16 Takeaways from Day 4 of 2014 Las Vegas NBA Summer League
LAS VEGAS — It was hot and heavy day at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas on Monday.
And that was just outside of Thomas & Mack Arena and Cox Pavilion, where temperatures settled comfortably (uncomfortably?) into triple-digit territory.
Fortunately, the gyms themselves were air-conditioned, though the flood of fans, players, reporters, coaches, scouts, executives and other league affiliates—including commissioner Adam Silver—did plenty to bring the climate inside more in line with that found outdoors.
So, too, did the action on the court.
Bruno Caboclo shed some of the shroud of mystery that's surrounded him since the Toronto Raptors took him with the 20th pick in the 2014 draft. Dante Exum did the same while competing against the Milwaukee Bucks' potent duo of Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Nerlens Noel tried (and occasionally failed) to keep Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett out of the Philadelphia 76ers' lane.
And that's just the surface-scratching stuff. Read on to see what else Day 4 of Summer League in Sin City had in store.
Charlotte Hornets Not so Powerful at Forward
If the Summer League performances of Cody Zeller and rookie-to-be Noah Vonleh are any indication, the loss of Josh McRoberts could sting the Charlotte Hornets this season...and then some.
Both youngsters finished with solid numbers—18 points and four rebounds for Zeller, 13 points and five rebounds for Vonleh—but neither had an easy time of it out on the court during a 95-72 blowout loss to the New York Knicks at Cox Pavilion. Zeller started out the game by getting his shot blocked and drawing an offensive foul on his first two possessions. Vonleh struggled to stake out position at first, but did show off some nifty moves down low, including a series of Dream Shake-like fakes for his opening basket.
It's fitting, too, that Zeller and Vonleh found their respective rhythms later on, after combining for 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting in the first half. Charlotte's going to have to exercise some serious patience if these two are going to develop into rotation players, much less starters or stars—especially in the case of the 18-year-old Vonleh.
Trouble is, the Hornets don't have much time to waste. Expectations are up after last year's trip to the playoffs, and with McRoberts gone, those two figure to be firmly in the mix for playing time at power forward, along with recent signee Marvin Williams.
Encouraging Signs for Knicks' Backcourt
Fueling the Knicks' aforementioned demolition of the Hornets was the increasingly dynamic duo of Shane Larkin and Tim Hardaway Jr.
Larkin seemed to have a hand in every play when he was on the court. He poked the ball away for steals, sparking New York's fastbreak; got himself free for jumpers and made quick cuts to the cup. Basically, if there's a way to impact a basketball game, Larkin found it on his way to a 14-point, two-assist, two-steal afternoon.
As effective as Larkin was, though, it was Hardaway who proved to truly be a man amongst boys. He certainly wasn't afraid to shoot, and looked smooth whenever he did, tallying 17 points on 6-of-12 from the field.
But it was the way that Hardaway led his teammates that truly stuck out. He barked defensive directions at Thanasis Antetekounpo, thanked Langston Galloway for setting him up on a jumper (before the shot went through, no less) and even gave up a wide-open dunk in transition to get Galloway an easy bucket.
Frankly, it'd be problematic if Larkin and Hardaway weren't performing well at Summer League. After all, the Knicks will be counting on them to contribute significantly next season.
Even so, Knicks fans can take heart in the quality of play they've gotten out of their backcourt tandem in Las Vegas, and hope they'll see more of the same at Madison Square Garden in the fall.
Bruno Lets It Fly
For those of you wondering what type of player Bruno Caboclo is...well, keep wondering. The Brazilian mystery kid is still very much a work-in-progress, which is to be expected when you're 18 and a rail-thin 6'8.
Here's what we do know, though, about Caboclo: he's not afraid to shoot. Caboclo took 10 shots during the Toronto Raptors' 88-57 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Nine of them came from beyond the arc, of which he made three.
This isn't to suggest that Caboclo is a shooter, per se. If anything, his "love" for the corner three might have more to do with his lack of strength—a problem if you're going to even try to attack the basket—than with his actual proclivities as a player.
As The Globe and Mail's David Ebner put it:
But the potential is obvious. He lopes up and down the floor with ease, his reach seems to go on forever, and he is unafraid – a resolute belief that he belongs, even if he is the youngest Raptor on the summer league team by almost three years and barely able to speak English.
His love, in truth, is more for the game. He was upset and dusty-eyed in the locker room after the game.
