Nuggets GM Tim Connelly pleased with progress of young prospects

Executive VP of Basketball Operations lauds Harris, Green and Nurkic
by Aaron Lopez

After an extended stay in Las Vegas, Nuggets general manager/executive vice president of basketball operations Tim Connelly returned to Denver this week with reason to be excited about the future of the franchise.

Three reasons, in particular: Gary Harris, Erick Green and Jusuf Nurkic.

While Connelly evaluated Harris and Green at the Samsung NBA Summer League, he received constant updates about Nurkic’s play at the FIBA Under-20 European Championship Division B tournament in Sarajevo.

“All in all, it was a good week,” Connelly said.

Harris, the 19th overall pick of last month’s NBA Draft, led the Nuggets in scoring (18.6 ppg) in Las Vegas, while Green averaged 16.6 points on .500 shooting.

“Gary did a good job adjusting to the pace of the NBA game,” Connelly said. “He was aggressive offensively and had a couple big games. I liked his defensive instincts. That translated well.

“I thought Erick Green looked much more comfortable on both sides of the ball. I think a year abroad playing at a high level (in Italy) made summer league a bit easier. He was more confident with the ball. He was a much better defender. I thought he made a huge jump.”

Speaking of huge, Connelly loved the reports he received about Nurkic, a 7-foot center who walked away with MVP honors after leading Bosnia and Herzegovina to the U20 Division B title.

Nurkic, the 16th overall pick last month, averaged 21.4 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists in eight games.

“I spoke to Jusuf almost every day and I have a good friend who’s over there recruiting for college,” Connelly said. “He was giving me a blow-by-blow of the games.”

And what was Connelly hearing about Nurkic in those trans-Atlantic reports?

“He’s a unique blend of size, strength, athleticism and skill set,” he said.

“You usually don’t see guys that big move that well. He’s a naturally gifted scorer around the rim and he’s an instinctual finisher. He’s got a lot of tools. He can pass and make free throws.”

That being said, Connelly knows that the Nuggets will have to be patient with the 19-year-old Nurkic, who has been playing organized basketball for less than five years.

“He’s a puppy,” Connelly said. “He’s doing it all on instincts and natural ability. As much success as he’s had with the national team or in the Adriatic league, it’s a different level up here. It’ll be a rude awakening, but I think it will be one that helps him long-term and helps us long-term.”

Based on what Connelly saw and heard in the past two weeks, the long-term future is looking bright.

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