The Denver Nuggets are back in the playoffs!!! Yes, technically it’s NBA Summer League playoffs but nonetheless, Denver is back in a do or die game tonight against the Toronto Raptors. Summer League has moved to a new (and far less complicated) tournament format this season with all 30 teams now attending summer league in Vegas. The top two seeds (Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers) earn a bye, the other 28 teams start the tournament. After round one it goes to, to steal a term from our soccer friends, a round of 16 and progresses like any single elimination tournament. If the Nuggets are to be crowned champions, they’ll need to extend their SL winning streak to 8 and it starts tonight against the Raptors.
Toronto meanwhile has been a polar opposite having yet to win a game in Vegas. A quick check over to Raptors HQ reveals that the Raptors, despite having Marquis Teague and Cody Miller-Mcintyre on the team, have no real ball handling to speak of. On the other hand, they will have the far and away best player on the court tonight in O.G. Anunoby so that is going in their favor. Ultimately, probably shouldn’t read too much into either team’s record or roster. Summer league games have a tendency to devolve into pickup games so if any player on either team gets hot, that could be all they need to get the win.
Who: Denver Nuggets (3-0) vs Toronto Raptors (0-3)
When: 8:00PM MDT
Where: Cox Pavilion, Las Vegas NV
How to watch: ESPN2 and the Watch ESPN App
Rival blog: Raptors HQ
Key matchup: Malik Beasley vs O.G. Anunoby
Beasley has had a so-so summer league this far. As a former 1st round pick who is headed into his third year in the NBA expectations for Beasley in Vegas have been high but he’s been unable to meet them. Tonight he’ll see plenty of Anunoby who is not only an already proven NBA level talent, but a nightmare of a defender to face as well. If Beasley can have a big night tonight it might make last weekend’s sub-par performance a distant memory. He’s running out of time to impress so struggling tonight could really hurt.
Key thing to watch for: Tryggvi Hlinason
The 7’1” Icelandic center hasn’t really gotten any time of note with the Raptors summer league team however he’s an interesting Euro prospect. Hlinason has only been playing basketball since he was 14 but he’s picked it up fast and his massive size has helped him reach the Liga ACB level with Valencia in Spain. The Nuggets brought him in for a pre-draft workout but ultimately Hlinason went undrafted. Denver’s of course not shy about taking raw euro prospects so hopefully Hlinason gets some minutes tonight and perhaps the Nuggets will look to him again in next year’s draft (players are eligible for a second draft if they go undrafted and don’t sign with an NBA team).
Opening thought: All aboard the Cancar train
The most exciting part of Nuggets summer league thus far has to be 2017 second round pick Vlatko Cancar. While Cancar hasn’t lit it up on any night in particular, he’s been consistently the second best player on the team behind Monte Morris (who not only looks deserving of a full NBA contract, but possibly a spot in the rotation) and ahead of Beasley and fellow first round pick Tyler Lydon. Cancar’s ability to shoot is no secret and he provides the Nuggets with some floor spacing every time he’s on the court. More noticeable though has been his defense and basketball IQ. Cancar’s defense is built on being fundamentally sound and giving max effort, its been a revelation to see him be able to guard out to the perimeter and he never seems to get lost defending the pick and roll. He has two more years on a newly extended contract in Spain and the Nuggets don’t really have a roster spot for him but if he continues to play like he has the idea of buying him out and bringing him over immediately has to be considered.