2013 NBA Summer League Look-Back, Side B: Reporting from the Ground in Vegas
Adam Rubin has been to the Vegas summer league six times before as a fan, but this year was his first affiliated with TAI (he also caught a glimpse of Kwame Brown’s summer league debut at the 2001 Shaw’s Pro Summer League in Boston—Kwame made the all-league team with Raja Bell, Jumaine Jones, Dion Glover, and Joe Johnson).
And this time around, TAI’s Sean Fagan was a summer league virgin but had been to Las Vegas before on business. Below, each of us provide of impressions of the basketball and beyond from the ground level. Visit this link for the full arrangement of TAI summer league coverage.
1) Grade the following players in a few sentences: Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton, Otto Porter, Glen Rice, Jr.
A >> So now we know what Jan Vesely is capable of when he isn’t being whistled for every ticky-tack foul known to man. The results were impressive. However, what remains to be seen is whether the Jan Vesely we saw in Summer League can be incorporated into a working NBA offense and remain competitive against stiffer competition. Vesely has “graduated” from the Summer League, however, he has yet to officially earn his NBA diploma. —Sean Fagan (@McCarrick)
C-minus >> The nice things he did can be written off as successes against smaller/younger/less experienced (read: summer league) talent. His mistakes and bad habits, unfortunately, were familiar to anyone who has watched his career to date in Washington. His tendency to get outmuscled in the paint, his susceptibility to pump fakes, his lack of a post game or a midrange game, his struggles at the foul line, his inability to control rebounds/loose balls in traffic, and his lack of confidence were all on display in Vegas. —Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace)
B-plus >> Past the level of competition, past the level of play, past the minor window of context, by far the most important thing Jan Vesely could have showed at this year’s Summer League was confidence. Draining multiple fading jumpers out of the post helped him pass that test and more. Vesely’s lack of strength still got exposed at times, but that will only make him tougher. The next, more important test: EuroBasket 2013. —Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It)
D >> Where did it all go? The frenetic defense, the ball-hawking and pell-mell style that made Chris Singleton a college standout? Instead, Singleton’s performance was a series of flat jumpers and disengagement on the both the offensive and defensive end that makes you question his future in the NBA. The Wizards brass cannot be happy with Singleton’s inability to assert himself on a stage that appears to be ideally situated to his strengths. —Sean Fagan (@McCarrick)
D >> A player fighting for a spot in the rotation can use summer league to showcase an expanded skill set to his current coach and GM, or, failing that, as an audition for other coaches and GMs who might take a flier on him if that team’s front office lets him go. If Singleton is going to have an NBA career, it needs to be as a defensive specialist who can guard wing players and hit the corner
3. Singleton did not show any of those abilities, despite being one of the most experienced players in Vegas. —Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace)
C >> Singleton’s increased and more calculated aggression this summer got lost amidst the general disappointment of his career to-date. In Vegas, he made a point to rebound and tried to throw his strength around against the lesser-experienced. Singleton also looked to push the ball after boards but struggled to keep himself from fading on jumpers. But he still seems to lack the intensity required of elite defenders. —Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It)
N/A >> Otto Porter did not set the world on fire in Summer League. However, I won’t be so bold to say that his lack of impact (before injury) was auspicious enough one way or the other to make a comment on his future success. I can’t see the Wizards rushing Porter to crack the starting rotation, based on the limited sample size I witnessed. —Sean Fagan (@McCarrick)
B-minus >> It was immediately clear that Porter’s game is not suited to the role he was given in Vegas. Sam Cassell and the rest of the staff clearly wanted to see what they have in Porter, and he was often asked to be the primary scorer in a lineup that lacked secondary options. He looked uncomfortable in that role. That would be more of a red flag if scoring were what Porter is expected to provide for the (regular season) Wizards. He showed an aptitude for passing and defending, which is what the Wizards needed to see, at a minimum. The jumper and the running half hooks remain a work in progress. —Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace)
Repeat Grade >> I’m very curious to see what Porter’s learning curve will be this season, especially since “just learning” was his go-to phrase at summer league and times thereafter. I guess it’s good that Otto is now out of Georgetown’s system and getting acclimated to the NBA. His education has time to sink in, but if Porter’s not considered one of the top 10 rookies by mid-January, there could be major issues. —Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It)
A >> I will go out on a limb and say that Glen Rice, Jr. will receive more playing time than Otto Porter this season. Rice looked polished, poised and ready to be an immediate contributor as an eighth man. For those who have been screaming for the Wizards to draft “NBA ready” players rather than projects for years, they should immediately put down a down payment for their Glen Rice, Jr. jerseys. —Sean Fagan (@McCarrick)
B-plus >> Rice demonstrated a scorer’s mindset and the ability to create for himself. Considering the guards that Rice was playing with, that skill came in handy. He did not score efficiently, but his shot selection was not bad and he generally stayed within the team concept. His D-League experience showed, and he looked comfortable playing against bigger, stronger, and older players. He appeared to be an NBA-level talent who might help the Wizards this season, which is all you can ask for from a second-rounder. —Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace)
B-plus >> I can’t keep saying how impressed I was with Rice’s rebounding ability. It makes me more excited about him than I ever was about Nick Young. Added bonus is Rice’s diverse scoring ability—range from 3, midrange around screens, and the ever-so-necessary floater. He still has a long way to go before he grows into a mistake-free veteran role, but hopefully his attention to the game keeps him on track. —Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It)
2) Grade three other players you saw in Vegas.
