The Nuggets opened Summer League play with a loss to the Houston Rockets, 102-99. Malik Beasley scored 29 points on 12-of-30 shooting, Juancho Hernangomez poured in 21 points and snagged 8 rebounds but also had 7 of Denver’s 21 turnovers. Robert Carter Jr. was a pleasant third option tonight with 17 points and 6 rebounds while being a perfect 5-for-5 from the line. All in all, it was a close and high-scoring game without being all that interesting or electric. Summer League is weird that way.
The Nuggets went down a quick 5-0 to start, but Malik Beasley and Petr Cornelie worked a nice pick-and-roll to get Cornelie to the line for the first point for Denver. Juancho came out in the goggles (per Chris Dempsey he just had Lasik) and the Nuggets keyed up the full-court pressure as a gimmick. Beasley hammered a two-handed dunk on a missed assignment but seemed too keyed up and made the game too fast for most of the quarter. His first quarter block that was erroneously called a foul was very impressive.
Tyler Lydon hit a sweet turnaround 18-footer for his first bucket, but then Denver ran into a turnover problem with three early ones and fell down 19-5 quickly. Bricked shots, poor spacing and bad movement kept Denver's offense stagnant. Nikola Radicevic made a nice cut for a layup to stem the bleeding, and Robert Carter Jr. got to the line as well. Hernangomez hit a nice three and Radicevic did a good job of re-organizing Denver's attack near the end but their defense was porous, and the Nuggets wound up down after 26-17 after one.
Radicevic began the 2nd quarter with the same steady flash, while Beasley got himself under control enough to make some shots. Denver's utter lack of interior defense made it hard to put sustained runs together, but Beasley went 4-for-5 to start the second quarter to keep Denver close.
The second quarter was fitful for Denver. Monte Morris had a beautiful crossover to plant the defender on his back but couldn't hit the shot. Good drives weren't finished and the Nuggets kept up their ole defense to allow the Rockets to score at the rim. The Rockets went up 48-33 with 3 minutes to go and closed out 52-42 for the half despite Beasley's best efforts (and 14 points on 6-for-14 shooting).
Malik Beasley with the throwdown! And 1 and dunk face. pic.twitter.com/TFSTderkhR— Michael Gallagher (@MikeSGallagher) July 8, 2017
Rocky first half for Nuggets. Trail 52-42. Shot 2-13 from 3. Had 10 TOs (14 points). Beat in paint 30-20. Beat on boards 23-17.— Nick Kosmider (@NickKosmider) July 8, 2017
After shooting 1-for-5 in the first, Juancho put the glasses up on his head for some early free throws and then hit a three to fuel a 7-0 run. Another 3 from Juancho cut it to 56-52. The Rockets hit a three but Monte Morris fired back, and then Beasley came out of his yellow shoes to make a bucket. Juancho's putback bucket closed it to within one, but the Rockets then went on a 6-0 run. Back-to-back turnovers from Radicevic helped the Rockets stretch the lead to 9 as Denver struggled a bit without Juancho and Beasley on the floor. Carter Jr. nailed a half-court three to make it 77-71 to end the third though, and put Denver in good striking distance.
Morris, Beasley and Juancho pushed the action to start the 4th, but the lack of interior defense (or screening) from Cornelie made it tough to close the gap. It was 85-82 with just over 6 minutes left but that last bit was just insurmountable. The Rockets took another double-digit lead but Denver closed it to 3 with some scrappy play and shotmaking. Carter Jr. had both qualities as well as Denver's only front court player who was willing to mix it up and could also score. The Nuggets were getting on the floor in the last two minutes, scrambling for lose balls, so energy wasn’t the problem - it was execution. The Nuggets turned up the pressure in the last minute but couldn't make threes and ran out of time at the end. Denver never led and never lost touch, but came up short with their cold shooting at 102-99.
- Beasley and Hernangomez looked like the two best Nuggets by far. They were two of the best players on the floor period despite some shooting woes, which is good since they're the two guaranteed NBA players. Hernangomez looked uncomfortable in his goggles and Beasley worked off a summer's worth of rust in one game of gunning, but they were still head-and-shoulders better than their court mates. Juancho has GOT to work on that handle, though - he was getting robbed any time he stepped foot in the paint. Ball security is a must if he’s going to play a lot at the three position.
- Carter Jr. was the best of the rest, looking like a decent power forward, while Petr Cornelie was a ghost. Both men played in Europe last year but Cornelie spent a lot of time on the bench and it showed. His screens and shots were not up to snuff and he's just too light to do dirty work inside. Carter Jr. on the other hand was a paint fighter and scrapper who had nice touch around the basket, made his free throws and even a long-distance heave. With Denver being such a small Summer League team its bigs have to be able to do work inside, and only one was able to.
- Morris and Radicevic fought to a draw in the point guard role. Morris came out cold but played better as the game went on, while Radicevic started as a cool-headed distributor who had some shaky ball-handling and decision-making in the second half. Each man wound up being -2 in +/- for the night, which felt about right. That competition will hopefully get more robust as Summer League continues.
- The rest of the roster was invisible. Lydon had 6 points and 4 rebounds in 26 minutes but the most telling moment of the night for him was standing next to Juancho and giving up several inches and about 30 pounds of muscle to Hernangomez. If Juancho is a combo forward then Lydon is definitely a small forward until further notice. That’s going to make his role complicated. His turn-around Kobe jumper early in the game was pretty though. I have trouble seeing Cornelie as an NBA player at this point and Torrey Craig gave effort on both ends, snagging six rebounds and trying his best on that sieve of a defense, but he didn’t make an impact either.
I wouldn’t call this an exciting Summer League team by any stretch, so the next few games are simply a measure of whether these guys can show out and get onto a G League squad, and perhaps whether Beasley will trust any of them enough to let them shoot. Denver had 14 assists against 21 turnovers. It’s hard to play with players you’ve barely met, but right now this offense does not resemble Denver’s efficient regular season version in any way.
They’re back at it Sunday - we’ll see what gets cleaned up before then.