Game 1: San Antonio Spurs vs. Portland Trail Blazers
This was the best actual basketball game I've seen here so far. Both teams were very even throughout and the combination of the crowd and bench being into it the whole game was a nice touch. There weren't any standout prospects here, but there's a lot of unique talents that played here including Kyle Anderson, Noah Vonleh, and Tim Frazier.
Anderson is the only true prospect the Spurs currently have around and he's a good one. He's such a "Spursy" type player. He has a very unique skill set with below average athleticism combined with tremendous floor vision and ball-handling. He is one of the few true "point forwards" in the NBA right now.
His pump fakes, crossovers, and finishing at tough angles are enhanced by some great body control he has to maximize his speed and strength. Anytime a defender gives him any space he will try to seal their lane off like he's actually defending them with the ball, and then it's either a pump fake, leaner, or finish with them out of the picture. He's going to be great off the bench for the Spurs next season if his jumper stays consistent, which I think it has.
- I am a big fan of what the Trail Blazers did this offseason. LaMarcus Aldridge was leaving and Wes Matthews had a potentially career-altering injury. Instead of bringing back Matthews and holding onto Nic Batum for the last year of free agency, they made moves fast. Portland acquired Vonleh, Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless to build around the next run in the West with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Some of the players involved in that core were here today.
- Allen Crabbe is the main piece they showed today besides Vonleh. He's a great shotmaker who can hit a jumper at any angle or speed. His size and length allows him to get his shot whenever he wants at the two. He is a very good shooter from three and Portland could get creative and have the most devastating shooting lineup in the league at times with Lillard, McCollum, Crabbe, Vonleh, and Meyers Leonard all on the floor together. Crabbe has enough quickness to get to the rack and has NBA level athleticism to finish. He played on-and-off for the Blazers last year, but that won't be the case this season. I'd be shocked if Blazers fans weren't expecting big things from him off the bench in his third season.
- Frazier looks to be Lillard's backup for next season. He spent five years at Penn State (medical redshirt) and that type of experience shows in his game. He always has a purpose with the ball, which is something that becomes more and more evident when you are watching point guards at summer league. He rarely wastes possessions and uses his speed and quickness to move with that purpose. He's an excellent passer and that makes him a great point guard because of how easy it is for him to get into the key. His size limits how good he can really be, but he has become a better shooter over time and his play last year in the D-League (MVP and ROY) earned him a contract with the Blazers last year similar to Jerel McNeal's (rest of season, team option for next season).
- Vonleh put on some serious muscle and I liked him even more than last year. He still has the same quick first step from the perimeter and has enough of a handle to get to the basket. His jumper looked great and was hitting his threes this week. The Spurs rarely established themselves in the paint when he was on the floor. His good lateral quickness for a power forward becomes even more of a problem for other teams when you add his newfound strength to the equation. He's always going to be good on the glass and that showed more here. I think Portland got a steal if Batum doesn't re-sign in Charlotte.
- Daniel Orton was the starting center for the Blazers. He's had an interesting NBA journey. He was an extremely raw but strong center at Kentucky who rarely played in his one season, but his value was still high enough to be selected in the first round. He's been on three different NBA teams, five different D-League teams and also spent time in China and the Philippines. The size and rebounding is there and he even showed off a jumper today. He still makes silly mistakes on the floor, but the improvement is clearly there over the last five years. He's only 24 years old so there's still a chance of seeing him in the NBA at some point.
- Summer league reviews are the worst. There was one that took about 2-3 minutes, which prompted the guy behind me to yell: "that review took 10 minutes! I want to go get lunch at some point today!" Summer league!
- We had our first half-court shot make of the year! There's one during every game and this was the first guy that came even close. Shoutout to the MC by the way. I never catch his name, but he has the right level of energy and humor that doesn't grow old on you.
Game 2: Philadelphia 76ers vs. New York Knicks
To the delight of everyone's basketball soul we got not only Kristaps Porzingis and Jahlil Okafor playing, but they actually matched up on each other to start the game. Porzingis was used in pick-and-pops, which didn't see him get many looks. I wish we could have seen him get the ball with space to attack Okafor because that's the type of thing you'd want him to do if he plays at center. Porzingis' length really bothered Okafor and I continue to be impressed by how defensively sound he is. Porzingis is definitely not soft.
