Denver Nuggets’ 2019 Summer League roster: Players to watch

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

The Denver Nuggets have officially revealed their roster for 2019 Summer League in Las Vegas. The roster includes several players from the 2018 draft class as well as other hopefuls looking to stand out and earn an NBA contract.

READ MORE: Nuggets release Summer League roster

From undrafted rookies looking to make it in the NBA to former first-round picks, the competition will be intense throughout the 10-day event. With that being said, let’s take a closer look at Denver’s Summer League roster through some players to watch.

1. Michael Porter Jr. set for NBA debut

All eyes will be on Michael Porter Jr., who will be making his return to competitive basketball after sitting out nearly two years due to a back injury.

“I feel so good,” Porter Jr. said during his exit interview in May. “I've worked so hard every day with these guys and I feel like I'm a better player than I've ever been. "I just want to show that I'm back, feeling good, and ready to play."

Although he was pegged by several mock drafts to be selected in or near the top-five in the 2018 NBA Draft, Porter Jr. fell to the Nuggets at pick 14 as a result of that back injury, which had cost him the majority of his freshman season at the University of Missouri.

Given Porter Jr.’s size and skill set, it’s easy to understand why so many are excited to see him take the floor.

“He (Porter Jr.) is special for sure,” Nuggets guard Monte Morris said. “He can handle it, shoot it and he's 6'11". He's a freak athlete. The best thing about Michael is that he feels he's the best player on the court at all times, no matter who is out there. He carries that swagger about himself, so I feel it will be easy for him to adjust when he steps into the rotation because with that swagger, you will go out there and play confident.”

2. Second-year standouts

The Nuggets roster for the Las Vegas event is headlined by several players that are preparing for their second season in the league. Jarred Vanderbilt, Thomas Welsh and Brandon Goodwin all experienced NBA basketball for the first time during the 2018-19 season and will now be looking to showcase their growth and potential during the summer.

Vanderbilt spent time recovering from various ankle and foot injuries during the 2018-19 campaign. However, the 20-year-old forward was able to play in 17 NBA games and four G League contests, where he averaged 7.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game for Delaware Blue Coats.

Although known as a tenacious rebounder and defender heading into the 2018 draft, the former Kentucky Wildcat is looking to expand his impact on the game as he continues to prepare for Summer League.

“Being a more versatile player,” Vanderbilt said when asked about what parts of his game he didn’t show this past season. “Being able to bring the ball up the court, initiate offense and facilitate as a point-forward at times. I really didn't get to showcase that, but I think I have the ability to do so, and I think Summer League will be a great time to do that."

Meanwhile, Thomas Welsh used the opportunity presented to him through a two-way contract to showcase his sweet shooting and touch around the court. The 7-footer spent most of the 2018-19 season in the G League, where he appeared in 20 games. The 23-year-old big man averaged 10.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game for the Iowa Wolves. Welsh was very efficient in those games, as he connected on 51.6 percent of his shots from the field and 48.4 percent from three.

Finally, Brandon Goodwin will be looking to continue scoring at an elite rate during Summer League. During the 2018-19 season, Goodwin appeared in 26 games for the Iowa Wolves of the G League and averaged 22.1 points per game. Look for this quartet to be crucial leaders of Denver’s Summer League squad.

3. The local boy gets an opportunity

During the one-and-only draft workout that the Nuggets hosted at Pepsi Center in June, Jordan Davis was a popular presence. The former Northern Colorado standout is a Las Vegas native and could give Denver a significant scoring punch. During his final college season, Davis averaged 23.5 points per game to go along with 4.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game.

Davis has a relentless work ethic and playing alongside Denver’s potential standouts from the 2018 draft class should allow him to pick-and-choose his spots to highlight his scoring abilities.

“I’m just blessed. I’m coming from a situation where you don’t get this many opportunities,” Davis said during his draft workout. “For me, just being able to be here and get my foot in the door of my dream, cause I’ve been dreaming for this since I was a kid.”

4. Undrafted free agents that hope to secure an NBA opportunity

The rest of Denver’s Summer League roster is full of undrafted free agents that despite standing out in college in recent seasons, haven’t been able to secure a full-time NBA opportunity. Terence Davis, Jae’Sean Tate and Keifer Sykes are some of the more notable players on the roster, with others including Brandon Gilbeck, Kenny Goins and Tyler Harris (brother of Tobias Harris).

While these players bring different skill sets to the table, they will be competing intensely for playing time and opportunities to make plays. Davis impressed during pre-draft workouts and in the Portsmouth Invitational tournament and believes he has the skills to be a modern wing in the NBA.

“The main thing I want to show teams is I can be a defensive guy,” Davis said prior to the draft. “I can be a 3 and D guy, but for me, the D comes before the 3. If I want to play at the next level right away, that’s got to be my main focus.”

Keifer Sykes last played in the United States in 2015, when he completed his fourth season at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Sykes showcased elite scoring ability during his final two seasons in Green Bay, as he averaged 20.3 and 18.6 points per game respectively.

After playing 50 games in the G League in 2015 and 2016, Sykes has played overseas in recent years. In the 2017-18 season, the 25-year-old guard averaged 22.4 points and 4.8 assists per game in the Turkish Basketball Super League.

The other seven-footer on the Nuggets’ Summer League roster will be Brandon Gilbeck, a big man who went undrafted in last week’s draft after completing his senior season at Western Illinois. Although Gilbeck didn’t score at an elite rate in college, he was active on the boards and was one of the best shot-blockers in the nation.

Excluding his freshman season, Gilbeck averaged three blocks per game in college and grabbed 11.5 rebounds per-40 minutes. Gilbeck also became the third player in Summit League history to be named the Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons. Look for him to defend the rim and clean up opponent misses when he sees the floor during Summer League.

5. Vlatko returns to Las Vegas

Of course, one other notable player that Nuggets fans will have their eyes on during Summer League is Vlatko Čančar, who will be participating in his second consecutive Summer League with the Nuggets. After being drafted in the second round of the 2017 draft, Čančar has continued to develop his game overseas in Serbia and Spain. The 22-year-old forward has good size (6’8”) to play and guard multiple positions in the NBA.

“I think we have to really get to know each other,” Čančar recently told Nuggets.com. “Once we do that, we're going to go game-by-game and see where that gets us.”

During 2018 Summer League, Čančar impressed with his basketball IQ and defensive abilities, all while knocking down shots at an above-average rate. With another strong showing this summer, Čančar could certainly be on his way to an NBA contract for the 2019-20 season and beyond.

“It would be a pretty big deal (to land a roster spot), Čančar said. “I'm going to keep being humble and working hard.”

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