Notes from a Summer League Tuesday: Otto Porter finding his groove


LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas Summer League is a three ring NBA circus. There are two simultaneous games and the sideshow of agents, coaches and players just hanging out and talking. There’s a lot to take in, a lot of stories to tell.

Here is some stuff from my notebook for a Tuesday of “everything but the finish” Summer League ball…

• Last summer, in limited minutes, Otto Porter looked spun around by the formless, playground style that can come with Summer League basketball, but this season the Wizards’ small forward looks like a much better player and much more comfortable. He’s finding his spots and is trying to be more aggressive, and he ended up with 19 points, hitting a couple threes and getting into the paint. He’s in line for a lot of run this coming season (Paul Pierce will likely play 20-25 minutes a night). Porter looks ready for the spotlight, based on his Summer League play.

“It definitely boosts your confidence,” Porter said of knowing he has minutes lined up once the regular season starts. “My job is to come here, work better and play hard.”

“Otto’s doing well for himself. Otto knows how to play the game of basketball,” Wizards Summer League coach Sam Cassell said. “It’s all about confidence. This league is 80 percent confidence; if you got confidence you’ll be successful.”

• John Wall was on the sidelines of the Wizards game, calling out plays and basically being louder than coach Cassell.

• Wall also was wearing this hat.

“That’s terrible,” Cassell said after the game. “That’s John Wall. Only John Wall can get away with some of the things like that. I can’t get away with that.”

• Glen Rice Jr. dropped 24 points with 7 rebounds (and seven fouls), a guy known more for driving than shooting like his father, he did knock down 2-of-4 from 3 also.

“He’s not hurting himself, I can tell you that much,” Cassell said of Rice’s chances of catching on. “He’s opening eyes around this league that he can play the game.”

• He didn’t play but the Heat’s James Ennis was in the building. The Long Beach State grad just inked a deal with the Heat for the upcoming season after spending last season playing in Perth, Australia, trying to round out his game.

“When I went overseas I focused on my defense, my shooting, because everybody thought I couldn’t shoot the ball from 3-point, but as you can see so far in Summer League I’m shooing the (3) ball over 40 percent,” Ennis told ProBasketballTalk.

As for defense…

“I just had a habit of reaching and not moving my feet, but once I got to Australia they really worked on my moving my feet and just containing my guy,” Ennis said.

• Another day, another shooting clinic from Doug McDermott, who finished with 20 pints on 7-of-13 shooting overall, 4 of 7 from three. But more than that he showed some versatility. On back-to-back occasions he put the ball on the floor and used a little spin to create space, then hit a little step-back jumper from 18 feet. The Bulls have something here.

• Each game Trey Burke and Dante Exum seem to have more chemistry.

• Great note from the fantastic Suns beat guy Paul Coro:

• Shabazz Napier is learning that some of the moves he made in college that would create space don’t work as well at the NBA level with longer, more athletic defenders. At points, he ends up holding the ball too long or taking contested shots. He’s going to be on the Heat roster and there’s talent there, but he’s got some adjusting to do to get ready for the NBA game.

• C.J. McCollum with 28 points on 16 shots in what was a good shooting game for him (and the Blazers in general).

Cavaliers beat Raptors, become first team in 27 years to surrender 79 first-half points and win

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The Cavaliers haven’t been good enough throughout the season, especially defensively. The Raptors have – offensively, defensively, starters, bench. Hope has grown in Toronto of winning the Eastern Conference after getting eliminated by Cleveland the last two years.

But LeBron James and Cavs showed why it’s hard to pick any other team – even the first-place Raptors – to win the East in a 132-129 win over Toronto tonight.

Cleveland allowed 79 first-half points and fell behind by 15. But a LeBron-led offense was just too potent. This was the first time since 1990 (Nuggets over Spurs after trailing 90-83) a team surrendered so many first-half points then still won.

LeBron finished with 35 points, 17 assists and no turnovers. No forward has ever dished so many assists without a turnover in Basketball-Reference’s database, which dates back to 1963-64.

And LeBron led the Cavaliers to this win despite Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Korver and Cedi Osman being out.

It’s only one game, and it was in Cleveland. But even with home-court advantage in a potential playoff series, the Raptors must grapple with even more lingering doubt now about their ability to beat the Cavs.

Report: Becky Hammon staying with Spurs, not coaching Colorado State men’s team

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Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon was a candidate to coach the men’s team at Colorado State, her alma mater. That would have made her the first woman to coach a Division I men’s team.

Alas, it won’t happen.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:

It’s unclear whether Hammon was ever actually offered the job.

She’s still on the right track for a head-coaching job somewhere. Most importantly, by all accounts, she’s doing good work in San Antonio. There’s also more attention on her career because of her pioneering status, and that will appeal to some teams.

This dalliance with Colorado State raises her profile even further and shows just how close she is.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: James Harden ‘best offensive player I’ve ever seen’

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

James Harden torched a solid Trail Blazers defense for 42 points on 13-of-25 shooting, including 5-of-7 on 3-pointers, and seven assists.

That prompted his coach to heap praise on the runaway MVP.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“That’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said of Harden. “They’re running guys to him and he just steps a little further back and makes a 3. The way he can pass and see the floor, get layups, floaters, maybe a lob, maybe out to the corner — he has so many weapons, and now he’s shooting those step-back 3s.

“It’s impossible to guard him. It’s impossible.”

At first, that sounds like hyperbole from a biased source. But Harden might actually the best offensive player ever. (D’Antoni has been around for all the major contenders.)

Michael Jordan gets overlooked because he was also excellent defensively. Ditto LeBron James to a lesser extent. Another contender: Stephen Curry, whose Warriors might file away D’Antoni’s assessment for if they meet Houston in the playoffs. (The Rockets provide plenty of motivational fodder.)

The list of contenders definitely skews toward the present. Players have gotten progressively more skilled, especially the generation that grew up with the 3-point arc and didn’t suddenly have to adjust to it.

And Harden might be the cream of the crop. He’s an incredible shooter with very deep range off the dribble or spotting up, and he can drive with the best of them. Yes, foul-drawing is a skill. Harden’s combination of scoring volume and efficiency is unprecedented. He’s also an impressive passer, a skill fully unleashed by D’Antoni making Harden a point guard.

I think I’d lean toward Curry, who’s an even better shooter and screener. But it’s very close, and Harden keeps raising his level. Curry probably peaked two years ago (though he obviously remains elite). I definitely wouldn’t dismiss anyone who picks Harden as biased or misguided.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.