The Denver Nuggets will kick off summer league action on Saturday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, marking their ninth straight year of summer competition in Las Vegas. Interestingly enough, the Nuggets are the winningest franchise in summer league history with a cumulative 24-15 record since the Las Vegas league’s inception in 2004.
Of course part of the magic of summer league is the inescapable truth that records don’t matter. The NBA may be trying to change that with the introduction of a tournament format this year (more on that later), but by and large summer league exists solely as an evaluation tool and a training ground for rookies, fringe NBA talents, and assistant coaches.
This season, the Nuggets are bringing a guard-heavy 16-man roster to the table, with important opportunities up for grabs among several young players with real chances to not only make the roster, but possibly get in line for actual minutes in the upcoming season. Denver is only bringing in five players with NBA experience, but three of those (Miller, Hamilton, and Fournier) are returning from last year’s team and essentially guaranteed roster spots next season. Add in second round pick Erick Green, who is also a virtual lock to be signed, and that means this squad will feature at least four players who will definitely be on the 2013-2014 roster.
Newly-retained assistant Melvin Hunt will coach the team, which will start out with three exhibition games before beginning seeded tournament play on Wednesday. Each team is guaranteed to play at least five games and as many as eight for the two teams that reach the championship round.
Without further ado, here’s a breakdown of everyone on the roster and what to watch for when summer league action tips on Saturday night.
#31 // Preston Adams // Guard
The 6-0 guard played one season in 2010-2011 for Webber International University, an independent non-NCAA college. He is a major longshot to play at all and if he sees regular minutes it will be a major surprise.
#23 // O.D. Anosike // Power Forward
The undrafted rookie out of Siena was the NCAA’s leading rebounder each of the past two seasons. Anosike is a 6-8, 240-pound power forward who has drawn comparisons to the last player to lead the NCAA in rebounding before him, Kenneth Faried in 2011. He is known to have a high motor and Anosike is actually a sneaky pick to be the team’s starting power forward if Melvin Hunt elects to play Quincy Miller at the three. He will play some five too due to lack of depth at that position.
#25 // Joel Barkers // Forward
Nuggets fans who follow Ty Lawson on social media may already be aware of Barkers without actually knowing it. The 6-6 Forward is a longtime friend of Lawson’s and has been seen hanging with Ty since his days as a Nuggets rookie. He has lived in Denver and most recently London, where he played professionally last season. He is undersized but tough and could see minutes, although he does not figure to be a rotation staple.
#14 // Kyle Barone // Center
The only true center on the roster, Barone at 6-10 is the lone player taller than Quincy Miller who is 6-9. He is the starting five by default unless the Nuggets elect to go small. As a senior at Idaho he was named the WAC player of the year in 2012-2013. He is a very accomplished college player likely to end up in the D-League or overseas if not the NBA. Barone will have a chance to play regular minutes as he is the most skilled post player on the roster.
#94 // Evan Fournier // Guard
Fournier will start and play a lot. As a rookie he struggled with foul trouble and inconsistent shooting during his first summer league. This year, Fournier will be given free rein to show what he has and expected to carry a large load on both ends of the floor. He needs to demonstrate an ability to play both on and off the ball and a more consistent jumper if he wants to earn minutes next year.
#7 // Ramon Galloway // Guard
The 6-2 combo guard played four years at La Salle, where he developed into an impressive shooter and above average defender. However he averaged more turnovers than assists and at 6-2 and 175-pounds he is undersized at the two position. Galloway will be in the rotation and he strikes me as a guy who will be either surprisingly good or horrible. He is seen as having NBA potential – Galloway was ranked #85 on Chad Ford’s top 100 prospects for 2013.
#11 // Erick Green // Guard
Green is a classic tweener, which is what caused the NCAA’s leading scorer to slide way down draft boards and wind up in Denver at pick #46. Can he play point guard and score against NBA-caliber athletes? These are two questions the Nuggets hope to find answers for next week. Green could start at PG if he proves himself at that position. Either way he is perhaps the most interesting player on this roster and will see regular minutes.
