Despite a valiant comeback attempt in which the team cut a 25-point deficit to just 5 points, the Denver Nuggets fell to 0-3 in the Las Vegas Summer League following a loss to the Utah Jazz.
Rebounding has been a trend across Denver’s three losses, and once again the Mile High squad lost 48-34 on the glass. 10 of Utah’s 48 rebounds came on the offensive end.
Three-point shooting also played a big role in Wednesday’s outcome; Utah made 36.6 percent of their shots from deep and made 7 threes in the first quarter alone, while Denver hit just 23.3 of their three-pointers on just 10 field goals overall.
Still, two players stood out with impressive performances versus the Jazz.
Julian Strawther expands his game
Julian Strawther was selected 29th overall by Denver in the first round of the 2023 NBA draft. Not only is Strawther an accurate shooter, but he can also drain threes deep to stretch defenses beyond their capacity.
Strawther hasn’t hit the long ball with that level of accuracy in Las Vegas, but that hasn’t stopped him from coming through offensively.
The 21-year-old finished with a game-high 21 points on Wednesday and scored the ball efficiently inside the arc on 66.6 percent two-point shooting.
Strawther also shows a nice floater, but it has been nice to see him make a concerted effort to get all the way to the basket in the Summer League. He has impressive size at 6’7 for his position, and attacking the rim is a great way for him to showcase his quickness and athleticism. It’s also an opportunity to get to the free throw line, which he did three separate times against Utah.
Defenses are forced to shut down Strawther hard because of his lethal three-point stroke, and if he can get to the rim as easily as he did Wednesday in the NBA, it only increases his value as an offensive player. He hit a particularly beautiful spin move before laying it up at the cup against tight defensive pressure.
(If the defense beats him to his spot when he drives to the rim, to is the proper time for the swingman to go to his float.)
Strawther went for the trusty spin move later in the game on a beautiful transition finish with a little bit of extra jelly on it. The guy absolutely felt himself, especially inside the arc, and this was a prime example.
“Knowing that he’s a really good three-point shooter, teams are going to drive him away from the three-point line,” Nuggets’ Summer League coach John Beckett said. “So, he’s going to have to develop his game where, when he’s off the three-point line, he can get downhill, he can finish the hoop that he showed tonight, but also play-make when the defense collapses and be able to find his teammates out there.”
Jalen Pickett, a man among boys
We wrote about Jalen Pickett’s game this week after his impressive 16-point performance against the Atlanta Hawks, specifically affects on his pick-and-roll mastery and unique back-to-the-basket game.
Pickett delivered another solid outing against Utah by filling the box with 12 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds. But what made this performance remarkable was how the 23-year-old went about his business, blending those two skills – running the pick-and-roll and posting up – seamlessly throughout the contest.
The Penn State guard likes to post up matchups that he finds advantageous, and unfortunately for Jazz guard Colbey Ross, he fit that bill Wednesday. Pickett wanted the player Ross was guarding to set a screen so he could set up the matchup.
Here, it was Collin Gillespie who set the ball screen, which Utah switched to feed Pickett with Ross on a platter. From there, Denver’s physical guard used his 202-pound frame to find deep positioning and finished the game with a powerful shoulder thrust into a layup. In an instant, Pickett turned a pick-and-roll into a brutal post-up.
Most NBA guards play the game fairly north-to-south, using the pick-and-roll to take advantage of their speed and ability to pull up from deep. Some like Trae Young come to mind in this regard, who can not only stretch defenses from 30 feet out, but can throw up lobs and floaters on zippy drives to the rim.
Pickett plays the game much differently than his positional cohorts; he’s an anomaly in today’s league as a post-up guard whose back primarily faces the rim.
But he doesn’t just back defenders close to the cup. He will sometimes post up all the way out at the free throw line.
He did that here by setting up Ross near the elbow before going to the hump of his shoulder to create space for himself and set up the midrange jumper.
The way Pickett adjusts his body and moves directionally is unique, to put it mildly. Half the time it feels like he’s not even facing the rim; and when he dribbles, he moves from side to side or sometimes even backwards instead of straight.
Running the pick-and-roll to create mismatches for post-ups allowed Pickett to get into his game bag Wednesday. The decorated point guard has excellent passing vision, especially when swinging crosscourt dimes to open shooters. He has been far from Denver’s best player to start turnovers in Summer League.
Here he ran the pick-and-roll to bring Ross into action for the post-up. Cutting deep positioning had Johnny Juzang turning his head to see if he needed to help Ross with the physical matchup, and that’s when Pickett threw a pass to Armaan Franklin for his 7th assist of the night.
Posting Ross completely skewed Utah’s defensive rotations here and set up this wide-open Gillespie three-pointer. Having Gillespie set the screen in the first place was how Pickett targeted the mismatch against Ross.
Pickett even went to work against some of Utah’s other defenders. He posted Ochai Agbaji in the third quarter and sent him flying with a pump fake for a bucket at the cup.
Being able to run the pick-and-roll as well as Pickett does is incredibly valuable in today’s NBA. That value only doubles, heck, maybe triples because of his ability to target mismatches and post them. Someone like Jimmy Butler has made a career out of finding the weakest defender on the floor, having his man set a screen and then backing that player down in big moments.
Pickett is an incredibly polished passer and is comfortable running the offense. He can score from all three levels on the floor. And now, as we learned on Wednesday, he will willingly target weaker defenders in the pick-and-roll or on post-ups.
There’s not much he can’t do as an offensive player, and he’s making that known in Las Vegas.