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Final Analysis: Who Did What in the Nuggets Week at Summer League
The Nuggets finished 3-2 in their 2018 Las Vegas Summer league last Friday with a tournament loss to Toronto, but the time spent there is more about player development. And the Nuggets had plenty of individuals looking to improve their games, and/or put improved skills on display for coaches and decision makers to see.
Here were the most notable takeaways after a weekend spent crunching numbers and looking back at film of the five Nuggets games in Vegas.
Star of the tourney: Monte Morris
Point guard Monte Morris was tasked with the burden of putting out consistent performances that proved he was ready for consistent NBA minutes. He did that. The Nuggets 2017 second-round pick led the team in scoring (17.5 points per game), assists (6.3) and was second on the team in field goal percentage (50 percent). He even tossed in 3.3 rebounds in the four games he played as well.
The fine print was the plays he made – quick decisions in passes to open teammates; running pick-and-roll plays well; getting the ball up-court quickly so the Nuggets could get into their offense; making shots at the rim, in the midrange and at the 3-point line; defensively, taking on the challenge of picking up ball-handlers for the full 94 feet. He looked like a player who had improved vastly over the course of his first season as a pro. Morris spent the majority of his first season in the G League. He has positioned himself nicely to be with the Nuggets the bulk of the upcoming season.
Malik Beasley’s Energy
Malik Beasley will be the first to admit that everything didn’t go as planned in Vegas, but no matter if things were going well or not, the shooting guard consistently put big effort on the court. Defensively, his anticipation in passing lanes and willingness to dive for loose basketballs were the most noteworthy aspects of his game. Beasley led the team with 2.3 steals per game, and he turned a lot of those into instant offense, flying in for fast break dunks. In fact, all three of his steals in the Nuggets’ second-to-last game, against the Raptors, ended in highlight reel slams.
Beasley finished with an average of 16.0 points per game – second on the team – and though he made just 39 percent from the field, he never lost his aggressiveness or his confidence. And he found ways to make plays all over the court that helped the team. He’ll continue to grind with his 3-point shooting and finishing through contact at the rim during the summer to hit training camp running.
Tyler Lydon’s 3-point Shooting
Quiet as it was kept, Tyler Lydon had a brilliant summer league shooting from long distance. He was one of the Nuggets’ best 3-point shooters, making six in three games while averaging 46.2 percent from deep – and he was making some very long-range tries. Overall, he proved to be a multi-purpose player. In his three games, he led the team in rebound average (6.3), was third in total assists (8), and was third in total steals (7). It was a good foundation for Lydon to build on.
He is not yet as explosive as he wants to be coming off meniscus surgery earlier this year and that showed up in his attempts to finish around the rim. This was his first live game action since being injured during his G League season. So, he’ll work to get his knee and legs stronger, which will help immensely by the time training camp rolls around.
Vlatko Cancar’s Fame
No player reduced the assembled Nuggets media in Las Vegas to something like fans of a boy band more than forward Vlatko Cancar. They could not get enough of him, and with good reason – Cancar, a second-round draft pick in 2017, was impressive in a number of areas, proving he’s ready to make the leap to the NBA.
Cancar’s basketball IQ stood out most, especially defensively where he was almost always positioned well to make a play. He displayed active feet on defense as well. And on offense, Cancar shot the ball well at 48 percent, showed the ability to knock down 3-point shots with six makes and 37.5 percent shooting from deep, and flashed some explosiveness to the rim as well.
The skinny on him is in practice sessions with veterans in Vegas, Cancar impressed. They are already on-board with him. He’ll continue to develop and appears to have a bright future.
Thomas Welsh’s Screening and Passing
The big man out of UCLA burst out of the gate in the first summer league game with energy and smarts in his game. Thomas Welsh stood out in his willingness to make all of the little plays that helped keep an offense on schedule and a defense stout. On defense, he’d sprint back and help stop the ball-handler in transition, then quickly get to his man. That doesn’t show up in stats, but stops a fast break and allowed the Nuggets – one of the better defensive teams in the tournament – to set their half-court defense.
On offense, his screening was exemplary, and when he had the ball in his hands Welsh could make a spectacular pass, like the one to a cutting Tyler Lydon for a layup in the first game; or just a solid decision like catching the ball on the block recognizing an open shooter and quickly whipping the ball out to him on time and on-target. He’ll work on getting more arc on his jump shot as well as continuing to round into better shape, but this was a nice start for him.
Notable performances from Akoon Purcell, Terry and Williams
No summer league is complete without getting to know some new faces. Emanuel Terry, Kenrich Williams and DeVaughn Akoon Purcell each took turns putting some eye-opening games on the court for the Nuggets. Akoon Purcell was third on the team in scoring at 12.0 points per game. Emanuel led the team in field goal percentage, making 61 percent of his tries while playing hard-nosed defense. Williams tied for second on the team in rebounding average (5.6) and led in total blocks (3). Expect the three to easily grab contracts overseas, if that’s a route they want to take.
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.