As I returned home from work yesterday evening, I flipped on ESPN for the much anticipated debut of Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets Summer League team. Yes, I may be a nut, but it's so gosh darn fun to see Denver Nuggets basketball again.
Anyway, the newscaster for ESPN provided a miniature preview of what the audience was to see for the next couple of hours. "Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray, the M&M Boys, and the Denver Nuggets will face Kris Dunn and the Minnesota Timberwolves."
Usually, I don't like nicknames that are concocted out of thin air like that, but for this, I will make an exception. The M&M Boys is such a wonderful nickname for the backcourt duo because of how sweet it will be to watch them play together. If that's how the Nuggets can expand their product to gain some national exposure, then sign me up.
|Memphis Grizzlies||Denver Nuggets
|PG||Wade Baldwin||Emmanuel Mudiay||Nuggets|
|SG||Andrew Harrison||Jamal Murray||Even|
|SF||Levi Randolph||Gary Harris||Nuggets|
|PF||JaMychal Green||Juancho Hernangomez||Even|
|C||Alex Stephenson||Petr Cornelie||Even|
|Bench||Axel Toupane, Jimmer Fredette, Josh Adams, Ondrej Balvin, Antonio Barton, Darius Carter, Jakarr Sampson, Mateusz Ponitka, Antwan Scott, Josh Scott||Nuggets|
Starting lineups are based on entirely on starters from the previous games.
Key Matchup: Jamal Murray vs Andrew Harrison
Much will be made of Emmanuel Mudiay and Wade Baldwin, but Murray and Harrison is definitely the most interesting for me. Both are former Kentucky combo guards with similar size. One is a second year player who didn't garner much attention in his first year, while the other just played his first summer league game. This is the type of matchup that Murray could struggle with due to Harrison's physicality, so it will be interesting to see how he attacks this matchup on both ends. Harrison is also fighting for a spot, so he should have some pep in his step as well.
Key thing to watch for: When does Micah Nori explore his bench?
It was debatable whether Emmanuel Mudiay or Gary Harris should even be participating in summer league this year. Both performed admirably in the first game, showcasing new skills and strength to their respective games. Hopefully, coach Micah Nori realizes that these two guys have very little to prove in this setting. If he does, then he will begin to play various players who didn't play at all yesterday. Josh Adams, Antwan Scott, and Josh Scott never got off the bench, and each guy has proven to have an interesting skill set. Last year, Ian Clark made the Golden State Warriors roster through his stellar summer league play. It's possible that one of the three aforementioned players could do the same.
Opening thoughts: How to identify special players
Last year in summer league, the Nuggets had two rookies come in and wow the fans with some individual plays. These moments proved to be foreshadowing for the season to come, as both Mudiay and Nikola Jokic made a large imprint on fans during their summer league performances. It wasn't as much their overall games as it was some of the individual plays they made though. From Mudiay's bounce pass along the baseline to Jokic's incredible footwork in the post, it was clear that each player had some special qualities.
When looking for the next big thing, it's important to not judge on their final stat lines or percentages. This is summer league. Mistakes will be made. It's about finding that player who makes a play or two that simply makes jaws drop. Identify those guys, and it's quite possible that guy is the next star.
Prediction: Deyonta Davis is injured, and I just don't see as much talent on the Grizzlies roster as I do the Nuggets. I predict that Murray has 20 points and 6 assists, while Mudiay and Harris both play 25 minutes or less in a comfortable 95-82 victory for Denver.