The Denver Nuggets notched their first win of the Las Vegas Summer League yesterday, defeating the Knicks 85-81 in a close game that provided the first true pressure test for many of the young prospects here.
Overall I thought the young Nuggets responded well. It’s all fun and games out here for the most part, which is why Chad Iske and a lot of the assistant coaches I spoke to showed little to no concern about the team struggling through the first couple of games.
Iske told me transition defense and sustaining effort were the areas that needed the most improvement. Kenneth Faried’s return to form certainly played a big part in addressing both. Faried tired out very early in game one and was forced to sit out the second game with stiffness in his lower back. He returned to the starting lineup against the Knicks and his unbelievable energy seemed to singlehandedly get the entire team moving up and down the court with more purpose.
“We feel he’s a leader for us with the play he plays in the regular season, so obviously he’s going to be a leader here” said Iske. “Just with that effort, it’s infectious. It makes the other guys around him pick their energy level up, both the players and the coaches.”
Jordan Hamilton also delivered a breakout performance, showcasing his ability to score efficiently under pressure and a much improved focus on the defensive end. Hamilton was a terror on both ends in the first half, but Coach Iske was perhaps most impressed with his sustained effort on defense, especially after his shot started to leave him the second half.
“That’s something Jordan and I together talked about yesterday. As a coaching staff we’ve seen his ability to score. The defensive end is where he definitely needs to start picking up some of the schemes better, showing he can go out there and not make mistakes because that’s what Coach Karl is going to put him in the game for. Today I thought there was a lot more effort on the ball and being aware weak side to not let people through the gaps.”
Another interesting development was Fournier playing a little bit of point, as expected, late in the fourth quarter. I thought Evan did a great job protecting his dribble and getting the ball up the court quickly against New York’s pressure defense. While Fournier was able to play within the offense without making too many mistakes, he was much more effective on the wing playing off Faried and Hamilton. Fournier is always looking to attack with or without the ball and that aggressiveness was a bit muted by the added responsibility of being the primary balhandler. His natural instinct is to attack gaps in the defense and it seemed he was slightly out of his element in the pick and roll.
While Evan does have great court vision and passing skills that can be developed, I can’t imagine him coming right off the bench to back up Ty Lawson. He would be much better playing off Andre Miller where he can stretch the floor and provide an extra playmaking threat on the wing. That being said, coach Chad Iske had high praise for Evan’s feel for the position and his ability to step into an unfamiliar role.
“All in all I thought he did really well considering he hasn’t practiced at the point at all in that situation. We hadn’t seen him at all and they did have small guards out there. They didn’t really match up with him size-wise and he had to deal with a little guy down by his dribble. For just throwing him in that situation I thought he did really well in a close game to just keep us above water.”
Chad tightened up the rotation considerably, handing out DNP’s to both Jorge Gutierrez and Chu Chu Maduabum. Demonte Harper and Izzet Turkyilmaz also received only a handful of minutes in which they didn’t make a great case for themselves either.
- Derwin Kitchen has started all three games for the Nuggets and done fine. He does not have notable size or quickness but he is long and puts forth really solid effort on defense. As I have noted before he’s not a great passer out of pick and rolls and likes to shoot jumpers a little too much. Nevertheless he’s done good work for the Nuggets summer league team and doesn’t make too many mistakes.
- Gani Lawal is a poor man’s Anthony Randolph. The biggest difference is he has very little offensive skill whereas Randolph is potentially a very dangerous scorer who can do damage from anywhere. Lawal is a slender 6-10 while also being a fantastic athlete, but he makes tons of mistakes on both ends of the floor and can’t be counted on for consistency in any one area.
- Quincy Miller showed some progress defensively. He’s been a lot more aware in terms of positioning himself where he can contest the shot while still using his length to disrupt the passing lanes. He has long arms and very quick hands, but his focus drifts in and out at times and he seems very unsure of himself on the offensive end. I think Miller is trying to play the right way but he’s having trouble fitting in and making himself useful in all areas. I think his decision making and feel for the game is a little further away than I had hoped for on draft night. He’s still immensely talented and I don’t think the Nuggets can afford to lose an asset like him.
- Josh Carter made a big go-ahead tip-in late and has been an underrated contributor to the team all week. He doesn’t fit in with the glut of wings of Denver’s roster but Carter is heady player who generally knows how to play within himself. I could definitely see him as a solid value pickup for a team looking for a versatile shooter off the bench.
- Kenneth Faried said he’s working on his drop-step from the elbow, his face-up game, and his recognition of being able to draw defenders and kick it out to his teammates for threes. Faried hasn’t attempted many jumpers and I don’t think I’ve seen him try to suck the defense in for a kickout three yet, but he is working hard on developing a softer touch around the rim.