LAS VEGAS — Near the end of his first media session of summer league practices last Sunday, Nuggets rookie Peyton Watson had the line of the month:
“Hoop is like a vitamin for me,” he said. “Every day I gotta have it.”
Watson was discussing his love for playing the game. It just as easily translates to those who love to watch the game. For both, the NBA summer league in Las Vegas is a perfect venue to soak in all of the basketball possible. The whirlwind of 75 games in 11 days begins Thursday overall, with the Nuggets starting their guaranteed slate of five games on Friday night against Minnesota.
So what Nuggets-specific stuff do you need to watch for?
Start with these five things.
Christian Braun on Both Ends of the Court. The Nuggets top draft pick, No. 21 overall in the first round, arrived in Denver with a reputation for toughness and defense. They were the chief reasons Nuggets brass had him rated so high on their draft board as they look to elevate the team’s performance on that end of the court in the regular season. In summer league practices, Braun has already shown that defensive grit. Now, he’ll get a chance to do so against other competition.
But that’s not all.
Remember, Braun was the second-leading scorer on a national championship team in college just a few months ago. To a degree, his effectiveness on that end of the court has been understated. Braun averaged 14.1 points on 49.5 percent shooting overall, including 38.6 percent from the 3-point line for Kansas last season. He had a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds in the title game against North Carolina. This is a player that excels in transition as well as can knock down the 3-point shot. How will that start to take shape as he gets his feet wet as a professional in summer league? Braun has a chance to be one of the best two-way players in the tournament.
Peyton Watson’s Development. There were few players drafted this year with more untapped upside than forward Peyton Watson, whom the Nuggets acquired with the 30th pick after getting the pick via trade with Oklahoma City. He had some standout moments defensively in summer league practices, in particular one in which he was able to stay in front of super-speedy Nuggets guard Bones Hyland, stopping a drive on a play that eventually ended with Braun poking the basketball away for a steal.
Watson has talked about growing on the offensive end as well. Summer league represents his first heavy minutes of organized basketball in quite some time, and, going back to high school, he has a history of being a big-time scorer. Will we see some flashes of that in Las Vegas?
Jontay Porter’s Comeback. It has been a long road back for Porter, younger brother of Nuggets standout Michael Porter Jr. Knee injuries sidelined him last season, but he’s healthy and eager to show he still belongs in the NBA. Porter last played for the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2020-21 season.
Collin Gillespie’s Impact. The Nuggets have two players on the summer league roster that played in the Final Four last season — Gillespie is the other. His college career is as decorated as they come: two Final Fours, one national title, two Big East Player of the Year awards, and a Bob Cousy Award. The Nuggets signed him to one of their two-way spots for the upcoming season, and he’ll get every opportunity to prove his future, sooner than later, is full-time with the big club. He is a knockdown 3-point shooter, hitting 41.5 percent in his senior season at Villanova. But what stands out most is his durability and impact on winning. His teams at Villanova in his last two seasons were 46-12 when he played, and 2-3 when he was not available.
The Race for the Second 2-Way Contract. The Nuggets have yet to sign a second player to a two-way contract, so there figures to be heavy competition to secure that spot from the players on their summer league team. One player, rookie Adonis Arms out of Texas Tech, was peppered with questions about being highly regarded and in the running for the coveted contract. He cooly deflected them but did admit the thought of grabbing that spot has been on his mind. He’s not the only one. The 11-day stretch will go a long way toward determining who gets that two-way deal.