Denver Nuggets eye a young upstart ahead of draft

But he’s already on their bench, leaving tonight’s No. 27 pick up in the air

Tim Connelly, Brian Shaw and Josh Kroenke have some work to do before deciding who to take with the No. 27 pick in the NBA draft. Enlarge photo

Ed Andrieski/Associated Press

Tim Connelly, Brian Shaw and Josh Kroenke have some work to do before deciding who to take with the No. 27 pick in the NBA draft.

DENVER – The way newly hired general manager Tim Connelly sees things, Denver already has a young player on the bench who instantly can step in and step up.

That’s why he will consider all options with the No. 27 pick in the NBA draft tonight.

Connelly fully believes that Quincy Miller, a little-used forward last season, could be just the player to give the Nuggets a lift following a year in which the team won a franchise-most 57 games, only to bow out in the first round of the playoffs.

As it stands, the Nuggets already are one of the youngest teams in the league. They’re heading into the draft with not only a fresh GM but a new head coach, after Brian Shaw recently was brought on board to replace George Karl.

And any pick they do indeed make may be with this in mind: Andre Iguodala, the team’s top perimeter defender, opted out of the final year of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent. There’s no guarantee of his return.

Just in case, the Nuggets could be looking for insurance at shooting guard. Some mock drafts have Denver taking either Allen Crabbe of California or Ricky Ledo of Providence. They also could trade the pick.

“We’re always trying to improve,” said Connelly, who replaced Masai Ujiri after the league’s Executive of the Year left to become GM of the Toronto Raptors.

“If we can identify a guy that can improve on where we are, by all means we’ll bring that guy into the fold.

“But we already feel like we have a first-round pick in Quincy.”

The 6-foot-10 Miller only played a total of 26 minutes last season, mostly with games already decided. But he’s made progress through the offseason, adding 20 pounds to his lanky frame, growing another inch in height and honing his 3-point shot.

Miller possibly could fill in until the return of Danilo Gallinari, who’s expected back in December after knee surgery.

That’s a role for which the 20-year-old Miller insists he’s ready, comparing his style to that of Indiana Pacers standout Paul George.

“I’ve got a little bit more flair to my game,” laughed Miller, who was taken by Denver in the second round in 2012.

The Nuggets definitely should use their youngsters under Shaw, which wasn’t always the case when Karl was on the bench.

The longtime coach simply preferred to lean more on veterans than youth. Guard Evan Fournier, the 20th overall pick in 2012, along with forwards Jordan Hamilton and Anthony Randolph, could figure into the team’s plans even more heavily next season.

“That’s in the back of my mind on (draft day),” Connelly said of his youthful team. “We’ll try to use that pick to better our roster. That could be selecting a guy at No. 27. That could be moving up or down.

“That could be identifying a guy from a different roster.”

As a longtime assistant, Shaw was known for his work with younger players, mentoring the likes of Andrew Bynum during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers. He also tutored George, Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson in Indiana.

Shaw’s message was always the same: Superstars like Kobe Bryant work hard; they should, too.

“When I had a young player come to me like Paul George or Lance Stephenson and they just wanted to cut corners, I would just remind them that the other guy on the other coast in L.A. that plays your position – that is one of the best to ever play the game – he doesn’t cut corners,” Shaw said.

Miller can’t wait to learn under his new coach.

“I wasn’t given the opportunity last year. I feel like I’ve been under wraps,” Miller said. “When people do see me, they’ll be like, ‘This guy can play.’

“It’s cool we have a first-round draft pick. But I doubt he’ll be more polished than me.”