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Three second-round selections anxious to prove their worth to Nuggets during NBA summer league

The summer league roster for the Nuggets includes three second-round draft picks. To find a path from that position to an NBA roster, Nikola Radicevic, Petr Cornelie and Monte Morris need only to look inside their own organization for inspiration.

It was just three years ago that the Nuggets selected Nikola Jokic with the 41st overall pick. Jokic stayed in Europe for one season after being drafted, then finished third in NBA rookie of the year voting following his debut 2015-16 season. All Jokic did to follow that up was finish second in the voting for most improved player this past season, establishing himself as a potential future star.

Such a climb for a second-round pick, of course, is rare. The three second-round selections for the Nuggets’ summer league team, which begins play Friday night in Las Vegas, know the odds are stacked high to make the Nuggets.

“I’m just going out there and playing,” said Morris, the 6-foot-3 point guard who was the second of two second-round picks by the Nuggets last month, at No. 51 overall. “I can only control what I can control. That’s me going out and competing every night and letting the chips fall where they may. I don’t really look at the roster. It’s a long season and I just have to be ready when my number is called.”

Radicevic, the 57th overall pick in the 2015 draft, is a 6-5 point guard who is playing in the summer league for the first time. A hamstring injury prevented him from playing on the team after he was drafted and his contract with his club team in Spain last summer kept him from getting to Las Vegas. For Radicevic, who averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists and shot 37.4 percent while playing in the top Spanish league, the next week will be a big audition as Nuggets officials evaluate what they have in the 23-year-old guard.

“I’m here now, 100 percent healthy and ready to work hard,” he said. “I want to show people from the front office that I’m ready to stay here.”

Micah Nori, the Nuggets assistant who is coaching the summer league team, was impressed with what he saw from Radicevic during the team’s minicamp this week while also identifying the Serbian’s biggest opportunity for improvement.

“He really knows how to play as a strong, big guard,” Nori said. “The one thing with him is — and it sounds silly — if he can make shots, he’s got a chance. He’s a little bit inconsistent with his jumper. But being left-handed, he’s a big guard so you can switch with him defensively. He can keep guys in front, is a physical guard. He really knows how to play. His head is always on a swivel, running the break, looking for guys. I think the main thing with him is, can he make shots?”

Cornelie, a 6-11 center from France, played in the summer league last July after being selected with the 53rd overall pick in the 2016 draft. He showed some nice flashes, averaging eight points and 6.8 rebounds over five games. But he struggled to find playing time for Le Mans in France’s top league last season, averaging 4.1 points in just 13.5 minutes per game. Still, Cornelie has shown growth while working out with the Nuggets and their training staff the past two months.

“Coming back a second year, he’s more comfortable with what we’re trying to do,” Nori said. “He’ll be up there starting at the five and will get a lot of minutes and a lot of chances. He can really shoot the basketball. The one thing with him we found last year is that coming overseas and as slight as he is build-wise, he’s not soft. He’s a physical guy. He contests shots, screens people and knows how to play. He’s continued to grow throughout the year and you can really tell.”

Though the Nuggets’ roster is likely to undergo more shifting this offseason, it’s not easy to see spots opening up for any of the three second-round picks once the season begin. Denver has three point guards under contract in Jameer Nelson, Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray. Center is a thin position, after Jokic, but the Nuggets have expressed interest in re-signing 6-11 restricted free agent Mason Plumlee. Plus, new addition Trey Lyles could play some backup center as well.

The addition of two-way contracts, which essentially give two more roster spots teams can use to sign players and play them mostly in the G-League (formerly the D-League), provide more of an opportunity for players like Denver’s second-round trio to get their foot in the NBA door. If they want to bust that door down, the mission starts on Las Vegas Boulevard on Friday night.

Footnote. Nuggets first-round pick Tyler Lydon officially signed a multiyear contract with the team Thursday for an undisclosed amount of money.

Source: denverpost

About Michel Cooper

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