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Paul Klee: Add 'triskaidekaphobia' to list of Denver Nuggets issues in NBA draft lottery

By: Paul Klee
May 15, 2017 Updated: May 15, 2017 at 7:39 pm
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DENVER — What are you afraid of?

“I have a fear of spiders,” Dr. David Shanley said Monday.

OK, good. I feel better now. If a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders has a fear of his own, we should all feel better. Mine is a fear of snakes, in part because something without legs or wings should never move that quickly, or at all, and because the Bible says Satan appeared as a serpent. They don't make sense, and I'm not taking any chances.

Another fear around these hills is the NBA draft lottery. It never leans in favor of the Nuggets. By never, I mean not once in 14 tries. They’ve only stood pat (six times) or fallen (eight). If not for bad luck, the Nuggets would have no luck at all. Look no further than this year’s lottery, which takes place Tuesday in New York: if the lottery balls fall like the lottery balls are supposed to fall, the Nuggets would hold down this pick in the draft on June 22: No. 13. 

See what I mean? The lottery that gave us Nikoloz Tskitishvili has doubled down with triskaidekaphobia. Maybe the Nuggets should just draft spellcheck and call it good. 

“I’ve actually never come across a person with triskaidekaphobia,” said Shanley, whose office is across the street from my house, explaining his role in answering my silly questions.

Triskaidekaphobia is the extreme fear of the number 13. It's rare enough, I guess, that none of the three psychologists I contacted on Monday had encountered a patient with it. Until me, now.

Even so, the good doctor had a treatment plan for the Nuggets. Avoiding the number 13 offers a quick fix, but not a cure. After four consecutive years in the lottery, the Nuggets need a cure. His message, in so many words: face your fear. Shanley suggested a “No. 13” tattoo, and perhaps tatted-up veteran forward Wilson Chandler has us covered there. It could also be a player who is open to wearing No. 13. The prize at the top of this draft is University of Washington prodigy Markelle Fultz, who prefers No. 20 but would be an ideal fit alongside Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic (or any team that enjoys perennial All-Stars, for that matter). My draft board continues with Kansas forward Josh Jackson, Duke swingman Jayson Tatum and Gonzaga big man Zach Collins — none of whom wore No. 13 in college, all of whom would help the Nuggets' cause.

Nuggets guard Gary Harris wears No. 14. That’s notable because Harris has made himself into an excellent shooting guard, and perhaps he can make the Nuggets lucky on lottery night for the first time. The Nuggets chose Harris as their representative at the draft lottery. His job is to sit, smile and not become an Internet meme. The Nuggets have a 0.6 percent chance of scoring the No. 1 pick, 0.7 percent at No. 2 and 0.9 percent at No. 3. Those are poor odds, but Harris has lifted his shooting percentages in each of his three seasons, from 30 percent as a rookie to 47 and 50 percent the past two years.

Now's his chance to truly make a difference, even if the Nuggets would probably draft a guy who plays his position. Go, Gary!

“The main problem with a fear is avoidance: ‘I’m No. 13, we have to change that, because it won’t work,’” Shanley said. 

To prepare the Nuggets for the lottery in recent years, I’ve interviewed officials from the Colorado Lottery, a woman stacking chips on a roulette wheel in Black Hawk, even an expert on pingpong balls.

“Table tennis balls,” he reminded me.

Despite their best efforts, none brought good luck to the Nuggets. Now it’s up to the doctor. Triskaidekaphobia is why some hotels skip the 13th floor on elevators, some airplanes don’t label a 13th row and, presumably, why the Nuggets didn’t have a player wear the No. 13 from 1977-1997, a long time.

Eight players have worn No. 13 in Denver, starting in the 1970s with Julius Keye (with the Rockets) and Monte Towe (in the ABA, then the NBA). Two decades passed before the next guy threw fear to the wind and chose “13,” but even then Mark Jackson just played 52 games here. Next were Jimmy King, Bobby Jackson, Keon Clark, Sonny Weems and Corey Brewer, who notably wore the number the last time the Nuggets made the playoffs, in 2012-13. A sign of good things to come?

“If I see a spider in the house, I have to stay present. If I immediately closed my eyes and crushed the spider, it wouldn’t be as effective,” Shanley said. “The best thing to gain that exposure would be to grab a dustpan and carefully take the spider outside. Then you face it.”

Well, there’s not a chance in Oakland I’m putting a snake in a dustpan. But I see you, doc.

“If the Nuggets frantically looked around for a trade and ended up in a bad trade just to get out of the number No. 13, that would be the worst thing they could do,” he said.

The best thing: face the fear. Triskaidekaphobia, shishkaidekaphobia.

Twitter: @bypaulklee

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