Day 1 of the Las Vegas summer league was madness. I woke up 10 minutes after LeBron signed and spent the next 2 hours digesting and discussing that before heading over to the arena. The access you have at the summer league is pretty great. There are coaches and GM's sitting throughout the arena and the seating in the COX Pavilion is similar to a high school game so you are very close. The level of athleticism really gets to you if you've never been this close to the court consistently. I almost had a heart attack when Cleanthony Early dunked from 1 step in front of the elbow in warm-ups. The court chatter is very easy to hear as well, and while it's not as vulgar as the regular season, it was still cool to hear. How this is going to work is a game-by-game recap with the one storyline or player that stood out to me followed by bullet points on things that caught my eye. If you want just the Suns side of the story, you will find that at the bottom of the page with a preview of the Golden State game.
Game 1: Dallas Mavericks vs. New York Knicks
Thanasis Antetokounmpo was the highlight of the first game between the Dallas Mavericks and the New York Knicks. He was by far the most energized player I saw today, which resulted in the Knicks bench being lively from the get go, Antetokounmpo gave his full and even somewhat unnecessary effort on every play he was involved in. He was picking guys up full court and would be as close to his defender as possible without fouling, which he did quite a bit of since he was so aggressive. Cleanthony Early laughed as he checked in for Antetokounmpo after he picked up three fouls in about 4 minutes and Tim Hardaway Jr almost died laughing on the bench after Antetokounmpo's reaction on his own block.
Antetokoumnmpo was jumping up and down on in bounds defense, sprinting up and down the floor, and rallying his teammates anytime he felt like it. He would stand up and yell anytime anything happened on the floor that went I the Knicks favor. This was all fun, but he showed some great ability as well besides just this insane work rate that warranted his 51st selection from the Knicks this year. Some of the basketball purists type of plays he made such as his corner threes or great vision and ball-handling to get to the basket impressed me. Here are some other tidbits from the game.
- Shane Larkin is still figuring out how to be a point guard. You can tell when you watch him that he isn't pure and it hurts him sometimes. He missed a handful of open passing lanes and forced it a bit too much offensively. As with everyone here though, you can see why he's a legitimate talent worthy of that 18th overall selection in 2013. He's still only 21.
- Tim Hardaway Jr. had the greenest light I've ever seen. He took 11 shots in the first half, 8 of them being threes. He's a good three-point shooter but he takes a lot of bad shots.
- That athlete thing I talked about was on full display when Bertrand James and Cole Aldrich were battling inside. The length, height, and bulk of the two was surreal, and Aldrich in particular had some promising blimps. Aldrich looked like a legitimate NBA center with his shot blocking and poise in the post.
- Former Suns bench weapon Shannon Brown was playing for the Knicks at the age of 28. He never found his rhythm for the game and is still struggling to find a spot on a roster.
- Ricky Ledo's scoring ability is not exaggerated. He brought just about everything out of his arsenal early on, mostly utilizing a Euro-step to great success in getting into the lane. It's an erratic style though, and sometimes that results in a 4-14 night. The consistency is one of the main things that's holding him back from making the Mavs rotation.
- This was the first basketball game I ever saw a double lane violation. Apparently you do a jump ball at center court when this occurs. That's neat.
- My man Cleanthony Early had a very good day. He had an impressive spin move fadeaway from the elbow early and showcased his corner three is ready to go at the NBA level on both attempts early on. After one of those corner threes, Early got the ball with space, attacked the basket, and murdered poor Ivan Johnson. Johnson is a massive man and the thin Early made him look like a boy. The Knicks fans in attendance who were not aware of Early certainly know who he is now, as he got a solid reaction from them when he checked out of the game. I will continue to stand by my grade of having him in the mid to late first round. Cleanthony forever.
Game 2: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Toronto Raptors
Game 2 between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Toronto Raptors only had two words on my mind: Bruno Caboclo. Caboclo was the 20th selection in the 2014 draft and was by far the biggest reach and surprise of the night. Fran Fraschilla had the quote of the draft in saying that Caboclo is "two years from being two years away." He was called him the Brazilian Kevin Durant and that's all I needed to hear in order to be as hyped as possible.
Fraschilla was right. Caboclo's game is so elementary right now I have no idea how to evaluate it. His summer league started with him not realizing a lob was being thrown to him, a travel, failing to catch a pass when he got it in the corner, and getting 2 fouls in three and a half minutes. Then, all of a sudden, he drains a step-back three right in the eye of a defender and looked very good on catch and shoots. He moves awkwardly and doesn't quite understand basketball yet. It's going to be a while before the Raptors see results on him, but it could be worth it. Other tidbits...
