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Dempsey: NBA Draft Combine First Step in Nuggets Aim to Improve Defense

Friday, May 12, 2017 | Denver Nuggets

By Christopher Dempsey, Altitude Sports

Phase one of the Nuggets’ attempt to solve its biggest on-court problem from the regular season – improving a leaky defense – begins this week in Chicago at the NBA Draft Combine.

The draft, in which the Nuggets are likely to select 13th but won’t be finalized until the NBA Draft Lottery on May 16, is their best chance to add rim protection. And that can come in a long, lengthy package like Texas’ Jarrett Allen or Gonzaga’s Zach Collins, or shorter more athletic packages like Oregon’s Jarrett Bell and Nevada’s Cameron Oliver.

Allen and Collins both project as lower lottery-level talent. They stand at 6-11 and 7-0 tall, respectively, and use that height and length to be effective shot blockers. Bell and Oliver are largely thought to be second-round draftees, and at around 6-foot-9 each, they are good leapers.

In addition to the first-round selection, the Nuggets have two second-round picks, Nos. 49 and 51 overall. So, if they choose, they can take several swings at adding a player that can help shore up their interior defense.

And it might be most prudent for them to do it that way. Their stated free agent concerns start with securing veteran Danilo Gallinari for years to come as well as inking a multi-year deal for forward Mason Plumlee and beginning talks with Gary Harris about an extension. All of those things, while wooing other free agents as well.

And in this particular area, the Nuggets need young legs. The draft provides that. The fact that the Nuggets don’t have a high lottery pick takes the pressure off any draftee having to come in and play a ton of minutes from the start. If he’s a shot-blocker, he’ll be a specialist. And that type of player can fold into the rotation, some nights playing more minutes than others.

But again, as the Nuggets conduct interviews and watch prospects at the combine, it is just a piece to healing the defensive pie. Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly discussed the subject prior to the end of the regular season.

“The way we score we’re going to give up a more points than other teams,” he said. “But I think what you have to do, and the coaches work their tails off, is you have to make it harder on the other team. Too often this year, we didn’t make it hard. For a young team is it a surprise that we’re struggling defensively? Obviously not.”

He continued.

“I think we have some young guys who are learning how to defend, but don’t know how to do it consistently. I think (Mason Plumlee) coming over helped us with his aggression being up on the ball. We were a little more aggressive in pick and rolls. But this is no state secret, we can’t be a very good team and defend at the level we defended this year. So we have to look long and hard at our personnel, we have to look long and hard at how we approach things. We have to come up with the best potential solutions because the way we score it should allow us to be a good defensive team almost by happenstance.”

And yet, Connelly and the Nuggets brain trust will do their best, through personnel additions to tip the scales back in the team’s favor.

NUGGETS AT COMBINE IN FULL FORCE. The Nuggets have a full contingent of team personnel at the NBA combine, which started on Thursday. In addition to the usual suspects – general manager Tim Connelly, and coach Michael Malone – head strength coach Steve Hess and associate head strength coach Felipe Eichenberger are there. Also head athletic trainer Dan Shimensky and assistant athletic trainer Jason Miller are among the Nuggets’ contingent.