Las Vegas - Emmanuel Mudiay finished his Summer League debut with 11 points on 5-15 shooting, to go along with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 block (on a dunk attempt by the Hawks). Summer League head coach Micah Nori liked the start from his rookie point guard.
"I thought Emmanuel was great," said Nori. "I know that's he's probably not happy going 5-15 and 0-4 from the three, but I thought that he drew some fouls. It's obvious that he's a big strong kid, and he can go where he wants to go. One thing that guys are going to do, they are going to love to play with him because he will push the basketball, he's very unselfish, and he's a very willing passer - as far as throwing it ahead."
And push the pace Emmanuel did. On the first scoring possession of the game, Mudiay found room down the right hand side of the lane and finished the play with a pretty lay in to give Denver a 2-0 lead. He found success going to the rim, and then got a bucket with a dribble step-back fade. The mix was nice, but Mudiay got a little too comfortable with his fallaway jumper, and needed to keep attacking.
Mudiay also penetrated at will, but lost the ball a couple of times as he tried to squeeze through nonexistent cracks in the defense. It was a nice debut for the youngster, and after the game he stressed the importance of learning from the team's veterans, and trying to keep everybody involved on the floor.
The Nuggets got out of the gates nicely as they held a 24-15 lead after the first quarter. They lost the second quarter 21-19, but again held the Hawks scoring down. The Nuggets defense came though in the third, as the team won that quarter 23-15, and the fourth went 20-20.
"I think that it was a typical first game of summer league," said Summer League head coach Micah Nori. "It was sloppy at times, it was very good at times. And most importantly, like we talked about, it was going to come down to who could do a better job taking care of the ball; who could get more stops, and we tried to focus on that. We were able to force them into 24 turnovers, and win the turnover game."
"We also put together a goal of trying to hold them below 20 points per quarter," continued Nori. "And we were able to do that. In the first and third, 15 [points], 21 in the second, and 20 in the fourth. But we got a lot of stuff we can clean up, and a lot of stuff that we can work on as we progress through this tournament."
The anticipated debut of Nikola Jokic was also on display in this game. Jokic finished with 9 points on 4-9 shooting (1-3 from deep), to go along with 6 rebounds and 2 assists. All in all, it was a nice first game for the rookie. Jokic's passing and poise on the floor were key, but he did tend to get bullied a little bit on the glass and will need to add strength to his game. Jokic was able to haul in two offensive rebounds, and should have had a third, but he attempted to tip a board to a teammate in the first half, that resulted in the Hawks gaining possession. But when Denver did turn the ball over, they did a great job getting back on defense, thanks to Nori stressing that on the sidelines. And transition defense is something that Malone has stressed, too.
"The one thing that we talk about is: It shows good character of your team when you want to hold teams to one point or less per turnover," said Nori. "So, we turned it over 15 times, but only gave up 6 points. So, that's a pretty good job of getting back. And we always talk about 'low and to the ball,' 'shrink the floor,' that type of thing. We're just trying to get our terminology and the way we want to play [into the game]. The importance is, we think we're going to have a very good half court defense, and if we can get back and stop fastbreaks, stop transition, and force teams to beat us in the half court, we like our chances."
And the Nuggets' solid half court defense, resulted in them pushing the ball back the other way. Time and again we saw Gary Harris attack the rim. Harris finished with 15 points on 6-11 shooting, and of those 11 shots, only one came from three-point land. It's apparent that Harris has been working on his in-game aggression and it paid off in this one.
The Nuggets mixed a nice blend of half court offense with their transition game. We will see what is to come in Game 2 on Sunday at 6 pm MT agains the Sacramento Kings.