Summer league is all about experimentation. In a setting where wins and losses aren’t exactly of the utmost importance, coaches are using the opportunity to throw a bunch of darts at the wall in order to see what sticks. While the results are a mixed bag that typically don’t lead you to any concrete conclusions, they’re often more interesting than the final score of the actual games.
That’s the way I feel about the Nuggets summer league opener against Golden State, which ended up turning into a blowout loss. While it certainly wasn’t fun seeing the Nuggets get throttled in a game they badly wanted to win, the entire team competed and there was plenty of individual growth that will help this Nuggets team evaluate how to get the most out of the summer league experience going forward.
The game was actually much closer than the final score would lead you to believe. Both teams played a high level in the first half, showcasing an exciting matchup between two fluid, high-powered offenses. Golden State really pulled away in the second half, where Denver’s offense followed their shoddy defense into a state of utter confusion and disarray.
That being said, there was a lot of personal growth and potential on display. Evan Fournier, Quincy Miller and Izzet Turkyilmaz all had extremely solid, if not spectacular NBA debuts. Jordan Hamilton and Kenneth Faried showed that despite a year of NBA experience, they are going through the same ups and downs of their first summer league experience as well.
Two things stood out to me about why Denver lost this game. First, they lack confident ballhandlers and most of all, a true point guard to initiate the offense. Denver tried to get out and run all they could, but lackluster passing in transition led to almost no fast break opportunites at the rim, which is perhaps the one thing that defines Denver Nuggets basketball. Secondly, the Nuggets couldn’t create any offense out of the post. Any and all attempts at establishing post position were thwarted by a complete inability to catch a pass in the painted area.
While the Nuggets kept moving the ball and finding quality shots in the first half, everything was either rushed or forced in the second. After the initial pick and roll action was stuffed, Denver wasn’t attacking with the same sort on confidence and it resulted in a slopfest of turnovers and low quality shots.
The biggest problem however was Denver’s defense. After committing just nine fouls while holding the Warriors to 39% shooting the first half, the Nuggets committed 8 in the third quarter alone. It was all downhill from there as Denver was outscored by 9 in the third period and 15 in the fourth.
After the game, I asked Quincy Miller if the Warriors did anything different to get themselves going in the second half, to which he solemnly replied “it was all us. We just didn’t get back in transition like we should.”
The key takeaway is that no one was particularly bad, at least not to a point that merits a significant level of concern. Overall I thought Chad Iske did a great job getting the players accustomed to Nuggets basketball and producing an outing solid enough for fans to feel confident about the player development still to come.
Here’s a little bit of individual player analysis followed by some interesting news and notes from around the gym
- Derwin Kitchen is the only Nuggets guard fast enough with the ball to get the offense going. Chad Iske gave him the start and Kitchen responded with an efficient outing. He doesn’t really create anything off the dribble but Kitchen has solid form on his jumper and makes good use of his length and quickness to find openings. Unfortunately, he’s not much of a passer and didn’t do a whole lot to get the Nuggets going in pick and rolls.
- Kenneth Faried really struggled with his shot. As Jeremy predicted last week, he’s working on improving his ballhandling and a drop-step move in the post. I found it really odd that the Nuggets were running so much offense through Faried yet he never attempted a single jumper. There was a lot of overdribbling from Faried, who said his back tightened up considerably towards the end of the game. Despite the less than efficient outing, Faried managed to make an impact and looked more like a legit NBA big man than anyone else on the floor.
- There’s much more coming on Evan Fournier shortly, but he was overall very solid in his first NBA action. I thought Fournier needed to be a little more aggressive attacking the rim out of pick and rolls, but he moves well without the ball and has fantastic court vision. Fournier’s really a team player and plays the game in a very confident manner. At times I think we struggled with the amount of physical contact that was being allowed. Stay tuned for a lot more on Fournier coming soon
- Jordan Hamilton had a great first half and missed all 8 of his shots in the second. He was extremely aggressive and constantly attacking, but had some trouble controlling his dribble. The important thing is Jordan was very aggressive and played solid defense on the likes of Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson. He looks quicker and more explosive than he was last season. Hamilton needs to improve his shot selection quite a bit, but as Melvin Hunt told me after the game, the Nuggets have a lot of confidence in Hamilton and they don’t mind him trying to create his own shot.