A Summer League game.
If he cares this much about winning and doing his best in July as a teenager, just imagine how he'll be when he's a more fully formed adult playing during the actual season.
The Flying Lion, Part 2?
Apparently, Blake Griffin isn't the only guy named Griffin who enjoys dunking.
Eric Griffin has been having himself a slam-old time on the Dallas Mavericks' Summer League squad. The 6'8" wing was one of the talks of the town in Las Vegas over the weekend, and kept his high-fly act afloat on Monday during Dallas' destruction of Toronto. Griffin finished with 12 points, almost exclusively on dunks and free throws, to go along with a pair of rebounds and two steals.
Strangely enough, Griffin wasn't responsible for the dunk of the game—that honor belonged to his teammate, C.J. Fair—but after all the buzz he's generated so far, he probably wouldn't mind ceding some of the spotlight.
For now, anyway.
Who's No. 1?
Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins have plenty in common. They’re both Toronto natives. They were teammates during their youth club days and are teammates again now, as back-to-back No. 1 picks by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
And, well, they can both get up for dunks.
But the differences in attitude, approach and sheer physicality were clear when watching them compete alongside one another during the Cavs’ 86-77 win over the Philadelphia 76ers at Summer League on Monday. Throngs of onlookers packed Cox Pavilion to see the sly and slender Wiggins, who racked up as many fouls (six) and turnovers (four) as he did points (10). One of those buckets, though—a smooth spin into a rim-rattling slam—set the arena abuzz.
Which was pretty much the case every time Bennett touched the ball. He contributed some destructive dunks of his own to boost his total to 14 points, though he also had three of his shots sent back.
Still, where Wiggins looked like a precocious kid just discovering his abilities, Bennett played like a man among boys, albeit not always to great effect (four fouls, five turnovers).
Not All's Well for Nerlens Noel
Nerlens Noel performed about how you'd expect a skinny, athletic shot-blocker coming off a major injury to perform: unevenly.
On the positive end, Noel did plenty to make the Cavs think twice about attacking the lane against his Philadelphia 76ers. He sent back four shots and altered countless more in just under 29 minutes.
To be sure, Noel's defensive efforts came at a price. He racked up seven fouls—no, that's not a misprint; in Summer League, players can collect 10 fouls before they're disqualified—while trying to hold his own against Cleveland's thicker, stronger big men. After leading the Orlando Summer League in blocks, Noel would hardly be a surprise to do the same in Las Vegas, though perhaps with the dubious distinction of leading fouler attached.
That's the price Noel's going to have to pay for his slightness of frame, at least until he bulks up. He'll have moments like his block on Anthony Bennett, but until he gets stronger and smarter, Noel will be victimized by more mature opponents—and frequently.
Sacramento’s Backcourt Blossomed
The Sacramento Kings didn’t get much from their backcourt during the first two contests of their summer league slate, but that all changed in an 89-75 triumph over a group of D-League All-Stars on Day 3.
No. 8 pick Nick Stauskas found the efficient stroke that had been eluding him, knocking down 6-of-8 shots form the field and 3-of-4 from long range after shooting a combined 37 percent in his first two tilts.
Not to be outdone, second-year guard Ben McLemore contributed a team-high 18 points on just 10 shots. After a year in which Sacramento’s shooting guard position was among the least productive in the league, the Kings have to be encouraged by the output of their young scorers.
The big days by Stauskas and McLemore were largely made possible by Ray McCallum, whose 12 assists tripled the grand total of four he amassed in Sacramento’s first two games. With Isaiah Thomas’ surprising exit to the Phoenix Suns, the Kings will need their inexperienced backcourt to grow up in a hurry.
For the first time this summer, all three of Stauskas, McLemore and McCallum appeared ready to do just that.
Derrick Williams Wilted
So, this is going to sound harsh, but the pile of evidence against Derrick Williams has now reached a height that allows us to make a painful conclusion about his NBA prospects: He doesn’t have any.
Williams hit just five of his 16 shot attempts in the Kings’ first two tilts, and although he managed to put up 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting against the venerable cast of D-League luminaries on Monday, he finished his third consecutive game without an assist.
Heading into his fourth(!) season, Williams has firmly established himself as a one-dimensional scorer who doesn’t even perform that single task efficiently. Never once has he connected on more than 44 percent of his field-goal attempts in a season, and the basic fact that he, a former No. 2 overall pick, is fighting to make one of the league’s least successful rosters this summer speaks volumes.
