Zeke Nnaji

Nuggets Exercise 2022/23 Option On Zeke Nnaji

The Nuggets have exercised their third-year team option on Zeke Nnaji‘s rookie scale contract, a league source tells Mike Singer of The Denver Post (Twitter link). The move guarantees Nnaji’s $2,617,800 salary for the 2022/23 season.

Nnaij was the 22nd overall pick in the 2020 draft, joining the Nuggets after playing his college ball at Arizona. The 20-year-old wasn’t a major part of the team’s rotation as a rookie, but did get into 42 games, averaging 3.2 PPG and 1.5 RPG in 9.5 minutes per contest.

With Nnaji locked in for his third NBA season, the Nuggets will have to make their next major decision on the young forward a year from now, when they’ll have to either pick up or turn down his $4.3MM fourth-year option for the ’23/24 campaign. If that option is exercised, Nnaji would become extension-eligible during the 2023 offseason.

Our tracker of 2022/23 rookie scale option decisions can be found right here.

Olympic Notes: Nigeria, Morris, Nnaji, Team USA

The Nigerian national team, having originally invited more than 40 players to its training camp, has trimmed its roster to 15 players, according to an announcement earlier in the week (Twitter link).

Three more cuts will be required to set the official roster for the Tokyo Olympics, but it appears there will be no shortage of NBA players on the 12-man squad. Precious Achiuwa, KZ Okpala, Miye Oni, Josh Okogie, Jordan Nwora, Chimezie Metu, Jahlil Okafor, and Gabe Vincent remain in the mix for the final roster.

One notable player missing from that list is Monte Morris. According to Mike Singer of The Denver Post (Twitter link), the Nuggets guard has been bothered by a nagging knee injury and wants to focus on getting fully healthy for the 2021/22 season. He’s sitting out of the Olympics for precautionary reasons.

Nuggets forward Zeke Nnaji received consideration for Team Nigeria as well, according to Singer (Twitter link), but the 2020 first-rounder decided to focus on individual development this season. Nnaji has interest in representing Nigeria in future international competitions, Singer notes.

Here’s more on the Tokyo games:

  • Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich said on Wednesday that he has yet to decide on a captain for the U.S. squad (Twitter link via Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press). Given his résumé, his veteran status, and his previous international experience, Kevin Durant seems like the most obvious choice, though Draymond Green and Damian Lillard could also be candidates.
  • Asked how likely it is that members of the U.S. Olympic squad will talk during the next month about teaming up in the NBA, Bradley Beal acknowledged that “probably a lot” of those conversations will take place. “Depends on who’s a free agent or not,” Beal said (Twitter link via Fred Katz of The Athletic). “But for the most part, we can’t mix that in right now. We’re focused on one goal at hand, and that’s bringing back a gold medal. Granted, we all have our respective, individual goals and talents once this is done. We can address those issues then.”
  • Organizers confirmed on Thursday that the Tokyo Olympics will be held without spectators due to a recent increase in coronavirus cases in the area. Ayano Shimizu of Kyodo News has the full story.

Fischer’s Latest: Gordon, Vucevic, Lowry, Redick, Ball, DeRozan

On the eve of the trade deadline, the Nuggets have become the favorites to pry Aaron Gordon away from the Magic, league sources tell Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report. Denver’s offer would include guard Gary Harris, a first-round pick, and either R.J. Hampton, Zeke Nnaji or Bol Bol.

Although the Nuggets seem to have the momentum, the Celtics are still “very engaged” in the process, according to Fischer. Boston’s proposed deal has involved Marcus Smart and a first-rounder, and it’s possible that a second first-round pick and the Celtics’ $28.5MM traded player exception could be used as well, with Evan Fournier also headed to Boston, says Fischer. Previous reports indicated that the C’s were looking to keep Smart out of the deal, offering a younger player in his place.

The Timberwolves, Rockets and Trail Blazers all remain interested in acquiring Gordon too.

