When it was all said and done, the Denver Nuggets had a productive summer league.

After beginning the five-game exhibition in Las Vegas with a 0-3 record, summer league head coach John Beckett and the Nuggets rallied to procure two wins against the Miami Heat and New York Knicks. It wasn’t the prettiest basketball, but the Nuggets roster appeared to get better as time went on. The team, built on IQ rather than athleticism, showcased improved offensive and defensive capabilities by the end of the week. Early on, Denver’s starters in particular appeared overwhelmed by NBA athletes; however, the group settled down, played smarter, shot better, and won their final two games, including a major blowout over the Heat in Game 4.

Did the Nuggets learn anything from their experience? Absolutely. Here are some takeaways from the Las Vegas trip and what Nuggets fans need to know:

Hunter Tyson is a player

I’ve been a little “tongue-in-cheek” when it has come to Hunter Tyson’s impressive summer league performances, but the facts are the facts. Tyson played extremely well across the week and made some impressive plays. From his outside shooting, to his feel for the game, to his rebounding, to his surprisingly good defense, there’s a lot of positives for Tyson and the Nuggets to build upon.

Here are Tyson’s five games presented statistically:

  • 7/7 vs Milwaukee: 27 minutes, 21 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block, 7/13 FG, 3/7 3P, 4/5 FT
  • 7/9 vs Atlanta: 24 minutes, 16 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 5/10 FG, 2/4 3P, 4/5 FT
  • 7/12 vs Utah: 31 minutes, 19 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 5/12 FG, 3/9 3P, 6/6 FT
  • 7/14 vs Miami: 27 minutes, 31 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 11/13 FG, 7/9 3P, 2/2 FT, +43(!!!)
  • 7/15 vs New York: 36 minutes, 17 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block, 5/13 FG, 3/7 3P, 4/5 FT

Those are all impressive lines, but what makes them even more impressive is how consistent they were. Tyson was in a rhythm from beginning to end and consistently made a positive impact. Tyson has, at this moment, scored the third most points in Las Vegas as the 37th overall pick from this year. That’s incredible, and he did it on supreme efficiency.

When Calvin Booth said that he hoped the rookies selected this year could play immediately if asked to play, I thought he was mostly talking about Jalen Pickett or Julian Strawther. As it turns out, Tyson might be the most readymade option of the three. His position at forward is a bit ambiguous, but there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t slot in next to Aaron Gordon and play small forward or slide into a bench power forward role next to Christian Braun at small ball 3. Tyson’s shooting, high IQ floor spacing, and switchability as a decent defender across the board could be useful in the right context.

Not bad for a second rounder.

The Nuggets liked what they saw from Peyton Watson

It wasn’t a long exhibition period for Peyton Watson, lasting just two games. The Nuggets clearly liked what they saw from the second-year player though and didn’t feel the need to suit up Watson for the remainder of summer league.

Watson put together a better all-around performance in the first game than the second, but there were things to take away from both games that I liked from the 6’8″ big wing. In the first game, Watson posted 23 points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals, and three blocks, showcasing an impressive level of versatility. He had some great defensive possessions (and some bad ones) but ultimately was exactly what the Nuggets were hoping for as an aggressive, dynamic, two-way threat. In the second game, Watson’s all-around contributions were much more muted, but he had some nice scoring moves both on and off the ball that demonstrated a level of development as a scorer.

After averaging just 3.3 points per game in his freshman season at UCLA, there were questions as to whether Watson could capitalize on the talent that positioned him to be a five-star recruit. Watson is slowly answering those questions and doing so with a goal in mind: play a true role for the Nuggets this year. With Bruce Brown and Jeff Green both departing, Watson could slide into a consistent rotation role as soon as opening night in October. Whether he’s ready for what comes with it remains to be seen, but Watson showed enough to justify a serious look at backup forward minutes going forward.

