If you watched the first Nuggets preseason game on TV, or streamed the second one online, you know how deep this Nuggets team is. Players like Juancho Hernangomez, and Michael Porter Jr, and even Torrey Craig are vying for rotation minutes.
This Nuggets team is rich with young assets. Many have speculated that those assets will be used in a trade to grab a second star. Most of the reports and rumors say that Bradley Beal is the big target for Denver. The existing speculation is that Beal would have to be acquired in a deal centering around Gary Harris, with the rest of the fill in being mostly guesses. A trade would have to include a salary filler, such as Mason Plumlee or Will Barton, as well as an additional young asset, if not two. Those names have varied from Michael Porter Jr, Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, or even Monte Morris. A draft asset is almost unavoidable as well.
Such a package would be a huge overhaul for the Wizards, and kick a rebuild off in a significant way. For the Nuggets, the perception is that adding Beal would make them a championship contending team. Is this true? Well, yes. However, the real question to ask would be, does it increase the odds of the Nuggets winning the championship? The answer to that question is yet to be determined.
Acquiring Bradley Beal would give Denver something that they do not have: A highly efficient volume scorer. Yes, the Nuggets just signed Jamal Murray long term for that role, but he is very evidently not there yet. (I’ll have more on this below). Last season was Bradley Beal’s worst in terms of three-point percentage, and he was still at least league average on heavy volume. In addition, his eFG% was .540% which is very solid for the amount of scoring he did. In 2017-2018, he was at 38% from three. However, when playing alongside a high level facilitator in John Wall, Beal hit 40% of his threes over four years. Moving from an offense where he is the primary threat, to a much deeper team in Denver, also with a high level facilitator in Jokic, it would be almost unavoidable to see an uptick in Bradley Beal’s efficiency. To further prove this, last season, lineups that included Nikola Jokic saw an increase in eFG% by .027%. An offense containing Jamal Murray, Bradley Beal, and Nikola Jokic, with the additional spacing and athleticism of Jerami Grant, the Nuggets could seriously be dangerous offensively.
Bradley Beal raises the floor of the Nuggets significantly. His game is very consistent, which is a trait that neither Jamal Murray, nor Gary Harris possesses. To prove this, I definitely stole a comparison tool that Adam Mares from DNVR Sports used in one of his podcasts.
To find their usual floor performance, I grabbed each of Jamal Murray’s, Gary Harris’s, and Bradley Beal’s “Game Score”, which is a stat used by BasketballReference.com. I used the 2018-2019 season for Jamal and Bradley, but for Gary, is used 17-18, a season in which he was less hampered by injury. Here are the Results:
Jamal Murray: 8 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block (GmSc of 6.3)
Gary Harris: 11 points, 2 assists, 2 rebound, no steals or blocks (GmSc of 8.3)
Bradley Beal: 20 points, 2 assists, 6 rebounds, no steals, and 1 block (GmSc of 11.6)
Bradley Beal’s floor of scoring and game impact would be incredibly useful for the Nuggets, with an even higher presumed floor because of the pairing with Nikola Jokic.
As noted before, this would be a consolidation trade. The Nuggets would lose certainly Gary Harris, almost certainly Mason Plumlee, and at least two other assets, potentially being one of their young backup guards, Michael Porter Jr, or Juancho Hernangomez. This would mean a net loss, (adding one, losing four), of three players. The depth that makes the Nuggets such a formidable regular season team would be greatly depleted. Once the playoffs hit, this would probably be much less of a problem, as rotations would be downsized, but in case of injury, it might become a problem.
Not only would depth become a concern, but so would defense. While Beal would be a very sizable upgrade on offense, defensively, he’s much weaker than Gary Harris.
Gary Harris was 6th in defensive RPM in 2017-2018, 4th in 2018-2019 among SG playing over 25 MPG. Beal was 22nd in ’17-18, and 31st among the same group in ’18-19.
Using FiveThirtyEight’s DRAYMOND statistic:
Gary Harris: +1.24
Bradley Beal: -0.80
The exchange of Beal for Harris loses the ability for Denver to hide Jamal Murray against the opposing team’s worst offensive guard. Denver fans remember during the playoffs against the Spurs when Derrick White was shut down by Gary Harris. Gary Harris’s defense during that series was one of the biggest reasons that Denver won. Perhaps with Beal scoring 25 a game, it doesn’t matter as much, but it’s absolutely a notable event.
Between depth and defense, there’s a lot of reason to hesitate on pulling the trigger for a trade like this, and there’s also a question of chemistry, as Gary Harris has been such a central part of this team while never really being the best player. With adding Bradley Beal, the floor of the Nuggets still raises so significantly, but perhaps not it’s ceiling, if the assets traded away reach their full potential. Certainly a lineup with the offensive prowess of Jamal Murray, Bradley Beal, and Nikola Jokic is terrifying for opposing defenses, but their own defense may be just as concerning. The right answer comes down to preference. If the Nuggets wants to prioritize continuity, defense, depth, and is also comfortable with running it back, then not trading is adequate. If the Nuggets feel as if right now is their time to win, and feel like the offensive edge that Beal no doubt would provide is worth the plunge, then a trade could be the correct move. Either way, the Nuggets have options. Whatever they do, they have a greater-than-0 chance of winning a title as soon as this season.