Seven standout players from Las Vegas Summer League

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NBA Summer League in Las Vegas is over, the Sacramento Kings are deserving champions with their veteran roster.

But Summer League isn’t about winning teams and a trophy, it’s about player development and guys showcasing their talents to campaign for a bigger role next season (or in some cases to get a contract for next season.

Here are seven guys that caught my eye during my week in Sin City.

• Nerlens Noel (Philadelphia 76ers). He only played twice as the Sixers continue to bring him along slowly, but you can quickly see where this guy could be a force for Philly in future years. He is seven-foot, long and bouncy, all of which combine to make him an intimidating defensive force in the paint. Noel works hard on the glass. He plays with more physicality than you would expect — he’s thin and his center of gravity is too high to do much post damage, but he had the will to mix it up inside. He runs the floor and gets his points. Noel’s second Vegas outing wasn’t as impressive as his first, he needs to slow down and let the game come to him. And he needs to work on his touch around the rim, his running hook and his post moves. That said, he is going to have an impact for the Sixers this season.

• Anthony Bennett (Cleveland Cavaliers). He showed up to Summer League in much better shape (down 20 pounds by his count but but the eyeball test would suggest more) and with that he was able to play with energy and be a beast on the boards and on defense. He will forever be saddled with being the No. 1 overall pick and his terrible rookie season, and there is a lot of work to do on his game still, but he showed in Las Vegas he could be a solid rotation big man in the NBA.

• Glen Rice Jr. (Washington Wizards). The leading scorer in Summer League, he averaged 25 points a game, and he was shooting better than 50 percent up until the last game of the Summer League for the Wizards. Rice and Otto Porter formed a good 1-2 combo with Porter doing more ball handling and Rice as the shooter. Porter is going to get quality minutes behind Paul Pierce and Rice made a good case to get big minutes behind Bradley Beal. The question is how will those two adapt to working more off the ball on a team with quality point guards in John Wall and Andre Miller.

• Doug McDermott (Chicago Bulls). He was the most impressive player in Vegas out of this year’s draft (not saying he will be the best player out of this class, or win Rookie of the Year, but he shone in Vegas). We knew he could shoot the rock and he did shoot 44.4 percent from three in Vegas, but he also showed a more diverse offensive game where he could put the ball on the floor, create space for himself and make some creative plays. We’ve got questions about his defense, and if Tom Thibodeau has questions about his defense that’s bad for McDermott’s minutes. But he’s going to get minutes with the Bulls and has some real potential.

• Donatas Montiejunas (Houston Rockets). The Rockets center plays well in this setting — he is either too strong or too quick for just about anyone trying to guard him, plus his varied offense and crafty game gets him good look buckets. The result was 16.8 points per game on 59.3 percent shooting, plus he pulled down 8.1 rebounds a game. He just went to show what happens when you stick a legitimate, quality NBA rotation big man into Summer League — he owns it. The question is if he will get those midrange jumpers he was knocking down when the games start this fall. If he plays for the Rockets next season like he did in Las Vegas they just got a big boost.

• Dante Exum (Utah Jazz). His numbers were not standout — 7.2 points a game on 30.8 percent shooting — but there were flashes where you realized this guy is going to be very good. He has a real star quality about him. He has a wicked hesitation dribble with a crazy-quick burst. He is tall for a guard and that combined with a fantastic floor vision leads to some very smart passes. He is very quick with the ball and can get into the paint. He has a lot of work to do on his shot and being a floor general, but in a few yeas the Jazz may have a steal here.

• Gorgui Dieng (Minnesota Timberwolves). He averaged a double-double in Vegas of 11.5 points and 10.2 rebounds a game. He uses his athleticism well on the glass and on defense. On offense he worked hard off the ball and when he got the rock near he rim he showed deft footwork. He sets a mean screen. He fiercely protected the rim. Minnesota has an established front line (well, depending on what happens with Kevin Love) but they are going to have to give Dieng more minutes. His play is starting to demand it.

Honorable mention of other guys who caught my eye: T.J. Warren (Phoenix Suns), C.J McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers), Tony Snell (Chicago Bulls), Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Henriquez (New York Knicks), Jarnell Stokes (Grizzlies), Jordan McRae (Philadelphia 76ers), Russ Smith (New Orleans Pelicans), Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz), Dennis Schroder (Atlanta Hawks).

