2014 NBA Summer League Round-Up: Non-Wizards Edition
[TAI’s Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace) has made a pilgrimage to the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas for several years now. Today, Rubin provides his non-Wizards observations from this summer’s affair.]The 2014 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas was not just about Otto Porter and Glen Rice, Jr. (although for Wizards fans, it sort of was). With 24 NBA teams playing 67 games in 11 days, there was a lot of basketball to be seen.
For any die-hard NBA fan who has never attended summer league, it is hard to explain what you are missing. Las Vegas in July is like an NBA Disneyland. It’s like every poster on your childhood wall and your NBA Twitter feed have spontaneously sprung to life.
It’s where you go to a 24/7 diner on the strip for eggs at 1:00 a.m. and look up to see Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond walk in. It’s where you go out to a taco place after watching Glen Rice, Jr. drop 22 points on the Timberwolves—and when you arrive Glen Rice, Jr. is already in line in front of you. It’s where you walk out of your hotel room and Fran Fraschilla passes by with a nod and a smile. It’s where you walk into a dive bar at midnight and run into Randy Wittman and the entire Wizards’ front office. It’s where Patrick Ewing is a real life head coach. It’s where you watch Andrew Wiggins play while debating the merits of a Kevin Love trade, then realize you are sitting next to Flip Saunders and Milt Newton.
With so much off-court stimuli—“Hey, there’s Michael Ruffin”—the actual games can sometimes take a back seat. But with so much talent on hand in Vegas this year, there was no shortage of excitement on the floor. Without further ado, here are eight players who broke through the summer league noise and caught my attention.
Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers.
The pre-draft scouting report on Wiggins was fairly accurate. His athleticism is off the charts. His much hyped 360-degree behind-the-back warm-up dunk was effortless and sent a buzz through the packed Cox Pavilion crowd. He is built like Tracy McGrady and has tremendous defensive instincts, especially when coming from off-the-ball to block a shot. But his offense is a work in progress. He too often bailed out his defender by taking long pull-up jumpers, most of which did not go in. It was by no means a dominant summer league performance, as evidenced by the fact that Wiggins failed to make the All-NBA Summer League first or second teams. In fact, Wiggins disappeared for long stretches during games. But Wiggins certainly has the undefined “it” factor, that feeling that something special could happen any time he touches it. You just got the feeling that Wiggins only scratched the surface of his potential in Vegas.
If the Cavs really are willing to offer Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, and a future pick for Kevin Love, the Timberwolves would be crazy to wait for a better offer. Speaking of Bennett…
Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers.
This was the most disconcerting development in Vegas for Wizards fans: Bennett looks like a new player. He lost some weight, gained some quickness, improved his ball handling, and had no shortage of confidence. Bennett was running the floor well and finishing drives with dunks. He was crossing up big men and dishing assists. He was catching and shooting from all over the floor. But he is still in love with the 3-point line. Bennett could not help himself from jacking 3-pointers any time he touched the ball behind the arc. Only San Antonio’s Austin Daye showed less of a
conscience from deep.
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers.
The biggest disappointment of summer league was three DNPs for Noel. I was looking forward to torturing myself by watching every second of Noel’s games and then resisting the urge to run up to Ernie Grunfeld yelling, “Why? Why?”
The good news for Wizards fans is that Otto Porter looked much improved in Vegas (although his inability to stay in front of summer league talent on defense was a bit disconcerting). The bad news is that in Noel’s limited minutes,
he looked every bit as good as advertised on defense. Noel roamed the defensive end of the floor like a lion stalking his prey. When the ball was on the opposite side of the court, he barely paid attention to his man. Most likely this was because he was covering summer league big man fodder (Jack Cooley, anyone?) and knew he could easily recover if the ball was thrown his way.
Whenever the ball was in striking distance, Noel attacked. He has great timing on blocks but also keeps his hands active against smaller ball handlers, helping him poke the ball away several times. He had a block and a steal within 45 seconds after I walked into the gym.
Noel’s offense is a work in progress but he is much farther along than I expected (my expectation, by the way, was a middle-class man’s Bismack Biyombo). He hit a 15-foot jumper and a nice hook and showed quickness around the rim. He is not going to make his money on the offensive end, but he is far from a one-dimensional defensive specialist.
It would be unbelievable to have Noel running with John Wall and Bradley Beal for the next four years on a rookie-scale contract and to have the flexibility to offer Noel in a package for a superstar who shall not be named in a couple years. Sorry, I promised myself I wouldn’t do this… Otto looks just fine and maybe Noel’s summer league DNPs are more serious than Sixers’ management has let on.
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks.
