DENVER (AP) — The Nuggets are deeper and more versatile after a busy draft day. They are also a lot younger after picking up Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris.
Denver acquired Nurkic and Harris and a second-round pick for Doug McDermott, their pick at No. 11, and Anthony Randolph in a draft-night deal with Chicago. The goal? Improve defense and versatility.
Nurkic and Harris, both 19, were introduced Friday.
“I think they’re part of the foundation we’re trying to build upon,” Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly said. “Very young players with a ton of promise and a ton of upside.”
Harris went 19th after he was projected to go higher following two strong years at Michigan State. The 6-foot-11, 280-pound Nurkic, who was taken 16th, has been playing basketball for just five years.
Harris joins a crowded backcourt that now includes Arron Afflalo, whom Denver acquired from the Orlando Magic for guard Evan Fournier before the draft.
Denver also took Serbian power forward Nikola Jokic with the 41st pick Thursday.
Jokic will remain in Europe while Nurkic and Harris are expected to be on the roster next season. The teenagers won’t have to carry a team with plenty of veterans. Denver’s frontcourt includes Timofey Mozgov, JaVale McGee, Kenneth Faried and J.J. Hickson. Harris will learn from veteran shooting guards Randy Foye and Afflalo as well as point guards Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson.
“We have some good veterans here. I’m definitely open to learn,” Harris said. “To come in and have some guys who have been in the league and who have been through it, it’s definitely pretty good for me.”
Afflalo was with the Nuggets for four seasons before being sent to the Magic in 2012 as part of the blockbuster four-team, 12-player deal that also involved Dwight Howard. He is known as a strong perimeter defender and has become a solid offensive player. He averaged a career high in points (18.2) and assists (3.4) with Orlando last year.
Harris led the Spartans in scoring last season at 16.7 points despite usually drawing the toughest perimeter defensive assignment most nights. The Nuggets covet his ability as a two-way guard as well as his toughness.
“He’s a really, really good defender,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said of Harris. “Our defense wasn’t very good last year and we want to emphasize defense a lot more. Him playing the guard position, he’ll be at the point of attack, the first line of our defense. When you get a guy who’s kind of starting out with a clean slate, there’s no bad habits to correct.”
Harris said the physical play of the NBA doesn’t faze him.
“I have never been a guy to shy away from contact,” Harris said. “I played football and I played in the Big Ten. Contact is nothing new to me. It’s something I embrace.”
Harris comes from a basketball background — his mother, Joy, played for the WNBA’s Detroit Shock in 2000 — but basketball is relatively new for Nurkic. He picked up the game when he was 14 but quickly progressed to a first-round pick.
He isn’t sure how his game will carry over to the NBA.
“We will see next season,” he said. “I will do my best to prepare.”
Injuries and roster upheaval last season were factors in the Nuggets missing the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. Danilo Gallinari missed all of the 2013-14 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament after leading the team in scoring the previous year. Denver also lost Robinson and Hickson to similar knee injuries during the year. McGee played only four games because of a broken shin.
All four are expected to return, giving Shaw plenty of options in his second year running the team.
“If we want to play small we can put Ty and Nate out there with any combination of guys,” he said. “Jusuf, as big as he is, he’s pretty agile for a big guy and he’s very, very physical. It gives us a lot of flexibility in terms of styles we play. Not only do we have size, we have speed, we have athleticism.”