Fischer passes on a few more trade rumors as the deadline draws near:

  • The Celtics are one of the few teams to express interest in trading for center Nikola Vucevic, but the Magic are putting a much higher price on him than Gordon. Orlando is asking for multiple first-round picks and a player who fits with their young core. Fischer expects Vucevic to stay with the Magic.
  • The Clippers, Lakers, Sixers and Heat are all still pursuing Kyle Lowry, but the Raptors‘ high price tag may prevent a deal from getting done. Fischer believes Philadelphia would have to offer two players from the group of Danny Green, Seth Curry and Tyrese Maxey, while Miami would need to part with Goran Dragic, another large salary and either Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson or Tyler Herro. Both Los Angeles teams are limited by their lack of available draft picks.
  • J.J. Redick appears headed for a buyout as the Pelicans haven’t found a team willing to offer draft picks or prospects in return for the veteran guard. Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report suggests a return to the Sixers is possible or maybe a reunion with former teammate Chris Paul on the Suns.
  • The Knicks are interested in Lonzo Ball and have the cap space to keep him in free agency, Pincus adds. The price could be Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox and possibly the Mavericks’ 2021 first-round pick.
  • Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan is also high on the Knicks‘ wish list, states A. Sherrod Blakely of Bleacher Report.

Nuggets Sign Zeke Nnaji, RJ Hampton To Rookie Deals

The Nuggets have officially signed No. 22 overall draft pick Zeke Nnaji and No. 24 overall pick R.J. Hampton to their rookie contracts, the club announced today in a press release. Hampton’s signing was previously reported.

Nnaji was named the 2019/20 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year on the back of a strong collegiate campaign for Arizona. The 6’11” forward averaged 16.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG and 0.9 BPG across 32 games. Nnaji also converted 57% of his field goal attempts.

Nnaji’s old Arizona teammates Josh Green and Nico Mannion were also selected during the 2020 draft on November 18.

In lieu of a college career, Hampton went pro overseas for the 2019/20 season, averaging 8.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG and 2.4 APG in 15 games for the New Zealand Breakers of Australia’s NBL. The Nuggets acquired the rights to draft the 6’5″ guard as part of the Jrue HolidaySteven Adams four-team trade with the Bucks, Pelicans and Thunder.

Assuming they agree to deals for 120% of the standard rookie scale amounts, which almost every first-round pick does, Nnaji will net $2,379,840 this year and Hampton will make $2,193,480. If their third- and fourth-year options are picked up by Denver, Nnaji will earn $11.8MM in total, while Hampton will receive $11.1MM over the lifetime of his rookie deal.

Northwest Notes: Favors, Thunder, KAT, Nnaji

Jazz reserve center Derrick Favors didn’t need much convincing around before deciding to return to Utah, per Eric Walden of the Salt Lake City Tribune.

“I just came to the decision: ‘You know what, man? It feels better going back to Utah,’” Favors said in a Wednesday afternoon Zoom conversation. “Utah is like a second home to me — I’ve been there since I was 19, [since] around 2010. It just felt right. So once they came with the opportunity, I jumped on it.” 

Favors inked a three-year, $27MM contract with the Jazz to back up All-Star center Rudy Gobert at the start of free agency. Favors previously spent 8.5 seasons with Utah before being dealt to the Pelicans last season. He averaged 9.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, and 0.9 BPG in 24.4 MPG during the 2019/20 season.

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Besides Maurice Cheeks, who already left for a job with the Bulls, Brian Keefe and Vin Bhavnani are the only Thunder assistants not returning to be part of Mark Daigneault‘s new coaching staff, notes Joe Mussatto of the Oklahoman. The Thunder previously announced Daigneault’s group, which will include former Knicks interim coach Mike Miller.
  • The Timberwolves are playing a delicate balancing act, as they strive to keep star center Karl-Anthony Towns happy while taking pains to improve the team’s roster long-term, as Jim Souhan of the Minnesota Star Tribune details.
  • New Nuggets rookie forward Zeke Nnaji hopes to become a lockdown defender in Denver, Sean Keeler of the Denver Post reports. “My ultimate goal is to be able to guard one through five consistently,” the 19-year-old out of Arizona said. “I want to be a lockdown defender no matter who I’m guarding. But the biggest thing right now is working on that three through five and just being versatile, no matter what role I’m playing.”

