LAS VEGAS -- The Denver Nuggets began their run at a Las Vegas Summer League title on Friday night against the Houston Rockets, who are led by German-American seven-footer Isaiah Hartenstein and Chinese superstar Zhou Qi.
The Nuggets were completely discombobulated to start but found their legs in the second half behind the inspired play of Juancho Hernangomez and Malik Beasley. Eventually, Denver made their first game of the new NBA year competitive but eventually fell 102-99 as Beasley's late three was just slightly too strong.
Malik Beasley's time to shine
The Nuggets were extremely vocal about their plan to play through Beasley and they did exactly that. Beasley played both point guard and shooting guard and put together a highlight package of poster dunks and authoritative chase-down blocks. On top of that, Beasley also scored Denver's last five points and fought for an offensive rebound as the Nuggets attempted a fourth quarter comeback. Beasley wanted to put the Nuggets on his back and did everything he could to carry Denver to a victory.
Overall, Beasley had himself a solid first game as a featured player and showed how high his upside could be. He played pesky defense, showed that he has potential to be a playmaker for his teammates, attack the rim ferociously, showed off his shooting range and was consistently hunting for blocks at the rim. Beasley's athleticism shined as he showed his rare combination of fluidity and power vertically as a leaper and laterally as a defender.
Beasley finished with 29 points on 12-30 shooting, six rebounds, and two assists in 31 minutes and showed why the Nuggets were so ecstatic that he fell all the way to the 19th pick in 2016 NBA Draft.
First look at Tyler Lydon
Lydon struggled in his first game as a professional and finished with six points, four rebounds, and two assists.
He did show off his silky smooth jump shot but also passed up quite a few open three-point shots to attempt to drive to the rim or draw a foul, which did not pan out for the rookie. His rebounding and decision making left quite a bit to be desired and was an overall negative for the Nuggets.
Lydon needs to go back to doing what he does well, which is shooting and rebounding. He seemed to have some jitters, which is to be expected, but for him to force himself to play a role that is beyond his skill set does nothing but hinder his own development and the Nuggets chances of winning games.
Nikola Radicevic showing off his playmaking ability
Radicevic was quite the surprise. The Serbian guard was largely an unknown until he stepped onto the court and immediately showed his passing acumen and incredibly high basketball-IQ. He finished with four points, three rebounds, and two assists in 16 minutes.
For a guard to come into Summer League with just about a week of practice time and seamlessly run the offense with the efficiency he did was a special sight. Radicevic was making lightning quick reads in the pick and roll and consistently made the right decision.
He was the equivalent of a revolving door on defense but so was the entirety of the Nuggets Summer League team. Radicevic, in his first game with the Nuggets, showed that he does have translatable tools that will serve him well at the NBA-level. Look for his playing time to increase if Monte Morris, who finished with six points, three assists, and three turnovers in 23 minutes, continues to struggle.
Nuggets bust out the full-court press
One of the more random developments of the Nuggets first Summer League game is that head coach Micah Nori was having his squad press the entire length of the court from time to time using Beasley, and his elite quickness, as a rover to try to trap in the backcourt.
The results were a mixed bag. At one point, Isaiah Hartenstein was the beneficiary as he received an alley-oop slam as the Nuggets' press fell apart. On the other side of the coin, Denver pressed him again shortly thereafter and baited Hartenstein into traveling in the backcourt.
Denver could be looking to mitigate their size deficiencies by being disruptive in the backcourt and trying to get teams to turn the ball over to speed up the tempo of the game. Look for Denver to continue pressing for the foreseeable future.