Mark Smith, member of 2017-18 Illinois basketball,


The Denver Nuggets began their NBA 2K24 Summer League campaign on July 7 with a 92-85 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, all while one-year Illini Mark Smith observed from the bench.

After a day to rest and recoup, the Nuggets returned to the campus of UNLV for their second game of Summer League, an 8:30 p.m. CT showdown with the Atlanta Hawks that was broadcast nationally on NBA TV.

Fortunately for Smith, he only had to wait nine minutes to make his first impression on Las Vegas. After inbounding from a Hawk’s foul, Smith quickly got the ball back and drove to the basket after shaking his defender with some nifty moves. As the opposing wing defenders collapsed, Smith took advantage of a wide open Cassius Stanley who cashed in from deep.Smith remained in the game to start the second quarter, where after a couple minutes he got up his first shot. Familiar Illinois opponent Jalen Pickett handed off to the Decatur native, before setting a screen to open up Smith from distance. A good closeout from Pickett’s original defender resulted in the shot not dropping, but Denver recovered the rebound and reset. 

As the hub of the offense, Pickett was the first person Stanley looked to after receiving the ball at the top of the left wing. Having faith in his teammate, Pickett immediately motioned that Smith should be his target instead and Smith received the ball at midcourt with a plethora of space in front of him.

Smith immediately looked to make use of this space and aggressively drove towards the basket before ultimately getting tied up by a pair of collapsing defenders. 

Just a few minutes later Smith was subbed out and did not return until the final moments of the third quarter. During that time, Smith picked up a couple of rebounds but did not record any other stats. He was allowed to carry over into the following quarter once again, but after two minutes checked out for his final time.

Despite not recording a single point, Smith found other ways to be positive and did not hunt his shot to the point where it negatively affected the team. In seven minutes Smith reeled in four rebounds, assisted a three point make and was a +5 in plus-minus even though Denver as a whole lost 98-93.

Entering a back-to-back this Wednesday, Smith and the Nuggets will have two days off before playing on consecutive nights against the Utah Jazz and Miami Heat.


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