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Nuggets have a clear need for a wing. How will they fix it? – Sterling Journal-Lawyer

Editor’s note: The third installment in a five-part series that explores the Nuggets’ positional prediction ahead of the June 23 NBA draft. Today: flank players. Part 1: point guard. Part II: shooting guard.

Look back at Denver’s first-round playoff encounter with Golden State and you’ll see that it was the decisive turning point that turned the series from a one-sided game into one that made it competitive, to say the least.

In the first two games — down 36 points — Aaron Gordon of the Nuggets was just a shell of his athletic, burly physique. He looked lost, unsure where his insult came from, and seemed to insist that the Warriors were bothering him.

The trash talk of Draymond Green and Clay Thompson was relentless.

In Game 3, Gordon appeared. He hit the glass (12 rebounds), ate paint, and when the opportunity presented itself to launch an open jumper, he did not hesitate. It was a subtle but significant change that gave center Nikola Jokic a viable partner, kept the Nuggets within reach of the Warriors, but more importantly, filled Gordon with playoff confidence.

His playoff debut with Denver (against Portland and Phoenix) in 2021 was underwhelming, although a hamstring injury may have played a role. Until Game 3 against Golden State this spring, Gordon didn’t prove he wanted to play in the scene. Game 4 (the Nuggets’ only win) and Game 5 were similar. Gordon was aggressive, calling the ball into the post, using his size advantage and playing freely.

In the last three games of Denver’s first-round loss to Golden State, the Nuggets lost by a total of four points. Gordon’s revival was at the heart of their revival.

By choosing No. 2 or No. 3 this season depending on the night, it became apparent that these duties, including the main defensive task each night, were too much for Gordon. But injuries and a distinct lack of depth on the flank forced him to fill those holes.

PJ Dozier’s anterior cruciate ligament tear in November was devastating on a number of fronts. Dozier was one of the team’s most versatile defenders and his absence only added to the defensive pressure on Gordon. Despite finding a real wing at the trade deadline, the Nuggets instead added only the gunslinger (Bryn Forbes) and backup enforcer (DeMarcus Cousins).

Davon Reed, a two-way spark plug, was moved to the bench for the postseason due to the status of his contract. It won’t be a surprise to see him back in Denver on a standard contract. But the truth is that even though Gordon will play lower in the pecking order next season alongside a (presumably) healthy Michael Porter Jr., the Nuggets are extremely weak on the wing.

They know it too, and they have an inner drive to get better defensively.

Whether it’s through a draft or a landscape-changing trade, the course could be set next week. If it’s the former, they’ll have plenty of options.

1. AJ Griffin, 6’6″ Duke, 18: Griffin is big, strong, and has a three-point shot that could easily be used in the NBA. He has the potential to become a perfect 3-and-D type player, though lower body injuries have hampered his progress. The Nuggets have already taken on a significant injury risk for Porter. Picking Griffin will likely require a trade – which the Nuggets could do now with two first-round picks.

2. Jalen Williams, 6ft 6in, Santa Clara, 21: The Nuggets, with a window defined by Jokic’s prime list, are in a unique position to appreciate old prospects. Williams is an elite athlete with a high IQ in hoop play and a smooth 3-point shot. With a good frame and motor, he can also be a promising defender. Williams may be one of the sleepers in the draft.

3. E. Jay Liddell, 6’5, Ohio State, 21: Liddell is a fundamentally reliable player with solid shooting mechanics and a high IQ. He played some center in Ohio State, which is not going to happen in the NBA. His size may be the limiting factor, but if the Nuggets believe in his defensive versatility, they could use him in smaller lineups.

4. Dalene Terry, 6ft 6in, Arizona, 19: A lanky jumper, Terry excels in transitions with his speed and vision. While his throws need some work, especially on the outside, his defensive potential is already there. As a dedicated passer and quality defenseman, he’s already ticked two of the boxes Denver needs for their wings.

5. Kendall Brown, 6ft 6in, Baylor, 19: The constant threat of the throw, it would be endlessly interesting to put Brown next to Gordon to use some off-ball dunkers. Brown can also switch between defenders, but his erratic shooting and occasional hesitation can put the Nuggets on pause.

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