Kurt Helin

150721-Emmanuel-Mudiay

Five players who impressed in Las Vegas at NBA Summer League

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Summer League is over. Finally everyone can head home from Las Vegas. The San Antonio Spurs won there just like they have been winning all offseason.

Summer League isn’t about wins and losses; it’s about development, and a status check on players. With the rookies, we see where they really stand right now. For returning players, it’s a chance to benchmark their development.

These are five players that stood out to the PBT crew in Las Vegas (myself and Sean Highkin were there). This is not a list of the best players at the event, if so guys like Seth Curry and T.J. Warren would have been here. This is also not a complete list of guys who looked good or that we liked, otherwise Jahlil Okafor of the Sixers or Kyle Anderson of the Spurs would be on the list (among others). Bottom line, this could be a lot longer list.

But here are the five that turned our heads.

1) Emmanuel Mudiay (Denver Nuggets). He has an incredible maturity to his game for a rookie. While other players struggled to adjust to the increased athleticism in Las Vegas and defensive pressure that can bring, he was calm and making the right decisions. Mudiay would recognize what defenses were trying to do then quickly worked to exploit a weakness. He can step in right now and be a starting point guard in the NBA (while there still will be rookie bumps along that road, he is far more prepared than most).

“I feel like playing overseas professionally, that really helped me,” Mudiay said of the patience in his game. “Coming from high school to pro ball, in high school I was rushing everything. Straight out to China I was rushing everything. But I’ve got to let the game come to me.”

“When things are chaotic he remains calm, he’s very comfortable with his abilities, and he’s able to make pretty much any pass at any time, which is big time,”Denver Nuggets Summer League coach Micah Nori told PBT. “And I think the one thing about Emmanuel that allows him to do that is his skill level with his ball handling. And the other thing is he’s a big kid, a big strong kid. Some guys, when they get pressure, turn their back to the floor, the one thing he’s able to do is be facing forward, facing that rim, and that’s why he can make any pass at any time. He finds guys that are open and hits them on time and on target.”

Nuggets fans are going to love the flair he has in his game — he pushes the pace, and he’s fond of behind-the-back and jump passes. He’s got a great change of pace dribble and has shown some real explosion to the rim.

“The first thing you see is he is a true point guard…”  said. “Guys are going to love to play with him, they are going to continue to run for him because he is a pass-first point guard…. And I see him being able to lead. With his ability to pass and his unselfishness, guys are going to want to follow him.” (KH)

2) Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves). We knew the No. 1 overall pick had physical talent, but what we really liked was the high basketball IQ he showed. He does well recognizing the double teams being thrown at him, he was patient and made clever passes out of them. His game also grew quickly as he adjusted to Summer League defenses — he showed an ability to score a variety of ways, from back-to-the-basket to 18-foot jumpers. He cuts and moves well off the ball. Like every other rookie there is plenty of work to do — he picked up fouls at an alarming rate, and he needs a diversity of post moves — but there is a lot to like there for Timberwolves fans dreaming of a bright future. (KH)

3) Bobby Portis (Chicago Bulls). The Bulls were surprised on draft night when Portis was still available at No. 22, and they have to be pleased with his Summer League showing. In his Vegas debut, Portis had 23 points and 7 rebounds playing against No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns. His later games weren’t as impressive statistically, but new Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg raved about his motor and intensity. The Bulls’ frontcourt is crowded, but Taj Gibson is coming off recent ankle surgery, Pau Gasol is 35 and Joakim Noah looked like a shell of himself last year, so it’s easy to see a scenario where Portis plays significant minutes this season. He looks ready. (SH)

4) Kristaps Porzingis (New York Knicks). After all the questions pre-draft and the boos on draft night, here is the simple assessment of Porzingis:

He belongs.

He belongs at the top of the draft board; he deserves to be mentioned with Okafor and Towns. Make no mistake, he is still a project that will take a couple of years to develop, but he has the potential to be that good. Porzingis showed a raw game but one that could be efficient and smooth — he averaged just more than 10 touches a game at Summer League but was efficient with them, scoring 1.024 points per possession (much better than Towns or Okafor did). Porzingis showed a high basketball IQ, good passing skills, and while he can shoot the three he showed off an ability to get inside and make plays off the bounce as well. He was better on the defensive end than expected because of his crazy length.

“Just how it complements so many different players and situations,” Knicks coach Derek Fisher said of how Porzingis’ game fits in New York. “I think defensively he complements guys because of his length and his rim protection. He’s pretty active and can guard multiple guys. I think offensively because of his ability to stretch the floor and do some things around the basket as well. I think he’s a player that fits with just about any lineup, no matter how you’re trying to play. So I think that versatility has been obvious during Summer League.”

5) Noah Vonleh (Portland Trail Blazers). Vonleh, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2014 draft, didn’t play very much in his rookie season in Charlotte, and they gave up on him after one year to trade for Nicolas Batum. He’ll have plenty of opportunity to get minutes at power forward for the Blazers, who just lost LaMarcus Aldridge and are very much in “throw a bunch of young guys with upside out on the floor and see who sticks” mode. The “it’s only Summer League” caveats fully apply here, but Vonleh was impressive in Vegas, showing off an uncommon handle and shooting range for a big man in addition to the explosiveness that made him such a high pick in the first place. He’s still a very raw prospect, but the tools are there, and there’s reason to believe the Blazers got a steal in their rebuilding effort. (SH)

DeAndre Jordan: “Ultimately, I made the right decision for me, and now I have to own that”

DeAndre Jordan, Samuel Dalembert, Dirk Nowitzki
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It has been the story of the offseason: DeAndre Jordan verbally committed to the Dallas Mavericks, but had second thoughts as the moratorium wore on ultimately re-signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in dramatic fashion. Jordan took a lot of heat for not reaching out directly to Mavs owner Mark Cuban. Jordan apologized on Twitter, Cuban would have none of it. Chandler Parsons took his shot at Jordan. Through it all Cuban has gone from obviously frustrated to seeming to have moved on.

