The Denver Nuggets opened up the 2016 Summer League schedule Friday night and the excitement leading up to the game felt as if the game actually counted. Well to me, it did count. It counted towards the team’s continual rebuild. Can we really even call it a rebuild still? If so, it’s time to start framing because the foundation is set. Look at me. Using manly analogies when I couldn’t even frame a room, let alone an entire house.

My main focus for the Nuggets coming into Summer League is all about chemistry, how will Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray work together? How will the team look in half-court sets? How will they perform on the defensive side of the floor? Who will be the main ball handler for the Nuggets? We’ve heard it’s still Mudiay’s job. Could Murray, who said at minicamp that his biggest improvement from his season at Kentucky was ball handling, challenge him?

The young Nuggets came out of the gate Friday night looking as excited as I was. The first three shots from 2016 draft picks, Juan HernangomezPetr Cornelie and Murray missed everything. (At least Juancho got the backboard; the other two got nothing but air.) The fellas were nervous, anxious and gripping the ball a little too tight. As such, they fell behind big. The Nuggets cut the lead to single digits, but the Timberwolves seemed to answer with each Denver run. Basically every Nugget struggled throughout the first half. Seventh-overall pick Jamal Murray may have left the most to be desired. Murray scored just three points in the first half, all coming at the free throw line. 

Credit Denver, though. They came out strong in the third quarter and made a game out of it, mostly because they started to play defense. Yeah, that’s right. Defense. In Summer League. No matter what SportsCenter tells us, that side of floor not only matters, most nights it’s the most important side of the hardwood. If this young Nuggets team wants to be successful they have to play with pride, intensity and a lot of trust on defense. Good defense always turns into good offense.

Emmanuel Mudiay looked much improved. He is a second year player but still a very young man at just 20 years old. He looked more comfortable on the floor, more secure in himself as the team’s leader on and off the floor. He was on the highlight end of an alley-oop from Gary Harris and let the fans at Thomas and Mack Center how he felt about it with a mighty yell while dangling off the rim. He rarely showed that kind of passion last year, almost like he was too shy. Mudiay looked good under the basket as well. With his back to basket and a smaller defender on him he was able to score at will. He still has a long way to go but Mudiay’s ceiling still seems to be very high.

Murray showed flashes of his great offensive skills in the second half but struggled on the defensive side. Again, it comes down to effort and pride. You have to want to play defense. He lacked that pride factor on a few possessions on that end of the court. It will improve with a couple of practices under Michael Malone, who will make it clear from the get-go that his deficiencies on that end are the reason he will not get as much tick as he would like.

Overall it was a good opening night for the 2016-17 Denver Nuggets, they got the 88-82 win, which came after a pretty bad first half. They have plenty to work on but some positives to take away and build upon.