The Nuggets drafted three players — Braun, Watson and Kamagate — while signing another — Gillespie — to a two-way contract. How have the four of them fared in Summer League so far?
Well, the Denver Nuggets are four games through Las Vegas Summer League and their 2-2 record perfectly illustrates what a mixed bag it has been.
The whole roster has had ups-and-downs, including the candidates for the Nuggets final two-way contract, but for today we are going to take a closer look at the players on the Summer League roster who the Nuggets have already committed to in one way or another.
On the Summer League roster, Denver has three draft picks from this year — Christian Braun, Peyton Watson and Ismael Kamagate — as well as a two-way contract player Collin Gillespie all logging regular minutes. How have each of them handled their first taste of NBA basketball?
Braun has shown most of the skills that led to him being selected with the 21st pick by the Nuggets, but overall has struggled since his first Summer League game.
In that first game, against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Braun had 19 points on 8-17 shooting despite going 1-7 from beyond the three-point arc to go with six rebounds, three assists and a steal. He was a demon on defense, a smart off-ball scorer and a terror in transition.
Still, there is one skill that has been painfully absent from the Nuggets Summer League run: his three-point shooting. Over four games, Braun is shooting 3-24 from beyond the three-point line which is a horrid 12.5%. Braun’s offensive ceiling is built around his three-point shooting. Without it, his NBA projection looks much worse.
With that being said, taking too much away from Summer League is not smart. Braun is adjusting to the speed of the game, being asked to handle the ball and create far more than he should, and is adjusting to a three-point line that is further away than it was in college. That combination easily could lead to a shooting slump for a player like Braun. Just to remind everyone, Jamal Murray missed his first 17 shots as a member of the Nuggets.
Give rookies a chance to grow into the game. Almost every single rookie — blue-chip recruits or 21st pick in the draft — require time to acclimate. Braun has been no different.
The Watson experience has been one helluva ride. Some of his high points — completely smothering defense, immense size and length, and offensive flashes as a passer and creator — are so salivating for viewers that all of his lows — discombobulated jump shot mechanics, lack of coordination, less than stellar burst and a lacking basketball IQ at times — can be overlooked.
Simply stated, Watson has shown every reason he was such a highly touted recruit out of high school and why so many feel he is more than a few years away from being ready for NBA basketball with real stakes.
Can Watson harness his length and size as a guard/wing to become a devastating cutter, surprisingly-effective offensive rebounder and dependable passer who uses his size to create passing lanes and angles others simply cannot reach? Can his three-point shot become at least passable? Will his dedication to the defensive end of the floor allow him to grow into a defender who can play a team-centric defensive scheme while also being a terrifying isolation defender? Will he be able to add weight to his lanky frame to handle stronger wings on both ends of the floor?
Watson has a long ways to go, but it is hard not to be excited about his approach to the game, his growth over four Summer League games, and the physical gifts he brings to the table. His Summer League performances thus far might be a mixed bag, but Watson looks like he belongs and his upside can be scary if things break right.
The Kamagate selection in the second round was puzzling to some, but the Nuggets — who had him in the 20’s on their big board entering draft night according to one source — were excited to grab Kamagate even if he is expected to play next season overseas.
Kamagate stands six-foot-11 and weighs in over 220 pounds while possessing above average athleticism as a vertical athlete and mobility laterally when defending on the perimeter. He rolls hard to the rim and finishes above the rim. He is still sanding down his skillset and adding in more passing on the short roll, but it is hard to avoid just how good he could be in a year or two.
The Nuggets only have DeAndre Jordan as a true backup center on the roster with Zeke Nnaji, Jeff Green or Vlatko Cancar filling in for a smaller lineup. Green’s contract is up after this year as is Jordan’s. The Nuggets will need an affordable backup center next year and if Kamagate’s Summer League performance is any evidence of what is to come, he should be in the mix to take over that role.
There was little doubt that Gillespie would be able to help a NBA team despite going undrafted. Yes, he was a five-year point guard at Villanova so he is older and his upside is not exactly immense, but what he does have is a complete understanding of how he can help his team win basketball games and a willingness fulfill his role as well as he possibly can.
In Las Vegas with the Nuggets, Gillespie has been asked to create offense with a roster full of non-creators which is not easy. This group has only been playing together since the start of July, a whole whopping two weeks ago, and every creation burden rests squarely on Gillespie’s shoulders. Braun has been a bad-to-horrible creator during Summer League. Watson has had some flashes, but generally has struggled. Matt Mitchell has done a little creating like Watson, but cannot be relied on. Kamagate is no where near a creator. Despite that, Gillespie is averaging over four assists and only 1.5 turnovers per game through four games.
On top of that, Gillespie has stacked up eight steals and blocks combined in four games, is scoring over 11 points per game despite being asked to create shots for everyone else and has rebounded extremely well as a point guard. Gillespie might not become a starter at any point in his career, but no matter what team he is on, he can be depended on to play mistake-free and unselfish basketball. That is what Denver needs from him as a two-way contract player and that is exactly what he has given them in Las Vegas.