused on shutting them down; their focus is on stopping Jokic and Murray.

You need depth to compete in the West. The Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, and Dallas Mavericks all have it. The Nuggets are deep by means of selecting the best prospect in the draft when they’re on the clock.

Let’s say the Nuggets get bounced out of the playoffs and decide they want to trade for a high-profile player: they have the ammunition to make a trade with Porter and Bol. Each player is a lottery talent who can be an integral source of offense for a rebuilding team.

Let’s also take free agency into account. Harris, Millsap, and Barton are free agents over the next three years. While it’s feasible to think they’ll re-sign with the Nuggets, Porter and Bol can assume starting-caliber minutes if the team loses players to free agency.

The Denver Nuggets continue to build through the draft, a route that’s enhancing their short and long-term standing.