As the Denver Nuggets finalize preparations for the 2022 NBA Draft on Thursday, it’s becoming clear just how important Thursday will be. With two first-round draft picks and defensive questions to address, the Nuggets are expected to be active in trade discussions. There have already been rumors about Denver’s interest in trading in the draft, as well as rumors that Monte Morris and Will Barton are available on the trade market.
The Nuggets are clearly busy and understand the seriousness of the situation. They are researching the league and identifying possible options. In those conversations, it’s clear that opposing teams may or may not be willing to trade with Denver, and that willingness may come down to how much the Nuggets plan to sweeten the pot. As discussed Sunday, the Nuggets will have the 21st and 30th picks at their disposal in trade talks. They also have Bones Hyland and Zeke Nnaji as young prospects along with veterans Will Barton, Monte Morris and Jeff Green. Most likely, Denver will offer some combination of those players and picks to facilitate a trade.
The bigger questions remain: Which players will the Nuggets target in trades? How much will they offer to find the best possible fit? Are those respective teams really interested in such a move?
Let’s cast a wide net and break down who the Nuggets could target in trades this week:
Tier 1 – Not an upgrade, but a better option
De’Anthony Melton – Guard, Memphis Grizzlies
The trade: Melton to Denver, Mount Morris to Memphis | Or | Melton to Denver, 21st pick, $8.2 million traded player exception to Memphis
Melton is one of the best defensive point guards in the entire NBA. His 3.0% steal rate over the first four seasons of his career puts him in unusual company. The only other players this century to match that steal rate are Ricky Rubio, Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Manu Ginobili, Speedy Claxton, Kris Dunn, Kawhi Leonard and Jamaal Tinsley.
The Nuggets need defensive playmakers, and Melton represents an elite fit on the Denver perimeter alongside Jamal Murray. With the Grizzlies potentially losing Tyus Jones in free agency, Monte Morris would replace the obvious need for a competent point guard behind the explosive but injury-prone Ja Morant.
Dillon Brooks – Wing, Memphis Grizzlies
The trade: Brooks to Denver, Will Barton and 2024 second-round pick via OKC to Memphis
Also in the Grizzlies’ backcourt is Dillon Brooks, a 6’7″ wingback with little shot selection awareness. The Nuggets don’t need another volume shooter, especially if Brooks is again shooting 30.9% from 3-point range. However, they could certainly use Brooks’ physical perimeter defense. The Grizzlies may not need Barton back specifically (and it could easily be Morris here), but Barton went to the University of Memphis and may enjoy a return to campus from him.
Josh Richardson – Wing, San Antonio Spurs
The trade: Richardson to Denver, Barton to San Antonio
Richardson was traded to the Spurs at the last trade deadline for Derrick White, and spent the rest of the season mostly as a backup. However, Richardson played quite well, shooting 41.5% from 3-point range on the year after some lackluster shooting seasons. His main letter of introduction is defense, although as a versatile perimeter defense with long arms. He would surely help Denver’s perimeter defense. Barton may fit better in San Antonio as a bench scorer behind Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson (or be traded at the trade deadline to a contender).
Matisse Thybulle – Wing, Philadelphia 76ers
The trade: Thybulle, Danny Green and the 23rd pick to Denver, Barton to Philadelphia
This exchange was actually proposed by NBC Sports Philadelphia in a recent mock draft, and it makes sense for both parties. The Sixers add a more consistent shooter and playmaker alongside James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, and the Nuggets add Thybulle and the 23rd pick. Thybulle isn’t a better fit in Denver due to a lack of offensive talent, but there’s no question its defensive impact. The Nuggets need to take risks, and adding a two-time All-Defensive shooting guard who has played just three seasons in the NBA feels like a decent bet. Denver also has another first-round player and Green, who is rehabbing a torn ACL and will likely be out for the year.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Wing, Washington Wizards
The trade: Caldwell-Pope and a protected 2025 first-round pick to Denver, Barton and the 21st pick to Washington
One of the easiest player-team combinations is Caldwell-Pope and the Nuggets. In his last five seasons between the Wizards and Los Angeles Lakers, KCP has averaged 11.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 28.4 minutes per game on 38% shooting from 3-point range. His floor space and his defense match up very well with what contenders need, and the Nuggets fit the bill. It’s easy to see KCP sliding into the starting shooting guard spot, defending ball handlers while spreading the floor for Murray and Jokić.
For the Wizards, Barton is a more powerful scorer and playmaker than KCP. The Wizards ranked 21st in offensive rating last year and could use more perimeter playmakers around Bradley Beal.
Terance Mann – Guard, Los Angeles Clippers
The trade: Mann to Denver, Morris to Los Angeles
The Clippers have just about everything they need for a competitive playoff run. The only real question mark (beyond health) is point guard play. Reggie Jackson was okay as a starter last year, but not great, and the Clippers have opted to become a point guard because of a committee behind him. Perhaps Morris fits in as another stabilizer on what is a pretty volatile roster. The Nuggets get Mann in return, who is a physical combo shooting guard with solid defensive skills. He would fit in nicely alongside Murray and Jokić.
