For the 2nd time in a week the Nuggets took the court for a summer league game against the Atlanta Hawks. In the first meeting, the Nuggets defense was impressive and the energy was through the roof. Tonight, however the tables were turned. Sloppy turnovers, poor free throw shooting, and some untimely mental lapses on defense doomed Denver in this one.
The Hawks raced out to an early lead behind hot three-point shooting, especially from underrated rookie hopeful Terran Petteway who finished 4-10 from beyond the arc. The Hawks as a team outscored the Nuggets from three, 30-15. The Nuggets also gave away several easy points off of turnovers. 24 turnovers is high for a summer league game but it was the type of open court turnovers that led to fast break buckets and points in transition that were especially troublesome. The Nuggets also left points on the board with 12 missed free throws. The Nuggets gave a valiant effort to claw back and tie the game in the 4th but the mistakes and missed opportunities proved too much to overcome and the Nuggets fell, 82-73.
Emmanuel Mudiay continued to show flashes of brilliance, throwing some of his patented cross court passes off of drives. The Nuggets failed to capitalize on many of those plays and the 5-19 that the Nuggets shot from beyond the arc didn't help to open up the lane. Mudiay wasn't without his faults in this one. He continues to fall out of position both on the ball, in pick and rolls, and on the weak side. He also had a few sloppy turnovers and his ball-handling may be an area that he needs to improve, especially if he wants to compete against the elite defenders in the NBA at the point guard position. Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, and Patrick Beverley will have a field day with him if he doesn't improve his control with the ball, especially in the open court.
Ian Clark also struggled in this game despite his team high 17 points. Many of his five turnovers led to fast break points the other way. Joffrey Lauvergne was frustrated with the tight whistle underneath and was visibly frustrated at several points in this game. He even picked up a technical foul for throwing the ball after a questionable player control foul (it was a flop!).
Nikola Jokic was given the ball on the block and at the elbow several times in this game to mix results. He showed off his great vision and touch a couple of times, including one drop off for a wide open Ian Clark lay-in. Throughout the tournament, Jokic's offensive moves have looked smooth and he's demonstrated some nifty footwork but rarely was he able to score off of those moves. It's hard to tell if that is because he is struggling with the speed and timing of NBA level basketball or because of something else. There's certainly enough there to feel confident that he will develop a nice mid post game over time.
The absence of Gary Harris was a big blow to the Nuggets offense. The Nuggets shot 5-19 from beyond the arc, a mark far too low to be a successful team. On several possessions Mudiay, Clark, Roscoe Smith, and Jamal Franklin were able to get into the paint and collapse the defense, only to kick out to a wide open shooter for a brick. The lack of consistent, reliable shooters may be a theme for the Nuggets this season and tonight was a good example of how poor perimeter shooting creates several missed opportunities. It will be very interesting to see how Mike Malone, Tim Connelly and the Nuggets front office deal with that issue if the Nuggets fail to space the court in the regular season.
The Nuggets will be back in action on Friday and can close out their summer on a high note. The summer league has been a fairly big success, even if tonight's loss puts a damper on things. Mudiay, Jokic, Harris, and Lauvergne all showed at least one NBA level skill throughout the tournament. If they can escape Friday's game without injury and with an inspired effort, they will have something to hang their hat on.