The 2016 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas tips off tomorrow, with 24 teams fielding rosters in the 10-day competition. The Nuggets are scheduled to play the Timberwolves at the Thomas and Mack Center at 8:30 PM ET (5:30 PM local time).
This will be the first opportunity for Nuggets fans to watch the newest players on the team - Jamal Murray, Juancho Hernangomez, Malik Beasley, Petr Cornelie - as well as some players that played at local colleges.
|10||Ondrej Balvin||C||7-1||215||Baloncesto Sevilla/Czech Republic|
|25||Malik Beasley||G||6-5||195||Florida State/USA|
|12||Petr Cornelie||F-C||6-11||220||Le Mans Sarthe Basket/France|
|14||Gary Harris||G||6-4||215||Michigan State/USA|
|41||Juancho Hernangomez||F||6-9||230||Movistar Estudiantes/Spain|
|0||Emmanuel Mudiay||G||6-5||200||Guangdong Souther/ DR Congo|
|20||Mateusz Ponitka||G-F||6-6||206||Stelmet Zielona Gora/Poland|
|9||JaKarr Sampson||F||6-8||210||St. John's/USA|
|1||Antwan Scott||G||6-1||180||Colorado State/USA|
|6||Axel Toupane||F||6-7||190||Strasbourg IG/France|
The Nuggets are scheduled to play three games: Friday against Minnesota, Saturday against Memphis, and Monday against Miami. In Summer League, they move into a single-elimination tournament after the third game, with the 9-24 seeds playing against each other on the sixth day. The 1-8 seeds play against the day six winners the following day, with the quarterfinals being held on Saturday, July 16. The championship game will be played Monday, July 18 - which means the Nuggets could be playing three games in three days to take home the title.
Micah Nori, one of Michael Malone's assistants, will assume head coaching responsibilities for the squad.
Three things to be excited about
Offense, offense, offense. The Nuggets should have an exciting offense to watch, repeating a Nuggets tradition of late. The Nuggets could start a 5-man lineup of Mudiay-Murray-Harris-Hernangomez-Cornelie. That's a lineup with shooters able to space the floor around Mudiay and Murray, and can play an up-tempo, transition style of play.
When Coach Nori wants to spell Mudiay and Harris, he can bring skilled shooters off the bench in droves. Murray, Beasley, Adams, Antwan Scott, Barton and Fredette should be able to shoot the lights out of the gym, leaving the Nuggets with more shooters than open positions on the court. If the Nuggets bigs - like Josh Scott - can set good screens, these guards should be able to get enough space to get off and make open shots.
In Summer League, teams can get away with playing three guards, a wing and a big man. With guards constructing half the roster, the Nuggets will be able to play as fast as they can with solid depth off the bench.
Murray vs Baldwin. The two former SEC guards played each other previously, when Murray was playing for Kentucky and Baldwin was playing for Vanderbilt. Now they'll face off against each other when the Nuggets play the Grizzlies on Saturday.
Murray averaged 25.5 points, 8 rebounds in the two games, making 19 of his 33 field goal attempts. Baldwin averaged 10.5 points, 4 assists, and made 5 of his 24 field goal attempts. The teams split the decisions, with each team defending their home court, but Murray definitely was the better player on the court between the two.
While they will be playing in different divisions, the two players could face off many times as they play against each other in conference games.
Building "la familia"
As noted by Harrison Wind on "The Pickaxe Podcast," the collection of young players the Nuggets have right now "feels like a family."
Look at all the international players the Nuggets have - three of the four 2016 draft picks hail from another country. Only one player on the roster is over 30 (Jameer Nelson) and nine players on the roster are under 23. With so many young players, the Nuggets have a core that is able to gain experiences together and develop their skills together.
When I was in high school, my parents would tell me that it's nice to have friends now, but the friends you'll make at college will be your friends for the rest of your life. The Nuggets players right now are forming college-type relationships with each other. Juancho, Gary, Emmanuel, Nikola, Jusuf, Jamal, they're all experiencing new things in the NBA together. Road trips, home games, buzzer beaters, these are all things they are doing together for the first time. They have an opportunity to have a team that feels more like a family than a collection of players.
Those experiences, if dealt with as positives, can be building blocks for the type of chemistry needed to develop a championship roster. Before the Warriors signed Andre Iguodala, they developed a strong team together, and that helped attract elite free agents that could help them over the hump from playoff contenders to championship contenders. The recruitment of Kevin Durant began in 2010, when Steph Curry, Iguodala, and Kevin Durant would meet together in chapel services at the FIBA World Championships.
For the Nuggets, this season won't be the first time Mudiay, Murray and Jokic have played together. The first time they shared the court was in 2014, at the Nike Hoop Summit. Two years later, they're going to be playing together as teammates in the NBA.
As evident by some of the free agency moves this summer, relationships matter. In five or six years, maybe the relationships Mudiay and Harris build with other NBA players as part of the 2016 USA Men's Select Team will play a role in recruiting players to Denver. Perhaps the relationships Nikola Jokic, Petr Cornelie, Juancho Hernangomez, and Jusuf Nurkic have with players from their respective countries will play a role in recruiting players. As more and more talented players join the NBA from Canada, perhaps they'll want to join up with the new face of Canadian basketball.
Here's hoping that this core group takes the next step in feeling like a family in Las Vegas for Summer League.