Level 2: a moderate improvement
Josh Hart – Wing, Portland Trail Blazers
The trade: Hart to Denver, Barton, 21st pick and 2024 second-round pick via OKC to Portland
Josh Hart was traded to Portland in the CJ McCollum deal before the 2022 trade deadline. He had some success with the Blazers, but there are questions about Portland’s vision and the direction they ultimately want to go around Damian. Lillard with capable veterans. Hart would be incredibly useful in Denver as a connector in the starting lineup. Perhaps Lillard would be interested in reuniting with a former teammate in Barton, and the Blazers could add the additional draft picks to deals that improve the rest of the roster.
I’ve also thought about a three-way trade that would send Hart to Denver, Jerami Grant to Portland and players/selects to Detroit.
Derrick White – Guard, Boston Celtics
The trade: White and Daniel Theis to Denver, Morris and Barton to Boston
The Celtics acquired White from the Spurs, and he helped them reach their first NBA Finals since 2010. Unfortunately, White’s offensive weaknesses stood out against the Warriors, and there’s a chance the Celtics have buyer’s remorse. .
If that’s the case, the Nuggets should get involved. White is theoretically a great fit alongside Murray and Porter in the starting lineup. He is a smart, high IQ defender with some playmaking skills outside of dribbling. The Nuggets could use that, and the Celtics could use the perimeter stability that Morris and Barton would offer.
Bogdan Bogdanovic – Wing, Atlanta Hawks
The trade: Bogdanovic to Denver, Barton, Jeff Green and the 30th pick to Atlanta
The Hawks are poised to make some waves this offseason with their personnel moves, and one of the players potentially caught in the crossfire is Bogdanovic, the Serbian flanker who shoots 38.4% from 3-point range in his career. Bogdanovic isn’t the best defender on the market, but he’s capable, and his offensive versatility (and his connection with Jokić) could make the difference.
It remains to be seen if the Hawks are truly interested in the previously offered trade package. Perhaps the other changes to his roster could make the Hawks more interested in a package with Barton, Green and a first-round pick.
Luguentz Dort – Guard, Oklahoma City Thunder
The trade: Dort, the 34th pick to Denver, Zeke Nnaji, the 21st pick and protected 2029 first-round pick to Oklahoma City
One of the best perimeter defenders (potentially) available, Lu Dort would be a perfect fit for the Nuggets as a fifth starter. However, the Nuggets have already made a trade with the Thunder, and since Sam Presti already controls Denver’s 2023 first-round pick AND 2027 first-round pick, the Nuggets sending another future first to the same team might not be attractive.
Still, if the Nuggets are serious about the competition, there are few perimeter defenders more capable than Dort. He is physical, athletic and ruthless, all traits that Michael Malone would love to add to the mix.
Level 3: a big swing
Malcolm Brogdon – Guard, Indiana Pacers
The trade: Brogdon and 2023 second-round pick via MIA/HOU/DAL to Denver, Barton, Green, Bones Hyland and 21st pick to Indiana
If the Nuggets are trying to acquire the best player possible without breaking up their core group, Malcolm Brogdon is as good as it gets. The 29-year-old shooting guard has averaged 18.9 points, 6.3 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game in Indiana on 44.7% shooting from the field and 35.2% shooting from 3-point range. He is capable of both going up offensively and going downhill, as he demonstrated in three seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks before signing with the Pacers.
The Pacers are in the midst of a rebuild, and Brogdon won’t line up with the timeline of Tyrese Haliburton and whoever the Pacers take sixth overall in the draft. The Nuggets could give them another building block in Bones Hyland, as well as the 21st pick. In exchange, the Nuggets get Brogdon to join a shooting guard rotation that includes Murray and Morris, an elite trio of decision-makers in the perimeter.
OG Anunoby – Forward, Toronto Raptors
The trade: Anunoby to Denver, Barton, Nnaji, 21st pick and 2029 first-round pick to Toronto
The idea of acquiring OG Anunoby is a bit original. The Nuggets have always been interested in Anunoby since draft night in 2017. They never got him then, and since that time the Nuggets have added Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Zeke Nnaji to the mix, a group of 6 Forwards from ‘8″ to 6’10” with versatility.
Still, Anunoby would be an intriguing addition to Denver’s starting lineup. He and Gordon would defend the two best perimeter defenders, and the Nuggets could put together a lot of lineups with positional versatility. For Toronto, they acquire Barton as a solid offensive option in their rotation, Nnaji to be a long-term replacement for Anunoby and multiple first-round picks. It’s a significant loot, but if Anunoby is the best defender on the market, it might be worth the risk.