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NBA Daily: Thomas Welsh Eager To Show He Belongs

Thomas Welsh is trying to show that he has the skills and tools to contribute at the NBA level, writes James Blancarte.

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After narrowly missing the playoffs last season, the Denver Nuggets go into the 2018-19 season with both short and long-term optimism. The Nuggets look forward to bringing back Paul Millsap from a wrist injury that cost him half of last season. The team is also thrilled to have retained star center Nikola Jokic and Will Barton, each of whom signed new deals this offseason. This has the team hopeful of cracking the top eight in the West and making it back to the playoffs. In addition, the Nuggets also gambled on Michael Porter, Jr. who experienced a draft-day free fall based on serious injury concerns, which allowed the Nuggets to select him with the 14th pick. Porter recently underwent an operation that he and the Nuggets are hopeful will lead to a full recovery and address any long-term concerns.

While fans hope for Porter, Jr. to play this season, another Nuggets rookie will be hopeful for a chance to get some playing time. Thomas Welsh, a senior center from UCLA, comes to the Nuggets as the 58th pick in the draft. Standing 7-foot tall with a slender frame, Welsh has height, length and outside shooting, all of which make him an interesting prospect.

Welsh, who recently signed with the Nuggets on a two-way contract, spoke to Basketball Insiders recently about his experience and what he can bring to the Nuggets.

“It’s been great. It’s great to be able to have a chance to come out here and have a chance to acclimate to what the NBA is like,” Welsh told Basketball Insiders regarding his summer league experience. “[I’m] just trying to show my versatility on the offensive end. Just show I can play make from the top of the key when I get the ball.”

UCLA fans saw how Welsh used his size and his well-developed shooting touch to make his mark for the Bruins. In his senior year, Welsh scored 12.6 points on 48.5 percent overall shooting and 40.2 percent from three. At UCLA Welsh was a capable shooter from deep and midrange and was a team leader. Welsh has mentioned that he wants to expand his game, which will be important for his long-term outlook as he averaged only 1.4 assists his senior year and .8 assists over four years in college.

Welsh is fortunate to be part of the Nuggets as he has the opportunity work with and learn from Jokic, the league’s preeminent big man passing wizard. Should Welsh develop and add a strong passing element to his game, it would help to round out his offensive repertoire, which right now primarily is based on his ability to play face up and hit jump shots from all over the court.

While Welsh is currently slotted as the number three center in the Nuggets’ rotation, he does have a few factors working in his favor. Despite uneven results, the Nuggets have shown an affinity in the past to playing two center lineups featuring Jokic and Miles Plumlee. Both were durable last season, playing in excess of 70 games each. However, Jokic did suffer an ugly ankle sprain early last season and it’s always possible that one of the two centers could miss time with injuries. Should one of the two traditional centers go down for some time with an injury, Welsh may have a chance to squeeze into the rotation.

“I think I’m just trying to be a guy that does whatever it takes for the team. Whatever that may be, whatever my role may be just trying to help the team win no matter what,” Welsh said.

Welsh has shown the ability to be an effective rebounder (10.8 rebounds his senior year, second in the Pac-12) and shot blocker (1.1 block average over four years). Still, Welsh did not stand out as top-level defender, which he addressed.

“I’m talking as much as I can on the defensive end, trying to help my defensive guys. Just trying to be a great team player out there,” Welsh said. “I think a big part of taking the step to the next level is pick and roll defense, I mean, that’s 60-70 percent of plays in NBA basketball now is coming off pick and roll. So, just being able to contain the ball handler and get back to my man and shut down any lanes they have.”

While Welsh emphasized his mobility on defense, what could hold Welsh back from making a bigger impact right away is his light frame and lack of lower body strength. Welsh will need to work hard to physically develop so he can withstand the physicality that NBA bigs can dish out on a nightly basis.

Welsh also talked about the difference between the college and the pro game.

“I think it’s very different from college basketball, definitely. Defensive three in the key is a different ball game,” Welsh said. “The wider three-point line creates that much more space on the defensive end and the offensive end too. So, it just creates different looks, different reads so just trying to adjust to that. But I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that so yeah. But there is definitely still a learning process.”

While there are some gaps in Welsh’s game, Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly has a lot of optimism and support for Welsh.

“A spread five that makes shots, rebounds, and is a very bright kid,” Connelly stated. “We were very excited.”

With Jokic and Plumlee in place, Welsh will have a chance to play in the G-League to continue his overall development and the adjustment to the NBA. As a two-way player, the Nuggets can call Welsh up when needed over the course of the season. In the meantime, Welsh can continue his development and wait for that opportunity to show that the Nuggets were right to believe in him and his potential.

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.

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