Free Agency Grades: Denver Nuggets
Fresh off of a trip to the Conference Finals, Denver is looking to stay ahead of the pack in a crowded West during the 20-21 NBA season. With the ninth youngest roster in the Association, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and the rest of the Nuggets are likely to do exactly that.
It was a quiet offseason, but with a few key signings - and departures - let’s breakdown the offseason that was for the Denver Nugget:
Paul Millsap signs 1-year, $10 million deal
Losing Jerami Grant to the Detroit Pistons was a bit of a shocker, but bringing the veteran Millsap here helps save face. He’s familiar with Mike Malone’s system after three seasons in Denver, and the one-year deal is easy enough to navigate.
While he may not be capable of playing major minutes at this stage of his career, the 35-year old can still contribute with perimeter shooting, savvy passing, and the ability to score key baskets. Millsap’s defense is where Grant’s loss will be most noticeable.
With Grant headed to the Motor City, Denver’s front office needed to plug holes in the frontcourt fast, and bringing Millsap back on a one-year deal was the right move. Millsap’s experience is still valuable for a relatively young core.
Though Millsap is better suited to play backup small-ball 5 at this stage of his career, he can still log power forward minutes. While Millsap can still score in a variety of ways, his defensive versatility against more agile players at the 4 does limit what the veteran big provides. Despite an inconsistent playoff performance in Orlando, Millsap’s still a handy player for the Nuggets to have on the court and in the locker room.
JaMychal Green signs a two-year, $15 million deal
Similar to Milsap’s signing, picking up JaMychal Green was a necessary move with Grant departing for Detroit. The younger Green has a good chance to play starting minutes for this Nuggets team.
A gritty and rugged defender who’s played both the 4 and small-ball 5, Green’s shooting (38 percent from deep last season) and rebounding will make him a valuable role player for Denver come playoff time.
Having Green under contract for two years means that when Millsap’s deal runs out, Denver can use that money to perhaps go after a more defensive-oriented forward, sliding Green to a bench role.
For now, the cost for Green was a necessary one as the Nuggets’ front office sought to quickly slap a bandaid over Jerami Grant’s departure. For tough defense, perimeter shooting and some more experience, this was a solid move.
While Green doesn’t replace Grant’s versatility on the defensive side of the ball, the former Clipper will be a valued contributor on both ends of the floor. While Michael Porter Jr is primed to earn a starting role, MPJ has a lot to learn on D. Green will be crucial here.
Add in rebounding, the versatility to play both at the 4 or 5, and great 3-point shooting for his position, Green’s a great pickup for Denver.
Facundo Campazzo signs a two-year, $6 million deal
The signing of Argentinian point guard Facundo Campazzo is a head-scratcher. While having more playmaking is never a bad thing, Monte Morris already occupies the backup point guard slot and is incredibly effective in that role.
Add in the selection of RJ Hampton on Draft Night, and it’s unclear where Campazzo fits. While the 5’11” point guard has elite playmaking and can make magical passes, it’s hard to see where Campazzo slots into the rotation.
Campazzo provides off-ball defense and playmaking, as well as some back court depth. Still, the cap space would have been better spent bolstering the wing or front court. With Jerami Grant and Torrey Craig leaving, putting that money in front of a Kent Bazemore or Garret Temple might have been a better use of finances.
I’m still a little perplexed with the signing of Campazzo. Upping the Nuggets’ pace a bit isn’t a bad call - Denver was the second slowest team in the NBA last season - the club has more than enough offensive weapons on the roster. Signing a defensive-minded player with more size would have made more sense. While Campazzo will no doubt delight the Mile High City with his passing repertoire (it’s seriously THAT good), this move doesn’t seem ideal.
Isaiah Hartenstein signs a two-year, $3.38 million deal
With Mason Plumlee joining the newly minted Detroit Centers, er, um Pistons, the Nuggets picked up Isaiah Hartenstein to plug in as a backup 5. And the fit is a good one.
The 6’6” Hartenstein was apparently too tall for Daryl Morey and Mike D’Antoni, but the 22-year old center tore it up in the G-League, averaging 24.9 points. 14.7 rebounds and 4.4 assist per game.
With strong rim-running acumen, the ability to finish in the pick-and-roll, and rebound, with a developing outside shot to boot, Hartenstein can play right away but still has room to develop alongside Bol Bol.
Getting a big man with Hartenstein’s skill set and upside at this price is a bargain. As mentioned before, he will get the chance to play reserve minutes right away, but also has the time to develop into a real steal for Denver. Two-way production from a young big at this contract price was too good for the Nuggets to pass up.
An underrated signing, Hartenstein has an opportunity to carve out a real rotational role in Denver, something he wasn’t able to do in Houston. At a cheap price, the Nuggets are able to see if Hartenstein’s G-League and occasional NBA form can translate into sustained rotational minutes in Plumlee’s absence. Rim-running, adequate defense and presence on both the defensive and offensive glass, Hartenstein in Denver is a nice move for both parties.
Greg Whittington signs a Two-Way contract
Another underrated move, signing Greg Whittington is arguably the signing that will help plug the Jerami Grant hole the most. An overseas player? Really? Yes.
Whittington last suited up for the Turkish team Galatasaray, and with a 6’8” and 212 lbs frame, he’ll physically be a great analog for the departed Grant. Someone who can handle the ball, provide defensive versatility with a 7’2” wingspan, and help with some outside shooting (48.4 percent last season on 2.8 attempts per game), Whittington is ready to step into some major minutes.
After going from Georgetown, to the G League, to the Sydney Kings and then to Turkey, the Nuggets are getting a player who has proven he truly loves to hoop. Similar to Torrey Craig’s journey, Denver getting Whittington on a two-way deal is a true steal. While he may not blow anyone away in a particular category, he’s able to do a little bit of everything.
While this might seem like a high grade for a player who hasn’t played any NBA minutes, Whittington’s versatility on a affordable, flexible two-way deal is a sneaky great signing for Denver.
JaMychal Green and Paul Millsap will take priority over Whittington, but the 28-year old is an extremely versatile player. Whittington has the best chance of replicating Grant’s across the board contributions, potentially in the playoffs.