Las Vegas Summer League provided our first glimpse of the new crop of incoming talent on the Nuggets roster. Jamal Murray showed off his knack for getting buckets, Juancho Hernangomez showed off his knack for grabbing offensive rebounds and drawing fouls, and Petr Cornelie showed off his upside. The Nuggets fell short of the semi-finals with a surprisingly painful buzzer beating loss to the Suns, (did anyone else cry a little when that happened?) but they still had a very successful outing and provided lots for us to talk about in this week's Stiffs RoundTable.
What did you think of Jamal Murray's summer league performance?
Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares): I've gone back and forth on Jamal's performance in Vegas but I think I've landed on him being a very exciting prospect with a few holes but a lot of great basketball instincts and skills. The negatives are his explosiveness and off-ball defense. His positives are his unique ability to get buckets from everywhere on the court. In the end, I think his positives will far out-weigh his negatives and he'll quickly improve in the areas he struggled the most: PnR defense and explosiveness.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): His future position is what I refer to as a "points" guard. A points guard is someone like Reggie Jackson, Derrick Rose, or Jamal Crawford, where they play the point guard role, but mostly initiate offense for themselves rather than their teammates. The team didn't give him as many opportunities as they should have early to shoot off-ball, and then when they did, he was too fatigued to do so effectively. I was most impressed by his competitiveness. He took over for the Nuggets late in games, and was 1.5 seconds away from helping Denver advance to the Summer League semi-finals.
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): I think the Nuggets found their "go-to-scorer" which they haven't had since Melo left. When this team returns to the playoffs they are going to run into the issue that they always did post-Melo, when a team can scheme for your offensive game plan for 7 straight games you're going to have to find another way to score. Oftentimes that's as simple as putting the ball in the hands of a guy who can flat out just get buckets. We're obviously a long way off from knowing if Murray can be that guy in an NBA playoffs environment, but he sure looked like it in summer league.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): Pretty much what I thought of Mudiay the year before: tons of potential but a ways to go to get to all of it. Murray doesn't mind shooting, that's for sure, but his assist totals are Gary-Harris-like at this point. I'm glad the Nuggets have a bridge PG for next year, because right now Murray may be the shooter they've desperately needed but isn't yet ready for the burden Mudiay had to shoulder last year as a teenage point guard. I love Murray's attitude though - bring on the arrows.
2. Should the Nuggets bring Juancho Hernangomez over for the 2016-17 NBA season?
Mares: I think this is a clear yes. Juancho proved he is good enough to play in the league right now, even if he'll only get spot minutes behind guys like Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur. As I wrote in my Tuesday column, a year of learning the speed and physicality of the NBA is the best way to develop the young Spaniard.
Lewis: Yes, but I'll use a loophole here and say that they shouldn't bring him over until around the All-Star break. Around that point of the season, the Nuggets can either waive a player, or maybe they'll have an injury exception they can use to roster him. Who knows, maybe there will be a deal struck at the trade deadline and there will be an open roster spot for Juancho. He was really good in Summer League, much better than I expected, but I'd rather see Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari get minutes at power forward.
Mikash: I'll go the opposite way here and say no. I think Juancho has definitely shown that he's got the skills, but unless you're trading Faried then it's hard to find where Juancho gets minutes. I'd rather him keep playing regular time over in Europe to start the season. I think the ideal situation is to use Faried as part of a package at the trade deadline that brings back a high talent player who costs more and helps fill the salary floor gap and then at the same time look at bringing over Juancho (a la Joffrey Lauvergne) if the team is not looking like they'll compete for the playoffs.
Gross: If he's not gonna get minutes then I wouldn't burn the year of his rookie deal to bring him over. I'm hugely stoked to have Hernangomez in the fold, but unless we trade Faried I don't see how he gets playing time. If we don't pull off that trade, they still have gyms in Europe; buy him a membership and get him on with a club that will let him play a lot of minutes. An ACB team is better competition than the D-League or the war against bench splinters any day.
3. What did you think of Petr Cornelie?
Mares: I was pleasantly surprised by Petr's skill-set. He's incredibly mobile for his height, extremely well spoken and introspective in interviews, and has the promise to grow into an NBA player. He needs to add a LOT of weight and strength before he can even think about playing in the NBA but he's a guy that I'll be following in Europe to track his development.
Lewis: I love Cornelie! I thought he had first-round talent, with his combination of speed, length and shooting ability. He got pushed around by some of the stronger bigs like Adriean Payne, who I think was playing before they instituted the 3-point line by the way. He plays well when the pace is fast, can dunk off the pick and roll, and is a better 3-point shooter than the 20 percent mark he had in Summer League. Plus he has an adorable dog, so he automatically has become one of my favorite Nuggets.
Mikash: I was pleasantly surprised by Cornelie, he was a lot less raw than I had thought. Like Adam said, his body has a long way to go but he looks like yet another guy who could be a steal for the Nuggets. I love his athleticism for his size, and if he can shore up that outside shooting and become a true stretch big then he'll find a spot in the NBA, even if he never develops the body to be a banger down low.
Gross: The blocks were a surprise to me. Not that he was long per se, but that he knew how to use his length. I like his game, but he definitely works outside-in rather than stepping out as a shooter. He could be an interesting stretch big in a couple of years who can thrive in transition too, and provide more in weak-side help than I was expecting.
Bonus topic: what random thing did you notice at summer league?
Mares: There is an excitement around this team. The rookie class all seems to have forged a tight bond over the last month and never pass up an opportunity to praise each other in interviews and on social media. But there's also a bond being forged with the other young guys including Gary Harris, Emmanuel Mudiay, and even Jusuf Nurkic who was in Vegas to watch the team play. This team seems to get along and they all seem to enjoy being the exciting young team of the future.
Lewis: Axel Toupane - wow. The competition is obviously not as intense as the NBA, but he was head and shoulders above his teammates defensively. Wing defense is so hard to evaluate, especially at Summer League, which is so guard-oriented. Toupane did a great job denying entry passes, closing out, defending without fouling, and rebounding. He had a little trouble scoring, but he showed off ball-handling skills I personally did not know he possessed. He has a non-guaranteed contract for next season, but I'll be a little bummed out if he doesn't return for the 2016-17 season. If you can defend, there's a spot for you somewhere in the league.
Mikash: Damn we should have drafted Tyler Ulis. His height will always be a detractor but that kid can flat out ball. His handle is really good and he is so quick with that step-back that he's able to get his shot off even when tightly defended by a taller man (which is basically going to always be the case for him). As the Nuggets found out first hand, he's got the ability to knock down clutch shots as well.
Gross: I told you Ulis was gonna be a baller. What I noticed was the style of play. Summer League is never a bastion of defense, but Denver certainly looked to be going back to a more uptempo, pushing style out of the gate. With Fleming gone and Nori promoted to running the show on offense, I'm curious to see what changes this year, and whether Vegas was our first glimpse of the plan for 2016-17.