LAS VEGAS — The NBA Summer League unfortunately came to a close on Sunday night, ending a week and a half of wonderful basketball being played on the UNLV campus. Okay, so not all of the basketball was necessarily wonderful … but there were some players that helped themselves out quite a bit while spending time in Sin City.
There were a lot of options, of course, considering 24 teams took part in the annual extravaganza — with some ridiculous rosters listing up to 19 players — but the following players seemed to accomplish the most while playing in Vegas.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers – Not a lot of basketball fans knew what the Portland was picking when the Trail Blazers went with the Weber State point guard early in the first round of this year’s NBA Draft. Well, if Summer League wasn’t an aberration, the Blazers selected themselves a solid-to-spectacular player. Lillard was named a Summer League Co-MVP (along with Josh Selby of the Memphis Grizzlies) on his way to averaging 26.5 points, 5.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and at least two awe-inspiring plays in each of the four games he played. The most memorable is going to be his dunk on Keith Benson, but the pinpoint passing — exhibited here on a connection with fellow rookie Will Barton — wasn’t bad either.
Josh Selby, Memphis Grizzlies – Selby earned a vote for the NBA’s All-Rookie team this year, but the majority of the media agreed quite strongly that it wasn’t well-deserved. The former Jayhawk earned all of his Co-MVP honors over the past ten days in Vegas, though, en route to averages of 24.2 points, 2.4 steals and a ridiculous 64.3 shooting percentage from beyond the 3-point arc (and trust us, that isn’t a small sample size as he was chucking at will). It’s tough to tell if Selby’s Summer League performance will translate to the regular season where he’ll be back to being a role player rather than the go-to guy, but it was fun while it lasted in lovely Las Vegas.
Adam Morrison, Los Angeles Clippers – There was a time when Morrison was regularly chided for being overrated after being the third overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft. Now that he’s become a basketball vagabond, however, Morrison’s become something between a sympathetic figure and a cult hero … and, judging from the MVP chants heard in the Cox Pavilion on Sunday afternoon, we’re leaning toward the latter. Whether or not he makes an NBA roster again is still up in the air, but the 20 points and five rebounds he averaged this week were a nice reminder of how great he is at putting the ball in the bucket.
Malcolm Thomas, Chicago Bulls – Thomas played alongside Kawhi Leonard at San Diego State, but while Leonard made waves with the San Antonio Spurs, Thomas was relegated to a couple of NBA call-ups while playing for the NBA Development League’s Los Angeles D-Fenders this past season. After watching him this week, though, there’s little doubt he’s talented enough to make more money than the D-League has to offer next season seeing as he averaged 11.4 points and 12.4 rebounds (oh, and this didn’t hurt either).
Tobias Harris, Milwaukee Bucks – Depending on what one thinks about Bismack Biyombo’s birth certificate, Harris was either the youngest or second-youngest player in the NBA last season. The former Tennessee Volunteer played like anything but a youngin’ in Las Vegas, however, as he averaged 21.5 points and eight rebounds over five games. Whether or not he earned himself more minutes after an inconsistent rookie year is still up for debate, but it was clear he was better than almost everyone on the floor at Thomas & Mack Center.
Plenty of other players stood out in lovely Las Vegas, of course, but those listed above stood head and shoulders above the rest. Now only time will tell where they stack up among Summer League legends like Nate Robinson, Jerryd Bayless and Anthony Randolph.
Watch the Knicks and Lakers make every shot for 2 straight minutes of game clock
Tuesday night’s game between the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers was a good one, with the teams going-back-and-forth all night. In an OT game that came down to the wire, a sequence in the third quarter was perhaps indicative of the kind of contest it was in Madison Square Garden.
Starting with a little more than six minutes to go in the third the teams traded eight consecutive baskets while MSG rose to an accompanying fever pitch.
The whole sequence was pretty hilarious, and lent to that feeling you get sometimes while watching competitive NBA games of complete exhilaration.
Philadelphia 76ers have been the Twitter darlings of the NBA for the past few years. Thanks to former general manager Sam Hinkie and the tanking process, guys like Joel Embiid have become even more admired now that the team is in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Of course, players like Embiid are part of the generation that is always online, and the fact that they play in the NBA doesn’t keep them from participating in social media with their contemporaries. Embiid has a great Twitter feed, and is often out on it trying to get dates from the likes of Rihanna while trolling other NBA stars on Instagram.
