Editor’s note: This is the first of a five-part series previewing the Nuggets’ positional outlook heading into the June 23 NBA draft. Today: point guard.
Beyond Nikola Jokic, Monte Morris might be the best success story within the Nuggets’ organization.
A late second-round pick only five years ago, Morris grinded in the G League to become Denver’s backup point guard, then assumed starting responsibilities this past season in the wake of Jamal Murray’s ACL tear. He’s a shining example of the Nuggets’ commitment to player development.
The largest role he’s ever had yielded career-highs in points (12.6), assists (4.4) and rebounds (3.0). If it wasn’t for Morris – in addition to several other role players expanding their responsibilities – Denver’s season could’ve been a disaster.
If there hadn’t been immense trust in Morris, or he simply wasn’t talented enough to handle the rigors of initiating the offense on a nightly basis, the Nuggets would’ve been forced to dole too much responsibility on Facu Campazzo’s plate or hand the controls over to Bones Hyland in his rookie campaign. Neither would’ve been ideal and would’ve jeopardized a fourth consecutive playoff run.
A steady game manager with a penchant for drilling big shots, Morris flirted with a 40% 3-point shooting clip for the fourth season in a row. In many ways, he was the glue that galvanized the Nuggets’ starting unit in place of Murray, Jokic’s favorite dance partner. At times, he became Jokic’s most reliable pick-and-roll partner.
Heading into next season, when Murray will be expected to fully recovered and Hyland will have a summer to build on what was a promising first season, the Nuggets may have more depth at point guard than at any other spot. Given the health of the position, it would be a surprise to see them select another lead ball-handler at No. 21 in this year’s draft.
But even if there isn’t a new point guard in the fold, there are serious questions that need to be addressed this summer. How will Murray look upon playing his first competitive games in 18 months come October? Would it be wise to get him off the ball initially so as to ease him back into game shape? Did Morris do enough this past season to warrant a starting spot, and if so, what does that mean for Will Barton? Would a Morris-Murray backcourt hold up defensively?
There’s another wrinkle that has to be accounted for as well. With the surprising departure of team president Tim Connelly to Minnesota, and the ascendance of Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth, is one of the team’s point guards now deemed expendable?
Morris has two years and around $19 million left on his contract. It’s a team-friendly contract, with several other teams viewing Morris as a starting-caliber point guard, according to sources. Booth is expected to be aggressive this summer. Could Morris be moved in order to bolster a leaky defense? What about Hyland, whose energy throughout his first season was infectious? Neither plan should be off the table. If the Nuggets were to make a move of this caliber, it would inevitably shake up their depth at point guard.
And in that event, a point guard would be in play in the draft. Here are five potential options.
1. Jaden Hardy, 6-foot-4, G League Ignite, 19 years old: A good athlete who can be devastating in transition, Hardy may not be there when the Nuggets’ selection rolls around. Hardy’s a scorer with a predisposition for isolation baskets. With a shifty handle, he has no trouble getting downhill, but his perimeter shooting needs work. Under Booth, who has a clear mission to improve the defense, he might lean too far into the offensive side of his game for Denver’s liking.
2. TyTy Washington Jr., 6-2, Kentucky, 19: Washington’s an up-tempo point guard who’s always looking to run. The problem? There’d be a lot of overlap with Hyland. Washington’s not an explosive athlete, but he does have a knack for creating space and finishing in the mid-range. There’s also plenty to be desired from his 3-point shooting. He’s not particularly big, either, which raises questions about the defensive fit.
3. Jean Montero, 6-1, Overtime Elite, 18: A speedy, shifty player, Montero is, like a number of point guard options in the draft, undersized. Even still, he’s a good playmaker who seems to find the creases in the defense. Those creases, however, tend to shrink at the next level. With a small frame, it’s fair to wonder how he’ll hold up defensively.
4. Kennedy Chandler, 5-11, Tennessee, 19: A creative, three-level scorer, Chandler’s biggest hurdle to NBA success will likely be his size. If his offense doesn’t translate as fluidly to the NBA, the concern is whether he’d be a liability on defense. The Nuggets have leaned hard into undersized guards the past few seasons in Campazzo and two-way guard Markus Howard, with mixed results. Outside of his 3-point shooting, Chandler does have some breakdown, playmaking ability to find shots for others.
5. Andrew Nembhard, 6-5, Gonzaga, 22: An experienced, heady point guard with good positional size, Nembhard doesn’t have elite speed or athleticism, but he is solid. He’s probably not an option for the Nuggets at No. 21, but could be a high-value second-round pick. He might not have the highest ceiling among guard prospects, but there’s enough there to believe he can stick in the NBA. His big-game experience is a huge plus, especially if the Nuggets wanted an immediate contributor.