BOULDER – The first day of Nuggets training camp on the campus of the University of Colorado doubled as the second day coach Michael Malone raved about the work his team did a few weeks prior in a voluntary minicamp in Atlanta.
About a dozen Nuggets spent the week of August 14 in the Peach State, working out at Millsap’s brand-spanking new gym. It was so new that Millsap had to scramble and get courts put in quickly before the practices started.
“It wasn’t even finished for the minicamp,” Millsap said, grinning. “We had to rush and get some courts in there. We were able to get it done, and we were able to have a good minicamp. But now it’s just all officially being done.”
Not that anyone noticed, or cared much if they did. They walked away impressed.
“He has a heckuva facility,” guard Jameer Nelson said. “We all appreciate his hospitality.”
But this was about the work. And that centered on laying a foundation to gain chemistry with Paul Millsap and his new teammates. The Nuggets ended last season a well-oiled machine on offense, one of the most potent in the NBA. And even though they are running the same system, a new year brings new faces. Millsap is new to the team. Jamal Murray could be new to the starting lineup. He worked with the first unit on Monday, and Malone said the five-on-five work in Atlanta has helped the second-year player hit the ground running in training camp.
“Watching that group today, when we started playing five-on-five full court, it was like they’d been together for a long time,” Malone said.
That’s good news for a Nuggets’ offense that, last season, ranked third in points per game (111.7), second in assists per game (25.3), second in rebounds per game (46.4), sixth in field goal percentage (46.9), seventh in 3-pointers made per game (10.6), and 11th in 3-point percentage (36.8).
Getting back to that level of execution and effectiveness takes time. Malone and the Nuggets coaching staff requested that players get together regularly throughout the summer. The Atlanta minicamp, one of most well-attended, was the springboard to training camp.
“That’s a situation where we can’t pay for guys to go,” Malone said. “We can’t house them, we can’t do anything. We had, I think, 11 or 12 guys show up to that. What was great was, I think the chemistry started there. Jamal having a chance to play with Paul Millsap. That continued. We had a full gym (in Denver) in all of September. So coming into camp we’ve had a lot of opportunities to work together and started building and creating.”
Nelson said had been through these kinds of camps before.
“I think it’s beneficial because it puts you in a different element,” Nelson said. “Helps you during the season, especially at the beginning of the season.”
“It’s very beneficial,” said Millsap after the Nuggets’ Monday morning practice. “To get chemistry you’ve got to have some time. You’ve got to spend time. We were able to get a jump on it in minicamp, spending a week together getting acclimated with each other. And we’re still learning. We’re still learning, we’re still figuring it out. It’s going to take a little time, but through that process we still want to get wins. And hopefully sooner than later we’ll be clicking on all cylinders.”
Neither Nelson nor Malone have any concerns about Millsap picking things up quickly.
“I think he will fall right in with everything that we are trying to accomplish,” Nelson said. “He’s a perfect fit. He’s one of those guys that I think can adapt to any system. The defense is easy for him because it’s pretty much the same. But offensively he’s so skilled and such a high IQ player, that if he hasn’t figured it out yet, the way we play, he’ll figure it out quickly.”
Said Malone: “What’s great about having guys like Paul Millsap, who is the new guy, is he is such a high IQ player, and he played the same style a few years ago in Atlanta. …So I don’t think it’s going to take a while for them to get that chemistry and that rhythm on the floor.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org or @chrisadempsey on Twitter.