This time of year is full of excitement.

The Nuggets have invested in hope in the previous two drafts, selecting Michael Porter Jr. with their 2018 first round pick, Jarred Vanderbilt with a 2018 second round pick, and selecting Bol Bol with their 2019 second round pick. All three of these players weren’t able to play immediately for the Nuggets, with each player dealing with different injuries that prevented them from playing.

For Vanderbilt and Porter Jr., Nuggets fans were hoping to see them both take the court in the 2019 NBA Summer League. Porter Jr. had to sit out after suffering a small injury that the training staff didn’t want to see worsen, but Vanderbilt was able to play in five games for the team. He was one of the most featured players on the roster, and impressed in the chances he received, showing an ability to rebound, serve as a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and score around the rim.

While playing extended minutes in Summer League is nice, it’s only two weeks of competitive basketball. For young players to truly get a chance to develop, they need more repetitions over a longer period of time. For 28 NBA teams, that opportunity comes with the franchise’s G-League team.

The G-League, founded in 2001, currently has 28 squads that are partnered with 28 NBA teams. The Washington Wizards and New Orleans Pelicans announced that they were launching their own teams, leaving the Portland Trail Blazers and the Denver Nuggets as the only teams in the league to not invest in their “minor league” team. That’s only slightly accurate for the Trail Blazers – they did have a relationship with the Idaho Stampede for a time – but decided to focus on training their young players in their practice facility rather than with a G-League team.

The Denver Nuggets don’t have that excuse, because their practice facility is a small gym located in the wings of Pepsi Center. Their practice facility doesn’t have enough baskets for the team to sustain a full training camp, their weight room isn’t big enough for the whole team to use at the same time, and they only have one court to use. They can have practices and shootarounds during the season there, but you get too many people on the court, and well … anybody that has tried to play pickup at a community court knows how that works out.

The Case for having a G-League team

I’ll keep this short, and use small words so everyone can understand.

  • Nuggets players being trained by coaches that are part of the franchise, trained by athletic support staff that are part of the franchise.
  • Control over rotations, schemes, personnel. Training isn’t just for the players; it’s a chance for coaches and trainers to get their feet wet.
  • Injury rehab. Remember how long it took Gary Harris and Will Barton to get back to game speed last season? It seems pretty obvious that instead of having to come off the bench, and shake off the rust against NBA teams, they could have shaken off the rust in games where the wins and losses don’t affect playoff seeding. Harris needs to regain the confidence that he can fight around screens? G-League minutes! Barton needs to regain his trust in his athleticism and ability to snake around defenders to get to the rim? Give him the ball against G-League defenders and see how he does!
  • Rookie development. College is a great environment to play against good competition, but the G-League is going to have more men, and the Nuggets rookies are used to playing against boys. Size and experience matter in the NBA, and that’s not something that Michael Porter Jr. is going to learn while shooting against open air in a gymnasium.

The Case for not having a G-League team

James Dolan and Ted Leonsis thought it was smart to invest in a G-League team. What’s holding back the Kroenke family?

Matt Moore of The Action Network reported this sad piece of news this week.

That’s the case for not announcing one this season – they’re already not planning on doing so, according to this report.

Who knows – maybe this won’t be how things turn out. But I’m not getting my hopes up.

The Verdict

It’s inexcusable at this point for the Nuggets to not even have a firm commitment. “Probably 2021” is not the kind of answer Nuggets fans should expect from a team that finished with the second-best record in the Western Conference next season.

The Nuggets have been preaching the importance of culture for two seasons now, trying to bring in the right players to create a culture of winning. But at the end of the day, their decisions to not invest in the G-League and a modern practice facility speak just as loud as their decision to invest in their players. The Nuggets have a reputation as a team that has to overpay to get the free agents they want, because they aren’t the first choice for veteran players. How many times are the Nuggets going to get skipped over for draft workouts for prospects because agents know that the players they represent are not only going to not play for the NBA team if they’re drafted, but they won’t even be getting minutes in the G-League.

These things matter for players, agents, coaches, and front office personnel. It shows that the owners are invested in winning in every possible way. When the owners invest in the team, and do their part to help contribute to a winning culture from the bottom all the way to the top, that’s when the franchise is going to really enjoy the fruits of being a winning organization. Until they change the “probably” to “definitely” for their G-League team, they’re not reaching their full potential.