Nuggets Rumors: Grant, Bates-Diop, Bol, Craig, Nnaji

Jerami Grant‘s decision to join the Pistons had a lot to do with his role with the Nuggets, according to Mike Singer of the Denver Post.

Grant received similar offers of three years and $60MM from Detroit and Denver and decided to take an expanded offensive role with the rebuilding Pistons. Grant wasn’t thrilled with being the fourth option on a prime championship contender. He served on the second unit a majority of last season behind Paul Millsap and Grant viewed that as a sacrifice.

Singer offers more info on the Nuggets

  • They filled one of their two remaining roster spots by agreeing to a contract with Millsap on Saturday afternoon. But they don’t intend to keep forward Keita Bates-Diop, so that will open up another roster spot. It will likely be filled by second-year center Bol Bol. The team plans to convert his two-way contract into a standard deal.
  • With Millsap coming back, the next priority is restricted free agent Torrey Craig. His perimeter defense increases his value due to Grant’s departure.
  • If Craig signs elsewhere, they’ll look to add a mobile big man to replace Mason Plumlee, who is also headed to Detroit. If that plan falls through, the role may be filled by first-round selection Zeke Nnaji.

O’Connor’s Latest: Hornets, Knicks, Toppin, Spurs, Harris, More

League sources have long said that the Hornets‘ preference on draft night would be adding a big man, either by trading up for James Wiseman or by picking Onyeka Okongwu, writes Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer. However, according to O’Connor, there are some people in Charlotte’s front office who like the idea of drafting LaMelo Ball if he’s available.

As O’Connor notes, one potential avenue for the Hornets if Wiseman is off the board at No. 3 and Ball is available would be to trade down with a team like Chicago or Detroit that might be eyeing Ball. In that scenario, Charlotte could theoretically pick up an extra asset or two while still having the opportunity to select Okongwu.

Here are a few more of the most interesting tidbits from O’Connor’s latest mock draft at The Ringer:

  • O’Connor’s sources believe the Knicks will select Obi Toppin if he’s available at No. 8. If the Dayton forward makes it past Cleveland at No. 5, there’s a chance he’ll still be on the board for New York.
  • The Spurs “love” Villanova forward Saddiq Bey, according to O’Connor, who says San Antonio is also one of multiple teams with interest in trading up for Florida State’s Patrick Williams.
  • “Everyone around the league” thinks that the Thunder will look to trade up to land seven-footer Aleksej Pokusevski, who has been frequently linked to Oklahoma City in large part due to his agent’s connection to general manager Sam Presti. Agent Jason Ranne used to work in the Thunder’s front office.
  • Within his note on the Nets‘ potential pick at No. 19, O’Connor cites sources who say that Brooklyn is likely to re-sign free agent sharpshooter Joe Harris.
  • The Nuggets are thought to be targeting a frontcourt player at No. 22, league sources tell O’Connor, who identifies Isaiah Stewart and Zeke Nnaji as a couple possibilities.

Western Notes: Suns, Hardaway, WCS, Lakers, Thunder

The Suns are expected to finalize their trade for Chris Paul before the new league year begins on Friday, according to Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com. If that’s the case, the expectation is that Phoenix won’t use cap room this fall, opting to remain an over-the-cap team instead.

While that may prevent the Suns from making one bigger splash on the free agent market, it means the club will retain the flexibility to bring back one or more of Dario Saric, Aron Baynes, and Frank Kaminsky. Phoenix will also have the full mid-level ($9.3MM) and bi-annual ($3.6MM) exceptions available to make additional upgrades to its roster.

