The playoff/tournament/whatever you call it round of the NBA Las Vegas Summer League tipped off on Wednesday. Unlike the NBA, you don’t see an increase in intensity now that the playoffs have rolled around — these guys been playing for a job, auditioning for almost a week now. A paycheck is way more motivation than the Summer League crown.
There continue to be plenty of things happening in Vegas, here’s a roundup.
• It was a scary moment when Kings’ No. 6 pick Willie Cauley-Stein left the game Wednesday limping after he banged knees with James Michael McAdoo. After a little treatment and rest he was back in — a relief for a guy who had a lot of teams concerned about his injury potential. Cauley-Stein said he just banged knees.
Cauley-Stein has looked good at times in Vegas, he is incredibly active and athletic, but he may he suffers a little from the old John Wooden line “never mistake activity for achievement.” He needs work to recognize and make NBA-level defensive rotations. That activity isn’t going to work against veterans who know how to exploit it.
“I think Willie always plays hard and he’s still adjusting to the NBA game,” Kings’ Summer League coach John Welch said. “But one thing I love with Willie is you know every night you’re going to know what you get, he’s going to give you effort.”
• The Golden State Warriors beat the Kings on Wednesday to advance to the next round of the playoffs, and the team is coming together under Luke Walton (their coach). The Warriors could pull off the never-before-done NBA title then Summer League title back-to-back.
• Sixers’ rookie guard J.P. Tokoto is going to be battling for minutes with Robert Covington, Nik Stauskas, and Hollis Thompson come the season. He gets what his role will be and that he’s going to have to earn his run this season.
“I’m a realist, I know what it is coming into it,” Tokoto said when asked if he had conversations with the team about his role. “But yeah, we have talked about it — being a defensive guy. Coming in – whether it’s garbage time or giving a vet who is playing more minutes a breather — and disrupting the other team’s offense, attacking the rim on the offensive end, offensive rebounds, being a facilitator coming off a pick, or attacking the rim like I said. Just embracing the moment.”
• And Tokoto proved he can finish at the rim.
• Ryan Boatright, who has had a good Summer League trying to make the Nets (he has a partially guaranteed deal, just a $75K buyout), left the Nets game in the first half Wednesday with a shoulder injury after he took a flagrant foul from the Sixers Steve Zach (who threw a hip into him and knocked him flat during an inbound play). Boatright came back in and took his free throws, but this is Summer League and there is no reason to make a guy play through injuries.
• Just signed Pierre Jackson suited up for his first game for the Sixers, and his pink Kobe’s may have been the most impressive thing we saw from him.
Jackson finished with 9 points on 3-of-9 shooting, and was 0-of-4 from three.
• One thing you consistently hear from college players trying to adjust to the NBA game now is the constant movement of it. With a 24-second shot clock (not 35) and a defensive three seconds in the lane call, there is just a lot more motion and quicker action even in a Summer League game.
• All the big names from Duke’s national championship team — Jahlil Okafor, Justice Winslow, etc. — were absent from Summer League on Wednesday because they were all in Los Angeles for the ESPYs. Winslow is not playing anymore for the Heat this summer; it is unclear if Okafor returns for the Sixers.
Jimmy Butler tops 29 other vote-getters to win Most Improved Player
With a difficult-to-define award like this, let’s just say plenty of voters – intentionally or not – showed bias toward the team they covered. Thirty players received votes, and though none of the recipients are horrid choices, it’s difficult to make the case many of them were among the three most-improved players in the entire league.
Here’s the full voting:
Player (team) first-place votes, second-place votes, third-place votes, points
The Miami Heat started a player they once pledged not to re-sign, their second-best Dragic, someone better known by his previous name, a former second-rounder who played in Australia last season and an undrafted rookie
The Heat hold the No. 10 seed in the lottery and have just a 9.1 percent chance of falling and sending it to the Philadelphia (which got it in the Kevin Love-Andrew Wiggins trade from Cleveland, which got it from Miami in the 2010 LeBron James sign-and-trade). If Brooklyn lost, Miami would have had a 53.1 percent chance of losing the pick.
Still, the 76ers did all they could to tilt the odds in their favor by losing to the Heat tonight.
Actually with just 13 combined players – many of them scrubs, at that – playing, it might be inappropriate to say the Heat beat the 76ers.
Michael Beasley, Zoran Dragic, Henry Walker, James Ennis, Tyler Johnson and Udonis Haslem beat Jerami Grant, Henry Sims, JaKarr Sampson, Robert Covington, Glenn Robinson III, Hollis Thompson and Thomas Robinson.
Four of the Heat’s starters played all 48 minutes with Dragic (41 minutes) and Udonis Haslem (seven minutes) splitting the rest. This was a farce.
The 76ers’ two years of tanking experience paid off. They knew how to get the job done.
It just probably won’t be enough to get Miami’s pick.
That’s the loss that hurts.
Joel Embiid working out, improving, targeting Summer League return
The Sixers aren’t winning a lot, but Brett Brown is starting to build something (at least until GM Sam Hinkie makes another trade). Philadelphia has become a solid defensive team — with Nerlens Noel at its heart — plus there are guys like Robert Covington, who could be part of the future. But they still lack a franchise player.
That could be where Joel Embiid comes in.
The young center could be a cornerstone part of that future. However, he’s missed this entire season recovering from surgery to his right foot. Recently he has been going through hard workouts with the coaching staff, often before games. It looks like we will see if that work has paid off come July at Summer League. That’s what coach Brown told Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com.
“You see him drenched in sweat and shirtless. They are all fantastic signs that his needle is clearly pointing in the right direction,” Brown said. “We are trying to set the stage for a great summer. He sees his reward being the summer league and trying to get ready for playing basketball again. He is headed in the right direction.”
Embiid starred with the soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins at Kansas, and he was considered the better long-term prospect by some scouts. He fell a little due to the foot injury, but the potential is still there.
Hopefully, we’ll get to see that at Summer League.