Unveiling the Vision: Calvin Booth’s Behind-the-Scenes Journey in the 2023 NBA Draft

The Denver Nuggets had a vision. A plan in mind during the 2023 NBA Draft.

General Manager Calvin Booth and the Nuggets’ front office targeted a specific player archetype in Booth’s second-ever draft. Versatile. Experienced. Unique. Most of all, Denver gravitated toward prospects with tremendous offensive output. Guys that can space the floor. All three of Denver’s selectees—Julian Strawther, Jalen Pickett, and Hunter Tyson—shot at least 38 percent from the college three-point line in their most recent collegiate seasons.

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This wasn’t the first time Denver was this hyperfocused during its draft process. In 2022 during Booth’s first NBA draft, the Nuggets targeted a different type of player. Denver’s two selections—Christian Braun and Peyton Watson—cut their teeth on the defensive end. And both picks look like grand slams as of right now. Braun, taken 21st overall, played rotation minutes in the NBA Finals at 21 years old. Watson, a 20-year-old picked 30th, was a massive bright spot for the Nuggets to close out the 2023 regular season.

Can Penn State's Jalen Pickett, drafted by Nuggets with #32 pick, possibly  stick in NBA? Here's why he could | Jones - pennlive.com

Denver is on the heels of a championship season with the entirety of its starting five—Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Kentavious Caldwell Pope, and Aaron Gordon—inked to long-term contracts. However, the Nuggets are bracing for the potential exit of super-sixth-man, Bruce Brown. Brown is a free agent this summer, and the Nuggets can offer him $7.8 million next season. There is a chance he returns, of course, but Brown is set to have a boisterous market after his tremendous season in Denver.

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Potentially replacing his vast skillset won’t be easy in a market where Denver has very little spending power due to the salary cap. And that’s without mentioning the looming 2024 CBA, which further limits the degree that teams with multiple maximum-salaried players (like Denver with Jokić, Murray, and Porter Jr.) can acquire supplementary talent.

The best way to find the right supporting pieces within these limiting parameters, at least according to Booth, is simple: hit home runs in the NBA draft and develop homegrown talent while those players are still on their rookie-scale deals, which cost much less annually.

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“I like to utilize the draft to get archtypes that are hard to get in free agency or the trade market, and so I feel like all these guys are unique,” said Booth. “I think that’s going to help maximize this window when we get these guys that you can’t get otherwise and we raise them.”

Denver will enter the 2023-24 regular season as defending champions. As Booth mentioned, the goal is to “maximize” the championship window with Jokić, Murray, and the rest of the starters squarely in their primes. Head coach Michael Malone stated profusely that the Nuggets want to become a dynasty shortly after the franchise celebrated its first NBA title this month. Prospects that can immediately contribute during their rookie contracts are the most cost-effective way to maintain flexibility while continuing to compete.

So, knowing that the team needed immediate contributors, Booth sought out more experienced players in the 2023 draft. At 21 years old, Strawther was Booth’s youngest selection after spending three years in college. Pickett and Tyson are both 23 years old and spent five seasons in school.

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“Just getting good basketball players and guys that impact winning,” said Booth about his philosophy this go-around. “Oftentimes, those guys have to be in college a little bit longer. I think every single one of these guys, at some point during the season, Coach maybe feels comfortable putting them in the game if we have injuries or if they play really well. So I think that’s important to have those kinds of guys on our roster when we’re just coming off winning a championship and we need to get stuff done now.”

All three draftees come with ample college experience to learn the game. Moreover, their time in school has allowed them to sharpen their skills and precisely learn their strengths and weaknesses.

But there were other things that Booth valued, too, in this draft process. He called all three players “high character” and mentioned that they can help Denver build a more balanced and versatile roster.

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“I think they’re all high-character guys. They’re all tough. They’re all smart. They’re all skilled. And I feel like they all bring something a little bit different than we currently have. I think having a balanced roster, a diverse roster is going to be very important going forward in trying to have a sustainable organization and team.”

Strawther was Booth’s first selection on draft night with pick #29 in the first round. He’s a natural-born bucket-getter taken out of Gonzaga University. Strawther has as good of a case as anyone as the best shooter in his draft class. He shot 40 percent from distance in his junior season and is a full 6’7, making his three-pointer tough to block. There’s more to Strawther’s game than just pure shooting with impressive size, of course, which you can read about in our draft profile.

“Obviously, there’s a ton of players that I enjoy watching and taking bits and pieces from their games, but seeing tall shooters, guys like Klay (Thompson), have success in the league, especially early on his career. What got him on the court was defending and so just being able to focus in on my ability on the defensive end and keep growing that,” said Strawther about his skillset. “Tall shooters all around the league are having great success right now.”

Jalen Pickett, taken 32nd overall out of Penn State, could best be described as unique. He’s a 6’2 guard that primarily operates with his back to the basket, making him the ultra-rare post-up guard in today’s league. Pickett’s an excellent decision-maker and produced one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the nation. He’s incredibly physical on the defensive end, especially on the glass. Many experts, including the Nuggets’ Director of Scouting Jim Clibanoff, have compared Pickett to former Nugget Andre Miller because of his meticulous and distinctive style of play. Read more about Pickett’s game here.

“The backdown thing is kind of similar between me and him,” said Pickett about the Miller comparisons during Denver’s introductory media sessions.

“Jalen is a great basketball player all-around and can make others better with his play,” said Booth.

Booth’s final draft pick of the evening, Hunter Tyson, was taken 37th overall after five seasons at Clemson University. Tyson is a double-double machine that spaced the floor with 40 percent accuracy. He’s a stretch-big that impacts the game consistently with hustle plays.

“Hunter’s got an incredible motor. A great shooter. Surprisingly flexible for his game and can play on the wing,” said Booth.

Tyson brought up his experience and ability to play multiple roles when detailing what he brings to the table. He’s used to doing whatever it takes to help his team win, which you can read more about here.

“I played college basketball for five years. I have a lot of experience playing high-level basketball. Obviously, the NBA is a step up. But I think that experience will help me early on. And also being at Clemson for five years, I had to accept a lot of different roles while I was there. So I think that’ll prepare me for accepting a role here as well.”

All three players will have the opportunity to contribute as early as next season when the Nuggets run it back. Booth had a very specific goal in mind for all three of his draftees. His message: play within yourself.

“I want them to go out there and compete, play hard, and play the games that they got known for and they got drafted for,” said Booth. “Fit together as a team and play well together.”

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