Report: Grizzlies moving toward keeping J.B. Bickerstaff as coach

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From the moment Robert Pera opted to retain control of the Grizzlies and end a prolonged ownership saga, it seemed interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff would remain Memphis’ coach.

Lo and behold…

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Bickerstaff did a decent job before the Grizzlies started tanking. But that was a small a sample, and his prior work as Rockets interim coach was uninspiring.

To be fair to Bickerstaff, those were both difficult situations. He’s an experienced assistant who might be ready for this challenge.

To be less fair to Bickerstaff, this looks like Memphis taking the cheap route. The Grizzlies didn’t appear to conduct much of a coaching search, if any. Nor has Bickerstaff been mentioned with other openings. It probably won’t cost as much to hire him as it would a more-established option.

Memphis seems to be operating under the belief that a healthy Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will right the ship next season. And they might. But given the age and injury history of those two, I wouldn’t assume they stay healthy and productive all season. Even if they do, they’d have to carry an underwhelming supporting cast – with limited room for upgrade this summer – in a deep Western Conference.

The Grizzlies want Bickerstaff, who’d be a first-time non-interim head coach, leading that team trying to win now? That doesn’t seem like the right risk-reward balance – at least until considering his salary, and even then.

Rumor: 76ers increasingly confident about signing LeBron James

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LeBron James-76ers rumors have been mainstream for the better part of the year.

And they’re not going anywhere.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

I now fully understand why whispers about the Philadelphia 76ers and their growing behind-the-scenes confidence that they can woo LeBron to Philly this summer are getting louder.

Why shouldn’t they be increasingly confident? Led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the 76ers have already won a playoff series. The Cavaliers are mired in a tight first-round series with the Pacers, and LeBron’s supporting cast has mostly stunk.

This has the makings of LeBron’s previous free agencies – when he left barren Cleveland for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Heat in 2010, when he left aging Miami for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love with the Cavaliers in 2014. Whatever motivations and narratives attached to LeBron’s decisions, he has left sinking teams for better-positioned ones.

The 76ers are good enough to fit that. They also have the cap flexibility to acquire him without sacrificing roster strength.

That LeBron has positioned himself as a mentor to Simmons – who shares an agent, Rich Paul, with LeBron – would only make signing with Philadelphia easier. LeBron could sell the narrative of teaching and grooming Simmons. LeBron, who cares about his legacy, must explain why he’s again leaving his hometown team in a way that won’t alienate everyone – not easy considering his homecoming message upon his return. Working first-hand with his protégé would look understandable, maybe even commendable.

All that said, growing confidence could be going from a 1% chance to a 10% chance. That’d be a 10-fold increase while leaving Philadelphia a big underdog.

LeBron’s free agency is still a huge unknown – including, at least in part, to LeBron himself. But I believe he has already started to consider options, even if he hasn’t made up his mind. And when that happens, signs could emerge behind the scenes. Perhaps, the 76ers have a read on those.

Or maybe they’re seeing what we’re all seeing: The 76ers are rising while the Cavs are just trying to keep their heads above water. Which situation would LeBron choose?

Victor Oladipo on his final shot: “It was a goaltend”

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Ultimately, the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report will back up Victor Oladipo — it was a goaltend.

With the score tied 95-95 and just six seconds left in the game Wednesday night, Oladipo attacked LeBron James in isolation, and like so many before him thought he was past LeBron only to have a chase down block from behind end his bid — except video replays shows Oladipo laid the ball off the backboard a fraction of a second before LeBron blocked it. That makes it a goaltend, a defender cannot block a shot that has already touched the backboard. Check out the slow-mo video.

The officials didn’t call it that way on the court, and the play is only eligible for video review if a goaltend is called (to be fair to the officials, that was an incredibly close play that is very difficult to call in real time). From there, LeBron went on to hit the dramatic game-winning three that gave Cleveland the win and a 3-2 series lead.

After the game, Oladipo and his teammates were pissed about the no-call.

“I got a step on him,” Oladipo said via the Associated Press. “I felt like I even got grabbed on the way to the rim, tried to shoot a layup, it hit the backboard, then he blocked it. It was a goaltend. It’s hard to even speak on it. It just sucks, honestly. It really sucks. Even though we fought our way back, we tied the game up, that layup was huge.

