Top Six Things to Look for at NBA Summer League 2013, Wizards Style
As I get ready to catch a flight from D.C. (BWI, to be exact) to Las Vegas, let’s do this… -KW
#6) Sam Cassell & Don Newman.
Normally, per team policy, assistant coaches are forbidden from speaking with the media. Comcast SportsNet is one exception, in that sideline report Chris Miller is often able to speak with a designated assistant coach at halftime during television coverage of games. Sometimes you’ll see a Sam Cassell quote pop up in a story unrelated to the team, but Cassell usually isn’t the designated halftime speaker. So quite often, the NBA world is deprived from hearing the lore of one of the NBA’s truly mythological creatures.
NBA Summer League is a different story. With Cassell serving as a co-head coach this summer (Cassell also led the Wiz Kids during two previous SL efforts in 2010 and 2012), what happens, or what is said, in Vegas can be broadcast to the rest of the world.
So, per usual, I will particularly look forward to getting Cassell’s officially sanctioned perspective in Vegas, and also hearing from his coaching cohort, fellow assistant Don Newman (whom I imagine might also be made available to media inquiry). Both might offer some different insights on the direction of this Wizards franchise moves forward, especially Newman who was with the San Antonio Spurs franchise prior to last season.
#5) Sundiata Gaines, veteran point of little chance but much consequence.
At the end of Day 1 on mini-camp, Randy Wittman told his players that he doesn’t like guards who dribble the ball. He wants his points to advance the rock up the court as fast as possible, which often means a good outlet pass, then a strategic dish ahead (and if nothing is available, a push with the dribble). The plan is to initiate the offense—quickly. Much of these duties will fall on the shoulders of Sundiata Gaines, who will be one of the more veteran players in Las Vegas. He spent four years at the University of Georgia from 2004 to 2008, has played in 113 NBA games with four different teams (Utah, Minnesota, Toronto, and New Jersey), and has also spent time playing in Georgia, the country, as well as China. In other words, Gaines is a good, steady, experienced presence to have around all the other Wiz Kids. (He also probably realizes that his performance is likely an audition for somewhere else; Gaines’ chances of making the Wizards next season are slim-to-none.)
Still, Gaines’ first ever NBA 3-pointer was a buzzer beater as a member of the Utah Jazz to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers (and LeBron James) in front of a national television audience on TNT. So that can’t hurt.
#4) Glen Rice, Jr.’s confidence.
Bradley Beal may call Glen Rice, Jr. “country,” but that country comes with a swagger. Chris Singleton is familiar with Rice from their high school days in Georgia, saying they always went at each other when Singleton was a sophomore and Rice was a freshman (different schools). “Oh, Rice has never been shy…,” said Singleton on Monday.
Well, time to show what that confidence is all about. Ernie Grunfeld on Thursday said that the Wizards had Rice ranked as a first round talent. I think he could be a sleeper for summer league M.V.P. (or at least first team honors). We will see, indeed.
Let’s watch Rice speak from mini-camp on Monday:
#3) Otto Porter… quiet or loud?
Yes, this summer league is also important for the highest 2013 draft pick who will be playing in Vegas (actually, only five of the top 15 picks will suit up on the campus of UNLV), but on the Wiz Kids, Otto Porter’s gotta get in line.
Bovada.lv didn’t put out any odds on summer league performances, but I’d bet that Porter shows up in a big way. The style of play will be conducive to Porter scoring a lot just by being a smart basketball player—cutting, slashing, and simple moves off the dribble once defenses respect his jumper. Also, the running. After time-spent bogged down at Georgetown, Porter is ready to run “like his high school days,” he says.
Plus, one of Ernie Grunfeld’s talking points as he hit the media circuit on Thursday was about Porter playing some 2 guard in mini-camp, and how the Wizards were pleased with his ability to bring the ball up the court. Now, this doesn’t mean Otto is going to steal the 2 spot from Bradley Beal (or anyone else) any time soon. It’s means that summer league is a good opportunity to try to accelerate Porter’s ball-handling skills. The Orlando Magic are performing a similar exercise with second overall pick Victor Oladipo; the traditional swing guard has seen some action at point in the Orlando Summer League to get him more comfortable with the ball and initiating the offense.
The meek Otto at the mic:
#2) Chris Singleton… what/who/how is he?
The answer is that there is no answer.
On Monday, I asked Singleton, considering his play last summer when he tried to be more assertive off the dribble (it didn’t always work out), if he once again looked to establish himself in the same way this summer. He said:
“Yes, as a 3, you always want to be able to take your man off the dribble. So whenever, I get a chance, I’m always going to attack. That’s something that I learned coming from my rookie year to my second year, I got to be aggressive all the time.”
But, as we well know, Singleton saw a lot of minutes at the 4 spot last season. Per 82games.com, 17 percent of all Washington’s minutes at the PF position were consumed by Singleton. So with John Wall professing his desire for a “stretch-4” earlier this summer, and with Ernie Grunfeld generally proclaiming that they think they already have someone on the roster who can fill that role, I asked Singleton if he might be one of those options.
“Yes, definitely think I can fill the role, but I gotta make sure my jump shot is consistent to be out there on the floor for him. If not, we’ll get somebody else.”
Interesting way to end that, but yea, Singleton is right… it’s all about his jump shot. And Chris knows this, admitting that sometimes confidence was a factor last season, but mostly saying that he rushed his shot too much. “When I took my time, I made 56 percent of my shots,” he claimed. (Maybe he said “50-to-60 percent” … hard to tell when listening again; either way.) Singleton says that, after watching film on himself, that he needs to jump forward and keep his follow-through up.
“If I just stay in my shot, most of my shots will go in,” he claims. Let’s hope so.
Chris has the stage, one of them:
#1) Can Jan Vesely get big in the paint?
Guess what, Jan… you wanna play the 3 spot? Well, how about some center in Vegas? Because you’re going to see a lot of it.
It’s appropriate that Vesely values playing in EuroBasket for his Czech Republic more than summer league. But here in ‘Merica, 2011’s sixth overall pick needs to show that he’s tough, physically and mentally. (And it would be nice if Vesely could use Vegas as a stepping stone for a strong performance at EuroBasket in Slovenia.) This 2013 summer league could not be more important for anyone else.
Josh Boone, a veteran of four NBA seasons—he last played with the Nets in 2009-10—is ripe of age, but was cut from the squad on Thursday. CSN Washington’s Ben Standig reported that the former UCONN player experienced issues with his knee during mini-camp. I was interested in seeing Boone play. He has a decent defensive reputation, is fairly efficient, and is looking to bounce back into the league. Had he been able to play for the Wizards in Vegas, it might have be reasonable to assume that Boone could have gotten a training camp invite. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
And while there are other players capable of playing center for Washington in Nevada, this is Jan Vesely’s chance to be king of the court and finally show Wizards fans back in D.C. something they can be proud of—or at least something that won’t make them angry.
We know one thing: whether at 5 or 4 or maybe even 3 (doubt it), Vesely will have plenty of room to release and test that jumper of his… Because sometimes in Vegas, it’s all about the shots you don’t take.