#1 // Jordan Hamilton // Guard-Forward
Hamilton should start and is likely to lead the team in scoring. He put up impressive numbers in last year’s summer league but coaches told me they wanted to see him improve his defensive awareness and on-court composure. What Hamilton needs to do this summer is lead the team and make winning plays. He is one of the most talented scorers in summer league and can really help himself by figuring out when to look for his shot and when to get others involved. He must demonstrate an ability to guard other top scorers as well. I expect Jordan to dominate and be a sneaky pick to win summer league MVP.
#12 // Luke Harangody // Forward-Center
Harangody is one of the most experienced players on the roster. He spent two years in the NBA with the Celtics and Cavs in addition to a full year in the D-League last season. The big-man has shown no ability to make threes in the NBA which is why he’s fallen out of the league. Harangody must make threes at a high clip to have any chance of sticking. Because he is pretty skilled and experienced he stands to get regular rotation minutes.
#5 // CJ Harris // Point Guard
The Nuggets brought Harris in for two pre-draft workouts in Denver. He developed into a very efficient, well-rounded scorer in his three years at Wake Forest. He is similar to Erick Green in that he’s seen as a classic tweener who lacks NBA athleticism. His ability to create shots and score from all over the court make him a candidate to challenge for the starting point guard spot. Harris also might be the best three-point shooter on the team and should see regular minutes.
#20 // Richard Howell // Forward
Howell is another four-year college player known as a low-post guy who can shoot from midrange. His strength is rebounding, where Howell is excellent. He is undersized at 6-8 and 250 pounds but makes up for it with skill, strength and toughness. I like Howell as a potential surprise on this roster but his size might be an issue and could prevent him from getting big minutes. He was ranked #53 in Chad Ford’s Top 100 and was probably good enough to get drafted in the second round, but didn’t.
#30 // Quincy Miller // Forward
Quincy looked lost in last year’s summer league, particularly on defense where he was too thin to match up with bigs and too slow to guard NBA wings. As a result he had no role and didn’t get a chance to play many minutes even in summer league. That should change this summer where Quincy is a favorite to start at either the three or four. Quincy has been working hard and the Nuggets need to see what they have with him, but it’s hard to know what to expect. I am looking for Quincy to work harder than anyone else on the floor and muscle his way into more shots and minutes. His role is unclear at this point so he has to earn one.
#12 // Darius Johnson-Odom // Guard
Odom is an above-average defender who spent most of his rookie season in the D-League. The former Lakers second-round pick is another scoring combo guard on a roster full of them. He is fighting an uphill battle for minutes but as a strong defender who can score in bunches, I like Odom to carve out some kind of role. He had a few nice games in the Orlando summer league with the Boston Celtics.
#22 // Travis Releford // Guard
Releford is a very interesting guy. He was previously viewed as one of the nation’s top high school recruits before fading into a complimentary role at Kansas. Releford, however, turned into one of the very best role players in the country at Kansas where he started alongside Ben McLemore last season. His high-IQ and versatile defense made him an absolutely crucial player for the Jayhawks. He lacks athleticism but his defense seems like it could catch Melvin Hunt’s eye and earn him a spot in the rotation.
#6 // Chace Stanbeck // Guard
He is a spot-up shooter who played at UCLA and UNLV. He went undrafted in 2012 and wound up in the D-League last season. He could offer some three-point shooting but in my view, only stands to get minutes if other guards ahead of him struggle.
#4 // Ben Uzoh // Point Guard
Uzoh is the veteran of the roster, having spent time with three different NBA teams. He also played overseas and in the D-League. Uzoh has talent – he once recorded a triple-double with the Raptors – but expectations need to be tempered because he’s 25 and has shown no ability to stick in the NBA. Uzoh was in training camp with the Nuggets last season but didn’t make the roster. He is a dark horse to show out and surprise some people, but his upside may be limited in comparison to other options the Nuggets have at the guard spots.
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