February 5, 2020, 3:18 am
Tuesday’s four-team megadeal was mostly about Clint Capela heading to the Hawks and Robert Covington landing with the Rockets.
In between, the two teams roped the Wolves into taking on Evan Turner’s expiring contract. As the salaries and roster spots continued to fly, the Nuggets stepped in with a shrewd piece of business that sets the team up for another move down the line, whether that’s prior to Thursday’s trade deadline or beyond.
We recently discussed the notion that Denver, who has an open window and enough depth to get aggressive, was unlikely to make a move that would tangibly impact the current core without assuming a massive amount of risk given the importance and salary of players that would need to be moved.
Instead the Nuggets opted to consolidate their depth for a more nebulous future asset.
Denver traded impending RFAs Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez, as well as Jarred Vanderbilt, and received Shabazz Napier, Keita Bates-Diop, Noah Vonleh, Gerald Green and Houston’s first-round pick.
Beasley in particular was a godsend for the Nuggets last season, as his breakout was one of the main factors in the team staying afloat and even surging amidst injuries on the wing. He’s struggled to find his footing in a crowded and healthy rotation this year, and it seemed highly likely that the Nuggets would watch him walk away this summer.
Though they would theoretically have the cap space to match most offers for the 23-year-old shooting guard, common sense dictates that Denver would have to balk at the eventual price tag for a player who would be stuck in a bench role.
That same logic applies to Hernangomez, who has had an even harder time finding consistent minutes throughout his four years with the Nuggets. The idea of Hernangomez has always sounded good as an abstract concept, but up-and-down play and vanishing opportunity ultimately defined his tenure. Hernangomez’s field goal percentage has bounced wildly, going from .451 to .387 to .439 to .346 this season. Unsurprisingly, those high marks came in years where he averaged 13.6 and 19.4 minutes per contest, with the low ones in seasons of 11.1 and 11.9 minutes per game. The additions of Michael Porter Jr. and Jerami Grant put the writing on the wall.
In essence, the Nuggets were looking to get what they could for two guys who they knew were highly unlikely to be on the team next season.
That makes the acquisition of Houston’s first-round pick all the more impressive. It’s going to be the lower of the two first-rounders exchanged in this trade (Minnesota gets Brooklyn’s lottery-protected first from the Hawks), but it’s still another asset to dangle if the team wants to be bold.
Beyond that, Denver also added some stability to its rotation, even with the loss of two quality players in Beasley and Hernangomez.
Shabazz Napier will go from Minnesota’s starting point guard to the third-stringer on the Nuggets, which means that at worst he’ll be a fantastic luxury to have behind Jamal Murray and Monte Morris. Napier has the looks of a player who could be on the move again should Denver touch base with a guard-needy team.
Bates-Diop gives the Nuggets a more trustworthy option as a depth forward than Jarred Vanderbilt. Though he’s four years older and lacks one dynamic skillset, he has proven to be a steady hand that can chip in a modest nightly workload with low usage. Vanderbilt may be the better player in the long run but there are still plenty of questions about his game, and if this version of the Nuggets needs to rely on their deepest depth in an emergency situation, they’re likely to prefer the safer option. Teams with championship aspirations are often unwilling to box with uncertainty at the margins.
Vonleh, like Bates-Diop, gives Denver a relatively proven frontcourt option. With Millsap, Grant, Porter and Mason Plumlee all banged up, the Nuggets could use a plug-and-play type. Vonleh’s run in Minnesota was nightmarish but he is coming off a great season with the Knicks where he averaged 8.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks and 0.7 threes in 25.3 minutes a night, shooting .336 from the arc. Nothing that will blow anyone away, but there’s enough versatility there to see how Vonleh could be of use in a pinch – certainly more useful than Vanderbilt.
The Nuggets also received Gerald Green, who is not expected to return this season after fracturing his left foot in early October, and his expiring contract.
In the end, the Nuggets were able to recoup something for two interesting players that seemed destined to leave Denver rather than stick around in highly restricted roles. In doing so they were able to give their floor a light boost and pick up other pieces, whether that’s Napier, the first-round pick or Green’s expiring contract, that may allow them to throw their hat into other trade rings.
We’ll see what comes next.