NBA Summer League: Where Chris Copeland comes to shine

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The NBA Summer League season continued on Sunday with seven more games of players looking to reach the next level by way of a couple solid exhibition games in lovely Las Vegas. It doesn’t seem like anyone is a can’t miss signee quite yet, but the odds began to favor a few players that have begun to stand out as games extended to both the Cox Pavilion and Thomas & Mack Center.

Chris Copeland continued his run of impressive play for the New York Knicks as the 6-foot-8 power forward formerly of Colorado scored 17 points and swatted two shots in a 25-point loss to the Phoenix Suns. Copeland wasn’t on the radar of hardly any American basketball fans considering the former Colorado Buffalo has spent the past few years bouncing around overseas in Belgium, Germany, Holland and Spain, but he’s looked like a hidden gem thus far in Vegas.

The 28-year-old is an undersized power forward as far as NBA standards and doesn’t quite have the tenacity most are looking for from undersized bigs at the next level, but he’s proven to be a pretty good player in this setting through the first couple of Knicks games. If an NBA contract doesn’t await, he shouldn’t have any trouble making plenty of money in Europe next season — while probably moving up from the Belgium league, to boot.

Some of the other standouts from Sunday night included the following layers:

  • On the other end of the court from Copeland was Deshawn Sims, a former D-Leaguer who has also spent time playing in South Korea, Puerto Rico and Greece prior to joining the Phoenix Suns’ Summer League entry. Sims wasn’t nearly as good as Markieff Morris — who was clearly the best player on the Phoenix roster — but showed some nice things on his way to 16 points, three rebounds and two 3-pointers to boot. Diante Garrett and Marcus Landry, brother of Carl, also played well. Landry scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds whereas Garrett narrowly missed a double-double with eight points and 10 assists.
  • Damian Lillard had what might’ve been the most impressive Summer League debut for a rookie this season. The Portland Trail Blazers’ first round pick scored 25 points and dished four assists while fellow first round pick Meyers Leonard put up a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Luke Babbitt was also impressive for the Blazers with 19 points and 10 rebounds — while shooting 4-of-9 from behind the 3-point line, no less — though Wesley Matthews struggled to seven points and three turnovers in less than 15 minutes of playing time.
  •  The rookies on the other side of the ball weren’t quite as impressive in defeat, but the New Orleans Hornets have some solid players in Vegas. Austin Rivers got off to a bit of a bad start with 14 points on 3-of-13 shooting and Xavier Henry’s 11 points on 2-of-7 shooting was less than impressive, but it was fun seeing Denzel Bowles do his thing with 18 points and 12 rebounds off the bench.
  • In the second game of the day, Josh Carter might’ve helped make a name for himself when his Denver Nuggets played the Dallas Mavericks. The former Texas A&M standout was inserted into the starting lineup and responded by showing his shooting is where it needs to be for him to play in the NBA by hitting three of his five attempts from beyond the 3-point arc to tally 15 total points.
  • Dallas Mavericks guard Dominique Jones played very well on his way to 32 points and eight rebounds, but he unfortunately was unable to show he has the pass-first mentality some had hoped for to allow him to play the point guard position. As far as this year’s picks were concerned, Jae Crowder showed the hustle he’ll need to exhibit this fall on his way to nine points and five rebounds — though his inability to score efficiently (4-of-12 from the field) probably didn’t help his cause.
  • The Toronto Raptors looked awful on their way to just 59 points on Sunday afternoon, but it was a welcome sight to see Chris Wright on the court. Wright played for the Golden State Warriors last season, but was a surprise addition to the Raptors this offseason as it was expected he’d be able to compete for a roster spot this fall. The athlete still trying to figure out his basketball skills scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds despite shooting 3-of-9 from the field.
  • The team that held Toronto  to just 59 points was the Miami Heat and, though it looked like the majority of the flaws were simply due to inefficient offense, the Heat brought a pretty talented backcourt to Vegas. Terrel Harris and Norris Cole, both of which can count themselves as NBA champions, combined to score 14 and 13 points respectively — while Harris added four steals to boot.
  • Kawhi Leonard was the expected standout for the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday afternoon while Cory Joseph showed some signs of potential, but the team’s third-leading scorer was a bit less likely. Longtime Austin Toros center Eric Dawson was given the start for the Spurs on Sunday and delivered a solid performance with 12 points, 13 rebounds and and a block while showing that he might have a chance at making the Spurs roster as an end of the bench big man.
  • The Atlanta Hawks — the team the Spurs beat — didn’t have a ton of bright spots but Keith Benson again showed that he can play with heart that wasn’t seen enough during his rookie season. The slender forward from Oakland (Mich.) scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds while fellow former D-Leaguer Brad Wanamaker had nine points and eight rebounds. John Jenkins, the team’s draft pick, wasn’t as stellar as some had hoped with 13 points and three missed 3-pointers.
  •   The Cleveland Cavaliers are without Kyrie Irving due to a freak injury and unfortunately first round draft pick Dion Waiters was unable to impress in his absence as the guard went 3-for-11 and finished with just 10 points. The team’s other draft pick, Tyler Zeller, was quite a bit better with 14 points and five rebounds … though nothing he did was overwhelmingly amazing.
  • The Charlotte Bobcats missed out on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist due to a sore knee — called precautionary — but the team still had plenty of players on its current roster in the game. Kemba Walker scored 13 points with four assists, Bismack Biyombo picked up six points to go with his eight rebounds and Byron Mullens had a solid nine and eight.
  • The NBA D-League Select Team shocked the world on Sunday night as they mostly dominated on the way to an 85-78 victory over the Washington Wizards. The roster is perfectly made for head coach Eric Musselman‘s defensive system and it showed as they looked like they might blow out Washington. Andre Emmett led the team with 17 points and four assists while Jerry Smith had important 11 points — the majority of which came in the third quarter as the D-League squad came back.
  • Washington was led by Bradley Beal as the third overall pick scored 20 points on 15 shots — including going just 1-of-7 from beyond the arc — but the team didn’t seem to go to him enough early if they were trying to win. One bright spot might’ve been Earl Calloway, who played with Tomas Satoransky in Spain this season, but his 12 points and six rebounds weren’t enough to outweigh four rather costly turnovers.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the rest of the teams play on Sunday to see if any new stars are born.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelican Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

