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.

Report: Warriors, Timberwolves, Thunder interested in Joakim Noah if he is bought out by Knicks

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Hand me the salt shaker, I’m going to need some extra for this rumor.

My skepticism aside, let’s pass this rumor along: If Joakim Noah can reach a buyout with the Knicks, at least three playoff-bound teams have interest in him, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

According to league sources, several playoff-bound teams are closely monitoring Noah’s situation in New York and would push to sign him if Noah becomes a free agent.

The Warriors, Timberwolves and Thunder are three such teams that believe Noah, who turns 33 on Sunday, could bolster their respective rosters for the postseason.

A few thoughts.

First, I don’t question that the well-connected Isola got this from a reputable source.

My question is who leaked it? Or, better yet, who benefits from leaking it? That would be the Knicks — they want Noah to agree to a low enough buyout number that it’s a real benefit to them. The idea that playoff teams — and the leading title contender at that — interested in Noah’s services helps the Knicks make a case that he has good options where he gets on the court if he agrees to the buyout terms. Leaking this is a way to ramp up a little public pressure.

That doesn’t mean it’s not true, either. It’s not hard to picture these teams having interest: Tom Thibodeau loves bringing back former players, and both the Warriors (who started JaVale McGee Thursday) and Thunder could use help on the front line. Do any of them think Noah can provide that help at this point? He has been a shell of his former self in recent years. Would those teams actually sign Noah? Who knows, and for the Knicks they don’t care.

Noah is owed $36.5 million for the two seasons after this one, which is why trading him is next to impossible. In a somewhat similar situation in Atlanta Dikembe Mutombo took about $10 million off his salary in a buyout, would Noah do that to get on a contender? That’s what the Knicks are hoping.

Lonzo Ball on college basketball: ‘Everybody knows everybody’s getting paid. Might as well make it legal’

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The logs of payment by Andy Miller’s former agency to high school and college basketball players leaked today.

That has sparked discussions about the entire system, and Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball has a thought.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

Simply, I don’t believe Ball about not getting extra compensation at UCLA. That sounds like he caught himself going further then he wanted and attempting to backtrack.

I can see why Ball wouldn’t want to admit getting extra benefits. He still knows people at UCLA, and an NCAA inquiry based on his comments could hurt them – and his reputation at UCLA.

But NBA players should be outspoken on this issue. They have the power to apply pressure on the NCAA’s cartel system, in which schools collude to limit compensation to athletes. As long as that system remains, college players lose out, getting only under-the-table scraps, while coaches and administrators hoard the major money.

Good for Ball for pointing out the farce. It’s easy to stop caring once players reach the NBA and gets rich, but NBA players are uniquely equipped to shine a light on the NCAA’s problems.

Michele Roberts: Cap smoothing was ‘disgraceful request’ by NBA

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In 2016, new national TV contracts pushed the NBA’s salary cap from $70 million to $94.143 million – a larger jump than over the entire previous decade. Free agents cashed in majorly that summer.

But now, the cap is leveling off. It went up to just $99.093 million last year and is projected to reach only $101 million this year and $108 million next year. With so many lucrative long-term 2016 contracts still on the books, free agents the following few years haven’t gotten and won’t get comparable compensation.

The problem was predictable, and the NBA proposed a solution at the time – cap smoothing.

Players get 49%-51% of Basketball Related Income (BRI) each year, the precise amount determined by formula. The salary cap is set so teams’ payrolls collectively reach that range. (There are procedures if teams fall short or pay too much.)

With cap smoothing, the NBA would have set an artificially lower cap for 2016-17. Players would have gotten less than 49%-51% of BRI in salary, but presumably, the league would have distributed the difference to players after-the-fact. That way, all players – not just 2016 free agents – would cash in.

But the players union rejected the plan.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has looked back longingly, wishing the union approved. National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts, um, has not.

Roberts, in a Q&A with Paul Flannery of SB Nation:

When the salary explosion happened and you rejected the smoothing idea that the NBA proposed, has anything that has happened in the last few years caused you to reconsider that stance?

