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: Knicks to discuss coaching vacancy with Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer

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Mike Budenholzer is restless in Atlanta, seeing a rebuild coming and looking at other jobs (something Hawks management is fine with). He went down the road a ways with the Suns before pulling out of that process, but he’s still looking around.

The Knicks are casting a wide net in their search, talking to virtually everyone looking for coaching jobs.

So, this seemed inevitable, right? Budenholzer and the Knicks are going to talk, according to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

This will be very preliminary. The Knicks have already had some level of conversation with Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Jerry Stackhouse, David Blatt, Mike Woodson, and TNT analyst Kenny Smith (Jackson and Fizdale are the rumored early leaders). Budenholzer has established a style and culture in Atlanta, giving the franchise a path forward. New York could certainly use that.

However, the Knicks job comes with real challenges, too. That starts with James Dolan as owner and the erratic, at times paranoid culture he has created there. Also, expectations in New York are always high, but the team will be without Kristaps Porzigis for at least half (maybe all) of the upcoming season as he recovers from an ACL injury, and that puts a ceiling on the team in the short term. Is all that worth leaving Atlanta for?

 

Stephen Curry to begin “modified” practices with Warriors

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Golden State has flipped the switch in the first round, going up 3-0 on overmatched San Antonio. The Warriors have been outscoring the Spurs by 20.2 points per 100 possessions in the series, allowing less than a point per possession on defense and scoring when and where they want. Kevin Durant is averaging 27.3 points per game, Klay Thompson is shooting 63.3 percent from three and scoring 25.7 points per game, and the Warriors are clicking.

But they are not yet whole — they need Stephen Curry back. Not for this round, but before the Western Conference Finals for sure.

Curry was re-evaluated Friday and will begin practicing with the team in a limited — or “modified” to use the team’s term — way.

The target has always been a return somewhere during the second round, and that still seems to be on track. That is also a little faster than traditional for a Grade 2 MCL sprain, which can take up to two months to heal (not the 4-6 weeks of the Warriors timeline), but the Warriors are being cautious here for now.

Eventually, the Warriors will need him back — their offense is built around Curry and his ball movement and movement off the ball. Curry’s gravity to draw defenders, even when he doesn’t have the ball, opens up the floor for others. Put simply, if he’s 28 feet from the bucket on the weak side defenders still have to watch and be near him, and help defenders need to be aware, which pulls the defense to wherever he is. Without Curry and the Warriors take more midrange jumpers, it’s just in the first round series against the Spurs they are hitting them.

 

Kenyon Martin: I once played high

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Former NBA commissioner David Stern said the league began testing for marijuana because players complained of other players playing high. Chauncey Billups said he knew teammates who played better high.

But Stephen Jackson is the rare former NBA player who admitted to playing high.

Now, he has company.

Kenyon Martin – who played for the Nets, Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks and Bucks in a 15-year career – via Bleacher Report:

We were playing in Indiana one day. I wasn’t feeling well. I had a hamstring, a hip or something. So, I smoked. I wasn’t going to play originally. So, we got to the arena, and I’m like, “I feel good.” I went and told the trainer, “I’m going to go today.” I went out there and had a great game.

If you want to guess which game this was, here are the possibilities.

This was part of a great feature on marijuana in the NBA and NFL. Matt Barnes, Al Harrington and Gary Paton also participate. I highly recommend (pun intended) watching it in full.

Nuggets president Tim Connelly: Next season playoffs or bust

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The Nuggets have steadily improved over the last four years – 30-52 to 33-49 to 40-42 to 46-36.

But even 46 wins weren’t enough to get Denver into the playoff this season, extending the postseason drought to five years.

Nuggets president Connelly, via Gina Mizell of The Denver Post:

On if next season is “playoffs or bust”:

“I think we’re there. How many times can you be the bridesmaid? Our young core, three of our best players are 23 (Gary Harris), 22 (Jokic) and 21 (Jamal Murray), and they’ve proven they’re capable of doing it at the highest level. I think all of us are, quite frankly, sick of this time of the year having a press conference.”

There’s certainly something to be said for injecting urgency. The Nuggets are already good enough to make the playoffs. They just happened to play in a historically deep Western Conference. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take more responsibility.

Denver lost to the Hawks (twice), Grizzlies (twice without Mikey Conley), Mavericks, Kings and Nets this season. Flip any of those games, and the Nuggets would have made the playoffs.

But I’m not sure what “or bust” means.

Connelly said Michael Malone would return as coach next season. If Denver misses the playoffs, would he get fired? Would Connelly come on the hot seat? What if the Nuggets again produce a record that typically qualifies for the postseason?

Even if Denver misses the playoffs next year, the 2019-20 team would have a 22-year-old Jamal Murray, 25-year-old Gary Harris and probably a 24-year-old Nikola Jokic under contract. That’s still a pretty good place to be.

Because of Jokic’s rapid ascent, the Nuggets are trying to accelerate the timeline. They most notably signed Paul Millsap last summer. (Injury cost him most of the season and contributed to Denver falling short.) They could also emphasize the present by re-signing Will Barton this offseason.

But playoffs or not next year, the Nuggets have a bright future. Connelly just doesn’t want them leaning on that excuse, though following through on his edict could create complications if Denver again narrowly misses the postseason with a good record.