NUGGETS

Report: Nuggets give contract extension to big with a lot to prove

Oct 21, 2023, 7:06 PM | Updated: Oct 24, 2023, 8:37 am

The Denver Nuggets will have one fewer question regarding their future plans as general manager Calvin Booth inked Nikola Jokic’s backup to a four-year deal on Saturday.

Zeke Nnaji was set to be a restricted free agent but is now locked up with the Nuggets for four more seasons at $32 million, according to ESPN. Nnaji, who is entering his fourth season in the NBA, was selected in the first round by Denver in 2020. He’s struggled to stay healthy and find a firm position in the league but has been a strong contributor at times.

Nnaji has played 136 games in the NBA, 53 of which were last year including a stretch in the middle of the season where he became the primary backup center. Over his career the 6-foor-9, 240-pound big has shown mobility, shooting touch and versatility on defense. Nnaji is about to enter a prove-it season to many, but according to Nuggets brass he has already done just that.

Nnaji is likely to be part of the bench unit that includes fellow young players Christian Braun, Peyton Watson and Julian Strawer and veterans Reggie Jackson, DeAndre Jordan and Justin Holiday. Those men will be tasked with filling in for the strongest starting five in the NBA, led by Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

At best the Nuggets got a 22-year-old locked up cheap through his early prime to be answer that has sometimes been a struggle for Denver of who backups Jokic. When healthy Nnaji has done a lot of different good things from shooting 38% from deep for his career to multiple double-digit rebound performances to four-steal and two-block outings. Nnaji could be a great weapon for Denver and help in their coming cap crunch under new CBA rules. And maybe, just maybe there’s a scenario where Nnaji could make sense next to Jokic in some spots. In a perfect world, this is a very good deal in finding a multi-use backup who can play with or without Jokic.

At worst, Denver gave an injury-plagued young player a very tradeable contract at around $8 million per season, a number always movable in the NBA.

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