Basketball is back. Kind of. The bulk of the off-season fun has transpired following the draft and many of the big names either found new homes or got to keep their new ones with hefty pay raises in this ballooning cap. Now we get to enjoy some real basketball. The Orlando and Utah summer leagues have already kicked off but the Denver Nuggets Summer League will begin in Las Vegas on Friday. The team brings together an intriguing blend of fun rookies, interesting youngsters and hometown hopefuls.
Denver Nuggets Summer League Preview
#4 Josh Adams
A four-year starter at the University of Wyoming, Adams had one of the most incredible game-winners I have already seen and used that explosive athleticism throughout his career as a Cowboy. In his final year, he was named an All-American Honorable Mention and the Mountain West Player of the Year while averaging 24.7 PPG. He seems to be a D-League/International player although he does have an NBA-caliber leaping ability and decent 3-point shot (38% during his senior season).
#10 Ondrej Balvin
A starter for his EuroLeague team in Spain, Balvin is just a large wildebeest of a man. He has a 7’2″ frame and add in his extra long arms, he has plenty of length to protect the rim. On offense, he has a sweet touch inside the paint and excels at rolling to the rim hard, where he finishes with ease. He also contains a semi-decent post game but that’s about as far out as he goes. He struggles on the perimeter on both sides of the ball and that is what is holding him back.
Brother of current Nugget Will Barton, Antonio returns for his second season as a Nuggets Summer League player and after he completed his first season in the D-League in which he only appeared in three games, he will look to boost his stock. He says his strengths are his defense and speed. He also attacks well while going left but his jumper leaves a lot to be desired. Look for him to get spot minutes throughout the tournament.
#25 Malik Beasley
The #19 selection in the draft for the Nuggets is an explosive, athletic scoring-wing, who will, sadly, be unable to participate in Vegas as he recovers from a stress fracture in his leg. This is a bummer because Summer League would’ve a great opportunity to show his full offensive repertoire. Expect for him to be healthy come training camp.
#11 Darius Carter
Carter, a former Wichita State Shocker, played the last season overseas in Greece and averaged just under 11 points per game. Last year, he also played for the Nuggets Summer League team and didn’t get much of a chance to play (only nine minutes), he will look to get more reps and see if he can land a spot back on this side of the pond.
#12 Petr Cornelie
The Frenchmen was the fourth pick from the 2016 Draft for the Nugs and a very nice selection at #43 (#37 in the DraftExpress Top 100). He is a stretch-4 and at 6’11” could easily play small-ball 5. He will take some time to develop but it is impossible to teach size and hard to teach a 39% three-point stroke. The speed of the game will catch him off guard but give him a season in the D-League and he should be able to adjust to the learning curve.
#32 Jimmer Fredette
JIMMER!! Jimmer comes in for his seventh season of NBA basketball in which he has failed to figure a role and this will be yet another opportunity for him to do so. He still has the jumper (38% career three-point shooter) but still has the same concerns (lack of speed, undersized, bad defensively). Overall, it would be very fun to see the BYU-Fredette but at this point it seems unlikely and this very well could be his last chance before he may be forced to go overseas.
#14 Gary Harris
“Garris” was, and probably still is, one of the most underrated players on the team and in the league. He improved his three-point percentage from 20% to 35% from year one to year two, he is a solid defender who consistently took on the toughest match-ups on the team, and is a very good as a secondary attacker, where he can attack off of closeouts nicely. And he is still just 21 years old! He will provide some leadership for this young summer league team and appear in a few games.
#41 Juan Hernangomez
Ben Dowsett of Basketball Insiders called Hernangomez one of the steals of the draft citing how he has holes in his game that are easily fixable. He is yet another 6’9″ stretch four. He shows the shooting stroke you like and he has a tremendous motor. Whether it is him or Cornelie, the Nuggets may have found the ideal player to pair with Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic.
Not many learning curves in the league are as harsh as one for a 19-year old point guard but that is what Mudiay had to deal with last season. The #7 pick in last year’s draft, he had his ups-and-downs. He averaged 5.5 APG but countered that with 3.2 TOPG. He flashed his outstanding vision and his length on defense but was the worst in the league in Win Shares at -2.1, a full win below the next (-0.8). He also rated out as a -$10.1 million dollar player. So, the numbers don’t really do him any favors but the Nuggets are the kind of team who can deal with these sort of growing pains.
#27 Jamal Murray
Murray, a one-and-doner from the Calipari Machine, was one of the divisive prospects in this year’s draft. The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks isn’t sure Murray can do much more than shoot, talking about his weaknesses on defense, his lack of athleticism and his inability to score when his shot isn’t falling. On the flip side, SI’s Jeremy Woo ranks him #4 in the class and mentions how young he is (won’t turn 20 until February) and likes his playmaking. The summer league is just a start for Murray to see how he really turns out.
#20 Mateusz Ponitka
The underdog of this Summer League roster, Ponitka has a real chance to be an NBA player if he can put on strength because, currently, he has neither strength nor good lateral quickness. He does play extremely hard on both sides of the ball and his jump shot is there, it just hasn’t shown any consistency but he certainly has a place in the league if he can find the right fit.
Sampson came in mid-season and provided a nice spark off the bench where Denver badly needed some semblance of a defender and Sampson provided that. He is extremely limited offensively but has some nice athleticism in transition. He also fits in as a Mike Malone-kind of guy. This is a very important summer for him as he fights for his roster spot.
#1 Antwan Scott
Yet another Colorado product, Scott is a talented offensive guard who can shoot the three-pointer and a good rebounder for his height. As a senior, he was second team all-conference and seems like he will fit in very nicely in the D-League or make some good money overseas. It is great to see the three locals get a shot this summer.
#40 Josh Scott
The hometown kid, Scott was a stalwart of the Colorado Buffaloes for his four years. He is beloved throughout Boulder with his ambidexterity and his #goofyboyswag but all Buff fans want to see is him get his shot in the NBA. He has a lot of the tools but he might be a few inches too short and just a step too slow for him to stick in the league. He will probably be in the D-League for a few years but maybe he can make his mark there.
#6 Axel Toupane
“Toup” came in and brought some nice defense to the Nuggets in his brief 21-game stint. He was just under the league average for 3P shooting but his plus-minus was +2.4. Whether he will make the roster is still up for grabs as his contract is non-guaranteed for the time being. It may come down to Toupane or Sampson for the final roster spot unless the Nuggets bring in another free agent.
This will be one of the more interesting teams going to Vegas because very few others will contain as many other players that will be on the real roster. This could lead to a very successful tournament where Denver could win the whole sha-bang. If we see a Mudiay-Harris-Murray-Hernangomez lineup, then we may see a glimpse of the future for the Nuggets.
Main Photo: MIAMI, FL – NOVEMBER 27: Nehemias Morillo #5 of the South Florida Bulls defends against Jamal Murray #23 of the Kentucky Wildcats as he goes to the basket on November 27, 2015 at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. Kentucky defeated South Florida 84-63. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Jamal Murray;Nehemias Morillo