Takeaways from Day 7 of 2014 NBA Summer League

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJuly 18, 2014

Takeaways from Day 7 of 2014 NBA Summer League

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    Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points for the Cleveland Cavaliers summer league team on Thursday, but that was overshadowed by news that the 19-year-old may not remain with the organization for much longer.

    ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reports that, "The Cleveland Cavaliers are now offering No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins in attempts to trade for Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love, league sources have confirmed."

    As has been the case all summer, every bit of league news seems in some way connected to LeBron James. Wiggins' fate may be no different. 

    Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted on Thursday that, "LeBron James has reached [out] to tell Kevin Love of his desire for them to play together with the Cavaliers, front office sources tell Yahoo."

    That doesn't bode well for Wiggins' future in Cleveland. But if the summer league is any indication, his future in the NBA remains quite bright.

    With help from Bleacher Report Lead Writer Josh Martin, here's the latest on the No. 1 overall pick and 15 other takeaways from Thursday's NBA Summer League play in Las Vegas.

P.J. Hairston Isn't Afraid to Shoot

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    Swingman P.J. Hairston apparently has an itchy trigger finger.

    Through five summer league games, the 21-year-old has attempted 74 shots for the Charlotte Hornets. In a display of his range, 45 of those attempts have been from beyond the three-point arc.

    And to Hairston's credit, quite a few of those shots have gone in. 

    After a 2-of-16 summer league debut against the Golden State Warriors, Hairston has gotten on something of a hot streak, tallying a combined 58 points over his next three games. That trend continued on Thursday, with Hairston dropping 21 points and going 8-of-16 from the field. 

    Hairston averaged 21.8 points per game in the NBA Development League for the Texas Legends last season. He's a natural scorer who instantly gives the Hornets improved range from the perimeter. That hasn't been a strong point for starting shooting guard Gerald Henderson.

    The UNC product was selected with the No. 26 pick in this summer's draft and subsequently traded from the Miami Heat to Charlotte in exchange for point guard Shabazz Napier.

    Hairston might have gone higher in the draft were it not for some off-court troubles.

    If Hairston can keep it together going forward, he could emerge as one of the draft's biggest steals. 

Russ Smith Is Proving He Belongs

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    Taken with the 47th overall pick in this summer's draft (originally by the Philadelphia 76ers), it's safe to assume Russ Smith has something of a chip on his shoulder.

    That's especially apparent after watching him tear it up during summer league play.

    Through his first three games, the point guard averaged 13.3 points, 7.7 assists and 6.0 rebounds. On Thursday, he added 19 points, six assists and five boards in just over 26 minutes of action against the Charlotte Hornets.

    The New Orleans Pelicans have already officially signed the former Louisville star, and the organization is no doubt hoping his summer league prowess is a sign of things to come. 

    "I'm reading ball screens, attacking the defense and kicking the ball out," Smith recently said, according to The Times-Picayune's John Reid. "Just about everything we did at Louisville kind of carries over to here, so I feel very comfortable about my abilities."

    Reid adds, "This upcoming season, the Pelicans mostly want Smith to emerge quickly as a tough on-ball defender, capable of applying full-court pressure."

    His emergence as a capable passer certainly won't hurt his shot at playing time. 

    Per Reid, Smith explained, "What I'm trying to do is be balanced and not create for a shot every time, but also get the guys the ball. Our coaches are helping me find the balance, but they still want me to be aggressive."

Less Is McLemore

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    Ben McLemore wasn’t exactly a picture of efficiency during his rookie season with the Sacramento Kings. The Kansas product shot a paltry 37.6 percent from the field (32 percent from three) during his debut campaign in the NBA.

    McLemore painted a far different picture with his performance during the Kings’ 100-86 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday. He needed just 11 shots to tally his 22 points, and added six rebounds and four assists for good measure.

    Of course, summer league stats are best served with a grain of salt, if not two, so take from McLemore’s numbers what you will. But as far as the eye test is concerned, McLemore passed it with flying colors. His stroke looked as smooth as ever, and his athleticism was on impressive display on several occasions, including on a dunk attempt in the third quarter that went for naught.

    Perhaps the addition of Nik Stauskas to the roster will serve as the kick in the pants that McLemore needs to capitalize on his tremendous potential.

