Nuggets-Clippers: Takeaways from Denver’s Preseason Opener


The Denver Nuggets lost their preseason opener to the Los Angeles Clippers Friday night by a score of 103-96.

Despite an impressive comeback after being down big for most of the game, the Nuggets were unable to pull out a victory in their first exhibition contest of the season. It was an up-and-down game for many of the youngsters, particularly the Nuggets first-round pick Emmanuel Mudiay.

We’ll take a look at Mudiay’s first NBA game and more as we discuss what we learned from the Nuggets’ 2015-16 opener.

Emmanuel Mudiay Will Have a Steep Learning Curve

The most notable thing we learned from the Nuggets first preseason game was what to expect  from the Nuggets’ first-round pick.

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This much is clear: Emmanuel Mudiay certainly doesn’t lack talent. However, this game taught us that Mudiay’s first season will definitely be a learning experience. Facing off against arguably the NBA’s best point guard in Chris Paul, Mudiay looked completely overwhelmed at times. Paul’s suffocating defense forced Mudiay into making some bad decisions, leading to eight sloppy turnovers and a few forced shots.

It wasn’t all bad for Mudiay in his debut, however, as he flashed some of his offensive talents throughout the game. Mudiay buried a couple smooth pull-up jumpers in the first half and even knocked down some impressive threes in the second half. He ended with 14 points and three assists.

He also threw some beautiful passes throughout the night, particularly one terrific dish off a pick-and-roll that led to a Nikola Jokic bucket. The rookie clearly has incredible offensive potential, and while most of the night was a struggle, Mudiay showed some very impressive flashes throughout the night.

There will be plenty of games like this one for Mudiay as he gets accustomed to the NBA game. Sometimes he’ll look overwhelmed and make mistakes. But he’ll also have quite a few games where the opposite happens, as there will be games where he lights it up and looks like the next NBA superstar. It’s important to avoid overreacting either way.

The NBA is a whole different game than what Mudiay has seen in the past, and there will be a steep learning curve as the youngster gets adjusted.

Jameer Nelson Will Play an Important Role

Despite backing up Mudiay, Jameer Nelson is going to play a very important role for the Nuggets this season. In the first quarter, when Mudiay was completely out of sorts, Mike Malone inserted Nelson to help upstart the offense. It worked nearly instantly, as the 33-year-old quickly scored five points and gave Denver some life, preventing the Clippers from running away with the game early.

Denver will ask its veteran point guard to do this often throughout the season. When Mudiay looks overwhelmed and is struggling to run the Nuggets offense, Nelson will be asked to come in and get things going.

He’ll also be an important mentor for Mudiay throughout his rookie season. Having a strong veteran point guard to back him up, and sometimes play alongside him, will be of great benefit to Mudiay as he learns the NBA game.

The Nuggets Need Danilo Gallinari’s Floor Spacing

One thing that really stuck out to me was the lack of spacing in the Nuggets offense throughout the night. Especially with Kenneth Faried at power forward and Emmanuel Mudiay’s work-in-progress outside shot, the Nuggets struggled at times to space the floor.

This is an area where Danilo Gallinari, presumably out for rest, was sorely missed. A career 37 percent three-point shooter, Gallinari’s presence on the court will open up the lane for Mudiay and Wilson Chandler to slash, as well as give more room for Faried to work inside.

The Euros Look Promising 

The true stars of the night for the Nuggets were European big men Joffrey Lauvergne and Nikola Jokic. On a night where the majority of the Nuggets roster struggled, Lauvergne and Jokic kept the team from getting blown out with their strong play. Lauvergne had a strong double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Jokic also impressed with 14 points and eight rebounds, showing off his very skilled offensive game.

If the two Euros can keep up anything close to this level of play throughout the season, it will go a long way in expediting the Nuggets rebuilding process. Having the two young big men be productive would be huge for the Nuggets winning games, as well as Emmanuel Mudiay’s development, giving him two more weapons to feed the ball to.

The Nuggets are a Work in Progress

It’s important to remember that this was just the first preseason game. The Nuggets haven’t even had a full week of practice yet, and there is a lot for this team to learn. With head coach Mike Malone in his first season in Denver, and rookie Emmanuel Mudiay becoming a focal point in the offense, it will take the Nuggets some time to put it all together.

It may take just a few weeks, or it could take the team several months into the season to figure it all out. There are a lot of new and important pieces to the rotation, and under a new head coach, it will take time for the Nuggets to learn to play as a team.

Patience will be key with this Denver team, as this is the very beginning of what is sure to be a long, and potentially ugly, process.