Over the past two weeks, much has been made of various players on the fringe of the Denver Nuggets rotation. Peyton Watson is an exciting 20-year-old with boundless potential and tools, Julian Strawther was Denver’s sharpshooting first round pick, Jalen Pickett has become a cult favorite among Nuggets fans, and Ismael Kamagate is the international man of mystery.

Very few went out of their way to discuss Hunter Tyson and what he brings to the NBA level. As Denver’s 37th overall selection and the lowest profile player among the three Nuggets selected, it’s understandable why Tyson went under the radar. Very few mock drafts had him being selected in the 2023 NBA Draft, let alone drafted with a top 40 selection.

But on Friday night, Hunter Tyson showed out in his Nuggets debut, playing 27 minutes off the bench and scoring 21 points. Tyson immediately made shots and played with a level of confidence and swagger befitting someone drafted much higher than him. Every play he made, Tyson had something to say to his teammates or his opponents, letting everybody in the gym know that he belonged without question.

It was interesting to see Tyson celebrate after every play, but it was also refreshing. He had a great time out there showing what he could do.

At the top of the list of Tyson’s skill set is his three-point shot. The 6’9″ forward made 36.6% of three-pointers for his career at Clemson, but his shotmaking took a leap in his senior season. He made 83-of-205 three-pointers last season (40.5%) which was the eighth most in the ACC, and many of those threes were movement based. Whether it be curling around down screens, flaring to the wing, or operating in transition, Tyson made plenty of shots on the move, something he displayed during his summer league debut.

Of course, his shotmaking also stood out in other ways. Tyson made two mid-range pull-up jumpers over the outstretched arms of smaller defenders throughout the game. One of those was from an isolation situation, and the other was after attacking a closeout, but both shots were highly impressive and showed a level of coordination that I didn’t expect. Tyson made some pull-up jumpers in college, but he wasn’t known for them. Perhaps at his apex, Tyson could be a player the Nuggets throw the ball to within a bench lineup with the expectation that the Clemson product can get them a bucket late in the shot clock.

There was also a nice connection with Grant Golden, Denver’s backup center at Summer League who played last year for the Grand Rapids Gold. Golden operates much like Nikola Jokić as a high post passer, and he and Tyson connected on a give-and-go from the top of the key for an And-1. Tyson’s finish wasn’t the most athletic, but he got the job done and looked relatively comfortable doing so.

Outside of scoring, Tyson had a nice chasedown block at the first quarter buzzer to reject former Gonzaga big man Drew Timme. It wasn’t the most indicative play of the NBA athleticism Tyson will face at the next level, but it was nice to see him challenge the shot at the rim. Tyson also racked up five rebounds, including two offensive boards. Rebounding was one of his strengths at the college level, and it will have to translate to the NBA game for him to stay on the floor. The Bucks out-rebounded the Nuggets 40-28 last night, so Tyson absolutely has to make a positive impact on the glass while in Las Vegas.

Tyson didn’t have a ton of drives to the rim, and that’s an aspect of his game that may never come around. He’s not a plus athlete at the NBA level and struggled to generate separation. One of the reasons those mid-range jumpers that he made off the dribble were so impressive was because of the contest level. The problem? Many of Tyson’s off-the-dribble moves will likely be contested if he can’t get away from his defender. There was a nice slash to the rim that Tyson had after catching the ball in the corner and generating points with a quick, decisive move. Doing that for frequently will also force defenses to close out a bit shorter, leading to more open threes.

Defensively, Tyson wasn’t great. He closed out short on some possessions and was a bit slow to react when the opposing offense was moving the ball. There’s some tentativeness there that affects everyone in their summer league debut, but Tyson will have to be more crisp on his rotations and defensive details if he wants to make an impact in the NBA. Opponents are going to test his ability to guard in space, and that’s something I will be watching for the remainder of summer league. He will probably never be a defensive stopper, but getting to a point where he’s not a liability will allow the Nuggets to play him more consistently in the future.

The player comparison that keeps coming to mind for Tyson is Georges Niang. It’s probably not the most flattering comparison to some, but it shows that Tyson can absolutely carve out a niche in the NBA by taking some simple steps. Niang hasn’t earned a ton of money in his career, but he just signed a three-year, $26 million contract to be their floor spacing backup power forward. A career 40% three-point shooter, Niang isn’t the greatest rebounder but is almost always in the regular rotation because of his floor-spacing.

The “stretch four” archetype might not be the most en vogue type of player that NBA teams are seeking right now, but it still pays to be big, rebound well, and shoot the basketball.

Time will tell what Hunter Tyson can become in the NBA when left in the hands of a player development staff. Perhaps his athleticism improves moderately and he can keep up with small forwards. Perhaps he adds more dynamic scoring or playmaking capability than expected. Perhaps he puts on 15 pounds so he can battle on the interior against power forwards. Right now, Tyson is still a blank canvas.

It was a great first impression, though.