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Nuggets, Heat underscore the importance of drafting, player development

The Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets, two of the final four competitors in the NBA playoffs, underscore the importance of drafting well and developing young players.

The Nuggets’ core, which they drafted, is Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, Monte Morris, and Michael Porter Jr. Murray was the seventh pick in the 2016 NBA Draft; Jokic was the 41st pick in the 2014 draft; Harris was the 19th pick in the 2014 draft; Morris was the 51st pick in the 2017 draft; Porter was the 14th pick in the 2018 draft.

Murray has a case for being the best player in the NBA bubble. He’s dropping 30-plus points with ease, draining absurd outside jump shots, and habitually coming through with clutch jump shots. Jokic is one of the three best big men in the NBA, doing a little bit of everything at a considerable level; Harris is a steady scorer; Morris is a spark plug off the bench; Porter is coming into his own, growing into a reliable scorer.

The bulk of this team was assembled through the draft; they grew up together. The Nuggets gradually improved under head coach Mike Malone, bought into the system, and the organization continues to strengthen its players’ strengths, climbing up the Western Conference.

The Nuggets came back down 3-1 against both the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers in the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs, which is the first time in NBA history that has happened. If that doesn’t show the growth of this team and what they’re made of, what does?

The Heat had more of an abrupt rise to prominence than the Nuggets. Nonetheless, it’s the same concept: drafting and developing.

The steaming Heat of the Southeast stems from Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, and Duncan Robinson.

Adebayo was the 14th pick in the 2017 draft; Herro was the 13th pick in the 2019 draft; Nunn went undrafted and played in the NBA G-League last season; Robinson went undrafted; furthermore, Butler was selected 30th by the Chicago Bulls in the 2011 draft and has been among the elite players in the sport throughout his career.

In his first season starting on a full-time basis, Adebayo has been one of the best centers in the NBA, scoring off the dribble and serving as an intimidating rim protector; Herro has been an electric scorer; Nunn was a fearless scorer in the regular season; Robinson is an elite outside shooter.

These individuals waited for their chance and took advantage when the opportunity arrived at their front door. Miami has a hungry group of players who go about their business with a chip on their shoulder.

A year ago the Heat was wallowing in mediocrity. In the span of one year, they’ve drafted and put young players in the right spots, surrounding them with reliable veterans (Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala), and are now a force to be reckoned with. Head coach Erik Spoelstra has a chance to win his third NBA championship.

Jamal Murray wasn’t even one of the talking points of his respective draft; it was all about Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram. Which one of the three players would you rather have? Players selected in the teens like Porter, Adebayo, and Herro are making teams eat crow. And Jokic was passed on 40 times.

Both the Nuggets and Heat gave their draftees the opportunity to grow through consistent playing time and added players who fit around them, rather than impeding their games for the sake of an impulsive, short fix. Millsap fit well in-between Jokic and the Nuggets’ array of wings and forwards; Butler is the veteran leader for a young Miami team, enhancing their play on both ends of the floor.

The buzz surrounding the 2020 NBA Draft is LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, and James Wiseman; all three players are compelling prospects. At the same time, who’s to say that someone selected in the mid-to-late portion of this draft proves to be the best or one of the better players of the class?

Maybe French point guard Theo Maledon, Villanova forward Saddiq Bey, and Memphis big man Precious Achiuwa pan out to be the best players of this draft class? Maybe Ball and Edwards have rough transitions to the NBA game? A lot of times success depends on the system a player gets drafted into. In recent memory, getting selected by the Nuggets and Heat is ideal.

You can find fixtures and reliable scorers in the middle of the first round and even in the second round. It’s all about complementary basketball and continually developing the kids.

You don’t need the sexy draft slot to get on the right track: you need savvy scouting and an excellent player development crew. Having the latter leads to growth. Relying on the former leads to repeated mistakes. The Nuggets and Heat have experienced continual growth. Several rebuilding teams across the NBA have made repeated mistakes.