Game 1: Atlanta Hawks vs. Portland Trail Blazers
This is pretty much the same theme as the last Portland game. Portland's experience and chemistry that their starting lineup shares is too much for just about any team here to overcome. Will Barton, C.J. McCollum, and Thomas Robinson remain to look like good basketball players. McCollum in particular is the one that stands out to me and that's primarily based off what I wrote about him the first time I saw them play. Portland continues to have an intriguing core built around almost all of their players having a lot of great years left. The gap here was clear, as the Hawks would be within 5 and then all of a sudden I'm looking up to see Barton throw a between-the-legs lob to Robinson on the fast break to put the Blazers up 15. They are my favorites to win it all.
- This was my first time seeing Atlanta this trip. Some teams were tethered to the Thomas & Mack Center which had the worse lineup of the two arenas in my opinion almost every day.
- Atlanta has a very interesting group of stretch 4's and 5's. With Paul Millsap and Mike Scott (if he re-signs) already on the roster, Adreian Payne was selected 15th this year and they got one of the steals of the draft last year in Mike Muscala being selected 44th overall. Muscala is a center at 6'11" who has the body type to stay pertinent inside while also having a three-point stroke that looked ready to go in my opinion. He's a good rebounder and shot blocker inside which is rare for a center who can stretch the floor. Atlanta is going to be intriguing to watch with Millsap, Scott, Payne, and Muscala all being able to create space.
- Dennis Schroeder and Meyers Leonard were both relatively invisible in this one. They are on opposite teams but both lie in the spectrum of still trying to figure it out. Leonard was lost on the floor consistently and looked like he couldn't do much besides his initial first instinct which wasn't that good in the first place. That's pretty brutal for a guy who practiced with Portland for a lot of last year. But then he swished a three and everyone reacted as if this was normal. Did I miss something? For Schroeder, it's just a matter of what the coaches want to run I think. He looked really good on straight pick-and-roll action and worked well defensively. I'm still a believer.
- I haven't mentioned Bobby Brown yet and that's because he blended right into that trio of Barton, McCollum, and Robinson. Brown is a 29-year-old who went undrafted in 2007 and had his big break after a big summer league in 2008 which led to a 2 year deal with the Kings. Brown got traded twice and was never particularly effective in any of his stints. This led to play outside of the NBA. Most recently he was awarded with the Euroleague Alphonso Ford Trophy in 2013, which is given to the best scorer that season. He played in China last season and scored 74 points in a game, the second highest total in the league's history. Brown has played a very unselfish game here in Vegas and has run the offense, played defense, made the right passes, and scored when the situation called for it. He did exactly what the coaches wanted him to do and was my favorite "veteran" in Vegas.
- This game featured a lot of guys I was excited to see but they didn't do much. The 7'3" well-built shot blocker Walter Tavares, two of my favorite college players Lamar Patterson and Casey Prather, and the former high flyer from way back at Memphis Rodney Carney. All four showed an occasional blip of their skill set but never did anything more than that.
Game 2: Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Daryl Morey is known as the asset master that is willing to make any deal to acquire a star and he has a couple of intriguing young players. My interest was always with Nick Johnson, who has a very good game for the pros and I know that he can be a good NBA player. The first place where Johnson will help you succeed is defensively. Somewhere lost between east coast bias and stupidity was Johnson not getting national recognition as a defender in college. He was easily the best in his conference and was the best defender on the best defensive team in the country. Johnson's 49-inch vertical (!) really stands out to you of course, but his athleticism is so pertinent defensively. He moves extremely well laterally and uses that extra hops advantage to make height advantages disappear at only 6'3". That vertical also makes him one of the most premier chase-down block players around. There are montages of his athleticism all over the Internet. He has a tremendous feel for what his opponents are going to do and those reactions combined with his quickness combine for one hell of a defensive player.
On the offensive side, he uses that IQ and athleticism to create space. He has the ability to run the point and is a very good passer who understands who to find in the right spots. The question for Johnson's career is if he's going to be consistent with his jump shot. He can always create space with it and the rise he has gives him a good look on almost anyone defending him. Even in open situations off-the-ball Johnson was not always a "knock-down" shooter in college. Everything is fine with his release and the way he shoots, it just needs to start going in more frequently if that makes sense.
At the very least though, I saw everyone who Johnson was guarding on the Clippers fail to get into the key against him. Delonte West on the first possession tried to get by Johnson for 7 seconds before having a "fuuuuuu" moment in realizing there was no way he was getting by him. The rest of the time the man Johnson was guarding was mostly involved off the ball because they couldn't create. He will be able to do this for the Rockets.
