Las Vegas Summer League review: How did Andrew Wiggins, other lottery picks fare?

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LAS VEGAS — For a lot of us Summer League is the first chance to really size up the rookie class. Sure, we saw them in college — that’s how they got ranked and rated in the first place — but at that level they get matched up against inferior athletes who could be pushed around. At Summer League they go up against other men, ones fighting for their next paycheck. The game changes.

So how did the rookies in what has been hyped as the best draft class in a decade do?

Here’s a rundown of the guys taken in the lottery that I saw play in Vegas (so no Joel Embiid or Aaron Gordon who didn’t play in the desert).

No. 1 Andrew Wiggins (Cavaliers). The mind-blowing athleticism is there — he made some plays, particularly on defense, where you can see the potential. Things like covering ground to block shots or get in passing lanes. His offense is a work in progress. In his final game he was aggressive and taking it to the rim and that got him to the line 20 times, which was a good start. Still, he is raw with the need to work on a few things. That has to start with an improved jump shot — his form is good but he shot just 40.5 percent overall and 15.4 percent from three.

Here is Cavs coach David Blatt on Wiggins in Vegas: “I was looking at Wigs performances, guy was in double figures every game, he rebounded, he defended, he went to the foul line, he played with intensity on both ends of the court. I thought for a rookie, for a guy with a lot on his shoulders as the first pick in the draft, for a 19 year old, I thought he played extremely well.”

No. 2 Jabari Parker (Bucks).He averaged 15.6 points and 8.2 rebounds a game and had 20 and 15 in the Bucks’ final game. He showed an ability to score in a variety of ways and some court vision for passing. He’s going to have to work on his finishing and efficiency (41.9 percent shooting overall), plus he could be come passive and settle for jumpers too much. He had some good games but some “meh” games mixed in, too.

No. 5 Dante Exum (Jazz). His numbers are not mind blowing but you could see his court vision, his ability to be a floor general, his ability to lull you to sleep them explode past you, and you could see a potential future NBA star. You certainly saw a starting point guard — Trey Burke seemed to see it as well and became a gunner who would not pass to Exum (Burke shot just 30.4 percent, he had a rough go in Vegas). Exum struggled shooting as well (30.8 percent overall and 16.7 percent from three), but there were flashes of brilliance that should give Jazz fans hope.

No. 7 Julius Randle (Lakers). It was a little hard to read his performance — he signed 20 minutes before his first Summer League game and went out there having not played 5-on-5 with this teammates. Randle can score in the post with a variety of moves, but he shot just 41.9 percent for Summer League, plus he never grabbed more than five rebounds. He showed potential but he’s a rookie with a lot of work to do.

No. 8 Nik Stauskas (Kings). He can shoot the three (45 percent over the course of Summer League) and looks like a guy that could take minutes away from Ben McLemore. That said Stauskas struggled to do things that were not “shoot the three” — he was not great at creating his own shot for himself or others, his court vision and hoops IQ didn’t really show. He’s got some work to do, but if you can shoot the three you get time to figure everything else out.

No. 9 Noah Vonleh (Hornets). Charlotte thinks he can be a stretch four someday but he struggled with his shot, shooting 28.4 percent in Vegas (12.5 percent from three). What he can do is rebound, 10 a game, and he showed moments of strong defense.

“I like Noah, I think he has a bright future in this league. He’s a rookie, he’s 19 years old, it’s going to take some time…” Charlotte Summer League coach Patrick Ewing told ProBasketballTalk. “The thing I think he needs to do is: rebound. He has to continue to rebound. His second game in here he had 18 rebounds and it’s not been consistent. Do all the things that he can be consistent with until his offense and all the other parts of his game is able to get going. He has to get stronger. But he’s a talented guy and he’s going to be one of the guys who is going to have a bright future for our team and possibly could be a star in this league.”

No. 11 Doug McDermott (Bulls). The best of the rookies in Las Vegas. Yes, he can shoot the three (44.4 percent in Vegas) but he can put the ball on the floor and create a little, he showed a varied offensive game. He averaged 18 points a game for the Bulls, and that was with one clunker of a last outing. If he can defend well enough to get Tom Thibodeau to play a rookie, you can see where McDermott will have a role with the Bulls right away.

No. 13 Zach LaVine (Timberwolves). Zach Lavine likes to see Zach LaVine shoot the rock. He did average 15.7 points a game but shot just 39.7 percent in Vegas and was a gunner first and point guard second (and he had more turnovers than assists). His last game was much better but he has a lot of work to do. That said, put the guy in the dunk contest now — he can fly.

No. 14 T.J. Warren (Suns). Warren is a great fit with the Suns — he got out and ran hard then finished in transition. He averaged a team-best 17.8 points a game on 54.4 percent shooting. Most of his shots were right at the rim because he got out and ran, beating his man and everyone down the court. What he showed in Vegas will fit will in Phoenix.

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

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This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?

Bill Laimbeer on LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons: “I’ll take LeBron James, absolutely”

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LeBron James is headed to his seventh straight NBA Finals. He just passed Michael Jordan to take over the top spot on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fourteen years into his NBA career, he has put together a resume that few in the game’s history can match — and he’s not done.

You don’t have to think that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, however, if you don’t think it’s a valid discussion, you’re blinded by bias.

Former NBA All-Star, champion, and WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer of the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons was asked about the LeBron/Jordan comparison on “The Rematch” podcast, and he said we’ve never seen anyone like LeBron (hat tip the USA Today).

“I’ll take Lebron James, absolutely,” Laimbeer said to host Etan Thomas… “He’s 6-8, 285 (James is listed at 250 pounds). Runs like the wind, jumps out of the gym. Phenomenal leader since he’s been 12 years old. Understood when he came into the league how to involve his teammates from the start. And you can’t guard him. You can’t double-team, he’s too big, he powers through everything. Michael was a guard. Yeah, he was 6-6, but he wasn’t a real thick and strong guard. It took him a lot of years to learn how to involve his teammates in order to win championships. Don’t fault him for that, it’s a learning experience. But we’ve never seen anybody like LeBron James physically. He just bullies you.

It was Laimbeer and the Pistons who taught Jordan to win — they beat the Bulls year after year in the playoffs, until Jordan broadened his game (and got better teammates) and the Pistons started to fade. People point to MJ’s unblemished Finals record, but he was seen for years as a guy who couldn’t get a team to the Finals because of those Pistons (LeBron learned his lessons on a different stage, taking some early Cavs teams that had no business in the Finals to that stage anyway, only to get crushed).

LeBron has a more versatile game than Jordan, which better suits this era: When Jordan was a force in the ’80s and ’90s there was no zone defense, which led to a lot of clear-out sets where eight guys watched a one-on-one battle from the other side of the key, and if the double-team came it was obvious from where. Jordan’s skill as a guy who could get his shot, kill it from the midrange or get to the rim, his ability to physically play through contact, and the legendary killer instinct made him great. But he was aided by timing — the booming popularity of the sport in the 1990s, the rise of Nike as a marketing giant, and the fact he didn’t have a true rival, a Bird to his Magic, that could best him.

LeBron has reached the point in his career that the legacy talk and where he ranks all-time is the only real discussion left — and Jordan sits as the bar to clear. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, and a few others should be on that tier as well, part of the discussion, but the point is LeBron has moved on to that level of discussion. He’s earned it. The fact some people on Twitter/sports talk radio feel the need to rip him for everything doesn’t change that — if Jordan played the social media era he would have heard the same things from the same people.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.