How Nuggets were built: Greatest second-round pick in NBA history key to Denver's run

By the time the second round of the NBA draft rolls around, team executives take flyers on players.

Maybe a player will become a contributor off the bench. Maybe he’ll turn into a starter.

But no general manager expects to draft a future All-Star or two-time MVP in the second round.

But that’s exactly what happened after former Denver Nuggets executive Tim Connelly and his staff drafted Serbian center Nikola Jokic with the 41st overall pick in the second round of the 2014 draft.

Jokic made the first of his five All-Star teams in 2019, earned regular-season MVP in 2021 and 2022 and finished second in 2023, and led the Nuggets to the NBA Finals this season.

He had help winning the Western Conference. Here's a look at how the 2022-23 Nuggets were built:

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This file photo from Dec. 15, 2016 shows Nuggets coach Michael Malone, left, talking with Nikola Jokic during the first half of a regular-season game at Pepsi Center in Denver.
This file photo from Dec. 15, 2016 shows Nuggets coach Michael Malone, left, talking with Nikola Jokic during the first half of a regular-season game at Pepsi Center in Denver.

Through the NBA draft

Christian Braun: The No. 21 pick in the 2022 draft, Braun averaged 15.5 minutes and 4.7 points in the regular season. His minutes have dropped in the playoffs, but he is a part of Denver’s future.

Zeke Nnaji: The No. 22 pick in the 2020 draft, he has appeared in just four playoff games this season.

Michael Porter Jr.: Porter had medical concerns (back) entering the draft and though he had top-five talent, he fell to No. 14 in 2018. He missed all but nine games in 2021-22 but is healthy now and an important starter, who averages 14.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and shoots 40.8% on 3-pointers in the playoffs.

Vlatko Čančar: Selected with the 49th overall pick (second round) of the 2017 draft, Cancar is not in the playoff rotation but averaged 14.8 minutes and 5.0 points during the regular season.

Jamal Murray: The No. 7 pick in the 2016 draft, Murray is one the league’s outstanding scorers. He had back-to-back 37-point performances against the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference finals and is averaging 27.7 points (48% shooting), 6.1 assists and 5.5 rebounds this postseason. He missed the 2021-22 season recovering from a torn ACL.

Nikola Jokic: The 41st pick in 2014, Jokic, the Western Conference finals MVP, averages a triple-double in the playoffs: 29.9 points (53.8% shooting, 47.4% on 3s), 13.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists.

Through free agency

Reggie Jackson: Acquired in the buyout market following the February trade deadline, Jackson played backup minutes in 16 regular-season games but is not part of the playoff rotation.

Bruce Brown: A great signing by GM Calvin Booth, Brown has been a two-way spark off the bench. He signed a two-year, $13.2 million deal in 2022 but has a player option for 2023-24, and it will be hard for the Nuggets to retain him.

Collin Gillespie: The former Villanova player signed a two-way contract (G League and NBA) in 2022 and is a restricted free agent in the offseason.

DeAndre Jordan: The center joined Denver on a one-year deal last year and provides a strong veteran presence on the bench and in the locker room.

Jack White: White, like Gillespie, is on a two-way contract and is a restricted free agent after the season.

Jeff Green: Another strong addition, Green signed a two-year, $9 million deal with the Nuggets in 2021 and is a valuable playoff contributor.

Through trades

Thomas Bryant: Denver acquired Bryant from the Lakers at the February trade deadline.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith: Washington traded Caldwell-Pope and Smith to the Nuggets in July, and Caldwell-Pope has been crucial to Denver’s playoff success as a defender and capable scorer.

Peyton Watson: Denver acquired Watson a 2022 draft-night trade to Oklahoma City.

Aaron Gordon: Getting Gordon in a trade with Orlando is another savvy move by the Nuggets front office. Gordon’s defense and rebounding and occasional scoring help make the Nuggets a complete team.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nikola Jokic key to Nuggets' construction as NBA Finals contender