Over the holiday weekend the Denver Nuggets added two more players to their roster: small forward Robbie Hummel and power forward Jarnell Stokes. They add to the likes of Axel Toupane, Jakarr Sampson, Nate Wolters and DJ Kennedy who together make up the competition for the final roster spot on the team. However, only Sampson and Toupane remain as holdovers who actually saw significant time with the team last season and likewise only Sampson and Toupane have a significant chance of making the roster.
It’s nothing against those other guys, its just their playing ability to this point has not translated to a roster spot and the odds of a training camp invitee making it in the NBA are long indeed. Add in the fact that outside of Toupane and Sampson none of these guys have any previous connection with the team and the odds get even longer. For example, names like Oleksiy Pecherov, Matt Janning and Devin Sweetney are probably only familiar to the most die hard of Nuggets fans, yet just one year ago all three were on Denver’s roster. They were the Wolters’, Hummels and Stokes’ of last year. They are players that have caught the eye of the organization one way or another but while the team certainly wants to take a closer look at them and would be incredibly pleased if one proved to be capable of making the roster, the fact of the matter is these players are mostly in tow because they provide additional depth at camp and can help prepare the team for the upcoming season. Nothing against assistant coaches such as Micah Nori, but a guy like Kennedy or Hummel provides a much more NBA synonymous challenge for Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler in one on one drills.
Near NBA level talent players can still contribute to good practices and improving the team and also provide in-house injury insurance when they are on a non-guaranteed or even partially guaranteed (as is the case with Wolters) training camp deal. However, even a cursory review of past training camp invitees reveals the chances these guys have to make the team are slim. Last year’s victor of the training camp competition for the final roster spot, Erick Green, was an actual Nuggets draft pick, something no one in this year’s competition can claim, and he lasted just a few short weeks before being let go in favor of Kostas Papanikolaou (who also didn’t last the entire season). Going back through the years its very hard to find guys who were legitimately brought in on a simple camp invite and ended up making the roster. However, there is some hope.
Every now and again a guy just flat our impresses in camp and earns himself a spot on the Nuggets roster. After a few years of mostly being a reserve for the Cleveland Cavaliers Alonzo Gee was traded three times in just under four months in 2014, culminating with his release from the Sacramento Kings, who had acquired him just one week prior. This left Gee on the outside looking in and his NBA career looked to be very much in jeopardy. He signed a training camp deal with the Nuggets in the end of September with the hopes of keeping his dream alive and he did exactly that. Gee beat out Quincy Miller, who was a Nuggets draft pick and had been on the team for a few years, to earn the final spot on the team. While his time in Denver was short lived (he was traded to the Portland Trailblazers in February of the 2014-2015 season) that training camp performance nonetheless gave extended life to Gee in the NBA and he currently is still a member of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Outside of Gee though, the list of players to turn training camp invites into roster spots for the Nuggets is short. DeMarre Carroll also made the team on a training camp invite back in 2011 and while he’s gone on to achieve great success, he lasted just months with the Denver before receiving his walking papers. Dahntay Jones is another player who secured his spot on the Nuggets by impressing in camp and saved his career which at the time looked like it might be over. Point is, only about once in every five or so years does one of these guys catch on, and even then they don’t last relatively long. All of them had either a previous affiliation with the team or had spent multiple seasons in the NBA.
With direct previous NBA experience with the Nuggets, Sampson and Toupane stand out as the most likely to earn the final spot. Given that coach Michael Malone preferred Sampson over Toupane last season (as evidenced by his decision to start Sampson over Toupane) one would have to assume Sampson is the current leader for the final spot, though Toupane did appear to have the stronger showing at Summer League. Of the next bunch, Wolters might have the best chance to make the roster. The Nuggets have no de facto third point guard on the team, something they found troublesome last year and had to make a trade deadline deal for D.J. Augustin to fix. Wolters certainly is capable of filling that role and with his previous NBA experience with the Milwaukee Bucks, including several starts, he fits the bill of long shot invite who just might catch on. Some have mentioned Stokles as another possibility given Denver’s recent trade of Joffrey Lauvergne. However, Lauvergne’s departure leaves a hole at emergency center, not power forward, and at 6’9” tall Stokes doesn’t fit the profile of a center. It’s true he was the D-League MVP last year, but quick glance at the list of D-League MVPs reveals it’s anything but a indicator of success at the NBA level. In the end though for most of these guys there’s little chance they will make this team, or any other NBA roster for that matter, and will quickly have to realize its time to move on from their NBA dreams