Jordan now turned to the Players Tribune to tell his side of the story directly.

“I woke up Monday morning feeling like there was something missing, something I didn’t do, something that was not covered, and that’s when I started to begin to have second thoughts… 

“Originally I said yes to the Mavericks because I thought I needed change. I thought I wanted change at that point in time…

“At the end of the day, we’re basketball players and great athletes but we are also human and we make mistakes, we have emotions and feelings just like everybody else….

“I’ve been here since I was 19 so this is what I know. I love this city, I love the fans, I love my teammates, and I love this organization.”

In the written part of the piece at the Tribune, Jordan also discussed his relationship with Chris Paul.

“I love Chris, man. Chris is a big brother to me. When you play sports, you’re competitive — especially when you play them at as high a level as we have these last few years. And of course, yeah, we all bump heads during the course of the game. But we know that whatever criticisms or arguments we have on the floor, they’re about one thing: winning….

“Ultimately, I made the right decision for me, and now I have to own that. What’s important to me now is to explain how it all happened.”

 

What Jordan did was not handled professionally — as Commissioner Adam Silver said it was not a good look — but it was well within his rights to do. There will be no rule changes, the NBA’s moratorium at the start of free agency will remain the same. What will change is that next year, when a team gets a commitment from a free agent early in free agency, that team will continue to recruit and babysit that player until they sign the contract.

Shaq, Scottie Pippen get into Instagram fight over who is bigger sidekick

2nd Annual Cartoon Network Hall Of Game Awards - Arrivals
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The lesson here? Don’t get into an Instagram fight with Shaquille O’Neal.

That’s what Scottie Pippen did. It didn’t go well for him. Everything started with a post from Shaq.

We would beat em by fifty "what you think". Let me know and don't hold back

A photo posted by DR. SHAQUILLE O'NEAL Ed.D. (@shaq) on

Then Pippen responded.

And it was on.

Anybody need a T MOBILE SIDEKICK. I GOTTa PRETTY GOOD ONE #BESTSIDEKICKEVER

A photo posted by DR. SHAQUILLE O'NEAL Ed.D. (@shaq) on

Easy big fella… if only you were as good at free throws as you are talking smack! @shaq

A photo posted by Scottie Pippen (@scottiepippen) on

Speaking of being a sidekick… if I recall correctly you know a thing or two about that as well. @shaq

A photo posted by Scottie Pippen (@scottiepippen) on

Just on creativity, I have to give it to Shaq.

Becky Hammon coaches Spurs to Summer League title

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The Spurs have been winning all offseason. They landed LaMarcus Aldridge as a free agent. They got David West to sign with them for pennies on the dollar. They retained Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

Why not have them win Summer League, too?

Behind 23 points from Jonathon Simmons and 15 from Summer League MVP Kyle Anderson, the Spurs executed when it mattered and pulled away for a 93-90 win and the Las Vegas Summer League championship.

It gives the first woman ever to coach a Summer League team, Becky Hammon, another milestone — the first female coach to win the Summer League title.

Phoenix opened the game fast, pushing out to a 10-point first quarter lead thanks to hot shooting — they knocked down 53 percent of their shots in the first quarter, and that included a three from Devin Booker showing off some sick range.

In the huddle, Hammon snapped at her team for getting “too cute” and told them to get back to playing the right way. They did, going on a 23-11 run. The Spurs kept executing, and more importantly their defense got better

The Spurs retook the lead midway through the second quarter on a Kyle Anderson alley-oop to Simmons.

At the half it was tied 39-39, but the Spurs shot just 30 percent for the first 20 minutes and it felt like the shots would start to fall.

It stayed close and was 59-59 near the end of the third quarter, but that’s when the Spurs went on a 20-7 run that spanned into the fourth quarter. It was a lead the Spurs would not relinquish. Phoenix made it interesting with a late 10-4 run, but the Spurs victory never felt in doubt.

Treveon Graham also had 22 points for the Spurs.  Anderson looked like every bit the MVP and guy that the Spurs need to give some run to come the season. He played the point forward role we’ve seen in the Spurs offense for years, working out of the post, finding mismatches and making crisp passes to the open man.

Point guard Mike James had 32 points for the Suns — the most any player scored in a Summer League game all this run. James did it knocking down a few threes but mostly attacking (he got to the line 11 times, hit nine). Alex Len added 17, Archie Goodwin 12 and Booker 10.

Alex Len (17 points), Archie Goodwin (12) and Devin Booker (10) rounded out the foursome of double-digit scorers for Phoenix, who ended its stay in Las Vegas with a 5-2 overall record.

 

It’s official: Manu Ginobili re-signs with Spurs

San Antonio Spurs v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Four
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This is very likely Manu Ginobili’s final season in the NBA, but with the Spurs reloaded for another run at the title he wasn’t going to miss out.

As had been expected, Ginobili officially signed with the Spurs on Monday.

Ginobili has averaged around 23 minutes a game for the past four years (22.7 last season) and while the skills of the 37-year-old (38 in a few days) are declining, he still provides some smart, above average play off the bench (with the occasional throwback game). Last season he averaged 10.2 points and four assists a game, and shot 34.5 percent from three.

But rather than talk about the magic Ginobili can produce on the court, why not watch some highlights.

Ginobili also may be the most popular Spur in San Antonio, you see more of his jerseys than Duncan’s around that town. He needed to be part of this last run with Tim Duncan.

While Ginobili signed a two-year deal for $5.7 million (the room exception) he likely doesn’t play the second year.