Welcome back to our coverage of the Las Vegas summer league. Once again, game by game coverage with an overall theme from each and other things that stood out. If you are looking for strictly Suns talk they were game 3 of the day and there is also a preview of the Bucks at the end.
Game 1: Portland Trail Blazers vs. New York Knicks
Portland's experience stood out for me in this one. Thomas Robinson, Will Barton, and C.J. McCollum played minutes on a very good Trail Blazers team last year, and the way they operated on the floor showed that experience. Portland went with full-court pressure early on and both Barton and McCollum caused problems. The Knicks have a couple of great talents here, but the experience that some of these young players on Portland got last season was so valuable and clear in the way they played. Bullets..
- This was the first game that legitimately came down to the wire and had great back and forth action late. It ended in true summer league fashion and I couldn't be more happy about that. Cleanthony Early had a breakaway layup to clinch the win with 9 seconds left and of course missed. This led to Will Barton going back the other way on the fast break with CJ McCollum WIDE open on the right side who is easily the best shooter in the building. Instead, Barton gave it to Bobby Brown on the left who proceeded to step out of bounds on the baseline. Summer league!
- C.J. McCollum was very impressive. Having a high basketball IQ is so valuable and McCollum had at least 10 different plays he made happen just because of his IQ. He had two early steals in that full-court pressure, had a couple of drive and kicks, and understood when the defender under the basket wasn't in the correct position so he could attack the basket. There was this one possession where McCollum got the ball with some space at the top of the key, pump faked the three and blew by the initial defender while slashing to the lane. With the big coming out to get him, McCollum did this sort of hesitation head fake thing at the free throw line while not stopping in order to partially fake out the big while still keeping his momentum and dribble so he could lay it in. It was so pretty.
- Thomas Robinson was also a big winner for me. His communication defensively was great and he had great spacing by backing off of players who were not offensive threats and used his body to clog the key or a passing lane. Offensively he showed off the range on his jumper and used his athleticism and strength inside like he always does.
- Cleanthony Early had another good day. He hit a pretty jumper from just inside the 3-point line when the defender Thomas Robinson gave him the space to shoot. The next possession down Early got the ball in the corner and Robinson gave him the space yet again. Early didn't hesitate and his make didn't even touch the rim. On the way up the floor Early was jabbering at Robinson, probably to the extent of "yeah I can shoot."
- Joel Freeland and Allen Crabbe, two other players on the Blazers roster for most of last year, struggled. Freeland kept getting attacked in the post by Jeremy Tyler and was consistently shy and not powerful enough on the block or under the rim. Crabbe just failed to get in the game and find his spots.
- Meyers Leonard did not play, and I'm guessing it was due to illness or injury since he was on the end of the bench. Leonard is already seen by most as a bust after being selected 11th overall in 2012 by Portland. I was excited to see him play but I guess that will have to wait.
- Wesley Matthews knows everyone. He was courtside and greeted at least 50 different people during the game. I don't even think he knows Gary Harris but he just wanted to say what's up anyway I guess.
- Seeing Gary Harris walk by almost made me cry.
- There was a really cool moment where a line of about 50 former and current NBA players (some sort of association I assume) moved to sit in the bleachers and just about all of them got shouted at or had someone to say hi to. Reggie Jackson's backpack was a picture of a bunch of Euros (currency) which I saw as both impressive and bold. Antonio Davis walked by without anyone noticing but Corey Maggette got multiple fans yelling at him. A Warriors fan asked Antawn Jamison to come back to the Warriors, which led to multiple people shaking their head including Antawn.
- I've learned through a day here that the easiest way to say hi to a player and get him to enjoy a stranger saying something to him is to go with a college reference. A guy in front of me just said "hook em" and held up the horns to a former player and he got a handshake and a smile. Cliff Robinson was elated by anyone wearing UConn gear or saying any sort of reference of the school to him. Cliff is the best.
- It's always a plus from me whenever current players show up to watch more than just their own team's game. Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris showed up during halftime and stayed throughout the day. They had matching shirts, pants, and chains. They're the best.
- If there's one thing I've learned from attending multiple basketball games, it's who is going to make the half court shots. You either have to look like a complete pro or have no idea what you are doing. No in-between. The fans went 0-3 yesterday and a dad stepped up today in flip-flops and missed his first attempt by 15 feet. He of course proceeded to bury the next one and of course the crowd went crazy.
Game 2: Toronto Raptors vs. Denver Nuggets
Gary Harris and Quincy Miller were by far the best players on the floor in this one. I typed this in the late first quarter and they wound up with 53 points combined. Being one of the most negative writers here about the Suns draft, seeing Gary Harris outscore the Raptors with 13 points before checking out in the late first quarter made me continuously shake my head. His three-point stroke was money and he was playing great defense as well. His slashing is probably the best part of his game and he rarely did that today but was effective when he used it.
