12 Takeaways from Day 5 of 2014 Las Vegas NBA Summer League
LAS VEGAS — If Monday was a storm of excitement and activity at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Tuesday was the equivalent of clear skies and calm seas.
Not that there's much in the way of water to be found naturally within the vicinity of Sin City.
In any case, Day 5's six-game slate wasn't nearly as flush with future star power as its predecessor proved to be. Dante Exum, Doug McDermott, Zach LaVine and T.J. Warren were the only 2014 lottery picks whose teams took to the court along with them. The rest spent the day practicing and resting up in anticipation of the double-elimination tournament that's set to tip off on Wednesday.
But before we look ahead to the ensuing scrum for the summer league crown, let's have a look back at what happened at Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion on Tuesday.
Representation from the Bruins Nation
Walking into Thomas & Mack Center on Tuesday, I couldn't help but notice how many UCLA players, both known and obscure, were floating around the court.
Which means I now can't help but recount their efforts during the Chicago Bulls' 107-73 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Few without Westwood affiliations would be familiar with Chicago's contingent of Bruins. But after the way they performed, Lazeric Jones and David Wear might just get longer looks from squads across the globe.
Jones, a former high school teammate of Derrick Rose's in Chicago, chipped in 10 points, five assists, three rebounds and a pair of steals as the Bulls' starting point guard. Wear did his usual dalliance on the perimeter on the way to his 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting, though he stunned more than a few when he flew to the hoop for a poster-worthy slam in the fourth quarter.
Those two would be fortunate to find gigs in the NBA. You probably wouldn't know it, though, judging them against their blue-and-gold counterparts on Minnesota's side. Shabazz Muhammad missed 12 of his 15 attempts from the field and committed five fouls, while Zach LaVine accounted for as many assists as turnovers (three) in addition to his 12 points.
It wasn't exactly the finest day for my alma mater, but seeing those guys play NBA-ish basketball, well or not, is enough to put at least a slight smile on the face of this son of Westwood.
Dougie Gets McBuckets
But enough about my personal obsessions. Let's talk about Doug McDermott, shall we?
The Creighton product had himself another standout day at summer league on Tuesday. McDermott scored a game-high 20 points on just 13 attempts, including a 4-of-7 performance from three, to go along with five rebounds and six assists. His skills were on full display therein, and his experience as a four-year player in college stood out against and alongside the usual slew of scrubs and youngsters at summer league.
Those expecting McDermott to replicate the 31-point performance he put up against the Denver Nuggets, who took him with the No. 11 pick in the 2014 NBA draft before trading him to Chicago, may have been disappointed. Nonetheless, McDermott's smooth, mature play has to come as some encouragement to the Bulls, whose pursuit of a wing scorer (i.e. Carmelo Anthony) ultimately went wanting.
Not that McDermott is or will be anywhere near as good as Anthony, who's been one of the NBA's premier scorers for a decade. Nor does McDermott figure to find big minutes in a frontcourt newly crowded by Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic.
Still, Dougie McBuckets' shot should come in handy for a Chicago squad whose stagnant offense could use all the space it can get.
Donatas, Do Tell
In the end, the Houston Rockets didn't fare any better in their pursuit of Carmelo Anthony or in their attempt to acquire Chris Bosh, for that matter. Instead, per The Associated Press (via Fox Sports), the Rockets will head into the 2014-15 season with Trevor Ariza on the wing (instead of Chandler Parsons, who will suit up for the Dallas Mavericks) and the all-too-familiar platoon of Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas.
Not that there's anything wrong with those two, per se. Jones averaged 12.1 points and 6.9 rebounds last season, with 71 starts alongside Dwight Howard in Space City.
As for Motiejunas, he made his presence felt (and then some) during Houston's 83-60 stomping of the Los Angeles Clippers at Cox Pavilion. The lanky Lithuanian contributed 15 points on just eight shots to the Rockets' victory, with a three-pointer mixed in for good measure.
For Motiejunas, that counts as steady progress. He'd put in games of 13, 13 and 14 points during Houston's first three summer league outings.
For the Rockets...well, they're probably not too concerned about summer league stats anyway, but it's nice to see the 23-year-old can play.
Delonte Goes West
The Los Angeles Clippers were practically devoid of bright spots on Tuesday, which is to be expected when a team manages just 60 points and loses by more than 20.
That includes Delonte West. The 30-year-old NBA veteran managed just two points and an assist in a shade over 14 minutes—not exactly a sparkling follow-up to his 12-point, eight-rebound, five-assist, three-steal performance against the Miami Heat on Monday.