- Solo Alabi played 8 minutes and never attempted a shot. He did do a fantastic job on the boards and played solid interior defense without fouling. I expect Alabi to play more as Chad Iske continues to experiment with his lineups as I think he knows what Alabi is going to provide.
- Gani Lawal was the first big off the bench and was the only player who it’s hard to say anything positive about. He fumbled a lot of passes, fouled a lot and was frequently caught way out of position on defense. He does have very solid NBA athleticism and I don’t expect another game this bad, but he couldn’t stay on the floor and didn’t give the Nuggets any sort of inside presence at all.
- Josh Carter has great form on his jumper. He’s a fantastic three point specialist with a quick release. As a ballhandler he was quite bad however, totaling four turnovers in just 11 minutes of playing time.
- Quincy Miller got the rookie treatment from the rest of the team. The ball wasn’t finding him in the first half but he did a solid job crashing the boards and creating extra possessions. Miller often found himself mismatched on defense against bigger and quicker players but did a solid job contesting shots and helping where no other Nuggets would. I wish the Nuggets would put the ball in Quincy’s hands a little more because he’s got a versatile skillset and played a smooth, very composed game.
- Izzet Turkyilmaz was the surprise of the game for me. This guy should be playing regular minutes throughout summer league as he’s a very good passer and always looking to work off his teammates in any way possible. He has a great feel for the game and despite having a serious weight issue and some jittery hands early, this guy has a ton of skill and displayed remarkable toughness for a player of his stature. He does not back down from physical play and I’m extremely excited to see more of this kid over the next week. Izzet made an amazing pass on the break before getting absolutely hammered at the rim which was one of the most memorable plays of the game.
- Demonte Harper played less than 4 minutes in the first half and didn’t see the floor again. Granted, he didn’t look great but a measley four minutes isn’t enough to make any sort of observation about whether or not the guy can play.
- Jorge Gutierrez didn’t see any minutes until the fourth quarter, which was more or less garbage time with the way things were going. He’s quite small in stature and doesn’t possess extraordinary strength or quickness, so his path to the next level is going to be a difficult one. Jorge played extremely hard and bullied his way to the rim a few times but overall it was extremely tough to judge what kind of player he is based on the limited action we saw tonight
- Julyan Stone is not with the team and is described as having a left hip injury. I couldn’t get any further information on his status. If Julyan isn’t available for Summer League and is in danger of missing training camp, he could be in serious danger of being waived. I have nothing concrete on this issue right now and will try to figure out exactly what’s going on soon.
- Chu Chu Maduabum was the only player who didn’t see the floor. I talked to him after the game and he said issues with his Visa prevented him from playing in the D-League last year. When asked if he’s talked with Masai about his future with the team or a training camp invite, Chu said he hasn’t discussed anything yet. If he’s not offered a contract this season, Chu told me he’ll probably go play overseas. When asked what position he sees himself playing in the NBA, he said “definitely the four” and definitely looks like he’s improved his upper body strength a great deal. I’d really love to see Chu play more as he’s an extremely physical specimen but it’s clear his future with the team looks shaky at best.
- Anthony Randolph was in the stands with Masai Ujiri. The Nuggets have obviously shown overt interest in him which should please my colleague Jeremy Wagner greatly.
- I talked to Wilson Chandler at halftime, who told me his rehab is on schedule and he’s just started jogging. He’s in Denver “full-time” this summer and told me he’s really focused on rehab.
- Assistant Coach Melvin Hunt told me Gallo’s been hard at work preparing for next season and the Italian National Team. He said Gallo’s been focused on transforming his body and getting stronger with the help of Steve Hess.