We are just a day away from Denver Nuggets basketball, finally! Even though it’s a summer league game, this is the first time the Nuggets have taken the floor since April 27th when their season came to an end following a first round exit to the eventual champion, Golden State Warriors.
The Nuggets are slated to play four games in Vegas before they enter tournament play and unlike years in the past it truly feels like Denver could make some noise. Not only do the Nuggets have three exciting rookies in Christian Braun, Peyton Watson, and Ismael Kamagate, but they also have Collin Gillespie, who is occupying one of Denver’s two-way contracts.
With one two-way contract still up for grabs, that is certainly something the rest of the players on the roster are going to be fighting for. Braun and Watson have locked up roster spots, but for a player like Kamagate — who is likely to play overseas next year — this could be a big week where maybe he plays light out and the Nuggets decide to keep him for next season.
One of the Nuggets first moves when free agency started last week was signing DeAndre Jordan to add more depth at the center position. Jordan’s game has certainly been on the decline the last few seasons, so maybe if Kamagate does well in Vegas the Nuggets could bring him over on a two-way contract with the hopes of him becoming Denver’s backup center long-term.
A lot of eyes are going to be on Kamagate, but who else should you have your eye on when the Nuggets take the floor Friday night? We’ve got your covered in our summer league primer!
How do Braun and Watson look?
Once the Nuggets acquired a second first round pick from the Oklahoma City Thunder, it always felt like a bigger deal might be afloat. It never felt like the Nuggets were going to add two rookies to the roster — let alone three — but that is sometimes just how the draft goes. Deals and trades you thought might happen don’t end up coming to fruition and sometimes there are players on the board you feel are just too good to pass up.
It feels like that is exactly what happened to the Nuggets on draft night as they ended up using both first round picks on high upside defensive players like Braun and Watson. Following a national championship season with Kansas last year, Braun has the potential to be a lights on defender and secondary scorer with the Nuggets not just at summer league, but potentially compete for a rotation spot as early as next season.
Collin Gillespie and Christian Braun shooting the lights out at practice right now. They’re ready for the Nuggets summer league. pic.twitter.com/Y2grM6l1gh— Asher Levy (@asherlevynba) July 6, 2022
I would expect Braun to often guard the opposing teams best player at summer league and for him to get up at least ten shots a game with half of those coming from beyond the three-point line. Braun certainly has the potential to contribute as early as next season and summer league is a perfect place for him to showcase why that is the case.
Watson is another must-watch player as he was a bit of a surprise when the Nuggets drafted him at 30th overall. After an up and down freshman season at UCLA, Watson entered the draft as a little bit of a unknown with a ton of upside.
The Nuggets hope he turns into a lock down defender, which are traits he showcased at times last year with UCLA. At 6-foot-8, 200 pounds with a 7 foot plus wingspan, Watson has really quick feet on the defensive end of the floor and uses his athleticism to not just defend one-on-one, but play really good help defense as well.
Defense isn’t really a concern with Watson as the biggest thing to watch with him is what he does offensively. Watson averaged just 3.3 points per game last season and shot just 22.6 percent from beyond the three-point line. The sample size was just so limited though that we don’t really know what Watson can be offensively, which is something we should have more clarity about following summer league.
Who are some dark horse names for the Nuggets two-way contract?
We mentioned Kamagate above as a player who could contend for the Nuggets final two-way spot, but who are some other dark horse candidates? Matt Mitchell is the first player that comes to mind as he’s been turning heads at the Nuggets summer league practices. Following a really solid four year career at San Diego Stat that saw him win Mountain West Player of the Year in 2020-21, Mitchell went undrafted and spent last season playing in the same Paris league that Kamagate played in.
The three names I’m hearing the most for two way spots at the Nuggets practices have been Adonis Arms, Matt Mitchell, and Jack White. All bigger guys who can play good defense. Seems there’s a pattern for the Nuggets this offseason.— Asher Levy (@asherlevynba) July 5, 2022
At 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, Mitchell has that big body the Nuggets seem to be targeting this offseason and would give Denver another defender they could use off the bench. Mitchell can also score the basketball from inside the arc, from three, and his potential to contribute on both ends of the court is certainly something the Nuggets could target. It also feels like Mitchell has the best chance to start for the Nuggets summer league squad alongside Gillespie, Braun, Watson, and Kamagate.
Another player who has stood out at summer league practices is Adonis Arms, who is a 6-foot-5, 205 pound guard with a 7-foot wingspan and is known for his lockdown defense. Arms is a phenomenal athlete who makes his mark on the defensive end of the floor, but he can also surprise you with his hops on the offensive end of the court.
Adonis Arms was asked if he thought his athleticism would translate. Called for a ball and said “I got something for y’all” before throwing this down. He’s a defender and athlete. My personal pick for the two way so far. #Nuggets pic.twitter.com/0Ry6EEMq4s— Asher Levy (@asherlevynba) July 3, 2022
One more name to watch out for is Jack White, who graduated from Duke in 2019-20 and has spent the last few seasons playing in the NBL with Melbourne United. White was part off Melbourne United’s NBL championship in 2021 and has also spent time playing for the Australian national team.
It feels like this Nuggets summer league squad is a little different than those in the past. Denver has a solid all-around squad and with three rookies leading the charge it really does feel like the Nuggets could make some noise not just in their first four games, but in the tournament as well.
With one two-way contract spot still up for grabs, everyone will be playing hard on both ends of the court and I would expect some positive results to come because of that. Braun is also incredibly competitive and is coming off a national championship season, so you know he’s going to give it his all and hopefully the players around him follow suit.
The Nuggets first game is against the Minnesota Timberwolves tomorrow night with tip-off set for 7PM MST and will air on NBA TV or ESPN3 if you have an ESPN account. It will hopefully be the start of an exciting summer for the Nuggets.