[Note: The 2013 All-Summer League Team: Kent Bazemore (Golden State), Jeff Taylor (Charlotte), John Henson (Milwaukee), Cody Zeller (Charlotte), and Jonas Valanciuns (Toronto).]
Sean Fagan (@McCarrick):
Shabazz Muhammed, Timberwolves >> F
Outplayed by Othyus Jeffers. Lost in the offense. A complete ball hog. Methinks Flip Saunders might be having Andray/JaVale flashbacks in a few months.
Cody Zeller, Bobcats >> A
Michael Jordan finally dumb-lucked his way into a solid draft pick. Zeller had the biggest impact of all the draft picks in Vegas. This may be in large part due to the fact that almost the entire Bobcats starting lineup was playing in Vegas. Or it could be simply due to the fact that even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Archie Goodwin, Suns >> B
Now this guy was just pure fun. On a bad team that will bear watching for Maryland alumni via Alex Len, Kentucky’s Archie Goodwin might become a sneaky League Pass watch throughout the year.
Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace):
Cody Zeller, Bobcats >> A
Zeller gave Bobcats GM Rich Cho plenty of ammunition to respond to critics for using the No. 4 pick on him, of which there were many. He showed himself to be a capable scorer in the post (with both hands) and from the perimeter if left open. His basketball pedigree was on full display. He dispelled some of the concerns about a lack of athleticism, although concerns about his frame appeared justified. But he’s only 20.
Hamady N’Diaye, Mavericks >> C-plus
As a young Washington fan sitting near me during a Mavs game noted, Hamady was fun to watch. Not because he was any good, but because he embodied what makes summer league special: the guys that are playing for their careers, their lives and the dream of playing in the NBA. He was focused, extremely attentive when listening to his coaches (he was the only player that turned his head on the bench to hear what the coaches had to say) and played with all his heart. And you know what, he was not that bad. He is an asset as a defender. There will always be a place in the league for a 7-footer who can capably defend the rim. On the Mavericks Summer League team, however, N’diaye got far more opportunities to touch the ball on offense than he should have. He may be the most one-dimensional player in the NBA. And Bismack Biyombo is not that far behind.
Kent Bazemore, Warriors >> A-plus
Bazemore was the face of a Warriors summer league team that wowed observers with its defense and intensity. The Warriors organization has touted a commitment to defense, and Bazemore showed that the message has been received by the rank-and-file. Bazemore, who signed a two-year contract with Golden State in the 2012 summer, surely opened the eyes of rival GMs. Jonas Valanciunas was impressive and showed himself ready to join the conversation about the league’s next generation of great centers, but nobody did more than Bazemore to help his team win this summer. To top it all off, he provided summer league fans with a highlight reel dunk, which earns him a “plus” next to his well-deserved “A.”
Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It):
Dwight Buycks, Raptors >> A-minus
It’s easy for a quick guard like Buycks to make an impression in summer league, or so goes the theory with the style of play. But Buycks hit the boards, wasn’t afraid of the paint (where, as previously outlined, it gets kind of dangerous), and he commanded control of Toronto’s offense while taking care of the ball.
