I finally was able to finish watching the last three summer league games for the Denver Nuggets and I think Nuggets fans should be very pleased. The one player on the summer league team who will be in the 2009-10 rotation played very well.
Even though Ty Lawson did not shoot the ball well in his first two games, highlighted by the numerous rejections he suffered near the rim, I thought he did everything else well. Little did I know that it would only take him two games to adjust to the increased size and athleticism of the summer league.
Lawson continued to control the tempo, make great decisions and play solid defense. He also greatly reduced the number of shots he had blocked by using his body to create contact with a potential shot blocker to get his shot off, using a little floater in the lane and he also became more creative as evidenced by a beautiful reverse layup he made after jumping from the left side of the rim and scoring on the right side. In addition to that he started taking, and making, more jumpers. The result was a combined shooting percentage of 57.1% on two point attempts and 60.0% on threes.
The one thing you hate to see is a quick player who can shoot. If you lay off he will kill you with the jumper, however, if you come out on him, it is even easier for him to drive past you. Lawson accentuated that defensive conundrum by showing off a great pump fake to get his man in the air. He used it several times and it worked every time. The only person who even had a chance to keep Lawson out of the lane was Jerryd Bayless of Portland who did a pretty good job on Lawson in game three. Still Ty posted 26 points on 11-16 from the floor and tallied five assists.
I also loved seeing the accuracy on his passes up the floor. Nuggets players love to launch a three quarter court pass about five feet too high, but Lawson connected perfectly on nearly all of his attempts to get the ball ahead to a teammate.
He also reduced his turnovers from four in the first game to two or fewer over the next four contests.
As I mentioned in my review of games one and two, we cannot draw hard and fast conclusions from five summer league games, but if you combine what we knew about him during his three seasons at Chapel Hill and now in summer league, I think we can be assured that Lawson will be a very good efficient backup point guard. You can see his intelligence and experience in the ways he does little things such as drift to one side of the floor or the other based on where he expects the rebound to come off the rim in order to be in position to receive the outlet pass. His intelligence is off the charts and I love how he was able to adapt to the talent and athleticism of the competition after only two games.
Sonny Weems showed just enough to entice us for what may come in the future. His best shooting performance was a 10-23 (43.4%) night in game five that brought his overall shooting percentage up to 32.6%. He also shot poorly from the three point line dropping onto three of his fifteen attempts (20.0%).
Sonny never made the adjustment to use his talents to set up his teammates when his shot was not falling and he continued to force his offense throughout the five games never attempting fewer than 15 shots. He averaged slightly more than one shot for every two minutes he was on the floor. That is a little too aggressive and as George Karl said when he was interviewed during game five, Weems does not recognize the difference between a good shot and a bad one. He can get his own shot whenever he wants, but settled for a contested midrange jumper far too often.
His defense was very up and down. You could see how good he could be on occasion when he would come out of a time out or a quarter break and really play strong focused defense. Unfortunately that focus came and went. His biggest weakness is getting around picks. Instead of fighting over them he tries to slide around them as if attempting to avoid contact. By the time he would clear a screen and be ready to recover his man was usually already in the lane if not at the rim.
I had hopes that Weems could play the role of providing scoring off the bench, but he is clearly not ready to fill that role. If he is the third option on the floor and the defense is not keying on him, he could be effective and he showed he was much more accurate on catch and shoot opportunities than shooting off the dribble, as most players are.
Even with his shortcomings, he is an intriguing talent and I think he is just a year or two away from being a good NBA player.
The other player I really enjoyed watching was Coby Karl. He is a player who can do everything. He is a very good passer, can handle the ball, knows where to be and when he needs to be there and he can shoot. Karl converted on 61.5% of his shots and made half of his 16 three point attempts. His points per shot is off the charts. He scored 19 points on seven shots in game one, ten points on four shots in game two, 16 points on six shots in game three, 11 points on nine shots in game four and 19 points on 13 shots in game five. Do the math and the result is an astounding 1.92 points per shot. Put him on the floor with players like Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Nene and he will drain open shots all day long.
Defensively he is a little slow laterally, but his understanding of how to play defense somewhat compensates for his lack of speed. Add in the fact that he does not fall asleep on his man or his help responsibilities and he will not kill you defensively.
He plays hard every second he is on the floor and always provides some positive benefit. I do not care what it looks like to have his dad as coach. I want him on the regular season roster.
Looking at the other players, I mentioned C.J. Giles previously as an active shot blocker and athletic defender. I do not think he has NBA talent, but he is right on the borderline. I could see him getting a chance to show what he can do in camp. Ronald Dupree did his best Dahntay Jones impersonation. He is an aggressive defender and showed he can score at the rim. His jumper is creaky and he would provide little help on offense. Still, he plays hard and can play defense. I would not be surprised if the Nuggets brought him into camp. Derrick Byars passes the eyeball test, he is a solid athlete and has good size for a long range sniper. However, he is pretty one dimensional and does not offer much more than long range shooting although he is a decent defender for a shooter. I doubt he will be invited to camp.
The only player I have not mentioned yet that I thought played well was Dontaye Draper. He is small, but plays hounding defense. He also pushed the pace well and shot the ball well (50.0% overall and 40.0% on threes), although he did so on a very small number of attempts. I thought he ran the team well and took his shots in the flow of the offense. His stature will probably keep him out of the NBA, but if the Nuggets do not bring Anthony Carter back, I could see them bringing Draper into camp to provide depth for practices.
With the early progress Lawson displayed, the potential of Weems and the gritty efficiency of Karl I think the Nuggets could have three solid players who are on the regular season roster off this summer league squad. For a team with a solid veteran core, it is important to find players to fill out the roster and I think there is a good chance they have accomplished that in Las Vegas.
Update: Interview with Lawson following the final summer league game on NBA.com.