Kurt Helin

Miami Heat v Denver Nuggets

PBT Podcast: Wrapping up NBA Summer League, Ty Lawson trade

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The NBA’s summer season is winding down, but there are still a few ends to talk about and wrap up.

One is the trade of Ty Lawson to Houston Rockets and why that is a good move for both sides of the deal (but could be a home run for Houston).

Then there is the NBA Summer League — how did Karl Anthony-Towns look? DeAngelo Russell? Emmanuel Mudiay? Seth Curry? And on down the line.

We spend most of this podcast making sure what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas, with a conversation between PBT’s Kurt Helin and Sean Highkin, plus NBCSports’ Dominic Ridgard.

Barring major news, this is the last NBC’s PBT podcast until the fall and NBA training camps open again (we will be back then) Listen to the podcast below or you can listen and subscribe via iTunes.

Five unexpected impressive players from Las Vegas Summer League

Austin Spurs v Oklahoma City Blue
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Heading into the Las Vegas Summer League, it was expected Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, and some other big names would impress.

But part of the fun of Summer League is lesser known guys who unexpectedly jump up and grab your attention — and the attention of teams. Myself and Sean Highkin of ProBasketballTalk were in Vegas, and here are five guys that unexpectedly turned our heads.

1) Jonathon Simmons (Spurs). He won the MVP of the championship game scoring 23 points that night, but he had been playing well all Summer League averaging 17 points a game on 51.9 percent shooting. He beats guys off the dribble and knows how to finish inside — he did that well at the D-League level last season also. He just signed a guaranteed contract for this coming season with the Spurs, he may not get a lot of playing time (Kawhi Leonard will get the bulk of the minutes at the three, Simmons Summer League teammate Kyle Anderson may get some run there) but he will get a chance to prove he can keep scoring efficiently at the next level.

2) ScottieWilbekin (Sixers). The former Florida Gator, who spent last season playing in Australia, turned heads with his hustle, averaging 14.4 points per game and playing good defense. He did the same thing at the Orlando Summer League (playing for the Magic), and between the two Summer League’s he shot 42 percent from three. He just signed a four-year contract with the Sixers,  with the first two years guaranteed. The Sixers are crowded at the point guard spot, but he will get his chance.

3) Maurice Ndour (Knicks). He fit well in the vague attempt at the triangle offense New York ran at Summer League. He averaged 9.6 points and 4.8 rebounds a game, and he shot 51.2 percent. He’s got good footwork, hustles on defense and uses his length to be disruptive, he can score in around the basket, and he plays with constant energy. In a game against the Sixers he had six straight points late in a close game, the team turned to him to get buckets. He impressed Knicks management, but coach Derek Fisher said the team might not have a roster spot to give him.

“I don’t know if there’s any more he can do,” Fisher said of Ndour making the Knicks roster. “I think he’s doing everything that’s at least in his control to be a guy that — whether it’s our team, hopefully so, but there are 29 other teams — he’s giving teams a look that he can play at this level and be pretty good at it.”

4) Jordan Mickey (Boston). He looked like a potential great second-round pick (33) by the Celtics. Mickey averaged 13.8 points per game on 52.9 percent shooting, plus pulled down 9.6 rebounds a game. Defensively he was a strong rim protector, averaging 2.6 blocks per game. Mickey just signed a four-year deal (the first two years guaranteed) with the Celtics, which is a fantastic deal for Boston, Mickey could develop into a reliable rotation player for them up front.

5) Alan Williams (Rockets). Loved by the stats guys but undrafted out of UC Santa Barbara (I saw him play in person multiple times in college and would not have predicted this), he looked fantastic in Las Vegas. Williams averaged 20.5 points per game on 50 percent shooting, plus he grabbed 11.5 rebounds a game. He’s a free agent and while Houston may not pick him up it would be shocking to think nobody is going to give him an invite to training camp and a chance to make a roster.

James Harden, Stephen Curry win big at Players’ Choice awards

BET Presents The Players' Awards - Backstage
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Finally, NBA players have had their voices heard.

So long silenced (it’s not like there is media broadcasting much of what they say), the players got the chance to vote and make their choices for some of the top awards in the NBA. The Players’ Awards ceremony — put on by the National Basketball Players’ Association (the players’ union) — took place at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas and was broadcast on BET Tuesday night.

