Wednesday Summer League Notes: Hawks may have something in Schroder

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LAS VEGAS — Summer League entered the Tournament phase on Wednesday, which really didn’t feel any different yet than the rest of Summer League. Here is some stuff from my notebook…

• Atlanta may have a steal getting German point guard Dennis Schroder at No. 17.

He is 19 and the reports about his length and defense are spot on — you can see why some scouts said he had a Rajon Rondo style game. He defends well already. He has really quick feet that stay in front of the guy with the ball, he keeps his hips square and the long arms let him contest even if he gets beat a little. He’s a very aggressive defender.

“Schroeder has great athleticism,” said Portland’s C.J. McCollum, who was matched up with him Wednesday. “He’s very fast and quick, heady player, smart, good wingspan.”

On offense, he has a great feel for the game and handles that can get him into the paint. When he does drive he almost always dishes out (he is certainly pass first). He did draw fouls and get to the line eight times. His jumper could use a little work, he was 3-of-10 outside the paint and that has ben the norm from the outside (he was 0-of-4 last game, 1-of-5 the game before that).

But you can see him getting 15 minutes a night behind Jeff Teague — Schroder is 19 and he is going to improve. This could be a great pick for Danny Ferry.

• The best battle of the day was Atlanta’s Schroder matched up on Portland’s McCollum — two quick point guards making a mark here in Las Vegas.

McCollum (the No. 10 pick out of Lehigh) has had a good if up and down Summer League so far. Thursday was an up where he had 13 points and 4-of-7 shooting, he set up teammates and he dealt with Schroder’s defensive pressure well.

“I’ve been playing okay,” McCallom said when asked to reflect on his play. “For rookie standards I guess it’s decent. I got to shoot the ball a little bit better and take care of the ball more. This was my fourth game since January so I’m getting back into things, getting a rhythm and choosing when to pick my spots, when to be aggressive and when to sit back and let other guys take over.”

• Jordan Hamilton, who had a limited role on a deep Denver team last season, looked like a guy who wants more time — he owned the opening quarter and dropped 27 on the Pelicans Wednesday. He can finish inside, he knocked down 4-of-7 from three and he grabbed a few boards. There are minutes to be taken on that shaken up Nuggets roster and Hamilton made a little case at Summer League.

• Memphis hasn’t really done anything interesting with their roster this summer (they needed shooters, they didn’t get one). Which means Jerryd Bayless is still backing up Mike Conley. Point guard Tony Wroten put up 23 points to lead Memphis to a win Wednesday and is trying to make his case for a spot. Not sure it’s working (8-of-18 shooting to get those points, 2-of-7 from three). Wroten’s game has matured over the last couple years, but I’m not sure he’s a fit in Memphis.

• Otto Porter was held out of the Wizards game Wednesday with a tight right hamstring. He had a rough Summer League adjusting to the freelancing style of play and the multiple positions the Wizards tried him out at. Porter shot 30 percent in Summer League and missed all of his threes.

• Much like Porter, the pickup feel of Summer League games just does not suit Evan Fournier’s style of play. He looks okay, but some guys don’t thrive in this environment like they do a more structured game.

• I swear I saw Luke Harangody dribble the ball up the wing on the break, cut to the paint, put on a spin move and score over two Pelicans bigs. If I try to tell that story to people someday they will look at me like I’m Baron Davis talking aliens.

Russell Westbrook assists Andre Roberson transition dunk with sweet behind-the-back pass (video)

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Russell Westbrook produced a historic triple-double in the Thunder’s win over the 76ers last night, but merely counting his misses — zero — doesn’t do him justice.

Dunk-assisting behind-the-back passes are nice in any context. Considering how quickly Westbrook pushes the ball up the floor, the degree of difficulty here makes this one even more impressive.

Probably fake Cavaliers fan wears burnt LeBron James jersey (video)

AP Photo/Brett Davis
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Update: As pointed out by several, the Cavs didn’t introduce this jersey until after LeBron left. So, this was probably staged by the Nuggets. Still funny (and still searching for more evidence of Cleveland fans reconciling their about-face on LeBron).

 

Cavaliers fans went overboard when they burned LeBron James jerseys in the street when he left for the Heat in 2010.

Many of those same fans instantly forgot the terrible things they said about LeBron once he returned to Cleveland in 2014.

And then there’s this guy…

Ananth Pandian:

I’d like to believe this guy is publicly repenting for going too far in 2010.

Three Things We Learned Wednesday: LeBron says Cavs lack toughness, or are they bored?

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The NCAA Tournament gets back underway Thursday, but the NBA ball just keeps rolling along. Here are the big takeaways from Wednesday.

1) LeBron James says Cavaliers lack toughness. Is there trouble or are they just bored with the regular season?
Here is the unquestioned fact: The Denver Nuggets trounced the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night, 126-113. There are a number of factors in this, starting with Denver is playing better than people think — the Nuggets are the fifth best team in the NBA since the All-Star break, outscoring teams by 5.6 points per 100 possessions. Jamal Murray is emerging as the ball handling guard of the future for this team, Gary Harris is a sniper, and they have solid veterans such as Jameer Nelson and Wilson Chandler. But at the heart of it all is Nikola Jokic, who is for real. Watch what he does to LeBron James here.

