Live from Las Vegas: It's NBA Summer League Day 1 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Live from Las Vegas: It’s NBA Summer League Day 1

Updated: July 9, 2016

David Spade tells a story about auditioning for Saturday Night Live. Right before he stepped on stage to face Lorne Michaels, Spade’s friend and then-cast member Dennis Miller told him: “You don’t want to kill too hard, Spudley. It throws up a red flag.”

Miller’s point was that Lorne is not looking for a guy who can confidently win over a crowd with hacky shtick. As Miller put it, “You don’t want to be a polished road act.”

Lorne wants someone raw but with potential, someone who could be a breakout star. The jokes don’t all have to land. He’s looking for that spark that says, “I belong on the big stage.”

NBA Summer League is a lot like those SNL auditions. There are plenty of “polished road acts” in Vegas who can put up big scoring numbers but cannot make an NBA roster. Anthony Randolph, who holds the single-game Summer League scoring record (42), and former Washington Wizards and Summer League MVP Glen Rice, Jr., are but two.

Summer League is not about stats. It’s not about scoring against inferior talent. It’s about demonstrating an elite skill or two. It’s about showing something that says, “I belong in the NBA.”

So, with Dennis Miller’s advice in mind, let’s review a few Vegas auditions from Day 1…

Kris Dunn, Minnesota Timberwolves: Dunn produced the highlight of Day 1—and most likely the highlight of the summer—when he crossed up a Nugget, Jakar Sampson, and made him fall down.

But Dunn was not a one hit wonder. He played like an NBA vet, getting to the rim at will, shaking defenders for fade-away jumpers, and playing tenacious defense.

Dunn’s debut ranks among the best I have seen in nine years of attending the Las Vegas summer league. Fellow lottery pick, Jamal Murray of the Nuggets, was also on the court but was barely noticeable. Dunn is NBA-ready right now, and he was not doing this against standard summer league fare—he went head-to-head versus Emmanuel Mudiay and was up to the challenge.

Thon Maker, Milwaukee Bucks: Thon wasted no time announcing his arrival on the summer league stage. His first two offensive touches lasted about one second each. The first, a rushed jumper while straddling the 3-point line, bricked off the backboard. On the second, Maker stood completely beyond the 3-point arc and launched a more comfortable jumper that caromed off the rim.

Thon is certainly tall with a long reach, but he struggled to take advantage of those attributes on the defensive end. His shot-blocking instincts were uninspiring. Maker picked up several fouls reaching and slapping at shooters’ arms instead of using his full extension to contest from a safe distance. He is also struggled to box out at times and failed to hold onto a few contested rebounds. He has the size, but it remains to be seen whether he has the instincts and strength to be a Bismack Biyombo-like presence in the paint.

On the plus side, Thon runs the floor well and regularly beats his man down the court in transition. He is also comfortable pushing the ball up the floor after rebounds—perhaps a little too comfortable. A perfect microcosm of Thon’s debut occurred with 1:22 left in the third quarter. Maker jumped for a defensive rebound, snatching it out of the air at a height no other player on the court could reach. He turned, put his head down, and dribbled up the floor with the confidence of a young Andray Blatche … only to be picked cleanly shortly after crossing half-court by a guy named Raphiael Putney, who waltzed the other direction for an uncontested dunk.

Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets: Mudiay looks even better than his performance in last year’s summer league, which is to be expected. He went hard after Dunn on offense and showed some nice range on a twisting fade-away baseline jumper. However, the problem with Mudiay remains his long-distance shooting. He can get to the rim easily and has nice vision when he does, but his 3-point shot still is not falling. For Mudiay to take the next step in his sophomore NBA season, he will need to instill some fear in his opponents when he is left open beyond the arc.

Adreian Payne, Minnesota Timberwolves: Still does not pass under any circumstances.

Kay Felder, Cleveland Cavaliers: Cleveland acquired Felder (pick 54) in a draft night trade. He was billed as a scorer and he did not disappoint (14 points, 4-11 FGs). Felder may have some trouble excelling at the NBA level due to his Kevin Hart-like stature, but he had no problem scoring against the Milwaukee Bucks summer league team, including a pretty Steph Curry-esque floater over Thon Maker.

Jimmer Fredette, Denver Nuggets: Jimmer has not evolved much in his five years since graduating from BYU. He showed some nice vision in the paint (6 assists), but his signature long-range shooting was absent (2-for-7 FGs, 0-2 3Ps). His chances of joining another NBA roster are dwindling.

Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets: Harris looked like a guy who knows he belongs in the NBA and was just going through the motions. Which is perfectly fine, I guess.

Day 2 brings the Wizards first summer league game versus Utah at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by the much anticipated Philadelphia Sixers (Ben Simmons) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (Brandon Ingram) matchup at 8:30.


Adam Rubin on EmailAdam Rubin on Twitter
Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.