- Jordan Clarkson looks like a very good player player to me. His meteoric rise through the workout process saw him being projected as high as the mid first round after being projected in the beginning of the second round before the combine and such. He wound up going later than that, 46th to the Lakers who traded for that pick. His skill set for getting into the lane is very nice and he was hitting the three with confidence today which was his biggest concern coming into the draft. I'd describe his game as crafty and smooth, but in an athletic way if that makes sense. I'm a fan.
- Bebe Nogueira was relatively invisible during this one. He was acquired for the John Salmons expiring if you missed that. The shot blocking Brazilian had Hassan Whiteside starting over him, so that's not good. A mid first round pick in his second year shouldn't be coming off the bench but that's where he was. I hope to see more from him this weekend.
- Your favorite point guard ever Kendall Marshall played for the Lakers. He did what he usually does and I don't feel the need to talk about that. He finds the open man and shoots threes. That's about it.
- Julius Randle has not signed his contract yet so he did not play. I was very upset about this.
- This game was during the Isaiah Thomas heist so I spent 60% of it on twitter and texts freaking out. Didn't miss much though.
- Overall, Jordan Clarkson was the only guy that looked like a pro out there. We will talk about him being one of the second round steals in a few years even if that wasn't where he was evaluated.
Game 3: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The third game of the evening was the one I was looking the most forward to the most and it was between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks. Four premier talents would be on the floor in Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Jabari Parker, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. During the first two games, the Cox Pavilion was relatively full due to the Thomas and Mack Center only having two games today, but this was completely sold out. There were at least a hundred people standing atop the rafters, behind the media rows, or sitting in the isles. Everyone was standing during warm-ups and the "ooooh!" sound bytes were in full effect whenever anyone did something somewhat cool.
It was a slow start, mostly due to the refs calling just about anything in order to "teach the players" or whatever the hell the point is there, but in the mid second quarter things got going. Wiggins finally dunked (he only did layups in the warm-ups. I was not pleased about it), had another and-1 that looked like there was a trampoline under the hardwood, and a dirty stepback from the elbow. He was hitting his threes with confidence and was the best player on the floor in my opinion. Giannis had an "in your eye" three, ran the point at times despite being SIX FREAKING ELEVEN, and looked confident and skilled. Jabari showcased why he is by far the best scorer out of this draft despite a rough shooting night. HIs shot selection will continue to improve and it's something he needs to work on. Anthony Bennett attempted to kill the rim on a fast break and was chucking up the threes to keep his acclaim as a stretch four. He was trying to beat out Tim Hardaway Jr. for the greenest light of the day I guess. It was a lot of fun to watch and it was well worth showing up for.
- It was great to watch Nate Wolters and Matthew Dellavedova go back and forth. Wolters was one of the steals of the draft last year and Dellavedova continues to work his ass off and make smart plays to be able to call himself an NBA player. Both had their moments like the big 4 in showing why they are NBA players.
- Everything about Jabari stood out. His control of the ball, strides, comfort going through traffic and finishing, passing, IQ. Everything. One sequence that stood out was that someone on the Cavs didn't hustle back so he had a 4 on 3 and when he realized it as he was jogging the ball up the floor. He sprinted with the ball to the wing, forcing a defender covering someone in the corner to come out and stop the ball, and then Parker his open teammate in the corner. He's great.
- I still stand by my opinion on how good Wiggins is going to be. Nothing changed about this after seeing him in person.
- Both Bennett and Wiggins were very willing to shoot the three. I'm not sure if it's because this is summer league or they were supposed to, just thought it was worth nothing.
- There weren't that many notable names courtside up to this point, but all of a sudden I look down and there's James Harden, Demar Derozan, and Amir Johnson.
- Archie Goodwin with his Suns hat and massive gold chain went over to talk to Harden for a minute or two. Do you Arch.
- We had our first game go down to the wire, as Wolters had a chance to win the game but missed horribly. Summer league!
- Not many observations after that. You lost your seat if you left to go to the bathroom or get something at concessions so I was focusing most of my energy on not peeing my pants.
Game 4: San Antonio Spurs vs. Sacramento Kings
The fourth and final game was between the Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs. This one was relatively quiet, mainly due to the buzz for the previous game and the amount of empty seats. Bullets only here...
- Sacramento might have the most balanced starting five here besides the Suns. Nik Stauskas, Ray McCallum, Ben McLemore, Derrick Williams, and Quincy Acy. They were fun to watch when they were all out there together. The Spurs won though because they are the Spurs, even in the summer league.
