2014 Golden State Warriors Summer League preview: Ognjen Kuzmic, Nemanja Nedovic try to bounce back from injury-plagued rookie seasons

The Warriors begin Las Vegas Summer League play today at 5:30 p.m. PDT. Three Santa Cruz Warriors are on their roster, including 2013-14 Golden State rookies Ognjen Kuzmic and Nemanja Nedovic. Golden State of Mind had a chance to chat with Santa Cruz coach Casey Hill about the development of those two during the D-League season and what benefit they gained from their stints in the D-League.

The biggest challenge for Nemanja Nedovic during his first season in the NBA was simply staying healthy enough to adjust to a new league and style of play.

Unfortunately, his 2014-15 campaign almost began in the same manner as it looked like injuries would once against jeopardize his ability to participate in the Golden State Warriors' Las Vegas Summer League opener (today at 5 p.m. PST).

Reports from Vegas indicated that Nedovic had injured his ankle during yesterday's practice, leaving him unavailable for at least today's opener in the Las Vegas Summer League. With Aaron Craft also reporting to Vegas injured after a mediocre stint with the Philadelphia 76ers summer squad at the Orlando Pro Summer League, the Warriors were facing a rather think point guard rotation for their Vegas opener (and you probably know how significant that is if you've ever watched the semi-structured play of summer league games extensively).

Thankfully, Nedovic has tweeted that he's "good to go" for today, which will give us a chance to see what he has to offer against some of the league's incoming young talent after hardly getting a chance to know what he could contribute during his rookie year.

There was a two month stretch between January 3 and March 4 where Nedovic didn't play a game for either Golden State or the Santa Cruz Warriors due to lower extremity injuries. After that, Nedovic only saw action in 10 D-League games and four more NBA games (including Game 5 of the Warriors' playoffs series against the L.A. Clippers for the season).

The combination of injury and never even seeing the court consistently in either the D-League or NBA led to a challenging season for the 6-foot-3 Serbian guard, as discussed by Santa Cruz Warriors coach Casey Hill in an interview with Golden State of Mind after the D-League Finals concluded.

"With Nedovic, it was difficult for us to get him in a rhythm," said Hill, who will also be an assistant coach with Golden State's summer league team. "Obviously, his first stint was great: I believe it was 31 for us, 4-for-4 from three. He was huge. And then the injuries kind of started: his quad, his toe - I mean, it was one thing after another. It was difficult to keep him healthy and it was frustrating for him because, you know, it wasn't really his fault - he was doing everything he needed to do. It was just little nicks and nacks he was getting hit with.

"So as far as I'm concerned, he gave everything he needed to do to develop but it was just difficult for him to find a rhythm and get the experience that he needed to."

Trying to extract anything from Nedovic's sporadic playing time last season is probably a bit of a fool's errand; even if we had glowing quotes about Nedovic wearing folks out in practice it would be difficult to know what to make of him. So if you're searching for a reason to watch the Warriors' summer league, Nedovic might be it: this will be something of a new beginning for him.

Nedovic will not only have a chance to work on his game in extended minutes during summer league, but also have the opportunity to get more familiar with new coach Steve Kerr while having the continuity of working under Hill who already knows what he's capable of and pretty excited about his talent. But expectations? It's hard to know what to expect based on last season: he never played significant minutes with Golden State and hardly played consistently enough with Santa Cruz to really know what to make of him.

Tm G MP PER TS% eFG% FTr 3PAr ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG%
SAN 15 427 12.9 0.517 0.467 0.251 0.446 1 8.2 4.6 22.5 1.6 0.8 16.6 25.2

Nemanja Nedovic's 2013-14 advanced statistics with the Santa Cruz Warriors (via Basketball-Reference).

Fellow 2013-14 rookie Ognjen Kuzmic is in a similar, yet not quite so drastic, situation entering the 2014 summer league campaign.

Kuzmic first missed summer league with a bone bruise in his right ankle, never cracked the rotation with Golden State and then suffered a hand injury that kept him for seeing any time in the D-League until December 29. But after a slow start with just 2 points and 9 rebounds in his Santa Cruz Warriors debut, Kuzmic slowly developed into a force against D-League competition.

