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The Broncos, the Rapids, the Avs—heck, even the Rockies have played for a league championship. But not the Nuggets. For the 39th straight season, our local franchise will watch the NBA Finals, which begin on June 4, on TV like the rest of us. What gives? What do, say, the Spurs have that we don’t? Answer: success through the NBA draft. We say that not as jaded fans but as objective statisticians. Seriously. In anticipation of this month’s draft (June 25), 5280 created a formula for determining how good (or bad) a draft pick turned out to be. First, we looked at the original selection order of all of Denver’s first-round picks for every year since the Nuggets entered the NBA in 1977. Then, 5280 re-ranked all 28 of those draft classes based on a statistic called “win shares,” which uses fancy math to determine the number of wins a player contributes to his team. The difference between a player’s original draft position and his re-ranking equals our “pick score.” For instance, the Nuggets took Dikembe Mutombo fourth overall in 1991. The center racked up more wins than any other player from that draft. So when we re-ordered the 1991 draft, Mutombo moved from fourth to first, giving him a “pick score” of plus three. The Spurs boast the highest average pick score (5.8). The Nuggets aren’t the worst drafting team—congrats, Wizards (-5.1)—but with a pick score that’s basically nil (-0.03), Denver is the very definition of average. Here’s an in-depth, player-by-player look at what’s behind our mediocrity.
What the Nuggets Need Now
Barring a lottery-ball miracle, the Nuggets will likely pick from sixth to ninth in this year’s draft. Most mock drafts have the Nuggets grabbing 20-year-old Mario Hezonja, a six-foot-eight-inch Croatian sharpshooter who looks and plays like several of Denver’s current (Danilo Gallinari) and former (Evan Fournier) players. Other possibilities are Duke wingman Justise Winslow or Arizona forward Stanley Johnson. —Luc Hatlestad
—Inset images courtesy of Jacksonville University, Oregon State Athletics, Jennifer Pottheiser/NBA Photo, Shutter Stock, Jeb Jacobson/Getty Images, and Temple Athletics