Nuggets get opportunity exhale after first two summer league games

Coaching staff seeking improved defense when play resumes
by Aaron Lopez

At times during Gary Harris’ summer debut, it seemed as though the Nuggets shooting guard couldn’t miss.

He hit five 3-pointers, finished with 33 points and created a buzz on the UNLV campus in Las Vegas.

Just over 24 hours later, Harris struggled to find his rhythm and managed just nine points – seven coming from the free-throw line.

Such is life for a 19-year-old rookie trying to find his way in the NBA.

“He had a great first game,” Nuggets assistant coach Patrick Mutombo said. “I would’ve guessed the second game wasn’t going to be as prolific. It’s part of the process. Let’s take a step back and get some perspective. It gives us an opportunity to teach him. This is a great platform to accomplish that.”

After splitting their first two games at the Samsung NBA Summer League, the Nuggets took Monday off as the players attended mandatory league meetings. They resume their schedule Tuesday against the Utah Jazz.

Mutombo, who is sharing coaching duties with fellow assistant Noel Gillespie, wants to see a better defensive effort going forward. He said Denver got away from its defensive principles while surrendering 19 3-pointers in a 27-point loss to the Chicago Bulls.

“Our offensive is predicated on our defense,” Mutombo said. “We claim to be a running team but it’s hard to run if you don’t get stops. When you constantly break down defensively, it also has a psychological impact on you. Guys don’t have energy and excitement about running. When you get stops, you get excited about running.”

Individually, Mutombo said he would like to see third-year forward Quincy Miller continue to improve defensively. Miller scored 49 points in Denver’s first two games; he blocked four shots in the opener but none against Chicago.

“Quincy’s worked hard in the summer,” Mutombo said. “We all know he can score. What’s expected from Quincy is more on the defensive end. We still have more work there. I’m not down on him. We’re going to keep coaching him defensively.”

Miller, Harris and Erick Green have carried the bulk of the scoring load for Denver, but guards Carlon Brown and Chris Wright also have impressed the coaching staff with their contributions.

“Everybody’s giving the effort,” Mutombo said. “I feel bad because there’s so many players and only so many minutes to go around.”

After Tuesday’s game, Denver and the 23 other teams will be seeded based on their records in the first three games (scoring totals form the basis for tiebreakers). The top eight teams will receive byes in a single-elimination tournament.