“There’s a different vibe in the gym.”

Michael Malone lamented the execution at times throughout Day 4 of Denver Nuggets training camp in San Diego. He knows that the Nuggets will need to get this stuff eventually. For now though, he’s just excited to be back in the swing of things.

“All I’m saying is that there’s a really good vibe with this group. The energy has been great. The work ethic has been great, and I think the guys feel something about this group where we have a chance to be special.”

All week, the story has been the same: a bit sloppy but great energy. With Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back in the gym, there’s a sense of belief that the Nuggets are doing everything for a purpose this year. There isn’t an aimless sense of hope to do something like in past seasons. The Nuggets believe it’s their turn.

Main Story: Scrimmage Day

After three days of mostly building chemistry and learning the playbook, the Denver Nuggets had a big scrimmage today.

The media was able to watch the last 15 to 20 minutes of action, and during that stretch, Bones Hyland certainly put on a show. He let it fly from deep on several occasions and helped the second unit win against the starters.

Bones wasn’t shy about letting the media know about it either.

“It was a typical Bizzy moment,” shared Bones. “Taking over the game, just being myself out there, getting my teammates involved.”

With so many veterans in place, the largest potential areas of instability in the rotation are with some of the young guys. It sounds like Bones is putting some of those worries to rest though.

The starters, at least during the stretch the media watched, struggled a bit with their chemistry. They’re working in several new pieces and are trying to figure out exactly how things fit together. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit multiple corner threes, and Jamal Murray looks like he’s ready to hit the ground running this season.

Still, there’s work to be done. Michael Malone shared that the Nuggets starting group is still trying to figure out exactly how to mesh together, and it was evident that Michael Porter Jr. is still trying to find his best spots on both ends of the floor. Porter hit some impressive shots to be clear, but Christian Braun matched him step for step and drew some charges in the process.

Bruce Brown also made his presence felt on the defensive end of the floor, snagging a pick-six steal for a transition layup and making life difficult for Murray in the pick and roll.

The Fun Details: Zeke Nnaji’s breakout

The player that has had potentially the best training camp of anybody isn’t Nikola Jokić, or Jamal Murray, or anybody that Nuggets fans might expect.

It’s probably Zeke Nnaji.

Nnaji began training camp on the third team behind both Jeff Green and DeAndre Jordan, two veterans with more defined roles than Zeke. It appears the 21-year-old big man out of Arizona took that personally, and he’s raising his entire game to prove to the coaching staff that he deserves to play.

“Zeke’s had a great camp. Not a good camp. A great camp,” Malone said to media on Friday afternoon. “He’s been playing 5 for us, and I think what that allows him to do is simplify it. I’m going to screen, I’m going to roll. I’m going to defend, I’m going to rebound, I’m going to run.”

After losing his playoff rotation spot last season due to injury, Nnaji spent the entire summer in Denver bulking up, improving his game, and getting ready to play some backup center behind Jokić. With the departures of DeMarcus Cousins and JaMychal Green, the position change made plenty of sense. In order to excel though, Nnaji had to prove to te rest of the team that he could handle the pressures of captaining a defense.

So far, it appears he’s done well.

“He’s a really good communicator on defense. Like, everybody in the gym hears him,” Malone quipped. “He had a really good scrimmage…finished around the basket, catching the ball, finishing in traffic, all areas of growth for Zeke.”

“I’m happy for him and I’m proud of him.”

Rotation Watch

The Nuggets mixed and matched different combinations of bench players against the starting unit on Friday, so it was difficult to get an exact sense of who the top players off the bench were. However, one combination really excelled during the scrimmage portion the media got to watch: Bones Hyland, Bruce Brown, Christian Braun, Jeff Green, Zeke Nnaji.

Bruce Brown played some strong defense against Murray throughout the quarter, staying attached to the star point guard and making life difficult for him off the dribble. Brown also dribbled the ball up the court and initiated the offense on multiple occasions, leaving Bones to find scoring opportunities off the ball.

Christian Braun also made several plays with the media watching. His offense still needs some work, but he did make a nice late shot clock three-pointer from the left corner. He also had a nice drive to the rim in isolation against Porter. Defensively, Braun seems comfortable defending just about every perimeter player on the Nuggets. He’s strong. athletic, and smart, and it was easy to see his defensive impact with him drawing one, potentially two charges on Porter.

While Braun may have earned some playing time early, the best guess is still Davon Reed taking the backup small forward minutes at the beginning of the season. He hasn’t had a loud camp, but he made a three over Jokić today and looks comfortable when the ball finds him in the half court.

It does appear that Zeke has earned consistent playing time, whether it be at power forward or center. He has proven his competence in years past and appears to have added to the fundamentals of his game. As long as he keeps performing well, it will be difficult to justify keeping him on the bench when opening night rolls around.