Sacramento took a flier on Williams last season, and his most notable moment was a botched off-the-backboard alley-oop to himself. It’s often said that a good summer league performance means little, but a bad one can spell doom.
Williams’ underwhelming effort has him firmly in that latter category, and his career is hanging in the balance.
The Spurs Are Doing It Again
Danny Green was a reclamation project, all but out of the league until being refreshed by the San Antonio Spurs’ full-service basketball rehabilitation clinic. Patty Mills was much the same. Marco Belinelli and Boris Diaw also reached new levels of productivity with San Antonio last year.
So I guess none of us should be surprised that Austin Daye, a player whose skills always seemed like they should have yielded better results, is coming into his own for the Spurs’ summertime squad.
Daye led the Spurs in their 88-86 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, finishing the game with 18 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in 27 minutes. The 6’11” forward flashed the all-around skills that make him so intriguing at his size, hitting Jeff Ayres in an early transition sequence for an easy dunk after comfortably handling the ball on the break.
When Daye is playing meaningful minutes as a sharpshooting, facilitating forward for the Spurs next year, let’s all agree there was no other way for this to play out.
Unless you’re a diehard NC State fan or avid follower of the D-League’s Austin Toros, chances are you’re unfamiliar with Courtney Fells. Now that the 6’5” journeyman has put together impressive back-to-back shooting exhibitions in Vegas, you might want to get acquainted.
After notching 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, Fells bombed his way to another 19 points against San Antonio on Monday. Over the past two games, he’s connected on 8-of-14 triples.
Fells is a specialist, per CBSSports.com’s Zach Harper:
He didn't do much outside of the scoring, but he can flat-out shoot the ball and has been a 3-point threat in other leagues. The question isn't whether he can shoot but can he defend and shoot consistently enough to make a roster?
He averaged 18 points per game and hit nearly 38 percent of his threes for the D-League’s Toros last year, and while he lived up to Harper’s one-dimensional label (he didn’t record an assist or rebound on Monday), Fells could give the Pelicans something they need.
Remember, they just lost a guy in Anthony Morrow whose only job was hitting triples. And while New Orleans probably can’t expect Fells to equal Morrow’s elite marksmanship, there might be a place for him on a minimum deal.
Fells just needs those shots to keep falling.
Lob City Travels Well
Though Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan (mayor, treasurer and, uh, I don't know, comptroller? of Lob City) weren't on the court in Vegas, the Los Angeles Clippers' signature style made its way from the Staples Center to the desert on Monday.
There were dunks aplenty in L.A.'s 91-85 win over the Miami Heat, with a thunderous lob from Lorenzo Brown to Amath M'Baye standing out as the most impressive highlight. M'Baye also flushed a right-handed tomahawk all on his own earlier in the game, drawing a foul as he punched home the jam.
To be fair, the general defensive apathy that marks summertime play probably had something to do with the abundance of high-wire acts in this game. But I don't think any of the assembled spectators will complain about that.
Brown, potentially making a case for a camp invite, followed up a 17-point, eight-assist effort on July 12 with 22 points and four more dimes in this one. Much like L.A.'s penchant for lobs, its typically dominant point guard play seems to have also followed the club to Las Vegas.
Miami Lost Another Forward
James Ennis abbreviated 14-minute stint in the Heat's Monday contest against the Clippers wasn't cause for quite as much consternation as LeBron James' free-agent exit, but losing the breakout small forward to a groin injury, per Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post, couldn't have done much for Miami's morale.
Ennis had been the Heat's best player in both the Orlando and Las Vegas leagues, and he came into Monday's game on a high after scoring 19 points and grabbing eight boards against the Houston Rockets on Saturday.
Maybe it was dumb luck. Or perhaps Ennis should have been held out of Vegas after serving as the Heat's focal point in Orlando. Whatever the case, seeing him go down puts a damper on what had otherwise been a very promising July for the 6'7" wing.
Assuming Ennis' injury isn't serious, he'll likely wind up heading into training camp with a real shot at rotation minutes, which is a pretty significant step up from playing games in Australia and Puerto Rico last season.
All Good Things Must Come to an End
The last time the Golden State Warriors lost a summer league game, LeBron James had yet to play a second for the Miami Heat.
Digest that for a moment as you contemplate the gravity of the Dubs' 91-88 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday.
Steve Kerr, you're on the hot seat!
