Las Vegas Summer League begins this Friday as all 30 NBA teams will meet at Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada to showcase the league’s young talent. The Denver Nuggets have assembled at Pepsi Center for four days of practices and workouts to prepare for the event and will be hosting media availability each day following the official practice.
There are five players on the team’s summer league roster who are likely to be on the regular season roster in some capacity when the team regroups for training camp in late September: Michael Porter Jr., Jarred Vanderbilt, Thomas Welsh, Vlatko Cancar, and Brandon Goodwin. All were present at the arena today, as was the team’s 2019 NBA draft pick, Bol Bol who will sit out the practices and workouts this week as he rehabs back from a broken foot bone.
Let’s look at some of the news and notes from today’s media availability.
The MPJ hype is reaching a fever pitch
You ask just about anyone who has stepped foot inside Pepsi Center over the last few months what they think about Michael Porter Jr. and the superlatives are sure to come out. Today was the first day that the Denver media was able to talk to MPJ following an actual, on-court practice and he seems to be embracing the buzz that is surrounding his debut, even if he is keeping his ego in check.
Jordan Davis in what it’s like having a front row seat to MPJ during practices and workouts. pic.twitter.com/3VJCbRPmMn— Denver Stiffs (@denverstiffs) July 1, 2019
“Too much praise for a person is bad and too much hate for a person is bad,” Porter Jr. told the media. “I want to be the best player on the floor every time I step out there. And that doesn’t change. I don’t want to start slow. I am expecting to dominate and that’s what I want to do.”
The hype is fun but I get the sense that there will be a bit of pressure on MPJ at summer league given that he has only played two games over the last two years. Summer League is a tough place to make a name for yourself and it is rarely a great setting for analyzing talent. Nikoloz Tskitishvili won summer league MVP back in 2002 but went on to have one of the worst NBA careers ever for a top 5 overall pick. Nikola Jokic barely made anyone’s radar following his summer league debut. A lot of conclusions will be drawn about MPJ over the next two weeks but the truth is that we probably won’t get a great read on what kind of contributor he is ready to be at the actual NBA level until October.
But then again...
Vlatko Cancar and Jarred Vanderbilt did not participate in contact drills
Cancar had one shoe off when the media was allowed inside of the practice court on Monday and Summer League head coach Jordi Fernandez said that neither he nor Vanderbilt participated in contact portions of practice. Both are expected to be back soon and there hasn’t been anything to suggest that either will miss Friday’s Summer League debut but both appear to be ailing from some minor injury.
Jordan Davis and Jae’Sean Tate
Two summers ago, Torrey Craig burst onto the scene with an impressive summer league performance in which he looked like the best player on the court in several of the team’s games. Last summer, Kenrich Williams did everything but shoot the ball well for the Nuggets en route to landing a roster spot with the New Orleans Pelicans and DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell was briefly awarded a two-way contract with the Nuggets following his strong play in Vegas.
This season, keep an eye on Jae’Sean Tate and Jordan Davis as the two leading candidates to be this year’s surprise talent. Tate spent the last season in the Belgium Pro League after going undrafted in 2018. He was a four-year starter at Ohio State and a member of the All Big Ten 2nd team as voted on by the coaches. A lack of a consistent outside shot was his achilles heel but he has reportedly worked on that aspect of his game in the year since graduating from college.
Davis is something of a hometown favorite, both here in Colorado where he played his college ball for the University of Northern Colorado and in Las Vegas, where the NBA hosts Summer League. Davis is a scoring guard with a quick handle and an explosive first step. He’s probably a bit undersized for the NBA but he made a big leap in his senior season, averaging over 23 points per game on 47% shooting.
Bol Bol is strikingly tall. Even knowing that he stands 7’2” tall and having spent time around NBA players for five seasons now, I was still shocked at how tall he looked next to everyone else. He didn’t hang around the gym for too long after the practice ended but I did manage to catch a glimpse of him taking two very deep threes as he exited the court, both of which hit nothing but net.
Jamal Murray is making more than Nikola Jokic
I have a lot of mixed feelings about Jamal Murray’s five-year, $170 million extension. On the one hand, Murray is probably capable of becoming one of the league’s 20 best players and the 2nd best player on a true championship contender. On the other hand, he hasn’t proven to be that guy yet.
With players entering the league at 19 years old, teams often have to make long-term projections about star-caliber prospects before they reach anywhere close to their ceiling. Andrew Wiggins is the most notable example of a team betting incorrectly on a young player reaching his potential and now the Minnesota Timberwolves are saddled with one of the most difficult-to-move contracts in sports; a negative asset that could anchor the team’s ability to build a contender.
The same thing could happen with Murray and the Denver Nuggets. The Spurs-Nuggets playoff series was representative of Murray’s young career in a nutshell. Through 11 quarters, Derrick White had thoroughly outplayed Murray and the Nuggets looked like a team in way over their head. Over the next 17 quarters, that script was flipped and Murray looked like a future star. Right now Murray is both players: the good and the bad. The Nuggets are betting everything that as he matures, he will become the former much more consistently.
But Denver’s reliance on Murray to reach his ceiling isn’t anything new. The Nuggets were always going to go as Murray goes over the next five seasons. If he becomes one of the league’s most consistent and impactful guards, then Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets have an inside-outside duo that can achieve just about anything. If he falls anywhere short of becoming an all-star, the Nuggets were probably going to fall somewhere short as well.
The other layer to all of this is that Murray will now make more money than Jokic. Jokic almost certainly doesn’t care about things like that on a personal level but the truth is that who-makes-what is at the heart of most NBA conflicts. Salary dynamics are rarely an issue in times of peace. When employees are content with their work and happy with their work load, money is often just the cherry on top of it all.
But the Nuggets have been in a great place for each of the last three seasons. What happens when the Nuggets run into a mid-season slump that jeopardizes their post-season positioning? Or when they fall behind in a playoff series because of ill-advised shots? How will players like Malik Beasley view that contract in a summer when he is eligible for an extension as well?
It’s probably an issue for sometime down the road but it’s a layer of interpersonal dynamics that the Nuggets have not had to face thus far in the Tim Connelly-Michael Malone-Nikola Jokic era.