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With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.

Another wing down? Celtics’ Marcus Smart likely out vs. Sixers

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The horrific, probably season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward has left the Celtics with a shortage of players on the wing.

Going up against Philadelphia Friday night, that might be getting worse, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

Looking at the pictures, I doubt Smart plays.

As noted, Smart said he hurt both ankles in the second night of a back-to-back against Milwaukee, the left one in a collision with teammate Jaylen Brown. Smart started that game and played 32 minutes. That’s a lot of time to go to lesser players.

If he’s out Friday, that likely means either Terry Rozier or Abdel Nader get the start, and both are going to see a healthy bump in minutes. Whatever happens, the Celtics would miss Smart in a game where they need to defend Ben Simmons on the wing.

What happened to Willy Hernangomez’s minutes with Knicks?

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When talking about the Knicks’ young core going forward, Willy Hernangomez was one of the names that got mentioned by the front office (alongside players such asFrank Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway Jr.). The Knicks are crowded at the center spot — Enes Kanter got the start in the opener Thursday night, and Kristaps Porzingis should get minutes there (it’s ultimately going to be his NBA position), and this isn’t even mentioning Joakim Noah — but Hernangomez looked like a developing young player who needed some run.

He got just 3:46 minutes in the opener, and that was during fourth quarter garbage time. Kyle O'Quinn got nearly 22 off the bench at the five. That follows a preseason where Hernangomez saw his minutes drop seemingly game-to-game.

What gives? Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News asked the same question.

“We have a lot of bigs,” Hornacek said. “(O’Quinn) and Enes earned the minutes in training camp. Willy’s not far behind. He’s got to keep working. When you got that many bigs, you can’t play them all. The other guys earned the minutes. I told all three of them it doesn’t matter if you’re in the rotation or out of rotation. If you’re in it, you’ve got to earn it to keep it.”

“I can score. It’s not difficult for me. I think the coach wants to see my effort on defense. That’s why I have to keep working hard everyday,” said Hernangomez, who is also Kristaps Porzingis’ best friend on the Knicks.

Without question, Hernangomez needs to work on his defense, but then again this is a Knicks team starting Kanter so it’s obviously not a requirement.

Hornacek needs to find a balance here — it’s early in the season, he wants to win games, he wants to put his best foot forward. But the Knicks are not a playoff team this season, and they are in the player development business. That means Hernangomez — as well as rookie point guard Ntilikina — need to get minutes, need to be thrown to the wolves a little, and need to learn from their mistakes. Hornacek needs to be coaching for a few years down the line… the problem is he knows he may not have this job that far down the line, so he’s coaching to get wins now.