Summer school in session for Nuggets in Las Vegas

Denver's Summer League roster features six NBA draft picks from past two years
by Aaron Lopez

As members of the NBA’s Class of 2011, Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton never had a chance to ease their transition from college to the pros.

Their preparation consisted of a one-week workout session immediately after the draft, a compressed training camp two weeks before Christmas and a demanding 66-game regular-season.

“That broke my heart,” Hamilton said. “I wish we could’ve played Summer League.”

Hamilton will get his wish – albeit a year later – when the Denver Nuggets open a five-game NBA Summer League schedule against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday in Las Vegas.

“The thing I’m looking forward to is just going out there and playing my heart out,” Hamilton said before heading to Las Vegas. “I want everybody to see I can play the right way.”

While Hamilton played sparingly as a rookie in 2011-12, Faried emerged as a starter and earned a spot on the NBA All-Rookie First Team after averaging 10.2 points and a team-leading 7.7 rebounds in 46 games.

Despite his strong rookie performance, Faried remains hungry to validate his success.
“I wanted to win Rookie of the Year – and that still wouldn’t have proved enough,” he said. “Next year hopefully I can get Most Improved Player. I’ve got a lot to improve on and a lot to strive for.”

Joining Faried and Hamilton with the Nuggets in Las Vegas are 2012 draft picks Evan Fournier (20th overall), Quincy Miller (38th) and Izzet Turkyilmaz (50th). Chu Chu Maduabum, acquired by the Nuggets on draft night 2011, also is on the 13-man roster.

All six players have been mainstays at Pepsi Center this summer, and they hope to see their preparation pay off in the desert.

“Our top priority is to get the young guys some good experience and some playing time,” said Nuggets assistant Chad Iske, who will handle the primary coaching duties.

“Jordan worked really hard last year and didn’t get a chance to show his improvement on the court because of our team depth. This gives him a chance to show all the hard work he’s put in and let him have some positive reinforcement on everything he’s done.”

Hamilton, selected 26th overall in 2011, has lost 19 pounds over the past two months and is down to about 220. He is stronger, quicker and poised to give the Nuggets an added scoring threat on the wing next season.

“It was a humbling experience for me (in 2011-12),” he said. “I’m ready to come out this summer and do what I need to do.”

Though only 21, Hamilton is a seasoned veteran compared to his new 19-year-old teammates Fournier and Miller.

Fournier spent the past two seasons playing in the top pro league in France, and the Summer League will represent his first opportunity to play extensive minutes against NBA competition.

“I just want to get used to the type of play (in the NBA),” he said. “Denver’s a different style. I’m learning a lot. I want to get used to it and my teammates. I want to enjoy it.”

Miller is more familiar with the American game, but he also has a lot to learn after playing just one season at Baylor University. Getting to the basket and finishing at the rim are among the things he wants to work on in summer-league play.

“I’m excited because we’ve got so many talented players on our team,” Miller said. “I’m definitely excited to show what type of basketball we play. We play different than everybody else – up and down, quick. We play fast.”

Will it be fast enough for Iske and the Nuggets coaching staff? Probably not 100 percent of the time.

Then again, that’s what Summer League is all about – pushing young prospects to their limits and preparing them for the journey ahead.

“For the rookies, we want to get them acclimated to our style,” Iske said. “Running is the way we go. You run the floor and you try to play fast. You don’t hold the ball and you play together as a team. It’s a good crash-course for those guys.

“They’re all so young, I think it’ll be a little bit of an awakening to them to see the difference between where they’ve been playing and where they’ve got to go.”