Here’s more from around the West:

  • A Mavericks source who spoke to Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News (Twitter link) says the team thinks swingman Tim Hardaway Jr. will likely exercise his player option, while big man Willie Cauley-Stein may not.
  • In addition to his previously reported workouts with Utah, Denver, Miami, and the Clippers, Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji has also auditioned for the Lakers, he said today (Twitter link via Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune). However, Nnaji projects to be a late first-round selection, so he may no longer be an option for the Lakers now that they’ve traded the No. 28 pick.
  • Former Thunder big men Nazr Mohammed and Nick Collison were involved in the team’s head coaching search process, according to Royce Young of ESPN, who tweets that Mohammed and Collison met with candidates to represent the player perspective.
  • In a piece for ESPN.com, Royce Young takes a deep dive into the Timberwolves‘ draft preparations as they get ready to use – or trade – this year’s No. 1 overall pick.

Draft Updates: Ball, Nesmith, Green, Nnaji, Hornets, More

With one week to go until the 2020 NBA draft, we’re continuing to get conflicting information on LaMelo Ball‘s outlook. Earlier this week, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony said that most front office are operating under the assumption that Ball will be the No. 1 pick. Today, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes that league sources have begun speculating that the Timberwolves have decided to draft Ball, assuming they keep the top selection.

However, there’s still plenty of chatter pointing in another direction. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said this week during an appearance on The Jump (video link) that many of the executives he has spoken to think Ball could slide a little on draft night. Jeremy Woo of SI.com has heard similar whispers, writing that there’s an increasing belief that Ball could fall into the 4-6 range of the draft.

As we wait to see which reports pan out, here are several more draft-related updates:

  • Vanderbilt sharpshooter Aaron Nesmith told reporters today that he has worked out for the Pelicans, Suns, Spurs, Heat, and Pistons so far, and has a workout lined up with the Celtics (Twitter link via Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington). Nesmith is considered likely to be drafted in the back half of the lottery.
  • Arizona guard Josh Green has worked out for the Nuggets, while his college teammate Zeke Nnaji has had workouts for the Nuggets, Clippers, and Jazz, according to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. Green’s workout with Utah and Nnaji’s workout with Miami – both mentioned by Rankin – were previously reported.
  • Count K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago (Twitter link) among those hearing more and more talk around the NBA linking the Hornets to Onyeka Okongwu. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer previously reported that Charlotte is eyeing Okongwu, but ESPN said the team hasn’t seriously considered picking any prospects outside the top tier of Ball, James Wiseman, and Anthony Edwards.
  • ESPN draft experts Jonathan Givony, Mike Schmitz, and Kevin Pelton share their mock draft detailing which player each team in the first round should pick.

Draft Rumors: Ball, Bulls, Avdija, Hornets, Okongwu, Nnaji

Earlier this morning, we passed along a report from Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer about the Celtics, Magic, and Wizards showing interest in trading up from their current spots in the first round of the 2020 NBA draft. O’Connor’s latest mock draft at The Ringer includes several more intriguing tidbits about the draft — we’ll round up a few of the highlights here:

  • Echoing a report from Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer, O’Connor says LaMelo Ball has struggled in meetings with teams and could conceivably fall out of the top three. If Ball is still available at No. 4, the Bulls‘ phone will likely be “buzzing,” O’Connor adds.
  • Speaking of the Bulls, multiple sources have told O’Connor recently that they’ve heard Deni Avdija may be the play-maker Chicago wants at No. 4. Avdija would be a nice fit alongside the Bulls’ current pieces, and new head of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas has a history of identifying international talent.
  • Although James Wiseman has been most frequently been linked to the Hornets, the team is also heavily considering Onyeka Okongwu, multiple league sources tell The Ringer. According to O’Connor, there are “many” front offices around the NBA that have Okongwu ranked ahead of Wiseman, so if both players are on the board at No. 3, it’s not necessarily a lock that Charlotte will opt for Wiseman.
  • Former Arizona forward Zeke Nnaji is receiving interest from teams in the late teens and the 20s, O’Connor reports. Nnaji comes off the board at No. 22 to Denver in The Ringer’s mock.