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Nuggets continue their Summer League schedule against the Phoenix Suns

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2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Phoenix Suns v Utah Jazz Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

In a belated preview of tonight’s game that will also serve as the game thread, let’s provide an update for where the Denver Nuggets currently stand after their first few days in Las Vegas:

  1. Bones Hyland, Zeke Nnaji, and other players on the Las Vegas Summer League roster were initially absent from the first game due to health and safety protocols. Many of those same players, including Hyland and Nnaji, returned for the second game on Tuesday and appear to be fully cleared and ready to go for the remainder of the event.
  2. Markus Howard appears to have been withheld from Las Vegas, which is unfortunate for the entertainment value of Denver’s roster but also incredibly unfortunate for Howard himself. The 5’11” scoring guard is currently unsigned after his two-way contract with the Nuggets expired at the beginning of August; however, the Nuggets did extend a qualifying offer to Howard. Summer League was meant to be a proving ground of sorts for the Marquette product, but it doesn’t look like Howard will get the chance to put on a show for not just the Nuggets, but all 30 NBA teams.
  3. Bol Bol has had two solid performances, the second game better than the first, as he appears to be growing more comfortable as a scorer. The Nuggets are hoping to see even more from the 7’2” big man, and the rest of Summer League will be an opportunity to see the extent of Bol’s abilities on the offensive and defensive end.

That about covers it. Now, let’s talk about the game tonight:

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (0-2) vs Phoenix Suns (0-2)

Where: Las Vegas Summer League, Nevada

When: Thursday, 8:00pm MT

How to Watch: NBA TV, ESPN+, maybe ESPN 3? Unclear.

Biggest questions

What does the encore performance look like for Bones Hyland?

Bones Hyland scored 16 points and dished out 7 assists after arriving in town with just hours to spare before Denver’s first game. To arrive on such short notice and play the way Bones did is a testament to his readiness as a scorer and creator at the next level, including levels to his game as a facilitator that I didn’t fully appreciate.

Can Bones follow up that performance with an even more impressive game? It’s clear that Bones was comfortable stepping on the court with just minutes of preparation. What does tonight’s performance look like with a full 36 hours to get into rhythm and get to know his teammates better? All eyes will be on Bones, who didn’t shy away from the expectations and excitement surrounding him and instead embraced the feeling.

Can Zeke Nnaji bounce back?

While Bones seemed to be in his element, Zeke Nnaji appeared uncomfortable in similarly poor circumstances. The Nuggets want to see Nnaji try and scale up his game, using Summer League as an opportunity to make mistakes with the desired effect of learning from them and growing as a player. In Tuesday’s game, Nnaji went 0/9 from the field, committed some turnovers and mistakes, and grabbed just three rebounds while chasing around Boston’s perimeter players.

Nnaji of course gets a pass for a difficult performance given the circumstances, but as he continues to fight for a spot in Denver’s rotation this year, he will need to show growth and a level of comfortability in his role, even at Summer League. At the moment, he’s a one-dimensional offensive player with a sweet jumper. To become a full-time rotation player, he likely needs to show touch around the rim on post ups/duck-ins and/or a dribble drive game to take advantage of defenders closing out to him in space. It’s hard to show those skills in a Summer League environment, but Nnaji needs to in order to become more than a spot-up shooter offensively.

Is efficient scoring enough from Bol Bol?

Bol is almost the opposite of Nnaji in that he has shown variations to his game as a scorer while struggling with the important details at times. For a star player, the scoring is more important than the details. For a role player, the opposite is true. Despite showcasing a high level of scoring talent, Bol never cracked Denver’s rotation last season because the Nuggets needed someone who would defend their position, make proper rotations, and stay within the lines offensively. They needed a role player, and that’s not Bol’s game.

So, can Bol show more? Can he be an impactful defender at his position? So far, the Nuggets have been pushed around on the interior for two straight games as teams attack Bol in the middle of the defense. When Bol switches onto perimeter players, they rain threes over the top of Bol’s 7’8” wingspan, unbothered by his length.

Can Bol improve as a positional defender? Can he improve as a rebounder? Can he set better screens offensively to free up teammates? Can he make plays for others rather than taking bad shots in the midrange? All are questions that the Nuggets and the rest of the NBA are hoping to learn more about in the coming days. If the answer to any of them is yes, then teams should be interested in Bol. If the answer to ALL of them is yes, then the Nuggets should make an effort to find time to develop Bol to be part of their future.

Denver Nuggets Summer League schedule