Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker shine in head-to-head Summer League matchup

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LAS VEGAS — The main event on day one of Summer League in Las Vegas on Friday was the matchup between the Cavaliers and the Bucks, one that featured the top two overall picks in this year’s draft facing each other in NBA-level action for the very first time.

Cleveland’s Andrew Wiggins and Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker both impressed in flashes, and along with last year’s top pick in Anthony Bennett and the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, there was no shortage of exciting and athletically remarkable plays to go around.

There was also the LeBron James announcement, which had Cavaliers players and coaches giddy dreaming about next season’s possibilities.

Playing in a gym that was beyond filled to capacity — so much so that fans who had purchased tickets were given refunds, and even NBA players and personnel were told if they left they wouldn’t be guaranteed admittance to return — only added to the atmosphere, and all of the aforementioned players had multiple moments to shine.

Wiggins’ game is still raw, and his shot admittedly needs some work. But his leaping ability is scary good, in that you’re scared he might hurt himself jumping over someone for a rebound, or by flying extra-hard to the basket. He finished with 18 points on just 7-of-18 shooting, but his talent level is undeniable, as is his drool-worthy potential.

Parker’s game looks a bit more NBA-ready, which was how most scouts pegged him in advance of the draft. He showed a knack for having excellent court vision and a willingness to find the open man, but also showed an ability to score in a variety of ways. He had a smooth, sweeping drive that he finished with the left hand, and came back on the very next possession with a spinning lay-in that he was able to finish through contact for the and-1 opportunity.


Parker ended up with 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting, to go along with nine rebounds in just under 30 minutes of action.

While the rookies were the ones in the spotlight, there was room for others to make their impact felt as the game went on. Bennett in particular showed a high level of effort and intensity throughout, and even if his overall skill set still has yet to show that it would be worthy of being taken number one overall, his performance was positive enough to gain the praise of his new head coach.

“I thought Anthony did a pretty good job,” Blatt said. “He knows and I know of course that his shot selection could be better. But I liked the fact that he was on the court for a lot of minutes competing, and he made some big plays, and he worked hard at both ends of the court. You know, Anthony’s biggest trouble last year was he never really had the opportunity to play enough, because he was either hurt or not in good enough physical shape. As you can see, he’s worked very hard at that, and that’s a good first step. And he did some good things basketball-wise. I was happy with AB, and I’ve been happy with him since the camp started. He’s really really made the effort, he’s tried to lead the guys through example. He’s a kid that’s trying to do something about his situation, and that’s the right way to go about it.”

Bennett finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.

Antetokounmpo had one of the more athletic plays of the day, taking just two dribbles to go three-quarters of the length of the court to lead a fast break and finish it off with a thunderous slam. He was more aggressive as the game went on, and finished with 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting, to go along with six rebounds.


The talent on the floor, the atmosphere in the gym and the LeBron James news hanging over it all made this game a special experience by Summer League standards.

“It was crazy,” Wiggins succinctly said.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.