Who won? Here is the list:

MVP: James Harden, Houston Rockets
Best defender: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Hardest to guard: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Most clutch: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Coach you most want to play for: Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Best Homecourt Advantage: Oracle Arena, Golden State Warriors
Player you secretly wish was on your team: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

It’s a secret guys want to play with LeBron?

Ray Allen and Allen Iverson also won awards.

What you think of the players’ vote likely largely depends on whether you think Harden should have won MVP over Curry (I don’t, but it’s not like Harden was a bad choice, he was a close second). Or you think Jordan should have won the defensive award over Kawhi Leonard (who won Defensive Player of the Year).

If this was a hit with players, I’m sure the players’ union will continue to put it on, I’d expect we’ll see it for a few more years at least.

Report: Hornets reach deal with Tyler Hansbrough

Newly acquired NBA basketball player Hansbrough goes up for a slam dunk during a photo shoot  for the Toronto Raptors in Toronto
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One former Tar Heel is coming home.

Tyler Hansbrough has agreed to a deal to join the Charlotte Hornets, something first reported by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. While not yet announced, is almost certainly for the veteran minimum.

Hansbrough spent the last two seasons playing a limited role off the bench in Toronto. Last season he averaged just more than 14 minutes a game, scored 3.6 points and grabbed 3.6 rebounds a game.

He likely will play the same limited role in Charlotte. They have Al Jefferson starting at center with Spencer Hawes behind him. At Hansbrough’s preferred four spot there is Cody Zeller, and the just-signed Frank Kaminsky. That’s not a lot of minutes for Hansbrough.

Hansbrough plays with energy, is strong on the glass (particularly on the offensive end), and is a decent defender. However, he has almost no shooting range and doesn’t stray from the rim much — last season 89.6 percent of his shots were within 10 feet. That makes him defendable.

Still, the former Tar Heel should be popular with the fans.

Pelicans’ coach Alvin Gentry talks defense, faster play, more Anthony Davis

NBA Kid FIT Clinic with Alvin Gentry of the New Orleans Pelicans
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In a deep and talented Western Conference, the New Orleans Pelicans are a team on the rise. They have one of the game’s elite players in Anthony Davis, and next season should have key contributors Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson finally healthy. They are not contenders yet, but they could get there in a few years.

Which is why Alvin Gentry was hired as coach.

He’s player friendly, the guy in charge of the Clippers then Warriors offenses the past two seasons, and a coach who just picked up a championship ring. He’s a fantastic hire by the Pelicans.

So how does he plan to get the Pelicans to the next level? Here is what he told John Schuhmann of NBA.com.

Defense first: “We’ve got to do something about (their bottom 10 defense). First of all, we’ve got to get better perimeter defense out front, so that we’re not getting penetration from perimeter players, which causes our bigs to be in rotation. That’s the first thing that we’ve got to do. Secondly, we’ve got to be better as a team, in our rotations, in our protection of the lane. The big thing is that you’ve got to take away dribble penetration.”

Just to be clear, defense is the training camp priority? “Sure it is. That’s how we won the championship last year, make no mistake about it. Our offense was good, because our defense was great.”

More Anthony Davis: I think we’ll try to expand (Davis’) game. He’s a good enough shooter where he can step out and make corner threes right now. The big thing is that we’ve got to have more possessions per 48 minutes. The way you do that is you’ve got to play with faster pace…. The thing that I saw was that he was very efficient in transition, as far as percentage. But he was extremely low as far as opportunities. So obviously, we have to get more opportunities for him.

Get the guards healthy: Having (Jrue) Holiday healthy, having Tyreke [Evans] healthy, Eric Gordon when healthy the whole season. Our goal is to get those guys healthy and see that unit play as a group.

One other thing mentioned — and it was pretty much a given with Gentry taking over — is to expect a much faster pace from the Pelicans. They were a bottom 10 teams in terms of pace last season. This season Davis and those guards will get out and run.

I expect an improvement, a nice jump in the level of play from the Pelicans this season. The problem is, they are in the West, and it’s hard to move up a lot of slots when the Warriors, Clippers, Spurs, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Rockets are there, too. Still, look for this to be a year the Pelicans take a Davis-sized step forward.