Then again, it's not as though West has to prove to himself that he can play. His eight prior years of experience in the Association, along with his more recent stints in the NBA D-League and in China, should do all the talking, particularly when Doc Rivers, the Clippers head honcho and West's former coach with the Boston Celtics, is involved.
West, for his part, doesn't seem overly concerned about the situation. "The biggest thing personally is just to show teams that any off-the-court issues or things like that are behind me," West recently told The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn. "Those things don't affect what I do on the basketball court. All I am ready to do is play basketball and win games, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to help the Clippers."
This Is What the Blazers Were Waiting For
You can't talk about summer league basketball without including the caveat that it's never a great idea to put too much stock in it. So, it's probably not fair to say Blazers fans were worried about C.J. McCollum's uninspiring start in Vegas.
But anyone holding out hope the sophomore guard would slot into Portland's rotation as a third guard this coming season is probably feeling more confident about that prospect following McCollum's 28-point outing against Atlanta.
The 6'4" combo guard broke out of a shooting slump that had seen him hit just two of his first 11 triples, burying 6-of-9 from long range in 29 minutes against the Hawks. Overall, McCollum connected on 10 of his 16 attempts, looking much more like the poised, efficient sniper who hit 38 percent of his threes in four years at Lehigh.
Remember, McCollum was the No. 10 pick just a year ago. A foot injury cost him more than half the season, but even when he saw the floor, McCollum didn't produce quite as prolifically as Portland hoped he would. Heading into his second season, he'll be expected to take on a much larger role in relief of (and possibly alongside) Damian Lillard.
With his perimeter stroke seemingly ironed out, McCollum's offense appears to be firing on all cylinders. Throughout summer league, he's been effective at working his way to the line with a sneaky handle and deceptive change-of-pace moves. In all, he's taken 22 foul shots in just three games.
This is the guy Portland has been waiting a full year to see.
Will Barton: Opportunist
Summer league isn't the best place to showcase an advanced understanding of defensive positioning or the finer details of proper transition spacing, but it's an ideal environment for opportunistic scorers who thrive in chaos.
Incidentally, Portland Trail Blazers guard Will Barton looked pretty good in a 91-76 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday.
Where there were breakaway lobs to be caught, Barton was there to finish them. And when the opportunity for a between-the-legs, midair feed to Thomas Robinson presented itself, you'd better believe Barton raced up the floor to deliver just such a setup.
Best of all, when Atlanta's second-year center, Mike Muscala, casually inbounded the rock to Dennis Schroeder, who was bent over tying his shoe, Barton raced in, scooped it up and finished a twisting, over-the-head layup through contact.
In the end, Barton amassed 17 points on 8-of-14 shooting in 31 minutes.
In his two seasons with Portland, Barton's game has always been about energy, highlight plays and supreme self-confidence. In other words, summertime hoops plays to his strengths nicely. From the Blazers' perspective, they'd probably like to see Barton's typical offensive intensity married to a more consistent perimeter stroke or the occasional defensive stand.
If he expects to play more than the 9.4 minutes per contest he logged in 2013-14, Barton will need to do more than seek out chances to score in exciting ways.
Of course, if he can't expand his game and falls further out of the Blazers rotation, he'll always have a home in Vegas.
Break Up the Wizards
Or at least Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr., anyway.
Those two have been terrorizing opponents to the tune of three consecutive Washington Wizards wins in Las Vegas, with the latest triumph an 85-83 victory over the Miami Heat on Tuesday.
Continuing his trend of stellar scoring, Rice dropped 24 points on just 14 shots, adding seven boards and four assists to the stat sheet for good measure. If there's such a thing as "bad measure," his six turnovers and seven personal fouls (in just 33 minutes) probably fall under that heading.
Negatives aside, the second-generation wing has been mighty impressive so far, averaging 22.7 points per game and playing like a guy who expects to see rotation minutes during the regular season.
Former No. 3 overall pick Otto Porter has been nearly as good, and his 19 points against Miami were right in line with his scoring average over his first two summertime contests.
Paul Pierce is the new presence at small forward for the Wiz this year, and he'll eat up the vast majority of the departed Trevor Ariza's minutes. But with Martell Webster sidelined by back surgery, there will be opportunities for both Porter and Rice to prove their summer league games can translate into contests that, you know, actually count.
Shabazz Napier Would Like a Do-Over
It's not just that he missed a potential go-ahead three with 1.6 seconds left against Washington on Tuesday. And while his PER in Orlando—the 10th worst of all time, according to Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com—is also pretty tough to swallow, it's not only the numbers that indicate Shabazz Napier is having a rough go this summer.
Really, it's everything.
