Finally having a G-League team will pay huge dividends for the Nuggets
The Grand Rapids Gold played their first-ever game last Thursday night, topping the Sioux Falls Skyforce by a 103-99 count. It was a landmark day for the Nuggets franchise, as they became one of the final remaining NBA teams to take over operations of their own NBA G-League team.
From the short-lived Colorado 14ers affiliation in Broomfield to random player assignments spanning the Rio Grande Valley to Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Nuggets have never had full control of their player development until now. Here’s how they can benefit from the Grand Rapids Gold this season and beyond:
Peter Cornelie started at center for Grand Rapids and is expected to see a lot of time in the G-League this season as a two-way player. With no true backup center on the roster, the Nuggets could use Cornelie’s size and athleticism off the bench. If he can learn to be a good roll man he could bolster a bench unit that struggled to run pick-and-roll and score early in the season. Cornelie got off to a fantastic start with 18 points and 17 rebounds in the season-opening win for the Gold.
Markus Howard is also on a two-way contract and will no doubt pile up some frequent flyer miles going back and forth between Denver and Grand Rapids. Given Denver is near the bottom of the league in three-point shooting, Howard could provide a spark as a back-up guard if he can effectively run the team in Grand Rapids.
Zeke Nnaji isn’t on a two-way contract but definitely could use some G-League minutes to grow while he’s not in the rotation. Despite a breakout game against Indiana, there are just not enough minutes for him to develop with the Nuggets current rotation.
Denver also needs to see Bol Bol and Vlatko Cancar play. It’s not going to happen with the Nuggets depth, so logging considerable minutes with the Gold could help decide their future. For Bol especially, it’s his only opportunity to show what he can do for Denver, or for any potential trade.
Players not under contract with the Nuggets can be called up by any NBA team during the season, but there are three interesting veterans the Nuggets can keep a close eye on in Grand Rapids.
Lance Stephenson could provide something Denver doesn’t have on the roster beyond Aaron Gordon – a strong wing defender that can bully scorers. Unlike Torrey Craig or other defensive specialists of years past, Stephenson is also capable of being a playmaker off the dribble if he’s on top of his game. He had 26 points and nine rebounds in his Gold debut.
Tarik Black played on the Nuggets Summer League team and also fits the mold of a super-strong athlete that can defend on the wing, and veteran sharp-shooter Nik Stauskas was the eighth pick of the 2014 draft. The Nuggets have called upon G-League three-point specialists like Troy Daniels and Von Wafer in the past, and Stauskas could be a call-up candidate if he finds his stroke in Grand Rapids.
While it’s unlikely Jamal Murray will play in Grand Rapids before returning to the Nuggets lineup, it’s not out of the question. Serge Ibaka had a rough return for the Clippers after missing 10 months due to back surgery. Instead of forcing him back into the rotation when he wasn’t completely ready, the Clippers sent him to the G-League where he played for the Agua Caliente Clippers on Thursday night. Murray could play, or at least practice, with Gold to get his wind and feel more comfortable before jumping back into the Nuggets starting lineup when he’s ready to return.
Both the G-League and the Nuggets have been fantastic at developing coaches. Nick Nurse, Quin Snyder and Luke Walton all coached in the G-League before becoming NBA head coaches. Chris Finch was both a G-League head coach and a Nuggets assistant just as Jordi Fernandez is now. Michael Malone’s staff will continue to get pilfered by the NBA as long as the Nuggets keep winning, and especially if Wes Unseld Jr. maintains the hot start he’s had in Washington after leaving Denver’s bench. NBA veteran Jason Terry gets his first chance to be a head coach with the Gold this season, and he could certainly be a candidate for a role on the Nuggets staff in the future.
It’s been a long time coming, but the Nuggets finally have a G-League team. Here’s hoping they strike Gold in Grand Rapids.