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Denver Nuggets' Summer League video breakdown: Game 1

Harrison Wind Avatar
July 12, 2015


The Denver Nuggets had an excellent outing in Game 1 of their Las Vegas Summer League stint on Friday. They worked as a team and as a result several players walked away with impressive box score numbers as well. Though the entire game could well be picked apart, below are some particular points I’d like to highlight…

Emmanuel Mudiay playing within himself

It was a successful debut for the No. 7 overall pick who lived up to the hype in his first Summer League game with the Nuggets. Mudiay dominated the pace and flow of the game from the opening tip and was extremely aggressive. At the same time he took what the defense gave him. There were periods where he got himself into trouble, whether he was unsuccessful trying to split pick-and-rolls, driving into two or three bodies in the lane or forcing up a quick contested jumper — but we can chalk that up to this being the first game he’s played in the U.S. in quite some time.

Over the course of Friday’s game I kept tweeting how it looked like Mudiay was gliding across the floor at a different speed and grace than everyone else. This was apparent from the Nuggets’ first possession where he finished a layup after taking off from the free-throw line…

For two years in a row Ty Lawson was top five in the league in drives per game, according to SportVU and NBA.com. Mudiay may also be well on his way to accomplishing that feat as soon as he ascends to the starting point guard spot in Denver. Much like Lawson can get into the teeth of the defense whenever he wants, Mudiay changes speeds and uses his body effectively to launch into the paint on command.

Something that jumped out while watching Mudiay last night was his eagerness to push the ball in transition whenever he had the chance. Here Mudiay grabs a rebound and immediately recognizes the Hawks defense is lackadaisically jogging back on defense. He sees this as an opportunity to get to the hoop and ultimately finishes through contact…

Applying pressure to the defense and never letting them get comfortable is a mentality that can be highly effective at Denver’s high altitude. Let’s hope coach Michael Malone gives him the green light in this regard.

Gary Harris doing his best James Harden impersonation

This is a huge summer for Harris coming off a year where he only saw action in 55 games and played sporadically behind an assortment of wings. His defense is already up to NBA standards yet his struggles with his shot and the physicality of the league were well documented last year. Those shortcomings made it even more exciting to see Harris’ aggressive mentality on display Friday night. Harris, along with the rest of the Nuggets’ players, couldn’t get a 3-pointer to fall (Denver shot 2-17 from three) so like any good scorer does, he found other ways to put the ball in the hoop.

Just as Mudiay found success in not waiting for the defense to set up, Harris too made the most of Denver’s transition situations and pushed the ball whenever he had the opportunity. Here he goes coast to coast and finishes with a crafty reverse layup…

Harris also had a lot of success finishing through contact in the half court…

Harris is still young enough that his career could go either direction, yet I saw enough defensively last year and offensively on Friday to think he’s on the right path.

Nikola Jokic’s vision and passing

Denver’s newest European import (who I broke down here) is highly regarded by the Nuggets front office and after watching him in action it was clear why. Jokic has a feel for the game and IQ that you don’t see with many 20 year olds. It’s easy to envision him operating out of the high post as a distributor and as a pick-and-pop man from the perimeter…

Against the Hawks he also hit a rhythm three and even dabbled with a few post-ups, but his real future lies around the perimeter as a facilitator from the elbow or foul line. Here he shows tremendous touch hitting Erick Green on a backdoor pass…

Erick Green, mid-range master

Green’s play in Summer League last year was the primary reason he made the Nuggets roster and on Friday he picked up right where he left off. Like Harris, Green’s playing time shifted and was unpredictable last season behind Lawson, Nate Robinson and Jameer Nelson. He simply couldn’t find his footing or consistent minutes as the third point guard on the roster. Still, Green showed what he is capable of by running the team’s second unit in route to hitting a few pretty pull-up jumpers similar to these two…

Mudiay playing the off guard

As it looks more and more likely Ty Lawson will be on the Nuggets roster come opening night, the question that keeps looming is how he and Mudiay are going to coexist. Head coach Michael Malone already told Mudiay, “This is your team,” (it’s unclear if this is a reference to the Nuggets’ Summer League team or the team in general) and that he can envision the two playing together in the same backcourt. On Friday we saw how that partnership may work when Mudiay shared the backcourt with Green.

I’ve had discussions with people in the basketball world who I respect about how to correctly develop young players, and while there is not an exact science to it most are in agreement that it’s best to play them as much as possible in their first couple years. This applies to Randy Foye taking minutes away from Harris in the second half of a lost season last year in an effort to win games. It would be a shame to see Lawson hold Mudiay back from playing his true position and a larger role in exchange for a few more wins.

Jokic’s defensive presence

Jokic is going to make his money and imprint in this league on the offensive end, but he needs to be a capable enough defender to not be exploited as a liability. He’s a good athlete but doesn’t have the quickest feet and struggles a bit when he has to change directions quickly.

Here he gets caught between two Hawks players and his indecision opens the lane for an easy bucket by his opponent…

Jokic will also find himself defending a lot of pick-and-roll situations and if a switch happens, like it does here, his lack of mobility becomes apparent…

After the game coach Micah Nori described Jokic as a “positional rebounder,” meaning he can rebound effectively when the ball comes to him but he struggles if he has to chase down a board or use his athleticism. Still, Jokic is only 20 so he can become quicker and more agile if he puts the work in to grow into a solid presence on the defensive end of the court.

Mudiay’s wizardry with the ball

After watching film I knew Mudiay was a gifted passer, but he put on a display that took me by surprise…

With high-IQ passers like Mudiay, Jokic, Danilo Gallinari and Jusuf Nurkic — all of whom are poised to play critical minutes for the Nuggets this upcoming season — fans should expect Denver to share the ball more than last year when the team finished dead last in passes per game.

Be sure to tune in to BSN after the Nuggets take on the Sacramento Kings in Game 2 of their Summer League spell as we’ll have much more analysis on this exciting young roster in both video and written format.

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