Okafor on offense was spectacular in the first half. He has a couple of set moves like that beautiful spin move from the elbow, but he's so versatile and coordinated on the block that it's impossible to guard him if you don't have the strength and length to keep up. He has the best touch around the rim out of anyone I saw here. My favorite thing he would do was on an offensive rebound, where instead of forcing it up over two-to-three defenders he would let the defense scramble to match-up and operate out of the post again. That's just really smart basketball.
The second half was a different story. He struggled against length, with Porzingis and Ndour both blocking his shot. He was working so hard for his shot that he had to sit out a couple minutes late in the game for rest. One major thing to note is that his jumper looked ugly. He had two bad misses in the first half. I thought he had that already down so I'd really keep an eye on that this year.
- Yesterday I talked about Thanasis Antetokounmpo finding something to be good at and he hit two corner threes in the first half. If he can become a good three-point shooter - around 38% or so I'd say - he will have a long and successful NBA career.
- T.J. McConnell started for the Sixers and I think he's going to make that roster. He has juuuuuust enough athleticism and quickness to still be a great defender at the NBA level. That translates to the other end as well for him to create space and have successful possessions on offense. His passing ability and floor vision allow him to be a great pick-and-roll player. If he can start comfortably hitting midrange jumpers he will be a great third PG option in the NBA. His shooting needs work and he's a little small, but his athleticism translates enough for him to find a role. With the point guards currently on the roster for the Sixers and their projected starting lineup next season (Okafor pure post, Noel midrange, Covington corner specialist) I could see him even starting some games for them.
- Scotty Wilbekin was on fire Tuesday. He's a great shooter and has some solid athleticism to help him as a defender. His distribution and vision are good enough to play point.
- Jordan McRae is definitely not the heir to Jamal Crawford's throne despite the similarities. He's too out of control and doesn't have enough consistency in his play to earn that role. If he can find the right pace to play at he could be good for the Sixers.
- Mo Ndour is an NBA player. He has a really high level of activity and bounce to his step. He uses his length in a fantastic way on both ends and has a great midrange jumper to work in pick-and-pop's. He's a much better ball-handler than he looks. The Knicks got a great pickup.
- I'm setting the over/under at 7.5 for Top-10 play appearances from Jerian Grant this season. He is an absolute blur in transition and it seems like his senses heighten when he's moving at that speed. If somebody is open he is going to find them with a laser of a pass. He can also posterize you if you want to hang out under the rim. I didn't see enough from him in the half-court to be convinced and that's troubling for a four-year college player, but he's going to be great for the Knicks in pushing the tempo.
Game 3: Utah Jazz vs. Phoenix Suns
The Jazz didn't have a true center play today, but this was the type of domination Len can be capable of with his height and length. He was all over the place doing strong man things. Jared Cunningham tried to fight through his screen and just fell over and Len barely reacted. He also had a couple of post-ups where he used his strength and he easily identified double teams and made the simple pass. I love when bigs just kicks it out and let the perimeter players do the difficult ball movement. Jumpers aside, this is the Len you want to see.
- Alec Brown had a much better day, but the Suns are still treating him like he's the lowest big on the totem pole. He was the 11th player to play and made up for that. The Jazz play stretch 4's here so he benefitted from that defensively and on the glass. I liked the way he played defense off of the ball. He stayed an extra step closer to the rim because his length would help him recover better on closeouts. This kept him in prime position for blocks and rebounds. He earned more playing time in the second half and played just as well.
- Devin Booker had his best game of the three by far. He showed what you can normally expect with his jumper falling. He also did a lot of things I liked with the ball. One of them was how he attacked closeouts by just bringing the ball near the paint and kicking it out to the corner or the wing, even with that player's defender still on them. This keeps everyone moving on the floor and opens up the space for that player in an isolation, usually TJ or Archie.
- T.J. Warren and Archie Goodwin are elite summer league players on offense, but they still struggled on defense. Warren in particular wasn't crashing the glass as a small-ball four, which is a huge no-no. He also looked absolutely lost in pick-and-roll defense. Archie still struggles with when ball-handlers catch him off guard and blow by him. He looks good when he knows what's coming, but that varies. Warren was an animal on offense as usual and Archie hit some jumpers, which is probably the biggest development of the Suns summer league.
- Mickey McConnell was the best point guard here again. Mike James started and has some nice bounce to his game, but McConnell was more efficient. James is still the best prospect for the NBA though. A rough three games for Jerel McNeal.
- None of the three other power forwards really did much except for Josh Harrellson hitting open threes.
- Nothing to note on the Jazz end. I talked about Lyles and Cotton yesterday. Dante Exum and Rodney Hood were still out injured.