Denver Nuggets Training Camp: Takeaways from Day 2

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The Nuggets got more into their stride in Day 2 of training camp as the team’s first preseason game is quickly approaching.The team vastly improved in the turnover department as Nuggets head coach Michael Malone revealed there was 36 overall on the first day. There was also a heavily-contested shooting competition between Juancho Hernangómez and Malik Beasley, with Beasley taking home a WWE-styled belt for his win.  Juancho making a case for a bigger role Hernangómez might have lost his bout with Beasley, but he’s winning some favorable impressions early on in camp. The fourth-year forward was Spain’s third-highest scorer in its run to winning the 2019 FIBA World Cup and it appears his assertiveness and confidence from the tournament has carried over into the Nuggets’ scrimmages so far.   “He’s coming into camp feeling great about his body, his health, and then couple that with a gold medal, playing at a high level and shooting with confidence [for Spain],” Malone said. “So, I do sense a more confident Juancho Hernangómez right now, which is great for him and more importantly, for us.”   Hernangómez is one of four players (along with Will Barton, Torrey Craig and Michael Porter Jr.) competing for the lead small forward spot. The 24-year-old didn’t hurt his chances Wednesday as he practiced with the starting five and impressed. In 25 starts last year, Hernangómez averaged 11.2 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 48.1 percent from the floor and a sizzling 42.1 percent from downtown. The key for Hernangómez will be staying healthy as he dealt with a core muscle injury all last season. He’ll also need to show steady play on both sides of the floor.   “Can he shoot the ball consistency? Last year, he was somewhat up and down in that regard. Can he guard…and can he rebound? I think he’s more than capable of doing all of those things,” Malone said.   On Media Day Monday, Hernangómez tried to deflect questions about his role, preferring to illustrate the differences between national team duty and his situation in the Mile High City.   “When you play for your country, I started, and I knew I was going to play a lot of minutes. Here is different, I know my role is helping each other as a team as much as I can,” Hernangómez explained. “So, it’s going to be interesting and it’s going to be exciting [this upcoming NBA season].   He added, “We haven’t talked yet about roles. We’ve been together for a lot of years. We know what to do and who the leaders are on this team. We have to build a team. Everyone knows his role. And that’s how you win…when everyone accepts his role and does the best for the team. That’s how you win.”    Still, Nikola Jokić, who considers Hernangómez to be like a brother, is happy to see the Spaniard getting off to a positive start at camp.   “He won a world championship with Spain and he came back here and is playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Jokić said. “I think it’s because he won something [a gold medal]” Nikola reflects on training camp  With some new rookies and veterans trying to earn minutes or a spot on the team, Jokić reflected about how much his own training camp experience has changed since his arrival in Denver four years ago. The Serbian came into the NBA as a largely unheralded second round rookie and admitted his first training camp was pressure-filled as he tried to establish himself.    “I remember my first year, I was so nervous,” Jokić said Wednesday. “Every day, I was doing 100 percent. I was winded after every drill.”   Jokić has certainly come a long way from his first season. He went from averaging 10 points and seven boards in his rookie campaign to becoming an All-NBA First Teamer last season, putting 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists a night.   “Right now, everything is slower for me,” Jokić said about his fifth training camp.   Not bad for a player whose highlights weren’t shown due to a fast food commercial when he was selected at No. 41 in the 2015 draft.   Focus on ball movement, interior defense  The Nuggets were second in the NBA in assists last season, a big component of their 54 wins last season. Considering how significant ball movement is for this team, a sluggish start on Tuesday’s opening day of training camp meant there was a lot of focus on moving the ball effectively on Wednesday.   “Today I felt was a much-improved practice from yesterday,” Malone said.   Time off and some new faces are partially responsible as several players are still trying to get acclimated to each other. As familiarity and comfort level increases, ball movement will be a benefactor.   “I saw a lot of improvement from yesterday,” Jokić said. “We were really sloppy…So today, we were a lot better and the energy was really, really good again.”   Another area the Nuggets have been focusing on is their in-the-paint defense. Last season, the Nuggets were 14th in that area, allowing 48.6 points per game. With the addition of Jerami Grant, the team hopes it’ll make a similar marked improvement as they did with their three-point shooting last season.   “The paint is something we need to defend,” Jokić explained. “You could see two years ago, we were 30th in three-point defense, last year, we were first. So maybe we can do something like that this year.”