“Give him credit where credit is due. The three was big-time. Definitely huge. But who’s to say they even run that play? We don’t know what happens. It’s unfortunate. It really sucks that they missed that.”

LeBron didn’t see it that way.

“Of course I didn’t think it was a goaltend. I try to make plays like that all the time and I mean he made a heck of a move, got me leaning right and he went left and I just tried to use my recovery speed and get back up there and make a play on the ball. And I was able to make a play.”

We’ll see what the Last Two Minute Report says, but to my eyes that was a goaltend, it clearly comes off the backboard.

That call is also not why Indiana lost. If Pacers’ fans want to place blame, Oladipo going 2-of-15 on the night was a bigger issue. Or Darren Collison having an off night and going 1-of-5 from the floor. Or maybe it’s just the fact that LeBron James is the best player in the game and can drop 44 on the Pacers — including the three that may well have made the goaltend moot anyway — and Indiana can’t stop it. One call late does not by itself decide a 48-minute game.

But it was a goaltend.

Giannis Antetokounmpo puts it on himself to be more aggressive in Bucks-Celtics Game 6

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Giannis Antetokounmpo was criticized after Game 5 of Milwaukee’s Eastern Conference series against Boston for not doing more, particularly on the offensive end.

The harshest critic: Antetokounmpo, himself.

He took only 10 field-goal attempts, his third-lowest total of the entire season. Antetokounmpo still had a brilliant stat line, finishing only one assist shy of a triple-double, but the Bucks lost 92-87 and now go back to Milwaukee trailing the first-round matchup 3-2.

Game 6 of the Celtics-Bucks series is the lone matchup on the Thursday night NBA schedule.

“Game 6, I’ve got to come out and be more aggressive,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s on me. I had open shots, but they weren’t my shots so I didn’t feel comfortable taking them. … I’ve got to be more aggressive, make more plays because definitely, my teammates need me.”

It’s not like he was choosing to not be involved.

The Celtics got Marcus Smart back for Game 5, and Boston is much better defensively when he’s on the floor. Open looks seem to happen far more infrequently when Smart is out there, and the Bucks must solve that riddle or else their season is about to end.

Smart wasn’t the only defensive hero for Boston in Game 5. The Celtics put Semi Ojeleye on Antetokounmpko, and it worked as well as Boston could have hoped.

“Giannis is a heck of a player,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “You’re not going to be perfect against him. You’re not going to hold him down by any means. He makes plays for other people, he’s very unselfish … but we just felt like we needed a little bit more ball pressure overall, and so that was the decision to go smaller.”

If Antetokounmpko doesn’t come up bigger Thursday, it’ll be Boston going to the second round.

Here’s some of what to know going into Game 6:

CELTICS AT BUCKS

Boston leads 3-2. Game 6, 8 p.m. EDT, TNT

NEED TO KNOW: Since 2002, there have been 29 NBA teams with at least one postseason series win to their credit. The lone exception: The Bucks. It’s been 17 years since the Bucks advanced to the second round, and the Celtics are on the cusp of adding another year to Milwaukee’s wait. So far in the series, Milwaukee has outscored Boston 520-519 – which would indicate that it’s been a super-close matchup. That’s not the reality. There have been wild ebbs and flows, with one team leading by 16 points at some point in each of the last four games.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Free throws. Boston is 99 for 130 in the series from the line, while Milwaukee is 68 for 100. The Bucks have been called for 30 more fouls in the series, 124-94 – which works out to six more per game.

PRESSURE IS ON: Clearly, the Bucks. They’re facing elimination, of course, so there’s the pressure. Antetokounmpko was on the Milwaukee team that won two elimination games against Chicago in 2015 (before the Bucks eventually lost that series in six games). And he also remembers the sting of last season, when the Bucks went home for Game 6 trailing Toronto 3-2 and wound up letting a pair of late leads slip in what became a season-ending loss.

INJURY UPDATE: Getting Smart back was a rare bit of good news for Boston in this injury-marred season, one where the Celtics have been without Gordon Hayward since opening night and ultimately lost Kyrie Irving for the playoffs. Smart hadn’t played in about six weeks after tearing a ligament in his right thumb, but was a clear difference-maker for the Celtics in Game 5.

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball