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Preview: Nuggets open up Las Vegas Summer League against Suns on ESPN

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Let’s see Big Tom go to work.

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NBA: Orlando Magic at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight is the first game of the summer session for the Nuggets, as they match up versus the Phoenix Suns at 9:30 pm MST on ESPN.

The allure of Summer League this year lost some of it’s luster when it was announced that Michael Porter Jr. would sit out the event with a left knee strain, according to Mike Singer of the Denver Post.

It’s not expected to be a long-term issue, and the Nuggets see no need to rush him back to the court for Summer League play.

“You feel bad, because the kid has been putting in a lot of work, and he was excited to play,” Nuggets Summer League coach Jordi Fernandez told reporters Thursday. “But obviously the most important thing for him is to be ready for the NBA season. Again, it’s nothing major.”

It’s never good news to hear about a knee problem from a basketball player in the Porter household, so it’s something to monitor and definitely smart to hold him out.

In the meantime though, Jarred Vanderbilt, Vlatko Cancar, Brandon Goodwin, and Thomas Welsh are all players who can earn a major opportunity with the Nuggets going forward if they have a strong showing in Las Vegas.

  • Vanderbilt is playing for a spot in the rotation this year, and he has an opportunity to stake a claim during these next few games. After showing mostly rebounding, hustle, and energy in his rookie season, Vando is searching for an opportunity to show off his skill set, according to Kendra Andrews of The Athletic:

The role Vanderbilt sees himself taking on is the “versatile guy,” and that’s what he plans on focusing on this summer. He wants to show off his abilities to dribble, pass and facilitate, while also continuing his strong defense and rebounding and being a vocal leader.

For Vanderbilt, rebounding and facilitating the offense go hand in hand — having the ability to clear the glass and then bring the ball up the court to begin the offensive possession.

“They got a couple plays for me that has me initiate the offense,” Vanderbilt says. “They feel like anytime I get the ball I become the point guard. Rebounds, steals, whatever, bring it down and attack the defense.”

  • Cancar and Goodwin are competing for some of the final roster spots on the team. Assuming the Nuggets sign Bol Bol, there are only two spots on the 15-man roster open. One of those could be filled by incumbent forward Trey Lyles, whom the Nuggets extended a qualifying offer to before the start of free agency, making him a restricted free agent. Cancar was a second round draft pick by the Nuggets in 2017 along with Monte Morris and displays offensive and defensive versatility as a tall forward. Goodwin was a two-way player for the Nuggets last year and is seeking a guaranteed contract on the 15-man roster.
  • After the Nuggets selected Bol at 43rd overall, the Nuggets will have both Welsh and Bol competing for a spot as the third center on the roster. Last season, the Nuggets relied heavily on Mason Plumlee as the only true big man behind Nikola Jokic. This season, Denver may look at Bol or Welsh as players who can competently space the floor. Welsh will make his case for being the third center before Bol can step on the floor, so look for him to come out aggressive making plays for himself and others out of the high post area.

Keep an eye out for a recap after the game tonight as Denver Stiffs covers the game and resulting storylines throughout the entire Las Vegas Summer League schedule.