The Denver Nuggets fell to 0-2 in summer league play Monday night, losing again by double digits while struggling to find their footing on defense.
Inconsistency is the universal given in summer league, and right now the Nuggets look like an inexperienced team facing too much of it from every direction. Progress was on display on the offensive end, where the Nuggets had more success shooting the ball and creating off the dribble, but much of that was negated by their inability to guard the pick and roll or string together more than a couple possessions of mistake-free defense.
Denver’s small army of summer league coaches was active on Tuesday night, getting a lot of one-on-one time with individual players after frequent breakdowns on both ends of the floor. I found myself lamenting how difficult it must be to stay focused while having a gang of grown men yelling at you after every possession, but ultimately that’s what summer league is all about. It’s a format where coaches are going to live with those mistakes and start the process of creating the right kind of habits.
Once again, it was another sloppy game that didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know. Evan Fournier has looked like a bonafide NBA player while everyone else… hasn’t. Luke Harangody’s reckless all-out effort has been fun, but none of Denver’s bigs have looked passable on defense and outside of Evan, none of the guards have managed to stand out yet either.
I got my first chance to speak with players and coaches after the game and here’s a few storylines to keep an eye on heading into the tournament portion of summer league, which starts on Wednesday.
Coach Conner preaches D
Two things became abundantly clear when getting to know newly-appointed assistant head coach Lester Conner: he’s extremely hands-on with players and is most definitely all about defense.
Conner didn’t seem too worried about shot selection or sloppy offense, but he was getting into guys after obvious defensive lapses, of which there many on Monday night. One thing he harped on in particular was the lack of communication guarding the pick and roll.
“They didn’t trust each other on the pick and roll coverage,” Conner said. “We had different coverages with the big guys, the fours and fives, plugging where they were letting [ballhandlers] come against the grain and get all the way to the rim. They weren’t impacting the basketball so that’ll be something we clean up tomorrow.”
Odom and Green forming a bond
DJ Odom has been one of the better point guards on the roster, looking the part of a veteran who plays solid D and knows how to make plays in transition. Another thing the second-year guard can add to his impressive resume: leadership. Rookie Erick Green told me after the game how Odom has been mentoring him and helping him adjust to the higher level of competition.
“I’m trying to learn. DJ has been a good role model for me, taking me under his wing, talking to me” said Green. “The main thing is he wants me to go out there and play my game and he sees that I’m not confident yet. So I have to get that going and get my confidence back.”
Hamilton reflects on Karl
Behind the scenes, Jordan Hamilton has worked harder than just about any Nugget over the past two years. Every coach I’ve talked to praised his work ethic and dedication to improving his body, which was a focus after his rookie season.
After George Karl was fired in June, he defended his track record with young players, claiming that while he did not give them a lot of minutes all of the young guys were getting better. However even Karl singled out Hamilton as the one youngster he perhaps didn’t do a great job with, as Jordan is now heading into his third season still waiting for a meaningful opportunity to prove himself and earn minutes.
After spending his first two seasons seemingly buried in Karl’s doghouse, you might expect Jordan to be frustrated with the relationship. As a matter of fact, Jordan praised Karl for aiding his development and denied any communication issues with the former head coach.
“I know he emphasized me being a young player. He always used to say I’m really supposed to be in my senior year of college, so that’s how I knew he prides himself on being harsh to young guys. But it was a good thing because I’ve learned a lot from coach Karl. He’s taught me some things and I’ve learned how to be patient.”