Hello everyone. If you're new here and/or didn't bother to click on my summer league posts in the past, this is my third year of attending summer league in Las Vegas and sending in my thoughts and analysis for the day. My main takeaway from the game is first, followed by random observations and such. Owen and Dave will be covering other angles and will be more centralized on the Suns, but you can find my thoughts here on their games as well as a preview of their opponent if they are playing the next day, such as Portland tomorrow below.
There were only three pairs of games to kick things off today, so let's jump in.
Game 1: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The surprise of game 1 was seeing Malcolm Brogdon play point guard for the Bucks against Kay Felder, and not just in a defensive matchup. Brogdon handled the ball for a majority of the game and did fairly well considering his college resume. He got to spots on the floor consistently, whether it was five or six feet inside the three-point line or further out than that. He showed he can be a secondary ball-handler if you don't need him to be a playmaker. That's useful in some ways, especially because of his defense. Despite being a better shooter and scorer than the consensus opinion according to some, that's where he will continue to make his money.
That defense was featured against Felder, one of the best offensive players here. As no surprise to anyone familiar with Felder, the Oakland product set up his teammates for a majority of the game and had no hesitation in any passing situations. His cross-court passes into the weak side corners at 5-foot-9 were effortless and not forced. That's not easy at his size. Five assists and zero turnovers along with a bunch of difficult passes to put his teammates in the right position is a job well done. His feature moment was meeting Thon Maker at the rim late in the first half, and with Maker arriving a half-second late on his weak side recovery, Felder floated the ball up off nearly the top of the backboard and in the hoop. He's got all the tools to score at his size.
The pleasant surprise was his defense, where he consistently picked up his man at half court. He showed terrific fundamentals in swinging his hips and using his ridiculously low stance to his advantage. Because he's so agile and strong, Felder can stay up on you despite his size without sacrificing much space. Being a pesky defender like Ulis is an element of his game that could make him a steal in this draft.
- Speaking of Maker, it's not often you get the full impression of a player after just one game, but that's what happened. His handle, defensive rotations, closeouts and jumper were all pretty far away, especially his jumper. Where he shined, however, was his energy. He's consistently running up and down the floor and has good instincts on the offensive glass. If he can make rim runs and contribute that way, he will be fine in the NBA, but other issues like his form as a defender and jumper need a lot of work before being ready for positive minutes in the NBA. That's the type of evaluation most scouts saw that had him ranked around the 25-50 range, which is why the pick in the lottery was a massive shock.
- The Orange Mamba (Jordan McRae) was playing for the Cavaliers and showcased what Suns fans saw in his brief time with the team last season, A scorer who is still capable of separation against NBA defense, McRae has underrated playmaking ability and because of how often he creates separation, this comes in handy a lot. His athleticism is still probably just a notch low to keep up on rotation minutes, but the benefit of NBA practices through the second half of the season showed his already good feel for the game improving.
- Rashad Vaughn didn't look as comfortable as he should be for a second-year first-round pick at summer league, following up on his disappointing rookie season. He's going to succeed because of scoring the ball, and while he made a sweet step-back jumper on the baseline, his overall stroke from three needs more consistency to earn the trust of Jason Kidd. He only shot 29 percent from three and 30 percent from the field in 70 games last year. Ouch.
Game 2: Denver Nuggets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Kellan Olson favorite Kris Dunn was everything you expected. He was terrific in the first six and a half minutes, continuously beating his man to the free-throw line and timing the pass to the weak side corner perfectly while also playing very good defense on Emmanuel Mudiay. He finished out his shift terribly, however, taking a silly semi-transition one-footed floater from beyond the free-throw line and then committed a stupid transition foul.
That's the reality of playing Dunn if his consistency doesn't improve. You're going to have to live with the idiotic decisions every now and then in order to get the potentially remarkable two-way play.
After watching college or international tape, it's nice to see the signature skills of players in somewhat of an NBA setting, such as Mudiay's court vision last year. Dunn's potentially elite handle is ready to go right now. His double crossover in the third quarter got the most noise out of a neutral crowd Friday, even if he missed the jumper. He changes speeds so well and when he maxes it out, most defenders don't have a chance with the way he glides with the ball and the threat of step-backs and euro-steps. If he can develop a reliable jumper inside the arc, it could be enough to make him a great offensive player, even without a deep ball.
- The Denver backcourt situation took a puzzling turn when they selected Jamal Murray at No. 7 and that showed in the first half. Unable to get the ball much due to how good Mudiay is at running the show, Murray tried some bizarre shots when he did get the ball and struggled immensely on defense, looking at least a step slow in every way possible. With that, however, came Murray showing the amount of control he has when handling the ball. Along with Malik Beasley, who won't play in the summer, it'll be fascinating to see how that group unfolds.
