LAS VEGAS — Towards the end of his first Summer League practice media session last Sunday, Nuggets rookie Peyton Watson had the line of the month:
“Hoop is like a vitamin for me,” he said. “Every day I have to have it.”
Watson spoke about his love of playing the game. It transfers just as easily to those who enjoy watching the game. For both, the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas is the perfect place to experience as much basketball as possible. The whirlwind of 75 games in 11 days overall begins Thursday, with the Nuggets starting their guaranteed five-game list against Minnesota on Friday night.
So what nuggets-specific things do you need to watch out for?
Start with these five things.
Christian Braun at both ends of the court. The Nuggets’ top draft pick, No. 21 overall in the first round, came to Denver with a reputation for toughness and defense. They were the main reasons Nuggets Brass rated him so highly on their draft board as they look to improve the team’s performance at this end of the court in the regular season. Braun has already demonstrated this defensive courage in league training in the summer. Now he gets the chance to do it against other competitors.
Remember, just a few months ago, Braun was the second-best scorer on a national championship team in college. To some extent, its effectiveness was underestimated at this end of the court. Braun averaged 14.1 points on 49.5 percent shooting overall, including 38.6 percent from the 3-point line for Kansas last season. He had a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds in the title game against North Carolina. This is a player who excels in transition and can knock down the 3 point shot. How will that develop when he gets wet as a pro in the summer league? Braun has a chance to become one of the best two-way players in the tournament.
Peyton Watson’s development. There were few players this year who had more untapped advantages than forward Peyton Watson, who the Nuggets acquired with the 30th pick after earning the pick via a trade with Oklahoma City. He had some standout defensive moments in summer league practice, notably one where he was able to stay ahead of super-fast Nuggets guard Bones Hyland and stop a drive in a game that eventually ended with Braun losing the basketball for one put theft away.
Watson has spoken about growing on offense as well. The Summer League represented his first difficult minutes in organized basketball in a while, and by the time he went back to high school he has a history as a big goalscorer. Will we see some flashes of that in Las Vegas?
Jontay Porter’s comeback. It’s been a long way back for Porter, the younger brother of Michael Porter Jr., the Nuggets’ standout player. Knee injuries sidelined him last season, but he’s healthy and eager to show he still belongs in the NBA. Porter last played for the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2020-21 season.
Collin Gillespie’s Impact. The Nuggets have two players on their Summer League roster who played in the Final Four last season — Gillespie being the other. His college career is as decorated as it comes: two Final Fours, a national title, two Big East Player of the Year awards, and a Bob Cousy Award. The Nuggets have signed him for one of their two-way spots for the upcoming season and he will be given every opportunity to prove sooner or later that his future is full-time at the big club. He’s a stunning 3-pointer who scored 41.5 percent in his senior season at Villanova. But what stands out the most is its durability and impact on winning. His teams at Villanova in his last two seasons were 46-12 when he played and 2-3 when he was unavailable.
The race for the second 2-way contract. The Nuggets are yet to sign a second player to a two-way contract, so there’s likely to be stiff competition to secure that spot from players on their summer league team. One player, Texas Tech rookie Adonis Arms, was peppered with questions about his high profile and the race for the coveted contract. He coolly distracted her, but admitted he had considered snagging that spot. He’s not the only one. The 11-day stretch will go a long way in determining who gets that two-way deal.