Quincy Miller's length was all over the place. He's very hard to miss at nearly seven feet tall and very long arms. He's not very fast and he can't jump that high but he uses his body to his advantage as a perimeter player. He had three blocks in the first quarter that were simply due to his length and he made two threes early with a defender right in his face because of his height advantage. With 8 minutes left in the second quarter it was Miller/Harris 29 and the Raptors 18. Tidbits..
- Bruno Caboclo was much better today. He showed some promise as a defender and continues to shoot the three with confidence. Like Miller, his height and length allow him to hit shots right over the top of defenders. Defensively, he has a good understanding of how to use his body, but Miller made him look silly a few times. Once he learns everything he will be very good on D.
- Myck Kabongo did not play yesterday but he played today. Back in 2011 Kabongo was the #11 on ESPN's college basketball recruiting rankings. Kabongo did not play well in his freshman season so he obviously returned to school for his sophomore year. He was under investigation during the 2012-2013 season for alleged inappropriate contact with none other than Rich Paul. Yes, the Rich Paul that ran LeBron's free agency this summer. Kabongo only played in 11 games, didn't look that great, declared for the draft, and went undrafted. He spent last year in the D-League and did not look all that great today.
- Bebe Noguiera did very little again.
- Marv Albert showed up to see Steve Kerr coach his first game. That bromance is so real.
Game 3: Phoenix Suns vs. Golden State Warriors
In the first half the Suns were extremely stagnant while the Warriors remained aggressive. Steve Kerr got a lot of long, strong, and great athletes on his team and despite the talent gap the Suns were down 7 at half. I'm not sure what it was that made them so tentative. Longabardi tried to work a double high look with Len and Plumlee on the elbows and it was awful. The aggression the Warriors showed in getting to the rim had the Suns looking poor defensively.
The second half was a different story. T.J. Warren kept scoring whenever he wanted to and Archie Goodwin got going. The defense started to perk up after a little momentum and it continued on through the rest of the game. Tyler Ennis had a great 3 play spurt including a steal, assist, and 2 floaters that got the Suns into this close game. Goodwin's steal late got the Suns a 2-point lead with under a minute to go. Golden State got it back though to a tie game and then in a somewhat controversial call on a loose ball, the Suns had the ball in a tie game with 33 seconds left. Seth Curry got an open jumper but like most of the game for him it was off. Shades of Jason Richardson and Ron Artest had the man of the night Justin Holiday put in the air ball from Nemanja Nedovic for the win. Overall, it was a good learning experience for this Summer Suns squad to figure out their rhythm. Bullets on everyone!
- T.J. Warren was the biggest positive offensively for the Suns. He took whatever the defense gave him and operated from there. Dude can score from all over. Defensively though, the speed and bulk of the Warriors bothered him and he continued to find himself out of position and worked. The offense he showed far outweighs the defensive concerns, but it's still something worth noting that he needs to keep working on.
- Alex Len impressed me the most. He was active on the offensive boards, moved very well defensively, and contested just about everything he could. He took the face-up jumper when the defense allowed it and that's what he should be doing. He was the best big by far for Phoenix.
- Archie Goodwin was a roller coaster during this one. In the first half, he couldn't figure out what he wanted to do when he got the ball and Aaron Craft was excellent defensively on him for a few possessions. Defensively, Goodwin was lacking the instincts to react to screens or the movement of his man. Then in the second half, he got a couple of buckets in the open floor and then started attacking like he should with two tremendous finishes in the mid third quarter. His decision making amongst a couple of other things still needs work.
- The Miles Plumlee post up fascination continued in Vegas and it continued to not work. I don't get it. Even when Plumlee has a mismatch I still don't understand why they give him the ball because he does not take advantage of his bulk and tries to fade-away or put up his signature hook. He was fine everywhere else but this remains to be a "Why?" sort of thing and overall he had a really bad night.
- Alec Brown had a nightmare first half. He was 0-5 from three, missing badly on just about all of them. To go silver lining here I was happy that he had the quick trigger because that's why the Suns picked him. However, even worse was his positioning a handful of times down low where he got outmuscled and outleaped for a lot of rebounds. He barely played in the second half. Rough night.
- While he didn't have a good day statistically, I was still impressed by Tyler Ennis. He showed off his great court vision and ability to read the defense. He set up his teammates multiple times just by moving to certain places with the ball, which is what I was the most high on when the Suns picked him. On defense he was surprisingly solid, including a savvy steal and not giving up much position to a much stronger Nedovic.
- Seth Curry was inventive in creating space for his jumper but it just wasn't falling tonight. His movement as the primary ball handler was solid and once his jumper starts falling he will have a positive impact.