No, in fact it’s completely confirmed the correctness of that position. I delight and the players delight in reading about some of these contracts because they know they absolutely deserve it.

There was going to be no smoothing of the owners’ profits at all. They were going to enjoy real money that reflected where we were financially as a game. Why in the world would players pretend that the game was not making as much money and therefore have smaller contracts?

It was an absurd suggestion, I thought personally. But what we did to make sure it wasn’t just Michele’s instinct was hire two separate economists to tell us whether this was something that was going to be of value to our players in the long run.

Independent of each other and not knowing what either of us felt, they both came almost saying, “Are you kidding? Why would you do this?”

I don’t have any regrets at all. I don’t think a single player does either.

Not a single owner came up to me and suggested that they thought we should do this. The league did. But I didn’t see any chorus of support from any of the owners. I thought it was a disgraceful request.

It’s impossible to evaluate whether Roberts was right without knowing the particulars of the NBA’s smoothing plan. That has not leaked.

She implies the league proposed artificially lowering the cap (which, again, is determined by formula based on revenue) for the first year or two of the new national TV deals without offering the players something in return. I find that hard to believe. At minimum, it seems likely the NBA would have distributed the rest of the 49%-51% of BRI to players not earned in traditional salary.

Not that that would have been enough for the players to favor cap smoothing.

Players’ salaries are sometimes based on their previous salaries under cap rules. If only a portion of players’ NBA-provided income was considered official salary, that could have debilitating long-term effects.

Perhaps, the NBA could have accounted for that. But it seems there was little negotiating here. The league made a proposal, and the union rejected it.

I’m not sure which side benefited, and evaluating that becomes even more difficult when dividing the sides into competing interests.

For argument’s sake, let’s say rejecting cap smoothing led to more money for players. That largely went to 2016 free agents. What about all the players still under contract that summer? They didn’t get to reap the rewards.

What’s a better measure – the amount of money players collectively gained by rejecting cap smoothing or the percentage of players who earned more money by rejecting cap smoothing? There’s no easy answer.

And there’s more than just money at stake. Most significantly, a lack of cap smoothing allowed the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant. How many players prefer that never would have been possible?

I’m just not as convinced as Roberts rejecting cap smoothing was the right call. At minimum, negotiating a cap-smoothing compromise could have worked.

Many players already under contract in the summer of 2016 have been waiting their turn for a huge payday. But wait until many of them find out their windfall wasn’t just delayed. It’s not coming. Then, some of Roberts’ constituents might question her insistence that rejecting cap smoothing was correct.

Paul George says he wants to sign with team for long haul

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Paul George is enjoying his time with the Thunder. He also likes the idea of playing near his hometown in Los Angeles.

How will George pick between the two in free agency?

One idea: Sign a short-term contract with Oklahoma City.

He’ll be eligible for a higher max-salary tier in two years (35% of the cap, up from 30%). He’d also get to play more with a prime Russell Westbrook while still having an out if the 29-year-old point guard drops off. George would likely remain with Carmelo Anthony next season, too, as Anthony likely opts in. That’d give the Thunder more time to jell and show what they can do.

It’d also give the Lakers’ young core time to develop. If a prolonged test run in Oklahoma City fizzles, the Lakers would probably look even more appealing in a couple years (provided they keep open or can create cap space).

But George doesn’t sound interested in such a plan.

George, via Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

“I’m not looking to bounce around and play for multiple teams throughout my career. The decision I make will ultimately be to build something,” he said. “The only way it’s going to be done. So, this next decision, whatever it is, is to make sure I’m there for a duration.”

George can always change his mind, and he isn’t bound to follow his public statements. But he’s quite open about revealing his thought process. I respect that.

This statement doesn’t hint at any particular team. He could sign long-term anywhere.

But it speaks to the stakes of his upcoming free agency. Any team that wants George better sign him this summer. He probably won’t be available again.