Julian Strawther recovers his shooting stroke, hustles throughout

After selecting Julian Strawther 29th overall in the 2023 NBA Draft, the Gonzaga product had the highest expectations among rookies heading into summer league. Strawther began the week slowly though, shooting just 7-of-29 from three-point range (24.1%) in the first three games. His overall level of impact wasn’t high either, given that Strawther’s value as a complementary three-point shooter is mostly tied to his success shooting. In the final two games, Strawther found his rhythm by shooting 9-of-18 from three (50%). It’s no surprise that the Nuggets won those last two games after dropping the first three, and Strawther clearly helped turn the tide.

Throughout summer league, Strawther averaged 18.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game, shooting 40% from the field and 34% from three. Those numbers encapsulate Strawther’s role as a floor spacing wing. He did some good things off the dribble with a solid floater and some occasional table setting passes for teammates. Still, it’s clear that Strawther’s most important skill at the NBA level will be refining that shooting to become more consistent and more deadly. He’s not an interior scorer or playmaker or defender at this stage and will have to work to bring those skills up to capacity over these next few years.

What Strawther can do to help himself is consistently work harder than the opposition. The 21-year-old made some impressive hustle plays rotating over as a weak side defender, chasing down rebounds, and corralling loose balls. If Strawther wants to make an impact as a rookie, those things have to be present every single night.

Jalen Pickett makes all-around contributions

When looking at the numbers from summer league, it was unsurprising to see Jalen Pickett leading the Nuggets roster in plus-minus at +12. Despite the Nuggets finishing with a 2-3 record, Pickett led the team well in his minutes, splitting point guard reps with Collin Gillespie and making the most of his time. In his five games, Pickett averaged 31.2 minutes, posting 12.4 points, 5.6 assists, and 4.4 rebounds, adding 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks for good measure.

The 12.4 points per game are a deceiving number though, because Pickett shot 53.1% from the field and 42.9% from three-point range. The usage level was low because other players were contributing at a high level (notably Hunter Tyson) and Pickett chose to mostly set the table for his teammates. It’s possible that Pickett has more in the tank as a bully ball scorer, because several of the buckets he scored against like-sized guards were so easy. Pickett pushed opponents around, and he got better at it as summer league progressed.

Time will tell whether Pickett will be a contributor for the Nuggets this season, but he clearly added value to the summer league team. He made great decisions, was solid on the defensive end, and showed he could hang in most situations. There were times when opponents would shoot over the top of him or use quickness to get around him at the point-of-attack, but Pickett mostly held his ground defensively and was a playmaker in passing and driving lanes. Perhaps that will translate to the NBA level sooner rather than later.

Collin Gillespie and Ismael Kamagate still need time

After suffering a leg fracture last year, Collin Gillespie spent last season on a two-way contract rehabilitating. It wasn’t until after the All-Star break when he began to practice again, participating in drills, and going against live competition. The Nuggets didn’t spend a bunch of scrimmage time either as an older team with championship expectations, so Gillespie didn’t get a lot of live reps before summer league. It’s not a surprise that he struggled a bit in his five games, averaging 7.8 points and 4.6 assists in 29.7 minutes while shooting 30.2% from the field.

Gillespie was slow to acclimate to the speed and physicality of the games, and between defending at the point-of-attack or boxing out for defensive rebounds, the physical deficiencies showed. There were still some awesome moments from Gillespie as a scorer and playmaker on the other end, but it’s clear that the Villanova product could use more time to recover and more reps to develop a comfort level at the NBA level.

Meanwhile, Ismael Kamagate played four games but only averaged 18.3 minutes per contest. The French center posted 6.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. Per 36 minutes, those numbers are pretty good, but the Nuggets were hoping for more physicality and poise. At times, the big center appeared overwhelmed by the size and rebounding aspect of protecting the paint. While he did a good job as a weak side shot blocker and had some good moments of rim deterrence, opponents continued to challenge him and try to move him out of the way. He also had four total assists compared to 11 turnovers on the other end, committing screening fouls, charges, or simply losing the basketball in traffic.

Kamagate will be heading to Italy to play for AC Milan under European coach Ettore Messina in the EuroLeague next season. If he can carve out a consistent role at that level, it’s likely that he will be ready for NBA competition in the following season. If Kamagate struggles to find reps to help his development though, he may be further away from coming to the NBA than once thought.