Five Takeaways from the Nuggets Summer League-Opening Victory Over Minnesota

LAS VEGAS – It was a nail-biter in the end, but the Nuggets opened their Las Vegas Summer League schedule with a 70-69 win over Minnesota at Cox Pavilion on Friday night. Defense led most of the night, as the Nuggets never trailed and built a 21-point lead. A furious Minnesota fourth quarter rally forced the Nuggets to get a stop on the last possession of the game to win it, and they did.

“Overall it was really good; we competed,” Nuggets summer league coach Jordi Fernandez said. “Not consistently, but I think the team showed at times what we can do defensively. Also, offensively we moved the ball. I thought Monte (Morris) was really good.”

Morris led all Nuggets scorers with 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting. He added four assists, two rebounds and a steal. Vlatko Cancar finished with 11 points off the bench and had four rebounds and three steals. Malik Beasley rounded out players in double figures with 10 points.

Here are five areas that stood out in the win:

Morris and Beasley’s aggressiveness: The duo came out in attack mode, and generally kept up the mindset throughout. Morris combined it with solid shooting, quickly getting downhill off of screens and finishing well at the rim. It was exactly the start – and type of game – Morris was looking for to start off a big summer league for him. He credited an uplifting pre-game text from Nuggets president of basketball operations, Tim Connelly, with filling him with the confidence to go out and play freely.

“I wish I made a few more of those shots that I worked on every day and made,” Morris said. “They’ll fall (Saturday), so I just try to stay even-keeled. But other than that, I felt that I was good defensively, just picking up full (court) and being active. And I helped my teammates.”

Beasley’s effort: Beasley wasn’t happy with his final line from the field – 3-of-10 – but he didn’t let missed shots impact was his energy all over the court. He rebounded. He dove for loose balls. He competed on defense. He made some plays for others. And he stayed aggressive on offense, which helped him draw fouls. Beasley was 4-of-6 from the line.

"It was good to get out there and play again,” Beasley said. “I felt a little rusty on my shot and I was rushing everything. But it was the first game back; bounce back (Saturday).”

Cancar’s hands and feet: During the week, Cancar joked of being worried about how he’d fare against more athletic players. On Friday night, he held his own pretty well. But what stood out was his ability to catch pretty much everything. Even if the ball was bobbled, he recovered to corral it and make a play toward the rim. He also caught one pass a little behind him and quickly got to the rim in transition. Defensively, he showed good energy and active feet in staying with ball handlers on the perimeter.

Welsh’s screening and rim protection: Not every good performance stuffs stats. Thomas Welsh’s first game was full of effective little things that help offensive possessions stay on schedule, and defensively help keep opponents shooting percentages low. His screening was superb. At the rim, Welsh was tall, and was aggressive in going after shots. He altered and blocked a few. He was a plus-10 in his time on the court, which was second only to Tyler Lydon’s plus-16.

Nuggets team defense: There was a lot to like from the Nuggets on the defensive end. At least for three quarters. At their best, they were generally good in pick-and-roll coverage, they walled off the lane to ball handlers most of the night and forced Minnesota to take a plethora of jump shots. And they missed so many of them. Even with a good fourth quarter, the Timberwolves were 26-of-73 from the field overall, and 5-of-29 from the 3-point line.

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.