COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The preseason is inching closer as the Denver Nuggets concluded their penultimate training camp practice Friday morning.
With the team set to participate in a public evening scrimmage (RSVP only), head coach Michael Malone limited his players to light shooting and station drills during the early session. Friday’s night action will see the Nuggets play 12-minute quarters for the first time in 2019-20.
Here are the top storylines to emerge from Friday morning’s media availability:
Will Barton fighting to get back to his best
Barton has been grinding all summer long in an effort to move past an injury-hindered 2018-19 season.
He was in Las Vegas during Summer League participating in voluntary scrimmages. He was a constant visitor to the practice court at Pepsi Center, working on his game with Denver’s coaching staff. And as recently as two weeks ago, Barton was helping several Nuggets rookies deal with grueling workouts at Red Rocks. So, his reaction to his latest setback, a lower body injury, is understandable.
“Definitely a little deflating, especially coming off of an injury-plagued season last year,” Barton explained. “The good thing is I feel good. I'm not really holding back, I feel athletic. Doing the things I like to do. I've got a good rhythm so.”
Barton added, “It's not depressing, but it is deflating because I don't want to hold back. I want to be able to practice fully and play fully and do everything, but it's a process.”
When healthy, Barton is one of the Nuggets’ most versatile players. He can play and defend both guard positions and the small forward spot, showcasing a solid blend of playmaking and scoring. Last season, Barton struggled with the first significant injury of his career and it impacted his play on the floor as he shot the third-lowest field goal percentage (40.2) in his eight seasons as a professional. Still, he is just one season removed from a 15.7 point, 5.0 rebound, 4.1 assist campaign.
“I know when I’m 100 percent healthy, I’m one of the best players around so it’s all about really being healthy,” Barton said Monday at Media Day.
Tyler Cook, PJ Dozier, Tyler Zeller, Elijah Millsap, Jorge Gutiérrez were all invited by the Nuggets to take part in training camp this summer. All five players are trying to earn a roster spot on the Nuggets or put up positive tape to continue their NBA journeys with other teams. So far, Malone has appreciated the effort shown by the group. He mentioned a few standouts after Friday’s practice.
“Jorge Gutiérrez has been in our gym all September into camp -- what a tough kid,” Malone said. “Competitor, hell of a defender, he doesn't back down from anybody. He pushes all of the guards who are in front of him.
“Tyler Cook is an NBA player. Obviously, you only have a certain number of spots on your roster, but Tyler Cook is definitely an NBA player. (He’s) very big and strong, very vocal on the defensive end, sets screens and rolls…I'm glad he's on my team right now.”
Tweaks not surgery
One of the benefits of the continuity the Nuggets have had on their roster is the overall familiarity with Malone’s gameplan. Now in his fifth season in the Mile High City, Malone appreciates the ability to focus on development as opposed to instructing tactical instructions.
“That allows us to hit the ground running,” Malone explained. “You go back to our first year of training camp, which was here [in Colorado Springs, it was slow going. We were trying to implement, teach and introduce new things --terminology and philosophy. Now, we have a really good sense of that corporate knowledge.”
In a crowded West, filled with teams who made significant moves this offseason, the Nuggets are hoping that familiarity pays dividends during the season.