Of the sixteen players on the Nuggets’ roster at the 2013 NBA Summer League, more than half have not had a chance to play meaningful minutes. A few of those players finally got a chance in Friday’s 91-84 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Denver’s fifth game in five days and their finale in Las Vegas. The Nuggets finished with a 1-5 record overall.
Summer league is an evaluation process more than anything else, and the Nuggets have used the last six days in the desert as an opportunity to see what they have with a young and talented roster. The Toronto Raptors also gave them a look at what they don’t have on Thursday afternoon, defeating the Nuggets 95-78 and knocking them out of tournament behind the strong play of MVP-favorite Jonas Valanciunas.
Valanciunas has not only been the best player at the Las Vegas summer league, he’s blossoming into one of the more physically imposing seven-footers in the league. Denver meanwhile is evaluating a roster built largely around the slashing and perimeter shooting of their young guards and wings. They simply had no answer for the brute strength and post-centric game of Jonas Valanciunas, who put up a solid line of 15 points and 12 boards without much resistance from the undersized Nuggets.
It really didn’t seem there was much the Nuggets could do about the loss. Jordan Hamilton played well and scored 25 points, but shots weren’t falling and the Nuggets got outrebounded to death. The final tally on the boards was a staggering 48-28 in favor of Toronto. While Denver’s players fought hard and battled it seemed they were just met head-on by their own limitations.
Fatigue may have been a factor as well, with the Nuggets playing their fourth game in a row on consecutive nights. After six days of action, tired legs were showing up for nearly every summer league team but rookie Erick Green denied that it was a determining factor in the loss.
“I don’t think we’re wearing down. We’re just not doing the little things. Not getting back on D, not rebounding well. We’re taking too many threes and it’s the little things we’re not doing that are keeping us from winning” said Green.
Green has been really tough on himself in the summer league, probably a little too much considering this wasn’t a loss that can be attributed to poor execution or effort. The Nuggets simply ran out of gas against a huge team with perhaps the best player in the tournament.
The Nuggets aren’t yet finished with summer league, but it’s essentially winding down and the competitive portion is pretty much in the books. Coaches told me they would use Denver’s final game in the consolation round as an opportunity to play different guys who haven’t seen much court time in the first five games.
The Nuggets final game of summer league will be played Friday at 6:30pm MST against Memphis in the Thomas & Mack Arena.
Maybe not, but the intensity on display Wednesday was certainly something different from what we’ve seen in the summer league so far. The Nuggets defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 87-82 in their first “playoff” game in Las Vegas, advancing to the round of 16 in the tournament with their first win in four tries.
The preliminary round of summer league concluded on Tuesday night, with the Golden State Warriors clinching a top seed and first-round bye in the upcoming tournament. On the other end of the spectrum were the Denver Nuggets, who went into the evening ranked dead last in the seeding and further cemented themselves there after getting thrashed by the Washington Wizards.
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.
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.