NBA Summer League 2013: 6 Takeaways from Wednesday's Las Vegas Action

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 18, 2013

NBA Summer League 2013: 6 Takeaways from Wednesday's Las Vegas Action

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    Rather than force teams to assess their draft hauls and potential roster fillers in five glorified exhibitions, the NBA came up with a novel idea for the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League.

    The league gave meaning to final (and quarter) scores, assigning a point value to each scoreboard reading. This, of course, led to an inevitable balancing act for players seeking strong individual showings to further (or start) their pro careers while also needing selfless play to prolong their team's Las Vegas stay. 

    The merits of this move aren't up for debate here. All you need to know is that starting with Wednesday's six-game slate, the Entertainment Capital of the World is no longer hosting ridiculously competitive pickup games.

    Playoff hoops have now arrived in Sin City.

    The teams that took the hardwood on Wednesday night were the 12 ones not fortunate enough to secure a top-10 seed through the first three games.

    Some looked like they were fighting for their playoff lives. Others looked more like a collection of individuals bound only by the names on the front of their jerseys, hoping to draw the most attention to the letters written on their backs.

    It wasn't quite win-or-go-home Wednesdaythe losers were guaranteed a one-game appearance in the consolation roundbut it was the chance for organizations to see how their players performed with a tangible reward attached to the final score.

    Read on to find out which teams reaped that reward and which ones are now forced to wrap their heads around the thought of a consolation-round summer league game.

Denver Nuggets Found Gold in a Familiar Place

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    Jordan Hamilton's basketball story still has plenty of unwritten chapters, but it feels like the beginning has been unnecessarily sad.

    After a strong sophomore season at the University of Texas (18.6 points per game, 44.0 field-goal percentage), he threw his name into the 2011 NBA draft. Despite having good size (6'8", 228 pounds), strength and NBA range, the lottery hopeful slipped all the way to the 26th pick of the opening round.

    A draft-day trade sent him from the Dallas Mavericks to the Denver Nuggets, where he's since been stuck behind a well-stocked perimeter core and stunted by George Karl's reluctance to ride his young guns.

    Hamilton, by the way, is the only Denver youngster Karl admitted he could have played more during the coach's exit interview with The Denver Post's Benjamin Hochman.

    That's why Hamilton finds himself back in Las Vegas, a three-year veteran still trapped on the summer league circuit. He should have already moved beyond this stage; his eye-opening career per-36-minute averages suggest he already has: 17.8 points and 8.6 rebounds.

    On Wednesday, he looked like he didn't belong inside Cox Pavilion. And the no-longer-winless Nuggets are glad that he didn't.

    Active and productive, Hamilton's 23 points propelled the Nuggets to an 87-82 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. His shooting range was evident throughout his 24-minute run as he drilled 8-of-14 from the field and 4-of-7 from downtown.

    Karl's no longer stalking the Pepsi Center sidelines; noted player development whiz Brian Shaw has taken his place. Andre Iguodala, now a Golden State Warrior, has also moved out of Hamilton's way.

    His first two outings (7.5 points on 22.7 percent shooting) this summer left him potentially staring at another long season. This could be his first step toward permanently pushing those days behind him and finally moving on to the next chapter.

Less Is More for Shabazz Muhammad

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    From the moment the Orlando Magic grabbed do-it-all guard Victor Oladipo with the No. 2 pick of the 2013 NBA draft, it seemed that the team was ready to experiment with him at the point guard spot.

    The Minnesota Timberwolves took a far more narrow approach when they ended Shabazz Muhammad's draft-night slide at No. 14. Muhammad is one of the best scoring threats from this rookie class, but scouts had long ago pegged him as a one-trick pony.

    Through the Timberwolves' first three games, even that trick failed to impress the Las Vegas crowd. His strongest offensive showing had been an eight-point outing (on 33 percent field-goal shooting) in Minnesota's two-point loss to the Phoenix Suns on Monday.

    But the lid was finally lifted off of the rim on Wednesday for the former UCLA Bruin, whose only struggle during Minnesota's 92-54 rout of the Sacramento Kings was getting shots up quickly enough.

    He launched 10 of them during his 20 minutes of action, hitting six from the field and 3-of-4 from downtown for a team-high 17 points. He even tracked down four rebounds, his most productive game on the glass so far.

    In a game that was decided shortly after the opening tip—Minnesota had a 49-23 lead at halftime—even the Timberwolves' reserves had their moments in the spotlight. Demetri McCamey (15 points), Lorenzo Brown (11) and Brandon Paul (10) all delivered when they were called upon.

    But Muhammad's outburst was what the Timberwolves had been waiting to see. If Minnesota's lottery pick is going to be a factor in his rookie season, he'll do so by staying in his lane and scoring points in bunches.

Portland's Well-Traveled Glass Cleaner

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    For the second time in as many nights, the Portland Trail Blazers showed off their generosity.

    After a crushing 80-78 overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, Portland once again handed out free basketball to the appreciative Las Vegas fans. This time around, the Trail Blazers gave themselves more than just a pat on the back for their charitable donation.