Thomas Robinson, Blazers >> B-plus
Sometimes the whispers around Vegas seemed true. That there’s a good reason why Thomas Robinson, the 2012 fifth overall draft pick, is already on his third team. Gradually, he threw his weight around the court and showed flashes of the talent and intensity against the other kids at summer league that he showed at Kansas. But don’t expect Robinson to turn into a star, at least not for several seasons. Meaning, Wizards fans can continue to be very glad they drafted Bradley Beal instead.
Jordan Hamilton, Nuggets >> B
Hamilton didn’t play against the Wizards because of a death in the family, but otherwise, he showed more flashes of promise than not. He was almost like a poor-man’s Paul George—I think—displaying range, the ability to get to the basket, and a willingness to pass. The 26th overall draft pick in 2011, however, still needs to improve his decision-making by great strides if he ever wants to be special.
3) What’s the best part about attending Summer League in Las Vegas?
Sean Fagan (@@McCarrick): If you are in any way an NBA fan who watches more than your local team, you have to attend Summer League. The level of access to the players, coaches and HOF-ers is unprecendented and unmatched by any other sport. You want to see if Clyde Frazier is keeping up his Just for Men? Go to Summer League. You want to see Metta World Peace suddenly stroll into a gym without an entourage and sit down next to you to catch a game? Go to Summer League. You want to hear Patrick Ewing annoying scream “BANG BANG” for two hours… you get the picture.
Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace): Access to coaches, players, and GMs in the stands at Thomas & Mack. There is no higher concentration of league insiders, and the high temperatures in Vegas means most people are in shorts and golf shirts. People in shorts and golf shirts are willing to talk with ordinary fans.
Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It): Knowing that something is always going. Have you spent all day in a gym (11:30 am to just past 9 pm normally) and still want to do something? Vegas is for you. Yea, you’re tired. But bleary, computer screen eyes and the constant buzz of basketballs in a well-air conditioned venue makes you yearn for people-watching (celeb spotting) and the availability of just about anything 24-hours per day… all in the comfort of a warm, desert night.
Are you a night-owl, basketball junkie? Where else better could you imagine? Coming from the East Coast is ideal. You actually want your body’s clock thrown off by the time you land in Vegas in the middle of the night. If you’re going to immerse yourself in days without a clock, that’s the way to go. The best part about attending Summer League in Las Vegas is Las Vegas. You don’t need to be a sinner, you don’t need to go out every night (pace yourself) … sometimes all you need is basketball all day blanketed by the constant buzz of active humanity.
4) What was your ‘most Vegas’ moment? (Could be on-campus or off-campus of UNLV.)
Sean Fagan (@McCarrick): Descending an elevator one night—out a bit past when I should have been—when my boss and editor turned to me and stated, simply, “That’s Sean Marks.” Now one would imagine that this isn’t a world-shattering observation. Sean Marks doesn’t exactly rate on the scale of celebrity that a LeBron or Kobe would entail. However, what made the entire thing surreal was that as we spotted Marks from a safe distance, three young men stopped in their tracks and screamed out, “SEAN FUCKING MARKS!” and corralled the man from New Zealand for picture. Only in Vegas and only at Summer League would you find more than five people who know Sean Marks and would be genuinely giddy to see him in a casino.
Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace): Riding in the elevator with Bernie Bickerstaff, thanking him for leading the Bullets to the 1997 playoffs, and reminiscing about Webber, Juwan, Rod, Calbert and Tracy Murray. Then seeing Tracy Murray walk by two minutes later.
Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It): Sneaking dehydration. Growing up in the Deep South, on the Gulf Coast to be exact, and then living in the marsh-like territory of D.C. since age 10, I can fully tell you that hot humidity is often worse than a dry heat. That said, my opinion has long underestimated how the desert heat can dry you out when you don’t even know it, and how Vegas can compound the issue with its grand investments in air conditioning. When you’re dumping alcohol, the convenience of fatty foods, and splashes of water in a body already thrown off-kilter, you find yourself in a perpetual state of inauthentic being, triggered by flashing lights, dings, and heavy, hot air. It’s enough to make one loopy, which is very Las Vegas. Enjoy it because it’s different, I say.