Given Golden State's frontcourt situation - both Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli are recovering from injuries while Jermaine O'Neal is a free agent - Kuzmic might be even more important to watch for Golden State fans.

"Kuzmic was phenomenal throughout his entire experience with us," said Hill. "He actually had the hand injury - we thought we were going to have him a little longer. He came back, got himself back into shape, worked hard every day, had a phenomenal attitude, was a great teammate, (and) really kind of immersed himself into the Santa Cruz world. And then I think that you saw the benefits of that: he finished his time with us helping us win a (playoff) series against the L.A. Defenders - he had 23 and 18 in one game (twice)."

Tm G MP PER TS% eFG% FTr ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG%
SAN 28 718 16.3 0.522 0.497 0.35 18.2 29.2 23.8 4.6 1.6 5.1 17.7 12.7

Ognjen Kuzmic's 2013-14 advanced statistics with the Santa Cruz Warriors (via Basketball-Reference).

You never want to read too much into D-League statistics, but Kuzmic's offensive rebounding in the D-League is noteworthy: he led the D-League in both offensive rebounding percentage and total rebounding percentage (according to Basketball-Reference), with the former generally being considered a positive indicator for success at the next level.

That rebounding ability was especially on display in Santa Cruz's first round game against the L.A. Defenders, as described by Keith Schlosser of SB Nation's Ridiculous Upside.

Attacking the D-Fenders' front-line with a new found confidence that wasn't often on display during the regular season, Kuzmic added 15 points of his own on 6 of 8 shooting from the field. As usual, the big man also crashed the boards, grabbing 10 rebounds. An eye-popping seven of those grabs happened to be on offensive glass...Further evidence, as to just how mightily the big man's presence was felt can found in some rather telling plus/minus statistics for the game. Whereas Kuzmic was a +16 (higher than both Jones and Curry), his front-court opponent, Brandon Costner, was a -14 for Los Angeles.

But more important that the statistics for either Kuzmic (or Nedovic) is the growing confidence that Schlosser noted: as Hill remarked, the key here is that the D-League gave them an opportunity to get their feet wet in seasons otherwise curtailed by injuries.

"Kuzmic and Nedovic come down here and the amount of confidence that they go back to Golden State with is huge," Hill said when asked about the value of the D-League to the Golden State Warriors. "Obviously, Kuzmic, starting off his first game, I can't tell you what the numbers were, but they weren't good...to go from that in the D-League to helping us win playoff games - scoring 23 and 18 and (close to) 80% from the field - that's what the value of this is. And now as we move into the summer...you'll see guys like Nedo and Kuz be able to approach this with so much more confidence and really kind of focus in on what they need to do to become NBA players."

Every fan hopes that their favorite NBA team's D-League team affiliate will yield a Troy Daniels, who went from D-League star to playoff contributor for the Houston Rockets this past season. Schlosser recounted Daniels' journey shortly after his Rockets were eliminated from the 2014 NBA Playoffs, noting extremely impressive shooting numbers and, of course, the game-winner he hit against the Portland Trailblazers in the first round.

But the fact that Santa Cruz hasn't produced that splashy game-changing talent for Golden State doesn't mean that the entire project is a failure - there's still a chance that Kuzmic and Nedovic could be on a different, albeit slower, path to becoming NBA contributors. By all accounts, the Warriors organization is approaching things the right way.

"You don't see that very often in the D-League," said Hill when asked about what the benefit of the Golden State Warriors' D-League affiliate. "Troy Daniels did (contribute) for Houston and that's a special case and obviously that the ideal situation. But from a development standpoint, I think Golden State is using us about as well as any other D-League affiliate out there and you really have to pay legit attention to us and watch the development from Point A to Point B and then you can really see what the value is. And it's only going to continue to get stronger the more than they utilize the relationship."

The next step is to see if these two show any signs of progress during summer league.

For far more on the Warriors summer league team - including rosters and who Hill will be coaching with - check out our 2014 Warriors Summer League section.

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