#NuggetsRank No. 13: Julyan Stone

Sophomore point guard Julyan Stone comes in at No. 13 in Roundball Mining Company’s #NuggetsRank series, rounding out the trio of players most likely to be on the inactive list to start the season.

Although Stone is entering into his second year with the Nuggets, his future in the NBA remains largely unclear. After Denver signed him as an undrafted rookie prior to the start of the 2011-12 season, Stone spent the vast majority of his time on the bench. He played in only 22 games, averaging 8.8 minutes per game, and playing 10 minutes or more only seven times. Even when he did get the opportunity to play, he had a team low usage rate of only 11.7 percent, and the bulk of his minutes were played in garbage time. In short, we simply don’t have a whole lot of data to get a very meaningful read from yet.

On paper, Stone makes a great deal of sense for this Nuggets team. At six foot six, he has great height and length for a point guard, which compliments the slightly undersized Ty Lawson quite nicely. And with his penchant for putting two point guards on the floor, George Karl can deploy Stone alongside Lawson and run with two playmakers while not giving up size at the shooting guard position

For his part, Stone has a considerably long way to go to establish himself as a legitimate NBA rotation player, especially in terms of shooting. In evaluating where his shooting game is at, however, we need to exercise caution in leaning too heavily on his NBA statistics. In his single season with Denver, he attempted only 31 field goals, and no statistically significant conclusions can be drawn from such a small sample size. But in looking at his four year college career at UTEP, it is clear not only that he struggled as a shooter, but also that he didn’t make the kind of encouraging improvements over time that would be preferred for a player embarking on an NBA career:

In his rookie season with the Nuggets, his percentages were very similar to those of Andre Miller, but that belies the reality that he basically did not demonstrate the capability to create much offensively on his own. If there is a silver lining to this, it’s that he does seem to have a fairly high basketball IQ. He rarely forced any shots, and when he did shoot it was usually at moments when he was left wide open or the option to dish it out to one of his teammates was cut off. In effect, he was able to mask this weakness by limiting himself to smart or necessary shot selections.

And as a playmaker he is a genuine asset. He displays solid court vision, perhaps helped by his ability to see over his defender, and definitely has a knack for finding players in good spots for easy baskets. Remembering again to take these stats with a grain of salt, he had an elite assist rate (“rate of assists against possessions used”) of 78.99, good for second best among all NBA guards. (By comparison, Steve Nash was at 78.44, Andre Miller 55.02, Chris Paul 47.30, and Ty Lawson 39.54). Granted, we should expect this number to drop if he assumes a larger share of ball handling duties against higher tiered players on defense. But the bottom line is that he is indeed a competent distributor. And in the flow of the offense, he’s a good and quick decision maker, usually making the fast pass to the right guy when the ball comes to him in the middle of the play.

But as most Nuggets fans know, it is really on his defense that Julyan Stone’s future will hinge, and where his natural abilities are strongest. He has good lateral quickness to stay in front of his man, and the length to bother shots and get his hands into passing lanes. And when it comes to hands, Stone’s are quick. Last season, he had the second highest steal rate after Corey Brewer, and like Brewer, he was very proficient at chasing down loose balls to save or take away possessions. In what may be somewhat a product of playing in college for four years and developing solid fundamentals, Stone also has surprisingly good communicative skill on defense, working well with his teammates as they go through the complicated switches and rotations of Karl’s defense.

There were times last season when mentally, he just looked like a rookie. More tentative and less tenacious than Brewer, more excitable (and thus mistake-prone) and less calm, cool and collected than Miller. At times too quick to defer and too hesitant to initiate.

But Stone does have a toughness to his game. He doesn’t mind getting into the paint to battle for rebounds, and he showed a tendency at times to play with his back to the basket in the low post when he had the ball (an area of his game in which he could learn much from Miller). At times he seems to lack the physical strength to fight through screens, so it will be nice if we see him show up to training camp with a little more muscle.

Although we don’t really know yet how good of a player Julyan Stone can ultimately become, he certainly possesses some physicality and skills which are unique to him on this Nuggets roster. If he can make the most of these, and improve his shooting at least enough so as not to be an offensive liability (and encouragingly, it appears he’s working hard on this), he just might be able to eventually secure a role as Lawson’s primary backup. And the good news for now, being that he’s playing third fiddle behind Lawson and Miller, is that the Nuggets have plenty of time for working on his development without putting any pressure on him.

  • SmokinNugs

    I like Stone a lot. Maybe it’s because he’s 6’6″ or maybe because he reminds me of a young Rondo in that the shot isn’t there so he’s more of a “pure passer.” Either way I hope he gets healthy and we see more of him out on the floor. If it was Ty and Stone I would have a lot more patience for the 2 PG lineups than Andre “Don’t Guard” Miller.

  • slugdugg

    I like Stone too. He has abilities to his game right now that should keep him on the radar in the NBA. He has good handles, good vision, good size, and is good at doing what GK demands – driving and dishing. Hopefully his hip injury doesn’t slow him down too much during the offseason, but watching his Twitter activity it looks like he is going to the gym like mad to work on his game and do conditioning. I hope he can get some PT this year.

  • Andrew K

    Julyan is the prototypical George Karl player. He focusses on defense, playmaking, and creating open shots by not forcing the jumpshot, but working with the pick and roll.

