It was fitting the Nuggets saw their playoff hopes officially end back in April while they were on the defensive end of the floor.
Giving up a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from just outside Fort Collins to Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook was just one in a long line of failings defensively that torpedoed Denver’s playoff hopes. It is a major reason the Nuggets, who ranked only above the Los Angeles Lakers in defensive efficiency last season, have said they will be targeting defensive-minded players this offseason, whether that be through free agency or a trade.
But Tim Connelly, the Nuggets’ president of basketball operations, was adamant following the NBA draft Thursday night that the organization can’t rely on personnel additions alone when attempting to plug the cannonball-sized leaks on defense.
“It’s not just about adding guys. Our present guys have to be better,” Connelly said. “It’s unacceptable to be the (second-to-worst) defensive team. I think we had guys on our team who took a step back individually as defenders last year.”
The Nuggets did have defense in mind, Connelly said, when they traded the rights to their No. 13 pick Thursday to the Utah Jazz for 6-foot-10 forward Trey Lyles and the No. 24 pick, which they used to draft 6-9 Syracuse shooting specialist Tyler Lydon.
“I think Trey Lyles can be a good defender,” Connelly said. “He’s got instincts. He’s big. He’s got a feel for the game. I think Lydon’s challenge will be guarding in space, but the rim protection is not a fluke. I think he’s willing to mix it up.
“So (defense) is a huge focus, but we really have to challenge our present roster and say, ‘This is unacceptable. You have to be better.’ ”
More Cancar. Nuggets fans won’t see the team’s top second-round pick anytime soon. Denver selected 6-8 Slovenian forward Vlatko Cancar with the 49th overall pick, and he’ll likely be stashed in Europe for at least two years as he develops his game.
Cancar, 20, averaged 7.4 points and 3.4 rebounds last season for KK Mega Leks of the Serbian League. He may play for the Slovenian national team this summer.
“He’s a guy we followed closely,” Connelly said. “We’re very familiar with his Mega club in Belgrade. Hopefully we’re a little ahead of the curve. We like his profile and his work ethic. We like his combination of shotmaking and playmaking.”
Footnote. Former Colorado State guard Gian Clavell signed with the Miami Heat as an undrafted free agent and will participate on their summer league team in Orlando.