NUGGETS

Calvin Booth explains why the Nuggets drafted DaRon Holmes II

Jun 27, 2024, 12:29 PM | Updated: 12:31 pm

DENVER—The Denver Nuggets hope they found an answer in the 2024 NBA Draft by picking DaRon Holmes II to a problem that has long plagued them.

In trading up and drafting Holmes, the Mile High City Hoopers are taking a swing at finally getting a big who can play with or without MVP Nikola Jokic. Denver has long searched for a backup center for Jokic and craved one that was good enough to also slide in next to their star at times. For years the hope was that player was Zeke Nnaji but it hasn’t really worked out for the No. 22 pick in the 2020 draft to this point. Four years later, the Nuggets took another crack at the same issue with the No. 22 pick.

So why now and what makes Holmes different from Nnaji? Plus, can the Dayton Flyers star really jump from the A-10 to being useful on a contender right away?

“He’s been a pretty prominent prospect for the last couple of years but I think the jump he took in skill, making the three-point shot took him to a different level as a prospect,” Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth said Wednesday night. “And I think I just like guys that carry the load for a team. They won a lot. He played really different defenses that tried to shut him down. He has a lot of experience in pressure situations. He can play both sides of the ball. I think his defense will be better to slow I think he had to carry a heavy load for that team and had to worry about getting in foul trouble. So there would be times when you watch him live or on tape where you’re like, ‘Can you really guard?’ But I expect that to be better at this level since he has less responsibility. And I think offensively just as somebody that helps, he can pass, he can shoot, he can catch in tight spaces and make plays and make little touch shots that Joker makes so he just has a lot of game.”

At 6-foot-10, the Arizona native exits Dayton after his junior season in the A-10 where he averaged a 30th-best in the country 20.4 points with 8.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.1 blocks per game. He hit a three-a-game on much-improved 39% shooting. This led Holmes’ Flyers to the second round of the NCAA Tournament this spring. They went 71-31 in his three-year college career playing under Anthony Grant.

“I don’t think all rookies are made the same,” Booth said. “You have the 18 and 19-year-old guys that may or may not have more upside and then you have some other guys that are accomplished and for all intents and purposes maybe more ready for high-pressure NBA games than some guys on NBA rosters. I think DaRon is one of those guys, has a high IQ, and knows how to play in the different styles and different scenarios so I think he has a very good transmitting plug-and-play”

Booth notes that the Nuggets are keen to add more athleticism, skill and IQ in this year’s draft. He views Holmes as a possible starting power forward long term as the league has recently sized up again, noting that maybe a few years ago he would be a center but since the league has become more physical Holmes will fit that profile. It’s also key to point out that the Flyer could’ve gone higher but he canceled workouts ahead of the draft after a really strong showing to Denver’s staff—hinting that the sides wanted each other. Though Booth admits there was no promise per se just that he was the guy for the Nuggets.

The reason Holmes fits is because of the desperation the Nuggets have for frontcourt help. The team has heavily taxed Nikola Jokic and Aaron Gordon in the last few seasons. With unreliable or older players behind them, Michael Malone rode his three-time MVP and steady partner in the regular season and it may have cost the Nuggets in the playoffs as they looked exhausted in defeat.

Malone’s big options have been so unreliable off the bench that he’s gone to starting power forward Gordon as the backup center in the last two playoff runs. It was hoped Nnaji would eventually become a contributor but he still remains a mystery. DeAndre Jordan is a free agent toward the end of his career and Malone has been hesitant about using the former All-Star. There’s also Peyton Watson, a young player who didn’t see much action in 2023 but broke out in 2024. Still, Watson wasn’t part of the playoff rotation in the end and he’s more of a tall wing than a big. Some of these lineups have moved starting small forward Michael Porter Jr. to power forward, diminishing one of the Nuggets greatest strengths—size.

This leaves Holmes with a unique skillset on the roster and an ability to fill the role Denver most needed to address this summer. The fact is, any rookie was unlikely to crack the playoff rotation in year one, Christian Braun is a rare case, but Holmes has a shot. Moreso, the hope is Holmes can take minutes and miles off Jokic and Gordon in the regular season to leave them fresher for the postseason.

“The onus will be on DaRon to play well and to show the coaches that he can play,” Booth said.” If he can play, they’ll get a chance to play. More and more we’re starting to understand the realities of the CBA and it’s gonna be hard to make a lot of moves when you have one of the most expensive starting lineups and one of the best starting lineups so I think you’d have to get value out of these guys and hopefully we’ll get a shot to play.

Denver will likely still look at adding a veteran big man at a low cost to fill in depth-wise and may even look for a center with one of their three two-way contracts. This should leave Nnaji, who has the most moveable salary on the roster, expendable as a trade chip. With Holmes in the fold, the Nuggets can now trade Nnaji for a much-needed backup point guard or a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope replacement, should the starting shooting guard walk.

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