    The Kings must hope so; they’ve gone eight straight years without a playoff appearance and will need all the help they can get to end that streak.

What UCLA Is What You Get

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    UCLA alums Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad have been the biggest standouts for the Minnesota Timberwolves throughout summer league, and they kept that going in full force on Thursday.

    The two Bruins combined for nearly half (40) of Minnesota’s 86 points on a respectable 13-of-29 shooting. Neither did much damage from the perimeter (a combined 1-of-5 from three), but both were fearless and effective attacking the basket off the dribble.

    Of course, the last thing the T-Wolves need are more guys who don’t shoot well. Their offense underperformed last season amid a lack of spacing and won’t find any more in which to work in the likely event that Love finds a new home this summer.

    But scoring off the bounce is a bankable skill in the NBA. That, in itself, should bode well for Minnesota’s Bruin duo in the pros. 

The Spurs' Summer League Team Is Sort of Like the Real Thing

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    Five members of the San Antonio Spurs summer league team scored in double figures on Thursday against the Utah Jazz.

    Two of them came off the bench.

    Sound familiar? It should, at least if you paid any attention to the Spurs' big-boy team last season. The reigning champions led the league in bench scoring, and they distributed minutes throughout the rotation pretty evenly en route to winning the Finals against the Miami Heat in just five games.

    Summer league coach Ime Udoka has apparently adopted a similar strategy.

    Austin Daye led the Spurs with 20 points despite a rough 5-of-15 performance from the field. He got plenty of help from the likes of Deshaun Thomas, Bryce Cotton, Darius Morris and Vander Blue. Rookie Kyle Anderson added eight points in under 16 minutes of action.

    San Antonio wrote a similar script on Wednesday when the team tallied 100 points with 14 different players scoring.

    There may not be a star in this bunch for the Spurs, but Anderson has potential, and it appears that this organization's young players are committed to sharing the ball much like their elders.

Rodney Hood's Up-and-Down Summer Continues

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    This wasn't the first time Rodney Hood had a big summer league game.

    He put up 29 points against the Milwaukee Bucks, outshining former Duke teammate and No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker, who finished with 14. 

    "The first game I was kind of antsy. All of the shots felt good, but I wasn’t holding my follow-through. I was just shooting," Hood said after the game, according to Deseret News' Jody Genessy. "Today I just felt way more relaxed. I got open shots from Trey (Burke), Dante (Exum), and especially with Rudy (Gobert) playing how he is playing. The floor opened up."

    If Hood is giving his teammates their due, he's learned a lot about this league already and should fit in with the Jazz just fine. Though the club struggled last season, it's amassed a number of promising young prospects and managed to retain restricted free agent Gordon Hayward.

    Hood was efficient against the Bucks, converting 7 of 9 three-point attempts, and he was efficient again on Thursday, making 7 of 11 field-goal attempts overall.

    Hood will have to earn minutes with Hayward and Alec Burks ahead of him in the rotation, but he adds important depth to Utah's wing.

    Hopefully he'll be consistent.

    Hood was just 1-of-9 against Denver and 3-of-13 against Philadelphia. So far, though, the ups appear to be outweighing the downs for him.

House of Payne

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    Adreian Payne has had himself a decent summer league so far, but it wasn’t until his Atlanta Hawks demolished the Portland Trail Blazers, 88-65, that his smooth offensive game truly started to stand out.

    Payne piled up a game-high 19 points from all over the floor. He hit a trio of threes while also putting his silky jump shot to work inside the arc on several occasions. The 6'10", 245-pound Payne took his turns inside the paint, as well, showing off his strength and length therein.

    Finding playing time in Atlanta’s frontcourt will be no easy feat for Payne. Most veteran big men would struggle to supplant either of the All-Star duo of Al Horford and Paul Millsap, much less a rookie.

    On the other hand, Horford is coming off his second major pectoral injury in three years, and Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer adores shooters, especially those who can operate effectively in the pick-and-roll. Those two factors could work in Payne’s favor and turn the Michigan State grad into a rotation player much sooner than expected.

Blazers Backcourt Brings It, but Nobody Else Does

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    The Portland Trail Blazers got some solid production out of their perimeter players against the Hawks.

