Yesterday, the Denver Nuggets made its first free agent signing of the 2011-12 season. No, it wasn’t the front-court anchoring, 6-11 Nene, nor the soft-spoken, loyal Arron Afflalo. Instead, the Nuggets signed an undrafted rookie out of the University of Texas El Paso by the name of Julyan Stone. Now, if you’re not a big draft head like me then you’ve probably never heard of Julyan Stone in your entire life — unless of course you happened to stumble upon the list of Tom Cruise monikers that didn’t make his final cut. But considering the fact that Stone signed a contract for not one, but two years (at $1.1 million dollars), I think its fair to say Julyan Stone is name you’ll be hearing a lot over the next several seasons.
So who is Julyan Stone after all? For starters, he’s a 6-6 guard from Goleta, Calif., who spend four years playing basketball at UTEP where he set multiple school and conference records along the way. He’s not a great scorer — evident by the fact he’s never averaged more than nine points per game in his career — but instead focuses his attention on defense, rebounding and finding teammates through precision passing. In his final season at UTEP Stone shot .510 percent from the floor while averaging 7.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 8.5 points per game. But perhaps his most impressive statistic, is non other than his low assist-to-turnover ratio. During his tenure at UTEP he tied the school record for the best assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.66 percent and played 19 games without a single turnover. He is both Conference USA and UTEP’s all-time leader in assists (ahead of Tim Hardaway) by which he also set his school’s single-season assists record in the process. Stone is well-known for his defense which landed him a spot on Conference USA’s All-Defensive team twice.
From a pure scouting standpoint, Stone is vastly intriguing. When combing the Web for various breakdowns and analysis of his game you tend to discover similar observations: great size (for a point guard), high motor, outstanding vision, versatile, athletic, good decision-maker, etc. And though I love hearing all of that positive feedback, it’s hard to ignore the criticism many had of his offensive game too — specifically his shooting. There are a copious amount of concerns about how he’ll survive in the NBA with such a limited offense repertoire. Though his athleticism and above-average skill-set enabled him to be effective in Conference USA, the fact still remains: He never managed to put up no more than nine points per game in his career.
Realistically, it would be erroneous to expect Stone to morph into some sort of a revelation. Let’s keep in mind, he did go undrafted for a reason and there are still many doubts as to how effective he can be in the NBA. What Nuggets fans should be excited about however, is the potential for improvement. All signs point towards Stone being a team player who gives it his all and takes pride in his lock-down defense. Those are things that translate extremely well to the NBA. Over time, his shot will improve and that can only be looked upon as a bonus.
All in all, I’m very excited to have Stone on the Nuggets and I’m equally as thrilled to see the direction in which Masai Ujiri is leading this team. Because instead of hearing about how the Nuggets are interested in aging, injury-plagued players like Jermaine O’Neal, Gilbert Arenas and Vince Carter, my Twitter feed is constantly flashing more young, defensive-minded, under-the-radar names like Stone and Mbah a Moute. These, to me, are the types of moves that good general managers make. No, they won’t catch your attention, but come March when the aforementioned Arenas and O’Neal are glued to the bench with ice running up and down their legs, Stone and Mbah a Moute will likely be heavily invested in a defensive stance, sweat pouring down their face, as they send their opponent packing with a loss.