Denver Nuggets Training Camp: Takeaways from Day 3

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – With training camp in full swing for the Nuggets, the competition and intensity has continued to rise as preseason action approaches. With just five days before Denver opens up the 2019-20 preseason against the ѿ Trail Blazers, the team continues to spend time going over offensive sets, finding different lineup combinations and more.

After some sloppy play to open up camp, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said the past two days of practice have been cleaner on the offensive side of the ball. Although the Nuggets brought back the entirety of their playoff rotation, there are still new pieces to fit into the puzzle, most notably Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr.

Let’s take a look at some takeaways from the third day of training camp.

The small forward position battle continues

There may be no more intriguing storyline than the battle for the starting small forward spot. On Media Day, Malone admitted that an open competition for that spot would take place during training camp and the preseason games. With four of the five starters comfortably penciled into their roles, it is up to Will Barton, Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez and Porter Jr. to step up and impress in the coming days and weeks.

Following Thursday’s practice, Malone said Barton participated more in the team drills but repeated that he still hasn’t been doing full contact drills or scrimmages. As a result, Craig and Hernangomez have both received plenty of opportunities to play alongside the other starters.

Craig spent a lot of time in the offseason working on his jump shot, which is key for his role in the offense as a result of playing off-the-ball. “I always felt like I was good shooter but it was just a confidence thing,” Craig said Thursday. “Toward the end of last season and playoffs I kind of got my confidence back so I had a good summer shooting the ball and it's been pretty good.”

A career 31.7 percent 3-point shooter, Craig brings defense, rebounding and good court awareness to the starting lineup. An improvement in 3-point shooting would go a long way in making Craig a feared off-ball player in the starting lineup, which opens up more defensive opportunities for a lineup that also includes Harris and Paul Millsap.

Craig is certainly not shying away from any competition he will face for minutes. “I mean, it's always good when guys compete,” he said, following the third day of camp. “Because (when) we compete we bring out the best in each other and that’s best for the team so as long as we approach every day the right way and compete at a high level to make each other better that’s all that matters.”

One thing is for sure, all eyes will be on the small forward position throughout the upcoming preseason games.

An underdog mentality still fuels the team

Although the Nuggets are coming off a season in which they won 54 games and seven playoff games, there is no satisfaction from anyone on the team. As Denver’s core players continue to grow together and develop, there is certainly plenty of motivation left to drive success in the upcoming season.

“There’s a little bit more of a killer instinct in all of us,” Malik Beasley said, following Thursday’s practice. “Because people think that what we did was a fluke last year, so a lot of us are still motivated, a lot of us are underdogs still out to prove to the world who we are.”

With several teams in the Western Conference loading up on star-powered duos, the Nuggets must continue to thrive with their unselfish offense predicated on ball movement, while also ensuring that strides are once again made on the defensive end of the floor.

“I want our guys to have a championship mentality,” Malone added on Media Day. “They come to work every day, every film session, every player development session, every practice with a championship mentality. If we do that, we're going to give ourselves a chance.”

A healthy Gary Harris makes a difference

Gary Harris suffered through an injury-plagued 2018-19 season. It was a campaign that saw his shooting percentages fall and his time in the lineup continued to fluctuate throughout the year. After focusing on staying slim throughout the offseason, Harris is once again healthy and looking to make an impact on both ends of the floor.

"I think because of the injuries that he had last year and just such a frustrating year for him, he knew that he had to come into camp not only in great shape, but lighter, to lessen the load on his body and his muscles," Malone said following Thursday's practice. "But you know, Gary is just a natural athlete, he's strong (and) physical. If Gary can play as close to 82 games as possible, that's going to be big for him."

“(He can have) an amazing impact,” Monte Morris said Thursday. “He's moving faster, he's already in game shape so he looks really good.”

During the 2017-18 season, Harris averaged 17.5 points per game and shot 39.6 percent from beyond the arc. If the 25-year-old is able to stay healthy and bounce back in the upcoming season, the Nuggets are that much more dangerous on both sides of the floor.

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