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Small forward is not Bol Bol’s natural position. But due to the lack of players currently with the Nuggets inside the Disney World bubble, Denver is forced to get innovative on the practice court. Coaches who don’t usually get involved in drills are stepping in to provide an extra body, and the Nuggets’ 7-foot-2 rookie is playing on the perimeter.
“We have had some very unique lineups, Michael Malone said. “I’ll say that.”
The Nuggets aren’t officially commenting on who is and who isn’t inside the Orlando bubble, but it’s obvious Denver doesn’t have close to its full contingent. Nikola Jokić arrived in Orlando Tuesday and participated in his first practice on Wednesday.
Thursday afternoon, Troy Daniels touched on what the Nuggets’ first six practices have been like with a shorthanded roster.
“I think we’ve got eight or nine guys here, maybe 10. It’s cool. 3-on-3, 4-on-4. It’s just basketball at the end of the day,” Daniels said. “I think the real thing for us is to stay in shape and get our plays and our defensive transition down to get us ready for the games.”
Malone and some of his assistant coaches are also getting on the action. To cut their traveling party down to fit NBA protocol, the Nuggets had to leave behind player development coaches Stephen Graham, Boniface N’Dong, Jordan Bickerstaff, and video coordinator Travess Armenta, all of whom typically participate in practice drills.
That set of circumstances might not be cause for concern if the Nuggets were going through typical summer workouts at Pepsi Center. Of course, the current state of affairs is anything but typical. The Nuggets’ first scrimmage is in six days, and Denver could be rolling out some creative lineups, to say the least, beginning with Bol at small forward.
These ten players have either spoken with the media or appeared in photos or videos published by the team at Disney World: Jokic, Bol, Daniels, Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap, Will Barton, Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, Noah Vonleh and Tyler Cook. Perhaps more players will show up between Thursday and Denver’s first of three scrimmages on July 22. However, they’ll still have to go through the league-mandated 36-48 hour hotel-room quarantine, return two negative coronavirus tests and ramp up their on-court work enough to play in a game.
So who’s here for a Murray-Daniels-Bol-Millsap-Jokic lineup in Denver’s scrimmage against the Washington Wizards next Wednesday?
I know I am.
From Malone’s comments throughout the week, the team is taking the adverse circumstances in stride. It’s far from ideal training camp conditions, but Denver’s first week of practice has included plenty of energy and enthusiasm.
“I wouldn’t call it an advantage or a disadvantage,” Malone said regarding the limited amount of bodies that the Nuggets have at their disposal. “It’s just reality. This pandemic doesn’t care who you are where you are, if you’re a pro player or not.”
Maybe there’s a silver lining to the Nuggets’ current situation. Denver wouldn’t get this good of a look at Bol, who played just eight games in the G League this season if it had its complete roster inside the Disney bubble. Bol can also get more 1-on-1 time with the Nuggets’ coaching staff before more players arrive in Orlando.
“It’s been a long journey because I spent most of the season watching practice,” said Bol, who spoke with reporters Thursday for the first time since Media Day. “But now that I can finally practice, it’s pretty fun. It’s been what I’ve looked forward to.”
The 19-year-old rookie has to get some actual minutes under his belt before the Nuggets can talk about him as a legitimate rotation piece, but man is he skilled. Over the last week, multiple teammates have raved about Bol’s abilities.
“Talented. Talented, talented, talented. The kid, he has the intangibles that a lot of people are not blessed with,” Daniels said. “… The sky’s the limit for that kid. He literally can shoot over anybody. He can rebound, has touch around the rim, can handle the ball. He’s a really really good player. He belongs in the NBA. He just has to sustain it.”
Bol has mainly worked on building up his strength over the last several months, and when asked if he’s expecting to play during the NBA’s restart, Bol said that he’s “staying ready for whatever happens.”
He’s also still discovering facets of his own game.
“The one thing I need to get better at is, I mean I know I’m tall, but I haven’t realized when I put my hands out how much ground I cover,” Bol said. “That’s the main thing I’ve been working on these last couple of weeks.”
Over the next few weeks, the priority for the Nuggets is to maintain as healthy a roster as possible while working whoever’s currently available to practice into game shape. Even with unfavorable circumstances, the Nuggets remain confident that even if much of their roster joins the rest of the team in Orlando on short notice, their on-court chemistry, cohesion, and free-flowing style of play will help Denver mesh together quickly.
“I think our rhythm as a team is really good. It’s something we can pick up in a short amount of time,” Plumlee said. “There’s no concern about getting it together.”