With Joel Embiid’s injury, the competition for the overall No. 1 pick was between Wiggins and Parker. If summer league is any indication, Cleveland made the correct choice. It’s not that Parker was disappointing. He showed a wide array of offensive skills. He finished well at the rim with both hands and has pretty good post moves. But even Jabari admitted after his fourth game that he was having trouble getting clean looks at the basket. He blamed his inefficiency on poor spacing. Parker said that he needs the ball in spots where he can see the help defender approaching but that his teammates kept crowding him: “A lot of times other guys on my team brought the defender over and I need a little bit more space to be able to operate.”
Jabari did not sound too concerned with his less-than-stellar play in Vegas, so far be it from me to raise any red flags. It also did not help that Giannis Antetokounmpo was running the point for the Milwaukee Bucks and was treating summer league like his own personal playground.Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks.
Giannis was pound-for-pound the most impressive player in Vegas. I do not care what the numbers say, Giannis was a monster. He has grown at least an inch and has greatly improved his ball handling and post moves. The Bucks were not joking about trying him at point guard. In one of the most entertaining games of summer league, Giannis was matched up against Dante Exum of the Utah Jazz. He had no trouble staying in front of Exum and wreaked havoc in the passing lanes at the top of the key. On two occasions Giannis stole a cross-court pass that seemed 12 feet high by casually unfurling his go-go gadget arms and snatching the ball out of the air. It was the only time I heard “oohs and aahs” from the crowd for a defensive play that was not a block—and he did it twice within five minutes. Just watch these highlights. Antetokounmpo is my early favorite for most improved player.
Dante Exum, Utah Jazz.
The Australian mystery man finally made his debut in Las Vegas and he did not disappoint. Exum’s NBA-level talent was immediately apparent. He is a true point guard and an incredibly gifted passer. He is very smooth with the ball and can get into the lane with ease. When he does, his first instinct is to set up his teammates, as opposed to forcing a shot. His ability to place passes in the perfect position for his teammates to catch and shoot was reminiscent of LeBron and demonstrates his high basketball IQ. He also excelled at the pick-and-roll. If it worked with Rudy Gobert, I imagine he will have no problem converting with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. In short, Exum looked real good in his debut.
The one disappointment was that Jazz summer league coach Brad Jones insisted on playing Trey Burke at point guard and Exum at shooting guard when they were on the court together. As a result, Exum was relegated to a spot-up shooter for long stretches. Although his outside shot is a work in progress, he is much farther along than, say, John Wall at the same age. Nevertheless, it seems clear from his limited summer league play that Exum needs the ball in his hands to be effective, and that he is a much more gifted facilitator than Trey Burke.
Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls.
In his opening game, McDermott had difficulty creating separation on his jumpers and struggled with double-teams. He also failed to stay in front of his man on defense, giving up some easy baskets. McDermott finished 2-for-8 (2-for-5 3FG) for 10 points in 31 minutes, and I was a little concerned that we may be dealing with a Jimmer Fredette situation. But McDermott erased any such fears with his play during the rest of the week. He settled down on offense and lit up Vegas for 31 and 20 points, respectively, in his next two games, shooting a combined 9-of-16 from 3-point range. McDermott has a quick release and plenty of range to spare. If he can crack Thibodeau’s rotation he should be in line for a healthy dose of uncontested 3-pointers this season. After all, if Mike Dunleavy, Jr. can be a useful 3-point specialist in Thibodeau’s system, then McDermott should be able to carve out a niche as well.
Of course, McDermott’s minutes will likely be more dependent on his defense than his offense. While he showed some defensive tenacity in Vegas—even recording a few blocks—it is still unclear where McDermott will line up on the defensive end. He appears too slow to guard small forwards and too small to guard power forwards. Then again, so does Dunleavy.
McDermott sat out Chicago’s fifth and final summer league game but he still managed enough votes from the media to be selected to the All-NBA Summer League first team. While I cannot say I agree with the selection, McDermott certainly had an impressive NBA debut.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz.
There were not many players in Vegas whose presence on the court was more noticeable than Rudy Gobert. Before summer league, for most NBA fans, Gobert was the guy who measured a standing vertical reach of 9-foot-7 at the 2013 combine. In two games during the opening weekend, Gobert showed what it looks like when potential on paper begins to develop into something more useful. When he was on the floor, Utah’s perimeter defenders could over-play passing lanes and go over screens because Gobert’s nearly eight-foot wingspan gave them confidence that any mistakes would be erased near the rim. He welcomed Jabari Parker to the NBA by emphatically swatting three shots in the paint that would have been easy conversions in the ACC.
What made Gobert stand out from some of the stiffer seven-footers in Vegas was his improved athleticism. He showed good hands and quick twitch leaping ability. He also showed a good feel for the game. Utah involved him in their pick-and-roll offense and he was able to move his feet to get in good screening position. Gobert averaged 11.8 points on 73.1 percent shooting, most of which came on put-back dunks. He also added 9.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game, and he altered countless other shots. Outside of Pam McGee, there may be no one in or around the NBA who is more excited than Gobert about JaVale McGee’s four-year, $44 million contract.
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