- Those two other young players on display were Isaiah Canaan and Donatas Motiejunas. Canaan was presumed to be a late first round pick in the 2013 draft before slipping to #34 for the Rockets. Canaan is a strong point guard who is a great scorer and shooter. I'm not sure exactly what the Rockers were running but it was not relying on Johnson or Canaan to do much so neither had much of a chance to show anything. It looked like Canaan would have to battle Johnson for a roster spot but now with Jeremy Lin gone they both could be there. Motiejunas is the first round pick from 2011 who saw time for the Rockets last year. With that in mind you'd expect him to have a big impact here in Vegas but I didn't see that much from him. Terrence Jones destroyed him in the battle for the starting power forward position.
- Robert Covington is a long athlete at 6'8" who has developed the range on his jumper since the 2013 draft. He was coming off of an injury in college that had teams weary of him but here he is looking absolutely fine in Vegas. Covington has enough bulk and bounce to battle on the boards and does so very well. This package he has makes him appear to be a prototypical DTA (defense, threes, athleticism) role player and he might see time for the Rockets.
- It's weird to see a guy who played unreal on college basketball's biggest stage like Luke Hancock did be given the "we're up 25 so I guess" minutes.
- Honestly this was another stale game. No one really stood out for the Clippers besides Lorenzo Brown who shot 10% from three last year for Philly and Amath M'Baye who put a couple people on posters yesterday. Jon Brockman had six fouls in the first half so that was neat.
Game 3: Phoenix Suns vs. Philadelphia 76ers
It's pretty tough to judge performance off of the summer league and it was even tougher today because of the opponent. The Suns played a Sixers summer league squad without it's three best players. Nerlens Noel, K.J. McDaniels, and Casper Ware all sat. The level of talent on the Sixers side was really low so it's difficult to jump to any conclusions after this one. I'll make due though.
There were a couple of standouts. Miles Plumlee was the most active he's been so far in Vegas, getting a couple of offensive rebounds and generally being all over the place with his energy. The post-ups were still there but this is the area of his game that can still be a positive for the team without running plays for him. The sweeping left hook he had early on was actually really pretty and it's weird to say that about a Plumlee post-up.
T.J. Warren continues to score without doing anything too impressive which is what he's all about. He has yet to get the right touch on his floater but he's still scoring all around the basket and is automatic in that department. Even without many touches in scoring situations individually he still got his. Warren scored 28 points and put his field goals at 23-39 for Vegas.
- Archie Goodwin had his way in getting to the basket as always but three things caught my attention that we should see improve over the next couple of years. For one he refuses to turn off the attack mode when he's on the fastbreak. He had two that he led that were both relatively easy passes to make but it ended with him getting to the free throw line. That's great and all but the pass is the best option 90% of the time. Secondly, Jordan McRae had his way with him. I talked about McRae yesterday and he got to the rim pretty much whenever he wanted to. Archie would allow him some space and then recover too late, fouling or allowing McRae an easy bucket. He's going to have to keep working on his defense in order to be competent on legit NBA 2's. Lastly, he is very indecisive once his initial option in his head is not there. When he takes his first hesitation dribble and sees if the lane is open and it's not, he looks around to pass it to someone else or improvises, which usually ends badly. This resulted in at least one turnover and it's another small thing of his game that needs improvement.
- Tyler Ennis continued to make pretty passes and was generally solid on defense. He missed another three badly and that looks to be the main part of his game they will emphasize for improvement throughout the season. He had a couple of sequences that caught my eye. One was when he got stripped by his defender but was relentless for 10 straight seconds in stealing it right back which set up the T.J. to Archie lob. Two was him starting the fastbreak on a deflection and he had less than a second to react to a loose body/defender in front of him and he put it behind is back so fast like it was nothing. His reactions are insane. Lastly, Ennis had two assists late in his usual "I'm taking over now" fourth quarter special. He's good.
- Elias Harris had another solid day. He really does fill up the box score with a way of finding buckets and rebounds.
- I still love watching the way Seth Curry moves around the floor and how good he is with improvising and creating offense. I'd love to see him get signed.
- It was another subpar day for Alec Brown. He really struggles as an interior defense and there was a 2-minute stretch where he made at least 5-10 mistakes that gave the Sixers a bucket each time. Without a true center on the floor he was relied upon to do some rim protection and he was not having a good time down there. He just needs to keep learning from this monster bump in competition and he should figure it out after a while. He's incredibly raw right now and has shown some flashes like the great straight-up contest he had late in the third quarter.
That's it for me from Vegas. Thanks a lot for reading. Summer league was a lot of fun to cover and was a terrific experience. Look for the bossman Dave King to pick up his coverage here on Thursday.