Of course, as we’ve seen with players in the past, good fortune does not always shine forever. Indeed, conscious of this fact, Embiid as much to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne during a recent interview.
People love you at the beginning,” Embiid explains. “But at some point they’re gonna start hating you. LeBron. Russell Westbrook. All the superstars. Even Steph. He’s so likable. He does nothing wrong, but some people still hate him. It just comes with the nature of it. I’ve seen it.
“I feel like I’m about to go through it. I think it’s coming. People always want something new.”
The ups and downs of how NBA fandom changes the perception of certain players is fascinating, and some even try to directly manipulate that. And indeed, while Embiid is certainly hilarious on social media, the best thing to keep fans at bay will be him staying on the floor and playing games for the Sixers.
Let’s hope that keeps happening and nobody turns on him anytime soon.
Gregg Popovich says he was ‘guilty of over-coaching’ LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge has been much better for the San Antonio Spurs this season. This comes after a tumultuous offseason in which it became clear that Aldridge was unhappy with his time in Texas.
That information came to light over the summer, and indeed both Aldridge and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat down to have a discussion to work out their differences in preparation for the upcoming season.
The results have been stupendous, with Aldridge playing better than ever in San Antonio despite the team lacking star Kawhi Leonard. Aldridge is averaging career highs in points per-100 possessions, which makes sense given his career-high 119 offensive rating.
Apparently part of Popovich’s change in dealing with Aldridge was how he coached him. Popovich told NBA.com recently that he made the mistake of over coaching Aldridge, saying that the veteran didn’t need as much guidance as young star players did when they came to him in the past.
“We broke bread a few times, talked about it, laughed about it, discussed what we thought needed to happen, and frankly 95 percent of it fell on me because I made an error in trying to change him too much. That might sound odd, but he’d been in the league nine years and there’s one way he plays on the offensive end and feels comfortable with. I tried to turn him into Jack Sikma, told him I was going to teach you how to play on the elbow, go on the wing, face up. It was confusing for him. It really didn’t fit his style of play. I was guilty of over coaching in a sense.
“We came to an agreement on what had to happen. Well, on defense, I told him ‘I’m going to get on you like I do everyone else. But on offense, I don’t even want to talk to you. When they double you, kick it. Other than that, you be LaMarcus Aldridge.’ You see the result right now. He’s happy, confident and kicking everybody’s butt.”
Now that everything is sorted for the Spurs, we just have to watch out for them as they gain momentum heading into 2018. Leonard made his debut for the season on Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, and as a publication time he had nine points in 10 minutes.
God help us if Gregg Popovich has finally found a way to make the mercurial LaMarcus Aldridge happy and pair him with a fully healthy Leonard.
Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas offers advice to Ball brothers on Lithuania
The Baltic nation has fewer people in it than the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, yet it has three players in the NBA right now — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total (such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis). The country has won three bronze medals in the Olympics ( 1992, 1996, and 2000). It’s Lithuanian league also has been the launching pad for Celtics’ Aron Baynes to make the NBA.
Now the Ball brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo are headed there on professional contracts.
One of those players — the Raptors’ Valanciunas, had advice for the Ball brothers, speaking to ESPN.
“They’re getting themselves into a great opportunity. Lithuania is beautiful country… We have great basketball history. We’re such a small country, but we have many, many great players. Our basketball school is good., so they chose a really good school. They just gotta work hard — it’s all about working. You can be as good as you can be by working. Talent is one thing, but work you put in, that’s gonna show up.
“If they have any problems, let me know. I can help them out.”
Good luck finding anyone around the NBA who thinks this ends well, especially those who know the Ball family. They are sending a college freshman and a high school junior to a small city in a former Soviet bloc country with a very different culture, that will be a major adjustment. The coach doesn’t speak English and his former American players have not spoken highly of him. The Lithuanian league itself has men — far more physically developed than the Ball brothers — and is known for a physical style of play. It’s also known as a league where the players have a reasonably high hoops IQ and don’t like undisciplined players.
But if LiAngelo and LaMelo have any problems, they can call Valanciunas.