The Denver Nuggets have never been Colorado’s team. Fans have embraced the highs and lows of the Broncos and the Avalanche, but the franchise without championships has yet to gain their trust. (The Rockies and their one World Series appearance remain in perpetual limbo.)
The Nuggets have drafted well since general manager Tim Connelly took over in 2013, and they’re starting to see the payoff. Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Joki? were both in the top 10 in the voting for Rookie of the Year, and other young players like Jusuf Nurki? and Gary Harris continue to improve.
With the 7th pick in the NBA draft, as well as the 15th and 19th pick, the Nuggets had an opportunity to fill holes. 5280 was at Pepsi Center on Thursday night to gauge the hopes, reactions, and predictions of those who still stand by the Mile High Crew.
Despite scattered thunderstorms, by 4:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon about 100 fans had lined up outside Pepsi Center, many of them in Nuggets gear. Since the draft didn’t begin until 5:30, this left plenty of time to speculate and socialize before the drafting began.
Most fans kept returning to one major concern: the Nuggets’ tendency to draft foreigners and stash them overseas. Though players like Joki? have seen fairly quick results, most European players drafted by Denver have not paid off. As one fan put it, “I just don’t want to see us draft another foreign guy.”
Another theme of the night was the possibility of a trade, either of draft picks or of players on the roster. Rumors that teams like the Celtics were shopping their 3rd pick only fueled the debate that Denver should aim high to acquire a star.
As the picks started to roll in and fans began to stream out of the bar and into the arena, it became clear that the Nuggets would not be trading up. When Buddy Hield of Oklahoma went at number 6, an audible groan went up from the crowd—his Final Four run with the University of Oklahoma made him a popular pick. Fortunately, Jamal Murray, a standout shooter from Kentucky, was there for the taking. The mood was high, as many did not expect Murray to drop as far as he did (some mock drafts even projected him at number 3).
When the number 15 pick turned out to be Juan Hernangomez of Spain, reaction was mixed. Some clapped, while others voiced disapproval. One man remarked, “First pick was good. Second one? Not so much,” as he left the Pepsi Center. For another year, some fans’ “anti-foreigner” cliché remains, but they seemed enthusiastic when shooting guard Malik Beasley of Florida State joined the Nuggets at number 19.
With their three picks, the Nuggets chose offensively talented players who could be solid… eventually. Denver will have to develop their young, raw lineup, but fans seem optimistic about the direction of the team. When will they be ready to compete for a title? As one fan put it: “Well, I’m 33 years old, so sometime between now and the time I die.”