Late draft picks look­ing for Las Ve­gas sum­mer league to pay off in their quest for NBA jobs.

Sum­mer league in Las Ve­gas can pay off for play­ers try­ing to make ros­ter

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Kos­mider Nick Kos­mider: 303-954-1516, nkos­mider@den­ver­post.com or @nick­kos­mider

The sum­mer league ros­ter for the Nuggets in­cludes three se­cond-round draft picks. To find a path from that po­si­tion to an NBA ros­ter, Nikola Radice­vic, Petr Cor­nelie and Monte Mor­ris need only to look in­side their own or­ga­ni­za­tion for in­spi­ra­tion.

It was just three years ago that the Nuggets se­lected Nikola Jo­kic with the 41st over­all pick. Jo­kic stayed in Europe for one sea­son after be­ing drafted, then fin­ished third in NBA rookie of the year vot­ing fol­low­ing his de­but 2015-16 sea­son. All Jo­kic did to fol­low that up was fin­ish se­cond in the vot­ing for most im­proved player this past sea­son, es­tab­lish­ing him­self as a po­ten­tial fu­ture star.

Such a climb for a sec­on­dround draft pick, of course, is rare. The three se­cond-round se­lec­tions for the Nuggets’ sum­mer league team, which be­gins play Fri­day night in Las Ve­gas, know the odds are stacked high to stick with the Nuggets.

“I’m just go­ing out there and play­ing,” said Mor­ris, the 6-foot-3 point guard who was the se­cond of two se­cond-round picks by the Nuggets last month, at No. 51 over­all. “I can only con­trol what I can con­trol. That’s me go­ing out and com­pet­ing ev­ery night and let­ting the chips fall where they may. I don’t re­ally look at the ros­ter. It’s a long sea­son and I just have to be ready when my num­ber is called.”

Radice­vic, the 57th over­all pick in the 2015 draft, is a 6-5 point guard who is play­ing in the sum­mer league for the first time. A ham­string in­jury pre­vented him from play­ing on the team after he was drafted and his con­tract with his club team in Spain last sumshoot mer kept him from get­ting to Las Ve­gas. For Radice­vic, who av­er­aged 9.3 points and 2.7 as­sists and shot 37.4 per­cent while play­ing in the top Span­ish league, the next week will be a big au­di­tion as Nuggets of­fi­cials eval­u­ate what they have in the 23-year-old.

“I’m here now, 100 per­cent healthy and ready to work hard,” he said. “I want to show people from the front of­fice that I’m ready to stay here.”

Micah Nori, the Nuggets as­sis­tant who is coach­ing the sum­mer league team, was im­pressed with what he saw from Radice­vic dur­ing the team’s mini­camp this week while also iden­ti­fy­ing the Ser­bian’s big­gest op­por­tu­nity for im­prove­ment.

“He re­ally knows how to play as a strong, big guard,” Nori said. “The one thing with him is — and it sounds silly — if he can make shots, he’s got a chance. He’s a lit­tle bit in­con­sis­tent with his jumper. But be­ing left-handed, he’s a big guard, so you can switch with him de­fen­sively. He can keep guys in front, is a phys­i­cal guard. He re­ally knows how to play. His head is al­ways on a swivel, run­ning the break, look­ing for guys. I think the main thing with him is, can he make shots?”

Cor­nelie, a 6-11 cen­ter from France, played in the sum­mer league last July after be­ing se­lected with the 53rd over­all pick in the 2016 draft. He showed some nice flashes, av­er­ag­ing eight points and 6.8 re­bounds over five games. But he strug­gled to find play­ing time for Le Mans in France’s top league last sea­son, av­er­ag­ing 4.1 points in just 13.5 min­utes per game. Still, Cor­nelie has shown growth while work­ing out with the Nuggets and their train­ing staff the past two months.

“Com­ing back a se­cond year, he’s more com­fort­able with what we’re try­ing to do,” Nori said. “He’ll be up there start­ing at the five and will get a lot of min­utes and a lot of chances. He can re­ally the bas­ket­ball. The one thing with him we found last year is that com­ing over­seas and as slight as he is build-wise, he’s not soft. He’s a phys­i­cal guy. He con­tests shots, screens people and knows how to play. He’s con­tin­ued to grow through­out the year and you can re­ally tell.”

Though the Nuggets’ ros­ter is likely to un­dergo more shift­ing this off­sea­son, it’s not easy to see spots open­ing up for any of the three se­cond-round picks once the sea­son be­gins. Den­ver has three point guards un­der con­tract: Jameer Nel­son, Em­manuel Mu­diay and Ja­mal Mur­ray. Cen­ter is a thin po­si­tion, after Jo­kic, but the Nuggets have ex­pressed in­ter­est in re-sign­ing 6-11 re­stricted free agent Ma­son Plumlee. Also, new ad­di­tion Trey Lyles could play some backup cen­ter as well.

The ad­di­tion of two-way con­tracts, which es­sen­tially give two more ros­ter spots teams can use to sign play­ers and play them mostly in the G-League (for­merly the D-League), pro­vide more of an op­por­tu­nity for play­ers like Den­ver’s se­cond-round trio to get their foot in the NBA door. If they want to bust that door down, the mis­sion starts on Las Ve­gas Boule­vard on Fri­day night.

Foot­notes.

First-round draft pick Tyler Ly­don of­fi­cially signed a mul­ti­year con­tract with the Nuggets on Thurs­day for an undis­closed amount of money . ... The Nuggets also of­fi­cially said good­bye to for­ward Danilo Gal­li­nari on Thurs­day. He’s headed to the Clip­pers in a three-team deal that will give Den­ver a 2019 sec­on­dround draft pick (from At­lanta).

David Zalubowski, The As­so­ci­ated Press

One of Den­ver’s two se­cond-round picks in the 2017 draft, guard Monte Mor­ris, is fo­cused on what he can con­trol. “That’s me go­ing out and com­pet­ing ev­ery night.”

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