We finally got our first look at Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic in a Nuggets uniform. Sure, it was only summer league and at least half of the Hawks roster won't even sniff a second of real NBA basketball, but the first game gave us a good look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Nuggets of the future. The coaching staff also showed some of what we expected in terms of offensive and defensive emphasis.
Emmanuel Mudiay - It's hard not to get too excited about Mudiay. The rookie point guard had all of COX pavilion buzzing with his poise and maturity. In the three quarters that he saw action, Mudiay played aggressive yet in control, running the team like a savvy veteran. His explosiveness really stood out as he fairly effortlessly put the defense on it's heel time and time again. He also did a great job leading the team, often as the most vocal player on the court, finding players in spots and directing the flow of the offense. He made several impressive passes including one pass over the defense from the left wing all the way to the one shooter in the right corner.
Mudiay struggled with his jumper and the concerns about his mechanics seem very reasonable. He has a hitch in his shot and seems to shoot it in a different rhythm on every shot. Nonetheless, he didn't settle for his jump shot and worked hard to get into the teeth of the defense as frequently as possible. Most of his jump shots occurred either wide open or in late shot clock situations. Overall, it was a very impressive debut for the future face of the franchise. Grade: A-
Nikola Jokic - Jokic showed flashes of what makes him such a rare and special talent, dropping pinpoint passes and draining one top of the court three-pointer. Jokic played with confidence and seemed to be one step ahead of many of the other players on the court in terms of reading the defense and seeing the passing lanes. The Nuggets gave him a few post touches early in the 1st quarter but seemed to utilize him more frequently at the elbow and top of the key as the game wore on. After the game, coach Micah Nori said that we can expect Jokic to get more post touches in the games ahead. When he caught the ball on the block, Jokic demonstrated some crafty footwork and soft touch although he was often out-muscled and pushed around.
Jokic seemed to struggle with the speed of the game and may be a bit out of shape or just not used to the strength and physicality of this level of basketball. There were several times when he got pushed under the rim on rebounds or cleared out on post moves. He'll really have to improve his strength in order to make an impact in the regular season. But his passing, vision, and shooting touch are enough for Nuggets fans to feel excited about his future. Grade: B+
Gary Harris - Harris did a great job of attacking the basket, especially in transition opportunities. There were several times in the half court where he simply outmaneuvered his way into the pain and finished contested shots at the rim. Getting into the paint and scoring at the basket seem to be his best offensive skill and he was able to beat his man off of the dribble several times. Harris also played some great defense and was a large part of why the Nuggets were able to dominate on that end of the court. However, the Nuggets desperately need their shooting guards to be able to stretch the defense and Harris seemed to spend most of his time catching and attacking. Grade: B-
Coaching Staff - It's a bit strange to give the coaching staff a grade for a summer league game but nonetheless I feel that they were especially noteworthy in this one. The team and organization clearly has a new emphasis on defense and the Nuggets showed an impressive attention to detail on that end of the court. The Hawks really struggled to score and even failed to get good, open looks for long stretches of the game. The team looked sharp, focused, and unified. The offense was also fairly crisp for a summer league game. As I wrote about last week, the Nuggets used snap screens and ram screens to open up pick and rolls. They also used a fair amount of pistol action to get Mudiay and others attacking the basket off of a series of ball screens. All in all, the coaching staff deserves credit for having the Nuggets looking focused and disciplined. Grade: A