Denver Nuggets vs. Phoenix Suns Summer League Preview: Can Nuggets get off to a strong start?

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

After months of talking about the potential of players like Vlatko Čančar, Jarred Vanderbilt and Brandon Goodwin, Nuggets fans will finally have a chance to see them in extended action in the team’s Summer League opener against the Suns. 

Summer League has been pivotal for the Nuggets in the past as the organization has had several players use it as a key stepping stone in their development. Monte Morris and Malik Beasley, for example, are two players who used strong showings in last year’s tournament to secure impactful roles in the rotation. Prior to the 2018 Summer League, neither player played significant minutes for the team. 

READ MORE: Three takeaways from minicamp

In Denver’s nationally-televised opener against Phoenix, the team is expected to face a squad that will largely feature undrafted rookies and free agents. This is an ideal opportunity for the Nuggets to build some momentum. 

TUNE IN: Nuggets vs. Suns, 9:30 MT, ESPN

Here are some keys to the game: 

The Vlatko show: 

With Michael Porter Jr. sidelined due to injury, one player who should see increased minutes and shots could be Čančar, the Nuggets’ 2017 second-round pick. Although he recently suffered a minor injury, he took part in practices this week and is expected to suit up Friday night. 

“Vlatko will play, he’s feeling better from his ankle [injury],” Summer League coach Jordi Fernandez said. 

Čančar is coming off a strong campaign in Liga ACB, largely considered the second-best basketball league in the world. He was named one of its top five young players after averaging 10.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and shot 46.4 percent while playing with the San Pablo Burgos. The key for the 22-year-old Slovenian will be if he can take another step forward in Summer League play. 

Last summer, Čančar was essentially the fourth option behind Morris, Beasley and DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, going for 9.0 points per game on 48.3 percent shooting. This summer, the expectations are a lot higher. 

Goodwin vs. Baby Westbrook

Goodwin’s development will be another storyline to follow and he’s got an intriguing matchup in the first game of the tournament. Jalen Lecque, a former New York City high school basketball phenom, is expected to start for the Suns Friday. 

Due to an insane 43-inch vertical, the highest in this year’s draft combine, and fierce style of play, Lecque has been called “Baby Westbrook” by observers. The 19-year-old’s decision to forgo college hurt his draft stock as the point guard went undrafted in this year. Still, there is clearly potential in the 6-foot-4 player as the Suns gave him a long-term commitment. 

READ MORE: Goodwin wants to show off playmaking skills

The matchup between the two guards should be one to watch as both have plenty of speed and use their athleticism to be effective around the rim. Goodwin will have the edge due to his experience in college, the G League and NBA, but it’s still an exciting matchup between two undrafted guards with a lot to prove. 

Cooking it up

While Porter Jr., Goodwin, Čančar and Thomas Welsh have received their fair amount of attention in the Nuggets’ Summer League minicamp, one player to keep an eye on is former Iowa standout Tyler Cook. He’s been getting rave reviews from coaches and players on the Nuggets. 

“He’s one of our [Summer League roster] guys that I see playing in the NBA,” Fernandez said. “His quickness and his body, how strong he is, he’s definitely a kid who is going to have looks [by NBA teams] and have a chance [in the NBA]. We’re happy he’s in our program. He’s here because we believe in him.” 

Cook expected to have a chance of being drafted in the second round, but an injury suffered during predraft workouts saw him go undrafted. The Nuggets might have stumbled on another solid prospect in the 6-foot-9 power forward. The 21-year-old averaged 14.5 points and 7.2 rebounds on 51 percent shooting in his final season for the Hawkeyes and hopes to bring some defensive intensity and grit to the Nuggets. 

“I tend to focus on things I can do to help any ballclub and that’s bring energy,” Cook told Nuggets.com. “I’m a physical defender that switch on [positions] one through five. I’m someone who works their butt and does whatever it takes to win games.”  

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