Nuggets’ best options for No. 28 pick in 2024 NBA Draft

Tony Nguyen | Denver Nuggets
May 22, 2024

The Denver Nuggets’ quest to repeat as NBA champions fell short. They fell to the Minnesota Timberwolves in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals. With their season over, they now move on to the offseason. The Nuggets’ focus will begin with the 2024 NBA Draft, where they have the 28th overall pick. Denver could look to players like Kel’el Ware, Kevin McCullar, and Harrison Ingram to help bolster a bench that was exposed in this playoff run.

The Nuggets have tended to draft experienced players over the last few years. It worked in spades with Christian Braun, who was Denver’s best player off the bench in the postseason. But they also took shots on Julian Strawther, Hunter Tyson and Jalen Pickett during last year’s draft. Neither was a factor in this playoff run. These three prospects listed, however, could bring an element Denver was lacking with this year’s squad to help in the future.

Kel’el Ware, center, Indiana

Indiana Hoosiers center Kel'el Ware (1) reacts during the first half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Target Center.
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

It has been a while since the last time the Nuggets have had a reliable backup center to Nikola Jokic. The Joker will always catapult any lineup that he plays alongside with. However, Denver cannot continue to fall apart whenever he gets his rest on the bench. The Nuggets had a -11.1 net rating when Jokic was not on the floor during the regular season according to Cleaning the Glass. That number dipped even further to -11.8 in the playoffs.

There are many reasons why Denver struggles without Jokic. He controls everything on offense and gobbles up rebounds defensively. It’s almost like he’s a three-time MVP or something. But the Nuggets’ options behind him have been abysmal over the years. None of the likes of JaMychal Green, DeMarcus Cousins, Bol Bol, Thomas Bryant, DeAndre Jordan or Zeke Nnaji have been able to hold up in that backup role.

Kel’el Ware could give Denver their best shot at a sturdy backup center behind Jokic since Mason Plumlee. Ware is a seven footer who can block shots with legit offensive skills. His college career began at Oregon, but was not ready for the jump to college. He looked much more comfortable at Indiana in his second collegiate season.

Ware shined under the tutelage of former NBA head coach Mike Woodson. He posted just under 20 points along with 12.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 2.3 blocks per 40 minutes. Ware was also efficient all over the floor, posting shooting splits of 58.6/60.9/42.5. He did struggle at the free throw line, however, where he shot 63.4%.

The Indiana big man has lottery talent but could be available at the end of the first round. If he’s there, Denver should pounce and hope they finally have a capable backup to Jokic.

Kevin McCullar, forward, Kansas

Denver has leaned into drafting experienced players over the last few years. They could follow that trend with Kansas’ Kevin McCullar.

McCullar transferred to Lawrence in hopes to play for a national title and potentially showcase a bigger offensive role. He was able to do the latter this season. He posted a career-high 28% usage rate but was still to maintain excellent efficiency. McCullar averaged a career-best 18.7 points per game with a 56.7% true shooting percentage and a 51% effective field goal percentage.

McCullar has a great all-around game. He can create for himself and others but can also excel as a role player who defends and does the little things. That was evident in Kansas’ third game of the season against Kentucky where McCullar messed around and dropped a triple double.

The Nuggets’ depth was really tested in this playoff run, especially on the wing. McCullar would fit like a glove and be able to contribute immediately.

Harrison Ingram, forward, North Carolina

Minnesota really exposed Denver’s lack of size. Aaron Gordon was their best option to defend Karl-Anthony Towns, but was frequently guarding Anthony Edwards because no one else was big enough to hold him down. But that often left guards defending Towns, which was a matchup he really exploited in Game 7. Getting a big forward to defend guys like that is crucial for Denver.

That could be North Carolina’s Harrison Ingram. Ingram is 6-foot-8 and 230-pounds who can defend all across the floor. He also shot over 38% from three this season on solid volume (4.6 attempts per game). Ingram isn’t as big as Towns, but he’d give Denver more size and defense to prevent what happened against Minnesota to occur again. Ingram should be able to contribute right away and would make for a great fit with the Nuggets.