Bigger, stronger Jonas Valanciunas pushes Heat around in Summer League

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LAS VEGAS — Not a lot of people noticed, but at Jonas Valanciunas had a nice rookie season up in Toronto: 8.9 points and 6.2 rebounds a game, he shot 48 percent in post up spots and 62 percent as the roll man in the pick-and-roll. He had a PER of 15.6. All of those solid numbers for a skinny 20-year-old adjusting to the NBA game.

Except he’s not that skinny anymore, and he’s adjusting pretty well. He showed that to the Miami Heat in his Summer League debut Saturday night.

Valanciunas bullied the Heat inside to the tune of 23 points on 10 shots, and had 7 rebounds (3 offensive) in the Raptors’ loss to the Heat 81-72.

Through a couple days of Summer League, Valanciunas may have had the best performance of a player that will translate well to the NBA game. He wasn’t just a shooter with a hot hand, he was an improved player showing his physical dominance.

Valanciunas just looks filled out and stronger than he did last season, broader across the shoulders. Miami’s Summer League team, much like it’s regular season team, plays small, and they had 6,9” Jarvis Varnado at center. Valanciunas is 7’0” and is listed at 240, but that weight seems dated. Valanciunas was the big guy on the block and he punished the Heat for that lack of size.

Valanciunas used his bulk to get position deep on the block. He did a good job of cutting to the basket when defenders rotated and that led to a couple big dunks — Valanciunas was drawing ohhs and ahhs from the crowd through much of the first half.

Put simply, Valanciunas was the best player on the floor.

It’s Summer League, so all good performances need to be kept in context. But Raptors fans should be excited — Summer League is about growth and development and Valanciunas showed a lot of that. He looked good. He looked like a center who could make a leap next year.

It’s going to be interesting to see what kind of team Masai Ujiri builds in Toronto, he’s just starting to move the chess pieces around the board. Now it looks like he’s got a real center to lock down the middle of the paint, one who is mobile and just coming into his own. And that makes the Raptors a lot more interesting and dangerous going forward.

Kevin Garnett: Thon Maker “is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down.”

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Not to get to inside baseball on NBA journalism, but one fundamental truth is player trainers pump up their guys. There usually is some truth in what they say, but it is in their interest to spin the player the best way possible. On and off the record it happens. It’s like asking a political campaign manager about his candidate, you will only get the positive.

Kevin Garnett worked out and helped the Bucks’ Thon Maker this summer.

In just his second season, Thon Maker has been in and out of the starting lineup for the Bucks at center, and he’s struggled this season with a true shooting percentage of 48 getting him 4.5 points a game, and PER of 9.3. (Bucks fans are understandably disappointed, but this is a second-year player, some patience is required).

Garnett had Makers’ back in a Q&A with Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Abrams.

Thon Maker reminds me a lot of myself. He loves the game. He’s a young, exuberant athlete who has a lot of tools—he has touch; he has agility; he has really, good feet. He has a really good shot from three-point all the way up to 19 to 21 feet. He has very good bones, as we say.

Thon is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down. He has the bones. He has the appetite to be able to chase something like that.”

Garnett may have the wrong young-stud Buck with an MVP in his future.

Maker has gotten KG comparisons for years, he’s a very mobile and athletic but thin big who can shoot from the wing… but the physical similarities are not enough. Maker is no KG. Not yet. Maker showed promise against the Raptors last playoffs but has not taken a step forward off that progress this season, looking far more prone to fouling than defending. The effort is there, but the maturity of game has a long way to go to catch up.

Garnett is right that Maker has the tools, and he is just in his second NBA season so patience is required, but there were concerns around the league before the draft if he had the makeup to put it all together and become a quality NBA player. That question is still out there, let’s get past it before we heap on accolades.

LeBron James all good with Reggie Jackson’s free throw gamesmanship, “I’ve done it before”

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Let’s set the stage: Sunday night, the fast-rising Pistons led the fast-rising Timberwolves by three with  6.2 seconds left when Jimmy Butler drew a foul on a 3-pointer. Butler drained the first two free throws. Before the third, Reggie Jackson interrupted to talk to Stanley Johnson, who was in rebounding position. Butler missed the free throw, and Detroit held on to win 100-97. Here’s the play in question.

It was a bit of gamesmanship by Jackson.

LeBron James was asked about the move at Cavaliers shootaround and endorsed it with a smile on his face.

“I’ve done it before. I won a playoff series before doing that actually. So, I’m all for it.”

That series was in 2007, overtime of game 6 of a first-round playoff series against Washington, and the victim was the Hibachi, Gilbert Arenas. The Cavaliers were down 1, Arenas had two free throws, missed the first, then LeBron stepped in. Arenas missed the second, and the Cavs went on to get the win.

Is interrupting free throws about to become an NBA thing? If it works, players will do it.

Warriors pose for photos with Jahlil Okafor’s dad’s ‘FREE JAH’ shirt

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Jahlil Okafor‘s father has not been shy about speaking out on his son’s behalf. NBA players are advocating for the 76ers to grant Okafor, who’s out of the rotation and on an expiring contract, his desired trade or buyout.

When both join forces…

Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry appear to really enjoy Chukwudi Okafor’s shirt. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily calling on Philadelphia to do anything. But they hadn’t to know how it’d be perceived.

It’s easy to predict free agents will avoid the 76ers as a result of the Okafor situation, but few anticipate getting stuck similarly. Players overwhelmingly value money, winning, role and location. If Golden State’s stars are applying any external pressure, it shouldn’t really move Philadelphia more than anything that has already been said and done.

A couple of Lonzo Ball’s triple-double assists look dubious (video)

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Lonzo Ball draws outsized attention because his father, LaVar Ball, lures onlookers and because the rookie plays for the high-profile Los Angeles Lakers.

So, when Lonzo gets a triple-double – like his 11-points, 16-rebound, 11-assists game against the Nuggets yesterday – it draws scrutiny.

Mo Dakhil of The Jump Ball:

The NBA defines an assist as a “pass that directly leads to a basket. … An assist can be awarded for a basket scored after the ball has been dribbled if the player’s pass led to the field goal being made.”

I wouldn’t describe either of those passing as leading directly to a basket. Ball’s teammates each hold the ball for a moment after receiving the pass then take two dribbles against set defenses.

But assists are subjective, and the Lakers aren’t alone in offering a home-court scorekeeping advantage.

Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice

So, criticize/laugh at the Lakers. But your favorite team probably manipulates assists in its favor, too.