    Drew League legend Bobby Brown poured in a game-high 20 points, including a trio of treys. C.J. McCollum, a lottery pick in the 2013 NBA draft, added 17 points to go along with five rebounds and three assists. Will Barton registered a double-double (15 points, 10 boards) while getting fewer than four minutes of rest.

    The rest of the Blazers, though, hardly brought anything at all to the table. In fact, Portland’s five other players combined for almost as many fouls (12) as points (13).

    That’s never a good sign, but that's especially so when three of those guys—Meyers Leonard, Joel Freeland and Allen Crabbe—were on the team’s NBA roster last season.

    It’s no wonder, then, that David Vanterpool, the Blazers’ summer league coach, was so upset with his squad’s effort, or lack thereof, per Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver.

    "David Vanterpool said he didn't see a 'respect for the game' from Blazers in loss, used the word 'arrogance' in describing approach," Golliver tweeted.

    The Blazers can only hope they’ll be able to brush off the lackadaisical play they got out of those three guys as easy as that threesome brushed off the idea of trying in Las Vegas.

Shot out of a Canaan

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    Isaiah Canaan’s been something of a scoring machine for the Houston Rockets but never quite to the extent that he was on Thursday. The second-year scoring guard put on a show against the Cleveland Cavaliers, piling up 28 points and chipping in two assists to propel the Rockets to a 96-90 victory.

    Canaan was particularly instrumental in crunch time. During the waning moments of the contest, he hit a three to extend Houston’s lead to five and followed that up with a fearless drive to the hoop for a layup to extend the Rockets’ advantage back to five with just over 10 seconds to go.

    Performances like these could come in handy for Canaan in the not-so-distant future. With Jeremy Lin off to the Lakers, Canaan figures to find himself in a close contest with Ish Smith for the honor of backing up Patrick Beverley.

Wiggins Does Work at the Line

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    Perhaps Wiggins caught wind of Parker’s Wednesday parade to the free-throw line and wanted to one-up him. Perhaps Wiggins was tired of taking contested shots.

    Whatever the case may be, the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft made himself the subject of constant contact in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ loss to the Rockets. Wiggins got to the stripe 20 times, making 15 shots. Hence, he only needed five field-goal attempts (three of which he made) to rack up a team-high 21 points.

    It says something about Wiggins’ quickness, athleticism and fearlessness that he’s able to draw contact and garner whistles so frequently at his age (19).

    He doesn’t figure to be such a target in the NBA, but if he can be a free-throw-shooting machine—for the Cavs or the Minnesota Timberwolves, should he wind up in a trade for Love—he’ll be plenty effective early on, even without the benefit of a big-time jump shot. 

The Shabazz Struggle Continues

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    Shabazz Napier was supposed to be one of the reasons LeBron was going to remain with the Miami Heat. He was one of LBJ's favorites, and he addressed an important position for the team—a point guard spot in desperate need of an upgrade.

    But dating back to Orlando, Napier hasn't been himself.

    Through his first five summer league games, Napier made just 15 of 55 field-goal attempts. On Tuesday, he was 2-of-16. Thursday night?

    Five buckets. Out of 18.

    With Mario Chalmers returning and Norris Cole potentially ahead of him on the depth chart, Napier's minutes may not come easily right away. Miami isn't rebuilding or blowing up anything. Team president Pat Riley is looking to win now, evidenced by the pricey acquisition of Luol Deng and big contracts for Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

    Napier might wind up being somewhat of a project. But his time will come.

Glen Rice Jr. Is Outplaying Otto Porter

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    Though the Washington Wizards acquired Paul Pierce to replace Trevor Ariza this summer, they'll still need some help from a youngster on the wing. Though Otto Porter was selected with the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, it could be the 35th overall pick from that year who gets the nod this season.

    Porter has been good this summer, but Glen Rice Jr. has been better.

    After scoring 24 points in Tuesday's 85-83 victory over the Miami Heat, Rice Jr. cracked the Heat again on Thursday—this time dropping 22 points and adding 10 rebounds in a 78-67 win. In fact, he's topped 20 in all four of his summer league games, and he's made 50 percent of his field-goal attempts in the process.