Napier was supposed to be prepping for a season alongside LeBron James, priming his three-point shot and honing his passing eye to take advantage of the spacing LBJ would provide. The dream of teaming up with James died quickly, though, and Napier hasn't been able to shake his on-court funk, either.
He made just two of his 16 attempts from the field against Washington, including 1-of-8 from three, and turned the ball over four times in 28 minutes. In all, he's been roundly disappointing. And you have to wonder if he'll ever see the floor with Mario Chalmers recently inking a new deal to stay in Miami and Norris Cole still in the picture.
No LeBron, a missing jumper and an all-around summer performance that could see him headed for the D-League. Something tells me this isn't how Napier expected things to go.
It's Time to Talk About T.J. Warren
T.J. Warren gets buckets, but he only gets them from inside the three-point arc. For a Phoenix Suns team that, in an ideal world, would probably prefer to populate the floor with five snipers at once, that figured to be a problem.
After averaging 24.9 points per game last year at NC State, Warren went to the Suns with the No. 14 overall pick in last month's draft. The 6'8" forward was a complete beast in college, converting two-point shots at a ridiculous 58 percent clip, per DraftExpress.com.
He's continued apace in Vegas, per a tweet from B/R's Jonathan Wasserman: "T.J. Warren is just a machine inside the arc. He's converted 23 FGs in 63 minutes—all of them two-pointers. Crazy unique."
Warren pumped in 28 points in the Suns' 97-88 win over the Philadelphia 76ers and, of course, not one of them came from beyond the arc. With 11 rebounds tossed in as sweetener, Warren played one of the most impressive games of the day.
Maybe he can't hit a long-distance shot, but Warren looks like a player capable of giving the Suns a nice change of pace on offense. And besides, with all that space created by the rest of Phoenix's shooters, somebody has to take advantage of a wide-open lane.
Might as well be Warren.
The Sixers Are Figuring Things Out
So, as most Philly fans know, there are going to be a few more rough years ahead before general manager Sam Hinkie finally collects enough assets and stockpiles enough talent to pull his squad out of its self-inflicted tailspin.
Losses are on the horizon—just like last year.
Apparently, nobody told the Sixers' summer league team. That club, which entered Tuesday's tilt against the Suns with no losses on its ledger, had been piling up enough (admittedly meaningless) triumphs to make Hinkie sweat a little.
"Not now. Not yet," he was probably thinking while orchestrating another trade to collect his 31st second-round pick.
Fortunately, the Sixers fell to Phoenix, restoring the order Hinkie has been striving to create. Jordan McRae put together yet another solid performance, following up the 20 points he scored against the Jazz on Saturday and the 18 he hung on the Cavaliers on Monday with 21 more on 7-of-11 shooting.
Despite his best efforts, the 76ers fell short.
Much to Hinkie's delight, no doubt.
Habitual losing doesn't just happen, you know? It takes practice.
Waiting to Exum
If Dante Exum's summer league play so far is any indication, it may be a while before we see the slender Australian's talent on full and frequent display.
Exum followed up a strong debut against the Philadelphia 76ers and a decent showing opposite the Milwaukee Bucks with another performance fraught with fits and spurts during the Utah Jazz's 87-69 win over the Denver Nuggets. The No. 5 pick in the 2014 NBA draft chipped in six points and three assists but was also responsible for four turnovers.
To be sure, games like those Exum has put up in Las Vegas figure to be more the norm than the exception from the outset. He just turned 19 and had only rarely faced competition that could even hold a candle to what he's seen at summer league prior to his arrival in Sin City.
As The Salt Lake Tribune's Tony Jones put it:
There will be many struggles for Exum this coming season. He needs to add weight and strength. He has to gain a knowledge of the NBA game, and his jump shot leaves plenty to be desired.
That being said, don't put too much stock in what's been seen from Exum to this point. He'll have many more weeks to work on his body, his mind and his game in preparation for his rookie season—and months and years after that to transform himself from promising prospect to bona fide NBA player.
Good Days and Bad Days
If there's anything about summer league that might be said to reasonably approximate the NBA, it's the rigors of trying to be a star from night to night. Just ask Rodney Hood and Quincy Miller.
Hood had himself a night on Monday, going 7-of-10 from three-point range en route to a 29-point night for the Jazz. The Duke grad followed that up by hitting his first look from deep on Tuesday...and missing all eight of his shots after that on the way to a three-point night.
Miller didn't fare much better than that. The Baylor product missed 14 of his 17 attempts.
This, after pouring in 23 and 26 points, respectively, in his first two games in Las Vegas.
Such is the fickle nature of summer league stardom. One night, you've got the hot hand. The next, you're scrounging for stats just like so many others hanging around the UNLV campus.
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