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2021-22 Denver Nuggets Media Day Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Will Petr Cornelie become more than just a two-way player?

Will the French big man ever receive a legitimate opportunity this year?

Petr Cornelie 2020-21 international per game statistics

Games Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Field Goal % Three-Point % Free Throw %
34 28.8 14.4 7.9 1.5 54.0 44.2 73.8

Overview

Petr Cornelie has been on the radar for the Denver Nuggets for several years. Selected by the team with the 53rd pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Cornelie has been a draft and stash prospect for over five years. He had already been playing professionally in France for three seasons when the Nuggets selected him and has remained in the LNB Pro A French League for the five seasons since, bouncing around between a few different teams during his eight total years in the league. For the vast majority of his time, seven seasons in all, Cornelie played a smaller role. It wasn’t until this year, his eighth and final season in the league, that he began to break out.

Cornelie scored the fifth most points and grabbed the second most rebounds in the LNB Pro A during the 2020-21 season, averaging 14.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game for Elan Bearnais. His role grew exponentially from one season to the next, and the Nuggets took notice. Cornelie made more three-pointers, rolled hard to the rim, showcased good skill with the ball in his hands, and took defense more seriously. The team itself was relatively average, but the Nuggets took notice of Cornelie’s improvements.

That’s why they decided to give the big man a chance — a two-way contract to prove himself at the NBA level. With the Nuggets not carrying a true backup center, adding more size in the frontcourt was a necessity. Cornelie gives the Nuggets an option as a rim roller with outside touch that they don’t really have on the roster. While Bol Bol, Zeke Nnaji, and Vlatko Čančar are each intriguing options in their own right, Cornelie gives the Nuggets a more fundamental pick and roll option...if they were decide to go that route.

Should the Nuggets ever give Cornelie a chance, he might surprise Nuggets fans with his athleticism, aggressiveness, and mentality. He plays a more rugged, above-the-rim style than most realize, and he will win fans over with a poster dunk or two if he ever does get on the court.

Best Case for 2021-22

As for many of the end-of-bench options on the Nuggets roster, for the best case scenario to ever occur, opportunity must arise. The Nuggets have a loaded frontcourt, led by MVP Nikola Jokić and two forwards in Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon that just received big extensions. They re-signed JaMychal Green and added Jeff Green to bolster the depth behind those three.

Cornelie isn’t currently in line for playing time, and it would take an unfortunate sequence of events for him to play real minutes for Denver this season. Until then, he will have his best opportunity with the Grand Rapids Gold, growing and developing his skill set at the NBA level while waiting for his next opportunity. It may not happen until an injury occurs. It may not happen until those ahead of him in the rotation falter at their own opportunity.

But the best case scenario for Cornelie is to ultimately finish the season as the 10th man in the rotation, playing backup center minutes when Jokić needs a rest. That position remains a void the Nuggets will attempt to fill throughout the season. Perhaps Cornelie is a sneaky option for regular season contributions.

Worst Case for 2021-22

The worst case for Cornelie is that he simply doesn’t make an impression in his limited time. The Nuggets are always searching for diamonds in the rough at the end of their bench, They’ve searched far and wide in the past. Sometimes, two-way players make the most of an opportunity (Monte Morris, Torrey Craig). Sometimes, those players fall between the cracks and are never heard from again (Greg Whittington, DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell).

If Cornelie never receives his opportunity, the Nuggets will have an easy an easier time moving on and seeking out a different candidate to help the end of the bench. That might not be fair to Cornelie, but it’s the harsh reality of a two-way contract in the NBA. Cornelie could easily be out of a job without ever being given a serious chance to prove himself. He will need to avoid that scenario at all costs by fighting for his opportunities every chance he can.

One Bold Prediction

Cornelie is unlikely to play a ton of minutes. It’s difficult to find a bold prediction, but here’s a take from left field: Petr Cornelie will score 17 points and grab 12 rebounds in the final game of the regular season, using that as a springboard to earn a guaranteed contract in Denver next season.

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