Who was the most impressive player on the Denver Nuggets summer league roster?
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): It has to be Bones Hyland for me. Entering summer league, I had limited my expectations for Denver’s 26th overall pick, partially due to restraint and partially due to my previous evaluation of Hyland as simply a scorer with deep range. While those aspects of Bones’ game shown through spectacularly, I wasn’t expecting to see Bones display such impressive basketball IQ at such an early point. His ability to read the floor, navigate traffic, and consistently find great shots for himself and his teammates was eye opening to me. Though I still have concerns about his slight frame and his attention to detail defensively, it’s impossible to NOT be impressed with Bones at this point.
Gordon Gross (GMoneyNuggs): Definitely Bones. There’s really no good way to evaluate defense in Summer League, but you can see his effort is there on closeouts and the like. His offense is as advertised, and he looks head and shoulders better than his competition – as he should if he is an NBA-ready player. Being successful in Summer League is not a guarantee of NBA success, but it sure is better than looking unready. Bones played within himself, scoring when necessary and playmaking for others easily and willingly. He was definitely a bright spot.
Give one word to describe the performance put on by Bol Bol in the first three games:
Blackburn: Empty. It’s a harsh word, but it seems pretty clear to me in the moment that Bol Bol, while possessing considerable scoring skills, is having trouble elevating the levels of those around him. In filling the role of “star scorer” on a team, he had trouble scoring within the flow of the offense and getting other players involved (0.67 assists per game). In Denver, he will be asked to fill the role of “role player” which means he won’t be scoring as much and will have to rely on different ways to impact the game. He struggled to rebound and defend in his three games, so that doesn’t seem so exciting. In short, if Bol is going to be on the floor getting buckets, they will probably serve as empty scoring possessions while he struggles to impact the game elsewhere.
Gross: Uninspiring, I guess. Bol is a talented player, but I don’t know his formula for success on an NBA team. He’s a small forward who can’t really defend on the perimeter yet, and doesn’t have the body to bang inside with bigger players. In some ways, he has some of the issues that Kristaps Porzingis has after his knee injury: he doesn’t trust his body to move laterally and it’s erasing what should be a dominant length advantage. Bol is not going to get the 14+ shot attempts a game he took in Summer League, so he has to find a way to do other things. Perimeter defense, weak-side shot blocking, spot up threes without the ball in his hands. After watching him this summer, I’m not sure I see those things developing – and with fewer than 250 NBA minutes played it makes sense that he doesn’t fit that role. But Summer League style play doesn’t help him do that either. Maybe some time in the G League in a role specifically designed for him by coaches finally employed by Denver would help.
What was the most impressive aspect of Bones Hyland’s four games?
Blackburn: Bones’ ability to create space with little effort is developed well beyond his years. He has the handle and dribble package of a veteran guard scorer, as well as the confidence to take the shots he frees himself up to take consistently. Having the moves is half the battle, and Bones consistently leverages that advantage through years honing his craft. Being an elite isolation scorer is difficult. Last season, the six most efficient isolation scorers in the NBA via Synergy (>3 possessions per game) were DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and James Harden. It takes years to get to that level, but Bones is well on his way to being strong in isolation.
Gross: Gears. Bones is slippery. He’s not the fastest guy or the quickest guy, but he goes from stillness to slithery quickness in a heartbeat. He uses his footwork to get space to get to the basket, or space to get off one of his soft-touch shots. Bones is a fearless shooter with tons of range, but that alone doesn’t make him a big-minutes NBA guy. If his ability to do the work before the shot pans out against NBA competition, though, it will give him a long career.
On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being extremely alarmed, how worrisome was the all-around performance by Zeke Nnaji in his four games?
Blackburn: 6 is probably fair. To be absolutely clear, Zeke Nnaji won’t be asked to score on the block or be an integral outside shooter next year for Denver. If he is asked to do those things, the season has gone horribly wrong. Still, Aaron Gordon is entering the last year of his contract. Michael Porter Jr., despite most likely signing an extension soon, is still seen as an injury risk in the long term. The Nuggets are counting on Nnaji to develop his skills and become more than just a spot up shooter offensively. If he’s to ever become a starter, or at least counted upon more consistently, Nnaji will be asked to develop additional skills offensively, none of which he showed in a summer league setting. Will he ever show those skills? Time will tell. He’s still somehow just 20 years old.
Gross: I’ll also go with a 6, maybe a 7. Hyland rolling off the plane with zero NBA experience and looking like a hooper from the jump made Nnaji’s stumbles more obvious. Zeke should be able to do more than just shoot after a year with an NBA squad, and in Summer League his 7-for-36 against less-than-stellar defensive efforts meant he wasn’t even doing that. As I said before, being successful in Summer League doesn’t make you a star – Skita is an example that will live forever in the memories of Nuggets fans of a certain age – but faceplanting in Summer League is concerning. Especially considering how little we saw of Nnaji last year, my hope was to see him flex in Vegas and prove he deserves minutes. That did not happen.
Who were one or two other players that stood out on Denver’s roster for the right reasons?
Blackburn: I enjoyed watching Davon Reed work on the wing. He often served as a ball pressure wing defender and had relatively positive results pressuring opposing ball handlers. He finished up summer league averaging 10.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.5 steals while shooting 56.3% from three-point range. He was clearly comfortable in his role as a 3&D wing who dedicated most of his energy to less glamorous things. Though he was overaggressive on defense and occasionally left back line defenders out to dry, it was because he was trying too hard rather than not trying hard enough, and coaches can work with that. At 6’5” with long arms, a thicker frame, and outside shooting touch, he profiles as a decently helpful role player if he continues to shoot efficiently. The Nuggets should absolutely consider signing him to their second two-way contract slot.
Gross: Caleb Agada didn’t play as much as I thought he would, but he looked good at the beginning of Summer League. Sharp from outside, has a grown man’s frame, and was willing to try to set up his teammates early. When that wasn’t working he was also fine taking over in Game 1. It never quite came together for him like that in the following games, but I wouldn’t mind him winding up on Denver’s G League squad at all.