- Acy kept shooting threes and kept making them. He's a power guy inside that bangs around, rebounds, and dunks the ball. That was strange.
- I always liked Vander Blue and the Spurs got a good look at him. He's very explosive and knows how to get to the basket.
- Stauskas didn't surprise me at all. He looked very comfortable with the ball and knew what the best move was to set up himself for an open look or the player next to him. I don't know what the Kings are going to do with him and McLemore but Stauskas was more impressive tonight.
- Derrick Williams played just like he has in the pros. Did some good things, did some bad things, and didn't have you leaving the game feeling impressed. HIs performance against Duke is one of my favorites ever but it looks like those days are behind him.
- Every year in the draft I get attached to a bunch of prospects and hope they find the right fit. Last year, Ray McCallum did not and struggled to find consistent playing time in Sacramento for his rookie year. Now with the Isaiah Thomas move it looks like he will be the backup point guard. I'm happy for him, as he proved in Vegas that he can really play. He was the guy I was most impressed with in this game.
- My favorite moment of interaction so far came from Shabazz Muhammad. Muhammad used to be going first overall in mock drafts before he partially failed to meet the hype at UCLA and wound up going in the mid first round to Minnesota. There was this mob of 8-12 kids with sharpies and a ball made to be signed that were getting EVERYONE. Well, Shabazz sat in the section next to mine on the isle and something that made me chuckle happened. The mob of autograph kids approached him and I thought "oh here we go again", but it turns out they say "excuse me" so they can get by. Quite a turn for a guy who looked to be the #1 overall pick in the NBA draft out of high school.
- I didn't see the entire game so I can't write all about it, but the Pelicans and D-League Select game was incredible. There were only 300 people in the arena (this one was in Thomas and Mack, Cox Pavilion is more like a gym and T&M is a legit arena) and I loved the PA playing music to no response or people still going crazy for the t-shirt toss. Josh Howard (yes, THAT Josh Howard) was on the bench during the Pelicans double-digit comeback late in the 4th quarter, and he willed that entire bench to get into the game and go nuts whenever the Pelicans did something positive. The energy willed the Pelicans back to the lead with 26 seconds left in the game and Josh Carter (yes, THAT Josh Carter) hit a game winning three with 3 seconds left. There was probably 0.8% of the media members there and an even smaller percentage of the fans there, but the Pelicans rallied because the guys on the floor and more so the bench wanted a win. Josh Howard was one of the best players on an NBA Finals team three years ago and here he is in front of 300 people rooting his team on from the bench. I love sports.
Phoenix Suns vs. Golden State Warriors Preview
The aftermath post LeBron has obviously extended to Phoenix now with the Isaiah Thomas signing and Luol Deng rumor, and that goes even further into tomorrow's summer league opener for the Suns. Those signings could restrict the playing time we thought was a given for the likes of TJ Warren and Tyler Ennis. It also puts more money in other places while the hole at stretch four still exists, so that's even more of a spotlight on Alec Brown. Those three have a lot to play for.
The Suns play the Golden State Warriors tomorrow. The Warriors did not have a selection in the 2014 NBA draft but they had four in 2012. The first round pick from that year was Festus Ezeli, but he is now out due to injury. That turns the attention to Nemanja Nedovic and Ognjen Kuzmic.
Nedovic, the 30th selection in 2013, had an injury plagued rookie year that didn't allow him much playing time to get acclimated to the NBA. He's an explosive 2 guard that is undersized at 6'4. He loves to get to the basket and is always trying to get there. Kuzmic was the 52nd selection for the Warriors in 2012 and is a true 7 footer. In the D-League last year Kuzmic averaged nearly 12 rebounds a game and 1.6 blocks a game. The stat that stands out for him is his offensive rebounding, as he averaged 4.3 a game in the D-League last season. The injury riddled front court in Golden State has Warriors fans paying a lot of attention to Kuzmic.
Other notable names to watch on the roster include James Michael McAdoo, a projected top 5 pick out of high school before falling off the face of the earth and going undrafted. Former Big-12 scoring machine Rodney McGruder will also be with the Warriors. Lastly, the all-time leader in three-point field goals in NCAA history Travis Bader will be doing double duty after playing for the Sixers in the Orlando summer league.
As an opponent, Suns fans should be excited to see the likes of Miles Plumlee, Alex Len, and Alec Brown take on a true 7 footer in Kuzmic. That duo of Nedovic and McGruder should provide some competition for Archie Goodwin and Ennis. Overall, this is a team that the Suns should be able to handle pretty easily. Nedovic and Kuzmic will be intriguing and will have their success, but I expect the Suns to come out on top tomorrow. Until then...