Yes, Cleveland had to go play at altitude in the middle of a long road trip. Still…

What is going on with the Cavaliers?

Opponents have outscored them by 0.9 points per 100 since the All-Star break, and the Cavs are playing terrible defense (second worst in the NBA since the break). Asked in Denver after the loss what is wrong with the Cavs, LeBron said the team lacked toughness, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It ain’t about a group. It’s about individuals,” James said… “We’ve got to be more, just do more. It ain’t about no group. You can’t preach toughness. You’ve got to have it.”

“Personally? I had opportunities where I could have been better,” James said before firing back with a rebuttal. “Um, one thing about it: I always bring toughness to the game. I know that. That’s for sure.”

LeBron is clearly challenging his team to get serious on both ends and to start getting in playoff mode.

To me, the Cavaliers look bored. As in the real season starts in a couple of weeks with the playoffs, and they feel they can flip the switch then, but right now the regular season feels like a tedious slog. That’s what it looked like in Denver. Before that, I watched the Cavaliers in person against the Lakers Sunday, and LeBron James played well enough all game, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were getting theirs, but the team lacked any urgency, and it showed on defense. The tanking Lakers hung around. Then, LeBron seemed to say “screw this” and for a five-minute span took charge of the game, looking every bit the best player on the planet, the rest of the Cavaliers quickly fell in line, Cleveland took control of the game, and they coasted from there to the win.

That was against the Lakers, the worst team in the NBA since the All-Star break and a team playing youth everywhere. Denver is legit right now, they are playing well, and the Cavs couldn’t just flip the switch on Wednesday. Jokic and Mason Plumlee led the way as the Nuggets scored 70 points in the paint.

It’s still hard to picture any team in the East beating Cleveland. However, they have not spent the regular season building good habits to fall back on when the eventual challenge comes in the playoffs. There’s been a lot of comparisons to the 2000-01 Lakers, a defending championship team that battled injuries and didn’t impress in the regular season, looked bored on defense, then flipped the switch in the playoffs and went 16-1 on the way to the title. Maybe. But teams that flip the switch are the exception, not the rule.

The bored Cavaliers are playing a dangerous game, but will it haunt them before June? Can any team in the East make them pay?

2) The Knicks have no answer for Rudy Gobert, Jazz thump Knicks. Rudy Gobert is a defensive powerhouse of a big man, the best rim protector in the game and a man on his way to winning Defensive Player of the Year. That was a problem for the Knicks on Wednesday night. A bigger problem — they couldn’t stop him on offense around the rim. Gobert at 35 points on 13-of-14 shooting, with 11 offensive rebounds. The Knicks went small for stretches (with Kristaps Porzingis, but he isn’t strong enough to handle Gobert), other times Willy Hernangomez tried but could not slow Gobert, and the French big man feasted. Check out Gobert’s shot chart.

Or, just watch what he did to the Knicks.

The Knicks started hot in this game behind vintage Derrick Rose for a quarter, but they can’t sustain that kind of play against a quality team. Utah is a quality team (I think they can beat the Clippers in the first round), and the foundation of that is in the middle.

3) Russell Westbrook notches 35th triple-double with perfect shooting, Thunder attack the rim and get the win. Let us formally acknowledge that Russell Westbrook is very, very good at basketball. He had 18 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds, and was a perfect 6-of-6 from the field. That would be the first perfect shooting triple-double in NBA history. How’s that for adding to the MVP resume.

As for the game, the Thunder attacked the paint and the Sixers had no answers. OKC won 122–97, scoring 76 points while knocking down just four 3-pointers.

Report: Hawks’ Paul Millsap to opt out, explore free agency

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Before the season, Paul Millsap said he was undecided on opting out.

We’re one step closer to completely dismissing that shaky pretense.

Adam Schefter of ESPN:

There’s no question Millsap can earn more than his $21,472,407 option-year salary. He might even earn the max, which projects to be north of $36 million. The 32-year-old will also have a chance to lock into a long-term contract.

Opting out is an easy call.

The only question is whether anyone will offer a max starting salary and max years.

That’s a risky proposition for a player his age, but for a team ready to win now, the short-term gains might outweigh the long-term risk. (And it’s not really a “risk.” Millsap is extremely likely to be overpaid by the end of a full max deal.) Millsap is an elite defender with an efficient offensive game.

How much would the Hawks pay? They called re-signing Millsap their priority, but they’ve also sent mixed messages about their desire to win now (signing Dwight Howard, keeping Millsap past the trade deadline) vs. rebuilding (trading Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver).

And it’s not unilaterally up to Atlanta. Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent, and if he plans to explore the market, you never know what he’ll find.