- I can't stress how good Mudiay is in the pick and roll, and a noticeably improved handle helps him even more. While Dunn was on and off, Mudiay was always finding a way to get involved. It's easy to forget he's two years younger than Dunn.
- Gary Harris confirmed he's really good at basketball in his own way, becoming another puzzling "why is he playing this summer?" selection. It's possible Denver wanted to see their backcourt dynamic as soon as possible, and if that's the case, there were mixed results, but not because of Harris.
- Juan Hernangomez's nifty tendencies showed. He's a sneaky good offensive rebounder, is always around the ball and makes smart cuts. He also struggled defensively and shooting the ball, which are the two aspects of his game that Denver arguably needs the most from him if he's going to make an impact.
- Petr Cornelie didn't fair as well, and his partnership with Hernangomez on the court should be scrapped immediately. It was clear watching him on tape that he was a raw 21-year-old and that was further confirmed in Vegas.
- The fans were VERY aware of Jimmer Fredette and the biggest buzz of anticipation on the day came when he brought the ball up in transition and was wide open. He pulled up and MULTIPLE fans stood up as the ball flew through the air. They all tried to will the ball in, but alas, he missed. Stay strong, Jimmer.
- As expected, Lakers fans were out in full force and cheered players as they arrived behind the court prior to their game. They always dominate here. Larry Nance Jr. got a very loud "Larry! Larry!' chant!
Game 3: New Orleans Pelicans vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Buddy Hield's struggles for most of the game stood out. When Hield was attacking and dribbling the ball, he did it with a lot of empty intensity. The way he shifted his body and shuffled his feet driving to the basket wasn't fooling anyone and only allowing the defense more time to stay on him.
The good news is Hield looked more comfortable attacking the basket and finding open teammates, even if they were relatively simple passes. He was aggressive defensively and I'm intrigued by how he would fare against more of a threat, because in this game he wasn't attacked much.
Anthony Brown, who is on the Lakers because of his defense, was on Hield most of the game and played a large factor in why he couldn't get it going. Brown isn't an All-Defense guy by any means, though, and Hield should be looking to bounce back this weekend.
- Ivica Zubac became a fan favorite quickly, earning the "Zuuuuuub" from the fans. Having your own signature chant before halftime of your first NBA appearance aint bad. He's a massive man with solid touch around the rim and with the summer league competition being a step or two slower than the real thing, he was able to even protect the rim a bit. The question on him is if traditional and slightly immobile centers like Zubac are even a thing in the NBA anymore, and that's why he slid all the way to the second round.
- Sometimes it's clear a player returning to summer league has worked on something and for D'Angelo Russell, that was his post game. Russell had a handful of successful buckets from the post against New Orleans, a part of his game that could really shine due to his size, touch and vision for making sleepy off-ball defenders pay.
- When I saw Andrew Wiggins in Vegas two years ago he didn't necessarily take over the game, but he did more than enough to solidify his status as a No. 1 overall pick. Brandon Ingram never did that either and didn't need to. He was as advertised, showing elite skill multiple times in isolation situations and the jumper remains silky smooth. His individual scoring game was slept on by a lot of people in my opinion and while we got some confirmation Friday, the level of competition on the other end was lacking and tomorrow's matchup with Ben Simmons should tell us much more.
- The battle for Cheick Diallo will continue to be battling big bodies as he stays at the 5. The Pelicans came out in the second half with Diallo at the 4 and while he has a reliable midrange jumper, Diallo needs more to his game to play there in the NBA. Zubac ate him alive at the start of the game and most centers in the NBA will do the same early in his career.
Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trail Blazers Day 2 Preview (1:00 p.m.)
The Suns are going to have a real test right away in Vegas. For the third straight year, Portland has a strong summer league roster, and this one particularly will test the Suns' draft picks.
For Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss down low, Noah Vonleh and Cliff Alexander are NBA-caliber big men, particularly Vonleh, who played key minutes for Portland. Both of them are not necessarily monsters on the glass, but they are both known for their NBA bodies and relentlessness around the basket. Chris Johnson and Jordgn Bachynski are also true centers, giving Alan Williams and whichever of the two lottery picks will spend time inside some real work.
At guard, Tyler Ulis will likely always have a legitimate offensive threat in at point guard. Russ Smith is one of the best college scoring guards we've seen in the past five years and Pierre Jackson is as hungry as ever for his NBA break after coming so close with the Sixers previously. Summer league has far less iso situations than regular season NBA ball, but Ulis' defensive ability will be put to the test, even if Smith and Jackson don't have true NBA size either.