    Thanks to Will Barton's jumper with 9.3 seconds left in the extra session, the Trail Blazers escaped the opening round with a 70-69 win over the Atlanta Hawks. 

    Barton and his starting backcourt mate C.J. McCollum combined for 35 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in Portland's first win of the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League. If not for the work of 22-year-old lottery-pick-turned-journeyman Thomas Robinson, though, the Trail Blazers would be scouting their consolation-round opponent right now.

    Robinson, the No. 5 pick of the 2012 draft, grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds to go along with his 13 points. Gaudy totals on the glass seem to be second nature for the former Kansas Jayhawk, who's now increased his summer league rebounding average to 13.3.

    The 6'9" power forward is still searching for efficient offense; he's shooting just 37.5 percent in Las Vegas, which might help explain why he's already suiting up for his third different NBA team.

    If he keeps filling his rebounding totals like plates at the casino buffet line, though, he's an incredibly valuable asset for a Portland team that was all too eager to help facilitate the Houston Rockets' salary dump.

Josh Akognon and the Significance of December 1

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    If you don't remember Josh Akognon's prolific run at Cal State Fullerton, the former Titan wouldn't hold that against you.

    After all, it's been over four years since the 5'11" scoring guard poured in nearly 24 points a game in his senior season of 2008-09. His journey to the NBA has been long and exhausting since, taking him from Estonia to China before finally landing with the Dallas Mavericks by way of a 10-day contract signed late in the season.

    He parlayed that first deal into another which also included a partially guaranteed contract for the 2013-14 season. He has from now until December 1 to prove he's worthy of a fully guaranteed deal.

    So far this summer, he's making one heck of an argument to keep him around.

    His 19.3 scoring average paced the Mavericks through their first three games, and he was back at his point-producing best on Wednesday. Thanks in no small part to his 24 points (6-of-9 from the field, 4-of-7 from deep and a perfect 8-of-8 at the free-throw line), Dallas advanced to the second round with a 95-89 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. 

    He wasn't the only Dallas scorer doing damage in the game. Jackie Carmichael chipped in with 23 points and Jae Crowder added 18, but Akognon picked up the scoring slack left behind by the Mavs' starting backcourt.

    Gal Mekel shot 3-of-10 from the field and finished with nine points, while Terrico White was held scoreless in his 17 minutes.

    If Akognon can fill the spark plug role that J.J. Barea used to man, he could become a fixture on the Dallas' hoops scene. At the very least, he should maintain a presence there well into December and beyond.

A Scorching Travis Leslie Helps Heat Burn Knicks

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    The Miami Heat don't need any help at the big league level. Three NBA Finals appearances and a pair of titles in the past three seasons spells that out nice and clear.

    But with Mike Miller's departure by way of the amnesty provision and Father Time threatening even more roster reductions next summer, Miami has cast a far-reaching net for young talent this summer. This helps explain why the Heat have suited up in both the Orlando and Las Vegas leagues, along with the reason behind Miami's official summer league roster running 20 names deep.

    Assuming the Heat's Big Three don't jump ship next summera great assumption I know, but bear with mePat Riley will once again be scouring the clearance bins for budget buys.

    Travis Leslie, a second-round pick of the Los Angeles Clippers in 2011, officially submitted his application on Wednesday night.

    Miami trounced the New York Knicks by a somehow-worse-than-it-sounds score of 113-66, opening up the door for the reserve veteran Leslie to go to work. Let's just say he made the most of his 23 minutes.

    He erupted for a game-high 23 points hitting 9-of-13 from the field. By the end of his run, he also added four rebounds and a pair of blocks to his impressive stat line.

    As is the case with most summer league reserves, he's not necessarily auditioning for a roster spot with Miami. His talents are up for auction in the hoops world, and having a game like this will only drive the price of that winning bid up.

Grit-and-Grind, Las Vegas Style

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    The Memphis Grizzlies aren't going to brag about holding the Washington Wizards to 40.5 percent field-goal shooting on Wednesday. That would've been called just another day at the office last season.

    But they may well be reliving those magical 10 minutes when they held Washington to just eight points in the game's decisive third quarter. The Grizzlies, who were winless through three games, punched their second-round ticket with a 90-83 win over the Wizards.

    Not all of Washington's missteps in the third were forced by Memphis' defense. The Wizards shot just 4-of-22 from the field in the quarter and turned the ball over seven times.

    But the Grizzlies had their paws all over a number of those empty trips. Of those seven turnovers, three of them came from Memphis defenders drawing offensive fouls. The Grizzlies also had three of their eight steals and three of their four blocks in the quarter.

    Games aren't won the defensive end alone, though.

    Tony Wroten, Jack Cooley and Donte Greene all played active roles in getting the Grizzlies offense on track.

    Wroten led all scorers with 23 points and also paced the table setters with six dimes. Cooley poured in 20 points and corralled 12 rebounds, while Greene added 16 points.

    The Grizzlies might struggle again from the perimeter next season—they're shooting just 18.7 percent from distance in Las Vegas—but as long as they maintain their "grit-and-grind" mentality, they'll be a force in the Western Conference.