5) Is Las Vegas a good venue for summer league? (Keeping in mind that Grantland’s Zach Lowe, who was also in Vegas, wrote this in a recent piece:”The second-most common question executives put to me in Las Vegas: ‘Man, how much do you hate this city? Can we move summer league?’ “)
Sean Fagan (@McCarrick): When Zach Lowe relayed that most executives wanted to get Summer League out of Vegas, it didn’t surprise me in the slightest. My argument for the best part of Summer League (the access) is probably what executives, coaches and the PR staff dread most. In a league that is increasingly becoming more tight-lipped about its processes and more “NFLy” in the way it protects its video and stat-tracking, limiting and controlling access is the name of the game. In the freewheeling nature of Summer League, where any fan can spot a superstar on their way to an “adult” establishment, the lack of control must be terrifying. Better to have it in a place like Orlando where everything is spread out, you can sequester the players offsite, and Mickey rules all. But that wouldn’t be the NBA, and it wouldn’t be Summer League. So methinks it will be in Vegas for the long run.
Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace): Moving summer league out of Vegas would dramatically change the dynamic for fans. The city’s isolation means that the Thomas & Mack Center is populated by only diehards. New York, Chicago and Los Angeles would attract teams and players (obviously more so than Orlando, which draws only 10 teams). But moving summer league to a large market would open the doors to a different strain of NBA fans and make the players and league executives far less accessible. The cancellation of the Rocky Mountain Revue in Utah demonstrated that summer league has to be held in a tourism-friendly location to attract teams and fans. So if the largest markets lack the intimacy that makes Vegas unique, and smaller markets cannot attract teams and fans, then where do you go? Miami comes to mind.
Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It): Executives get paid to build teams, fire coaches, and talk in circles around the media. So screw what the executives think. Basketball is entertainment and Las Vegas is an entertaining city. Where else would you hold summer league? To Adam Rubin’s point, a larger media market would add a frenzied feel to the event and would dilute the authenticity of fans in attendance. Utah? Boring. Orlando? Trashy. The main Amway Center would be cavernous compared to UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center. And the Amway Center practice court, where the Orlando summer league was held, looks like a crackerjack box compared to the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas. It’s not just about two adjacent gyms, but also about how the pair contributes to the atmosphere.
There is also proximity to consider. The venue on the campus of UNLV is barely two miles off the Vegas Strip, where there’s a concentration of hotels, restaurants and entertainment of various sorts like no place else in the United States. A team wanting less distractions can always stay in a casino-less hotel; the Wizards stayed at the Mandarin Oriental, which is right on the Strip, over the last two summers. Also, the famed Impact Basketball gym, where a virtual who’s who of the league has trained, is located in Vegas, which can’t hurt in terms of centralized location and venue relations.
If the NBA wants to continue its ever-increasing brand, there is no place like home, and home is in Nevada. (That is, unless, Adam Silver aims to have summer league somewhere abroad to boost global marketing, which I could totally see him doing to continue the legacy of David Stern… in which case, the executives would complain even more, and so would the media.)
Bonus: Anything else you have to say about the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League?
Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace):
1. New short sleeve uniforms. A few teams wore them. They are awful. Apparently, adidas is pushing them to increase retail jersey sales. Nobody will buy them, except for people who go clubbing in tight V-neck T-shirts. Those guys will love them.
2. Neon shoes. The Morris twins were the most notable proponents of the new fashion trend, but several others followed suit. This seems like the kind of individuality shenanigans that David Stern will stamp out with a pre-season edict.
Double-Bonus: Al Harrington!
Harrington was walking around summer league wearing jean shorts, a USA-themed tank top, and was pushing a baby stroller, which may or may not have contained a baby. When he saw newly signed Atlanta Hawk Paul Millsap, he got excited and said something to the effect of, “P-Mizzle, you got to give me some cash.”
Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It):
In 2012, I wished that everyone’s Twitter handle hovered over their head like magic—and I still do—but at least at this past Summer League, the name tag was introduced for everyone, from media to front office personnel, to scouts (names were on access passes, so they had to be worn at all times for the most part). The recognition was very valuable to media-types such as myself.
In general, the crew that runs Summer League has continually stepped up their game and this past season did an excellent job of running a tight ship. The event really couldn’t be what it is without their seamlessness.
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