  • Evan Woodruff

    Stone sucks.

    • SmokinNugs

      How coincidental because I heard Evan Woodruff sucks!

  • dynamo.joe

    You forgot the most important skill is knowing what you can’t do, then not doing it.

    I agree that small sample sizes make it, basically, impossible to evaluate Stone, but I think, at the very least, he has played well enough to warrant more playing time so we can evaluate him.

    • https://twitter.com/denbutsu denbutsu

      I agree with this point for sure. I probably didn’t state it clearly/explicitly enough, but that’s kind of what I was getting at with “he was able to mask this weakness by limiting himself to smart or necessary shot selections”. And yeah, he definitely seems to understand his limitations and operate within those lines unless the play dictates otherwise (eg. the shot clock runs down or he gets trapped).

  • CJP32

    I like Stone and I think he has a place in the NBA, but just not with Denver. Andre Miller is here for 3 more years, the chances of Stone getting more minutes diminish because of GKs love for Dre. Maybe a trade will happen this season which will open minutes for Stone, but I think he would get more PT elsewhere.

  • John

    I like Julyan a lot.

    Even in his limited play, it was obvious to me that Stone was learning on the job. Towards the end of the season he had added a few neat little moves that were obviously stolen straight from Andre Miller’s playbook. Like Dre’s nice little off tempo stutter step while driving,which almost always gets people to run right into your back (and hence foul)

    I think another year in the classroom and he will make a great back up PG. Unfortunately, we’ll probably end up losing him to another team, because Karl would never play him instead of Dre. The only way he plays is to wait out Dre’s contract, even though he’ll probably surpass Dre in the very near future.

  • Peter

    How does it work in the NBA compared to MLB? If Stone has a really good camp/preseason, but the nuggets still decide they don’t have room and he’s not good enough to make the 12 man roster, does he have to “clear waivers” to go play in the D-League or can another team that actually wants him on their NBA roster claim him?

    • https://twitter.com/denbutsu denbutsu

      I don’t know how the MLB works (not a baseball fan, sorry), but the maximum roster size in the NBA is 15 and the minimum is 13. There mus be 12 active and between 1-3 inactive players on the roster. Teams can activate or inactivate players very quickly, I think it’s something like with only 1 day’s notice, and send them to or bring them up from the D-League at will. If Stone’s contract isn’t guaranteed he could be waived as long as it’s before Jan. 10, when all contracts become guaranteed, but it’s highly unlikely the Nuggets would just throw away an asset like that unless it was a preliminary move to clear roster space for a trade.

      You can find out all the details you’ll ever need about this sort of thing at Larry Coon’s excellent Salary Cap FAQ: http://www.cbafaq.com/salarycap.htm#Q76

    • Charlie

      Stone’s contract is only partially guaranteed this year. It becomes fully guaranteed if he’s not waived by opening night. It’s almost certain he’ll make the 15-man roster even though he’ll probably miss training camp and preseason. The Nuggets have never not had at least 3 point guards on the roster and the coaching staff is already familiar with him.

      Source: Shamsports Nuggets salaries http://www.shamsports.com/content/pages/data/salaries/nuggets.jsp

  • Noel

    Stone makes a ton of sense for the team over the next few years. Chances are Lawson and/or Miller will be out at some point. ‘Dre is remarkably durable, but his game is starting to fall off as he ages bit by bit. Stone is a cheap insurance policy who has the potential to step in and be a more than capable backup. Also, I keep thinking of how Jason Kidd played in the olympics four years ago when he barely shot at all, but was still a big part of that team’s success. Rondo is another obvious example of a standout guard who has struggled with his shot. I’m not saying that Stone is close to either of those players, but they do serve as a great reminder that shooting isn’t everything.

    • BMW

      Like Jason Kidd and Rondo, Stone is a solid passer, rebounder and defender.

      • SmokinNugs

        Agree 100% with all points made in these two comments

        • Nugnugz

          I agree with these points as well. The way the NBA rules are currently set up, Stone needs to not worry about jump shots, but rather his penetration skills so that he can get fouled going to the basket. However, his free throw shooting is somewhat atrocious, so hopefully he can improve that so that the penetration skills actually come in handy.

  • blackhill

    Not sure Stone will make it in this league, same with Q-Miller. If Stone does hang around, I see him as career 3rd stringer, but maybe a very good one at that.

    Stone, like Miller, seems like a really good dude.

    • dynamo.joe

      As a rookie he absolutely dominated the scrubs he was allowed to compete against. So, I don’t think there is any doubt he can make it. If you dominate the guys at the end of the bench, you ought to be able, at least, to play with the guys on the second team.

      Since he isn’t a scorer, he probably fits better with offensively minded teammates. AynRand and JHam definitely fit that mold and are likely 2nd teamers. Conceivably, even Gallo and the Big McGeezy, depending on which way the squirrel in GK’s mind bolts. This particular squirrel would be 1st team Ty/Andre/Andre/Kenneth/Kosta, 2nd team Stone/Hamilton/Gallinari/Randolph/McGee.

  • GK4Prez

    He doesn’t need more minutes the guy fits his role well enough as the (emergency) 3rd pg for this team. This is why his being on IR to start the season isn’t a major concern.