- Elias Harris was not that great in the first half but was a different player in the second half. He showed his versatility from hitting a jumper to being able to finish for the and-1 under the rim.
- Justin Holiday was the best player on the floor. He's always been a great shooter and could not stop missing tonight.
- Aaron Craft was as pesky as ever and head coach Steve Kerr elected to keep him on the floor at the end of the game over his starting 2 guard Orlando Johnson.
- It was pretty telling on Warren's shooting ability that Longabardi went with the extra shooter on the floor late in the game instead of Warren. He will get there.
- Goodwin and Warren gamble WAY too much on steals. It's a problem.
- The Suns were 29th in assists last year and they only had 2 tonight. Not what you like to see.
- The crowds for both teams were great and this was the most hyped game so far besides the Cavs and Bucks yesterday until the Jazz fans blew everyone out later on.
Game 4: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Utah Jazz
Our final game was the "I want to see Dante Exum play basketball live" game. I found it interesting that Trey Burke was playing in the summer league given how much experience he got in his rookie year, but it made sense with Exum there. They are going to be a backcourt together and this is really good time to work out the kinks and feel each other out. Exum's handle and passing were on full display and had me very impressed. His crossover move in the early second quarter to set up Rudy Golbert was beautiful. The kid has handles for days. He is so fast that when he gets any sort of hesitation from his defender he is gone. He was looking to distribute and handle to show everyone that he is indeed a point guard and not a "zero guard" like some claim. I'm trying really hard to not overreact to one summer league game against the Sixers but my goodness he was impressive.
- Burke was right alongside Exum in the point guard skills display. That backcourt should be fun to watch together.
- The scoring machine from Cincinnati Sean Kilpatrick did his usual business in Vegas. Kilpatrick had 11 points in the first quarter and was really working his tail off on both ends. He averaged eight three-point attempts (!) a game in his last two years at Cincinnati and continued to keep shooting that way in Vegas. Anyone who shows flashes in Vegas for Philly has a chance to make the roster and he could do just that.
- Besides what I mentioned earlier about Exum, I was very impressed by his basketball IQ as well. When he's attacking the basket he has the ball on a string and he's so agile that he can shift any way he wants to. He sees the floor well enough to not only create space for himself, but suck the defense in and execute things like drive and kicks as well. I'm in.
- Rudy Gobert is starting to figure it out. At a ridiculous 7'2" with an even more ridiculous 7'9" wingspan, it's clear why he was an NBA prospect. Now that he added some bulk last year and practiced against some far better players he's starting to come together. He had a sequence featuring a monster block and a great and-1 finish on the other end. With a two point guard look for the Jazz a player like Gobert could really succeed.
- The Jazz had by far the most fan support out of any team here. During that Gobert run they went absolutely insane. There was legit noise throughout and they were in love with Exum.
- Malcolm Thomas was all over the offensive boards like he always is.
- Brock Motum played well for Utah. He's a smart player that does a little bit of everything and makes great passes. He was mostly a scorer for Washington State but now he's playing a very good all-around style.
- Rodney Hood couldn't hit threes and when Rodney Hood can't hit threes Rodney Hood will have little to no purpose as a basketball player.
- Nerlens Noel did not play.
Phoenix Suns vs. Milwaukee Bucks Preview
Here's a quick preview for tomorrow. Milwaukee has two of the best talents and players here in Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. I have no idea who is going to try to guard them for the Suns so that should be interesting. They also have a very good player you may not have heard of in Nate Wolters. He's a very good scorer who is a surprisingly good finisher at the rim and proved that he was not just a clone of his comp out of college Jimmer Fredette. His point guard skills are evolving and he's a legitimate NBA 1 that should test Tyler Ennis.
Elsewhere, former first round pick of the Boston Celtics JaJuan Johnson will be playing down low. Johnson is a thin 6'10 and was basically the center for the Bucks yesterday, so this is the sort of matchup that Miles Pumlee and Alex Len need to dominate. With that in mind we might see Kenny Kadji, who is a much bulkier 6'10 and could be much more of a center than Johnson could be. He's still a much inferior player though that Plumlee and Len should handle easily. The last player I will go over is Johnny O' Bryant, a second round pick this year for the Bucks who I really like. O' Bryant is very solid in the post and showed that despite being only 6'9 he can still get his inside. He made it look very easy when he got the ball with his back to the basket yesterday so look for this to be a potential problem for Alec Brown and Elias Harris.
As far as things to look for from tonight's game, there are a few things. Alec Brown and Miles Plumlee were the two that struggled the most so look for Brown to start hitting some threes and Plumlee to stop posting up. Alex Len only got 2 shots off from the post so I'd look for more of that. Lastly, I hope the Suns get more than 2 assists.