    Rice Jr. had NBA D-League experience before he was drafted, and he's 23, two years older than the 21-year-old Porter, who—to his credit—has had a solid summer in his own right. Porter dropped 25 in his first game and 19 on Tuesday. His 14 points in the second go-round against Miami marked the fourth time he's cracked double figures.

    We could have a battle for reserve minutes on our hands. Both of these guys look pretty deserving, and both will no doubt benefit from Pierce's guidance.

Tony Snell Keeps Chicago Undefeated

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    The new haircut is paying off.

    Tony Snell is having a coming-out party this summer, and his Chicago Bulls are following suit, improving to 4-0 after a 79-68 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

    Snell scored a combined 50 points through his first two games and registered another 18 points, seven rebounds and three blocks on Thursday night. He's proving to be a solid two-way player who looks more comfortable than he did at any point in his 77 games with the Bulls last season.

    The 22-year-old averaged just 16 minutes per game last season, but he could earn more if he continues at this rate.

    Rookie Doug McDermott struggled from the field against Philadelphia but still finished with 11 points. He and Snell may find themselves battling for many of the same minutes alongside veteran Mike Dunleavy. 

    It's a good problem for head coach Tom Thibodeau to have.

Nerlens Noel Is Back

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    Fans got a scare when Nerlens Noel left to get his ankle retaped, but the center made a return Thursday night.

    Indeed, he's made a much bigger return this summer, finally giving the public a taste of what we can expect this season. The energy. The length. The elite athleticism.

    And so far, the production hasn't been bad, either. Noel posted 14 points and five rebounds in about 24 minutes against the Bulls. He hasn't played in every summer league game, but he's had his highlights—including four blocks on Monday.

    Per NBCSports.com's Kurt Helin, 76ers summer league coach Chad Iske described Noel's recent play:

    He’s active, he’s all over the place. He’s trying to do everything, he’s trying to do too much on both ends. The hard part is do you want to just settle him down or do you want him to play with that aggressiveness? I don’t want to give him too much and cloud him, and then he’s thinking instead of playing. I think we just have to get out there and find the happy balance between him being within our rules and him being himself.

    So yeah, Noel is still raw, as are the 76ers themselves.

    But along with Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams and 2014 pick Joel Embiid, Philadelphia has a young core worth watching, at least when they're all healthy. With Noel coming along, we're two-thirds of the way there.

Knicks Stay Perfect with Improved Defensive Effort

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    Derek Fisher seems to have a pretty good handle on this whole “coaching” thing. It’s only summer league, but his New York Knicks are now 4-0 after taking out the D-League Select squad 80-73.

    The Knicks were down by double digits in the third quarter as the D-League’s Tony Mitchell peddled his inside-out wares. But New York stepped it up considerably from there on out, particularly on the defensive end. The Knicks had completely climbed out of their hole by halftime after clamping down and continued that effort well after that.

    In fact, the D-Leaguers didn’t scratch the scoreboard in the second half until the 4:53 mark of the third quarter. At that point, the Knicks had already extended their lead to 13, thanks to a flurry of steals turned into transition baskets.

    The D-Leaguers made a game of it in the fourth, but the Knicks closed it out under pressure nonetheless, thanks to some heroics by Shane Larkin and Tim Hardaway Jr.

    Say what you will about the meaninglessness of summer league ball—and I’ve been banging that drum all week—but there’s no ignoring how well Fisher’s done to get his guys to play hard.

    If he can get Carmelo Anthony and company to care as much as Larkin, Shannon Brown and Hardaway Jr. have here in Las Vegas—and get the former to execute the triangle as well as the latter have—his Knicks will be well on their way to bigger and better things in surprisingly short order.

Hardaway Makes It Look Easy

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    Speaking of Hardaway Jr., he continued to make minced meat of the inferior competition here in Sin City. He tallied a game-high 25 points—his third 20-plus-point performance in four outings—on 8-of-17 shooting from the field, including 4-of-9 from three.

    Jr.’s jumper was as smooth as ever, be it spotting up or off the dribble. Better yet, he played with effort and intensity on the defensive end, leading by example as well as by voice.

    It’s still way too early to so much as suggest that Hardaway Jr. will be anywhere near as good as his dad was back in the day. That being said, the 22-year-old has the makings of a quality contributor and might even be good enough to start in the triangle for Fisher and Phil Jackson.