Nemanja Nedovic, rotation hopeful and contributor of a wholly disappointing three points in 30 minutes, pack your bags! Ognjen Kuzmic, possible backup center, get your goose egg and four fouls in 18 minutes out of here, too!
The Dubs may be coming off the first back-to-back postseason appearances in decades, but the end of a 16-game summertime winning streak simply cannot stand. Expect massive changes throughout the organization and huge roster shakeups.
Actually, expect none of those things.
Instead, expect Aaron Craft to challenge Nedovic for a roster spot because of his all-out effort and more consistent production. Also expect Justin Holiday, who followed up 22 points on July 12 with another 26 on Monday, to get a serious look when training camp rolls around.
Joe DiMaggio couldn't connect in his 57th game, and Cal Ripken couldn't suit up for contest No. 2,633. The Warriors, like the streaking luminaries who came before them, couldn't notch No. 17 on this night.
The streak is dead. Long live the streak.
Julius Randle Is Intriguing
For a guy who signed his NBA contract mere minutes before his summer league debut on July 13, Lakers rookie Julius Randle has already given L.A. loyalists a few things to get excited about.
He tallied 10 points in just 21 minutes in his first contest, succumbing to the fatigue expected from a player who had been held out of five-on-five action since being drafted in June. Against the Warriors, he pumped in another 14 points in 28 minutes.
It wasn't the scoring that stood out, though. Not exactly anyway.
What made Randle's second summer league performance so intriguing was the way he looked out on the floor. The rookie was clearly the physical equal of his older opponents, showing strength that should serve him well as he bodies up against the grown men of the NBA.
Plus, he actually spent a little time playing point forward, conducting the offense in a style that felt awfully Anthony Mason-like, which, by the way, is meant as a compliment.
Randle couldn't connect on the shot that would have won L.A. the game, but Jordan Clarkson tipped in the miss at the buzzer. And really, the fact that Randle was the one attempting that critical field goal (even in a game as meaningless as this one) also speaks to what he might bring to contests that actually count.
ESPN analyst and former Duke Blue Devil Jay Bilas gets a lot of guff for his love of length, particularly on draft night. But after seeing Giannis Antetokounmpo's limbs flail around at Thomas & Mack Arena during the Milwaukee Bucks' 87-71 loss to the Utah Jazz, you'd hardly have found anyone in the building who didn't have the word "wingspan" on the tip of his/her tongue.
Simply put, Antetokounmpo's length is a legitimate concern for the Milwaukee Bucks' opponents, particularly on the defensive end. Antetokounmpo kept busy by deflecting passes, if not catching them entirely, as if his fingers were made of flypaper. The Greek Freak pulled that trick on consecutive possessions at one point in the game.
"I just raised my hand," Antetokounmpo said of those plays after the game. "I thought I was ready to deflect the ball, and I just got it."
Of course, at 19, the Greek Freak still has a lot to learn about how best to leverage his length. He had three of his shots sent back, and saw his wide and wily handle contribute to his four turnovers on the night.
All in all, though, the Bucks have to be pleased with what they saw from Antetokounmpo, and can be nothing if not giddy about his burgeoning partnership with Jabari Parker.
The Utah Jazz Go Long
The Bucks weren't the only ones who turned length into another buzz word at Summer League. The Utah Jazz did, too, in more ways than one in their 87-71 win over Milwaukee.
In the more traditional, long-armed sense, there was Rudy Gobert. The swat-friendly Frenchman blocked five shots and grabbed nine boards in addition to his 13 points on the night. The crowd at Thomas & Mack took plenty of pleasure in Gobert's heart, hustle and impressive wingspan, sending the Jazz off to chants of "RU-DY! RU-DY! RU-DY!" at halftime.
Rodney Hood did plenty of length-related work to earn the respect and praise of the spectators as well. The Duke product nailed 7-of-10 from downtown, including five in a row between the third and fourth quarters, as part of a 29-point explosion.
This, after shooting just 1-of-10 from three in his first Summer League outing.
"The first game...I was kind of antsy," Hood said in the tunnel after the win. "All the shots felt good, but I wasn't holding my follow-through. I was just shooting. Today, I felt way more relaxed."
Impressive performances like these could go a long way toward making sure that Gobert and Hood aren't long shots to garner significant playing time in Salt Lake City next season.
(And if I never use the words "long" and "length" again, I won't be displeased.)
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