The Denver Nuggets entered this offseason in need of defensive help. The Nuggets were among the most efficient offenses in the NBA during the 2016-17 season. They were also the second-worst defensive team.
So it was somewhat curious when the Nuggets used their lone first-round pick Thursday to choose Syracuse’s Tyler Lydon, a power forward who excelled at knocking down long-range shots in college but could struggle to keep up defensively at the next level.
Denver started the night with the 13th selection. It exchanged the pick for Trey Lyles and the 24th pick with the Utah Jazz. Denver chose Lydon at No. 24.
Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly indicated afterward that his team was close to completing another deal before it decided to trade back. Connelly said talks stalled when the teams involved were “on the 1-yard line.”
“We were very far along in one,” Connelly said. “We thought it was done. At the 11th hour, one of the teams involved had a change of heart. There was one in particular that was going to take place. Draft night, there are so many conversations. Few are substantive. In this instance, we were pretty far along.”
Connelly did not specify what teams or players were involved.
Leading up to the draft, ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported Denver discussed a trade with Phoenix that would’ve exchanged Eric Bledsoe for Emmanuel Mudiay and the 13th pick.
But that, nor any other high-profile deal for Connelly’s club, materialized, and Denver wound up trading back.
“Deal making is a delicate balance, and it’s frustrating when you feel like you have good deal for not just your team but the other teams involved and it falls apart on the 1-yard line,” Connelly said. “Certainly the competitive part of you, when you think you have a deal that can make your team better and it doesn’t get done, there’s some frustration.”
Denver is overflowing with power forwards with the additions of Lyles and Lydon. The Nuggets already have Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur under contract. Wilson Chandler and Juancho Hernangomez are also capable of playing the four. Denver’s executives acknowledged that some consolidation will likely need to take place before the start of next season.
“We’ve got to clean up some things,” general manager Arturas Karnisovas said. “Overall we’ve got a good roster. We just have to have clarity in terms of pecking order. We’re going to work on that in summer league and free agency.”
The Nuggets’ total haul on draft night looked like this: Lyles, Lydon, Vlatko Cancar, a forward from Slovenia, and Monte Morris, a point guard out of Iowa State. Connelly said that of the four players, Lyles, who spent the first two seasons of his NBA career in Utah, stands the best chance of earning a rotation spot this season.
The biggest question mark about Lydon is on the defensive end. In two seasons at Syracuse, the the 6-foot-10 forward knocked down 39.8 percent of his 3s. But because Syracuse mostly played in a zone, he rarely got the chance to guard opponents one on one.
“I think it will be a big challenge,” Connelly said. “Syracuse, the transition is potentially difficult. I like his rim protection. I like his athleticism. I think he has the physical tools to be a good defender. But it’s always a challenge when you leave a zone-heavy team.”
The Nuggets will now turn their focus to free agency. They are among the most cap-rich teams in the NBA, and there are roster issues — like what to do with the surplus of power forwards? — that need to be resolved.
“This is just the way things work,” Karnisovas said. “You come close to a lot of things, and sometimes they don’t work out. You just have to move on.”
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