The draft is over. Free agency discussion is well underway. “Summer of LeBron James” chatter is heating up. This means the NBA’s Summer League must be right around the corner.
Indeed, the 14th edition of NBA Summer League kicks off July 6 on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The tournament-style showcase runs through July 17 and games will be played at the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion.
Summer League 2018
Last year witnessed unprecedented attention on the event as 2017 set records for total attendance (127,843) and single-day attendance (17,500). Additionally, between ESPN, NBA TV and social media, last year’s version was the most-viewed NBA Summer League ever. But this year there’s an added wrinkle.
In January of this year, the NBA announced the that all 30 teams will compete in MGM Resorts NBA Summer League 2018. Consequently, this summer marks the first time each franchise from around the association will simultaneously be represented at the NBA’s annual display of up-and-coming talent in Las Vegas.
With the added participation, Summer League swells to 12 days and a whopping 82 games as part of the usual schedule. As always, teams will compete in preliminary action before tournament play takes over. From there, each team will be seeded in a competition that culminates with the league’s Championship Game on July 17.
The league will also test coach’s replay challenge at Las Vegas Summer League this year.
As all 30 teams prepare to head to Vegas, fans will be provided with an initial glimpse at a myriad of the league’s top young players donning NBA uniforms for the first time, including this year’s number one pick, DeAndre Ayton, plus additional top-10 picks, Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr., Trae Young, Mo Bamba, Collin Sexton and Mikal Bridges.
Denver Nuggets’ Summer League Outlook
Unfortunately, Nuggets fans won’t be able to witness the debut of the squad’s first two selections in this year’s draft in Sin City as Michael Porter Jr. and Jarred Vanderbilt will be sitting out to heal injuries. They will, however, be able to watch recent first-round picks Malik Beasley and Tyler Lydon as well as second-rounders Thomas Welsh, Vlatko Cancar and Petr Cornelie.
This year, Nuggets assistant coach Jordi Fernandez will handle head coaching duties, and the roster will include many of the teams recent draft picks as well as a couple of compelling prospects who weren’t selected during June’s draft. The entire roster can be found here, and Dig In Denver takes a closer look at that roster here.
Last year, Beasley and Juan (Juancho) Hernangomez were handed the keys to the Summer League squad, but each player struggled with turnovers and inefficient play in their expanded roles. Beasley should once again have the green light this summer and could very well lead the tournament in points per game. Morris dropped 15 points, five rebounds and four assists in one of the team’s two victories in Vegas last year, and he will be handed the keys to the offense as he attempts to crack the rotation, looking to fill the role of backup point guard.
Lydon also stumbled in his only substantial action in a Nuggets uniform last season, recording merely 2.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.8 blocks per game in a rather significant 24.3 minutes per game. After surgery on his knee during the season and laboring through Summer League in 2017, Lydon must show he’s drastically improved before he can think about cracking the rotation at the NBA level. The Europeans, Slovenian forward Cancar and French center Cornelie, remain intriguing prospects but are unlikely to make a splash in the NBA any time soon. One would think that Welsh, this year’s 58th pick, will get a good look at center this summer as well.
Parker, Colo. native and former Wyoming University forward Hayden Dalton joins University of Northern Colorado’s Andre Spight to bring a bit of local flavor to the roster. Other intriguing members of the team include Kenrich Williams, Kennedy Meeks and DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell. Williams, ESPN’s eighth-best undrafted free agent, is intriguing for his defensive versatility and knack for grabbing rebounds, but he lacks an elite skill and went undrafted for a reason. Meeks also went undrafted (2017) but earned a two-way contract from the Toronto Raptors last year and started in 38 games of the 45 he played in G-League action last year, averaging 12.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists per contest.
Akoon-Purcell could be a Torrey Craig-type this offseason. Leading the Bakken Bears to back-to-back Danish Basketligaen championships, Akoon-Purcell led the league in scoring in 2017 (21.41 ppg) while being named the league’s MVP and Finals MVP. This year, he reached the semifinals of the FIBA Europe Cup, being named Player of the Year, Guard of the Year and MVP of the tournament.
Before flying out, the Nuggets are mixing up their training routine with a trip to Red Rocks Amphitheater to sprint the stairs before practicing yoga the next morning. The summer edition of the Mile High crew will participate in a minicamp beginning on Sunday, July 1 that runs through Thursday, July 5.
The team’s first game of the 2018 Summer League tips off on Friday, July 6 as they take on the Minnesota Timberwolves at 9 p.m. MDT. The Nuggets follow the opener up with games against the Boston Celtics (July 7, 9 p.m.) and the Milwaukee Bucks (July 9, 7 p.m.) before the single-elimination tournament tips off. If the Nuggets are able to earn one of the tournament’s top eight seeds, they will earn a first-round bye during tournament play.
The Nuggets’ first two games from Vegas will air on NBA TV and the third will be broadcasted on ESPNU. For the second consecutive year, ESPN will present every game from Las Vegas via the ESPN App. Summer League tournament play begins on Wednesday, July 11, and the Nuggets’ television schedule from there is to be determined. The first three games are all scheduled to take place at Cox Pavilion, a small gym that seats 2,454, offering a more intimate setting than the typically cavernous NBA arenas.
While Summer League — and the excitement surrounding it — certainly has grown in recent years, winning the championship has little bearing on the regular season. Just ask the Lakers who won last year but limped through a 35-47 season in the rugged Western Conference. Although the Nuggets should improve upon their 2-4 from last season, I don’t envision them taking home the championship this year.
I want to see Morris capitalize on the opportunity to seize the reserve point guard role, Beasley take another vital step in his development, Lydon look like a serviceable NBA player and either Welsh or Cornelie showing promise that they could potentially take over as the long-term backup center. Anything else positive happening would be gravy for a team whose roster is already brimming with talent.