NBA Summer League: Where Tyler Zeller stands out above the rest

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The NBA Summer League is already through four days of basketball, leaving those around the world clamoring for non-Team USA basketball just six more days of games until the annual extravaganza is complete. There’s already been one player that has received a confirmed NBA training camp invite (congratulations, Chris Copeland!), but plenty more players are hoping for a similar opportunity.

There were plenty of players that took a step closer to that opportunity on Monday, too, which we’ve handily decided to list below.

  • The Cleveland Cavaliers ended the D-League Select team’s hopes of an undefeated season with a 94-88 victory on Monday night. They did it with their other first round pick and a former D-Leaguer, though, as Tyler Zeller looked great on his way to 19 points and seven rebounds while call-up Donald Sloan had 10 points himself starting beside Dion Waiters on the Summer League roster. Dion Waiters struggled again, however, looking a bit out of shape on his way to 11 points on 14 shots … with a nice dunk to ease the pain a bit, however.
  • The D-League Select team didn’t play bad, however, as Jerry Smith scored 21 points and shot 4-of-6 from beyond the arc as he single-handedly helped keep the D-League squad in contention. Mardy Collins also looked like the NBA player he used to be on his way to an efficient 12 points and six rebounds as he tries to make it back to the league as a former first round pick.
  • The first game of the day featured a very solid outing from Jae Crowder, but since we’ve already highlighted him earlier in the day, the player we’ll highlight is Dominique Jones. Jones is too good to play in Summer League, but not quite good enough to get minutes  in the NBA so it’s a bit interesting to watch him play in this setting. He had 21 points on 12 shots and turned the ball over just once, but it’s tough to tell how well he translates. Bernard James also performed admirably as the rookie scored 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a win.
  • On the other end of the floor, Ed Davis was in the same predicament as Jones … except Davis has shown to be a decent player in the NBA already. The young power forward needs to add some weight to his frame, but it wasn’t a problem on Monday afternoon as he scored 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Bobby Brown was also able to put together his typical solid Summer League performance with 19 points and five assists.
  • The Boston Celtics began their Vegas Summer League entry with a victory after playing last week in Orlando and, surprisingly, it wasn’t because Jared Sullinger played out of his mind. Sullinger had a solid 14 points, but fellow rookie Kris Joseph had 14 as well while Dionte Christmas’s impressive play carried over from Orlando as he scored 11 points to go with five rebounds and two assists in a solid defensive effort.
  • While watching the game it seemed that Paul Carter was a bright spot for the Atlanta Hawks, but the D-League wing finished with just five points and three rebounds off of the bench. The players that did produce in the box score did so pretty inefficiently, however. Mike Scott and John Jenkins both needed 14 shots apiece to make 12 points while undrafted rookie Jordan Taylor struggled to just four points on 2-of-12 shooting — though at least he contributed in other areas, picking up six rebounds and five assists.
  • The Miami Heat made the Los Angeles Lakers’ Summer League squad look worse than it already has with a 106-56 victory. It was an all-around effort from the Heat, to, as all five starters — and Mickell Gladness off the bench — scored in double figures.  Norris Cole deserves some individual praise, though, considering his 13 points came on just four shots … and he had nine assists to boot.
  • There wasn’t a bright spot for the Lakers squad as they shot just 26.5 percent from the field and turned the ball over 22 times. Yucky.
  • Minnesota made its first foray in Vegas on Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers in a game they won with relative ease. Wes Johnson struggled his way to being the leading scorer with 16 points on 17 shots while Derrick Williams scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds, but it was a pretty solid team effort all-around. Coby Karl looked particularly impressive with nine points as he knocked down three 3-pointers.
  • The Clippers got a nice performance out of former Detroit Pistons draft pick Terrico White as he came off the bench to score 16 points off the bench in a loss. Eric Bledsoe was far and away the team’s best player, though, racking up 11 points, five rebounds and four assists — though he seemed to have a bit of an over-passing problem.
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The midway point happens Tuesday and, with that, the Chicago Bulls also begin play as they’ll be in action five of the next six nights. Along with the Bulls, 13 other NBA teams will be in action.

Report: Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has griped about Chris Paul’s contract in front of rival executives

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In 2017, Chris Paul opted in to facilitate a trade to the capped-out Rockets. By forgoing free agency and a max salary, Paul sacrificed $10,083,055 that season. With Paul and James Harden, the Rockets became a championship contender and pushed the Warriors in the 2018 Western Conference finals.

The bill came due last summer.

Houston re-signed the aging Paul to a four-year max contract worth $159,730,592. That deal always looked like it could age poorly, and Paul – now 34 – is already slowing.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has noticed.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Fertitta has grumbled about Paul’s contract, expressing regret to Rockets staffers and even in front of rival executives, according to league sources.

Fertitta bought the Rockets after they traded for Paul. Though the sale was completed before they re-signed Paul, it seems the contract terms were at least discussed as far back as the opt-in-and-trade.

So, Fertitta didn’t necessarily sign off on this arrangement.

But it was good for Houston! It made the Rockets the biggest threat to the Kevin Durant-supercharged Warriors to that point. Re-signing Paul helped keep Houston in title contention this year. The Rockets were limited in that pursuit by Fertitta’s spending limitations, not by locking Paul into this contract.

Yes, there’s downside to Paul’s deal. Houston is feeling it now. Paul will be difficult, though not impossible, to trade this summer.

But as much as Fertitta talks about winning, he yet again shows why that’s all bluster.

Kawhi Leonard wears ‘Board Man Gets Paid’ shirt to Raptors’ championship parade (video)

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NBA championship celebrations have become defined by the shirts (or lack thereof).

The clear winner at the Raptors’ parade today: Kawhi Leonard and his ‘Board Man Gets Paid‘ shirt:

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MVP!

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Second place goes to Kyle Lowry, the Raptors’ all-time franchise player honoring Toronto’s original franchise player, Damon Stoudamire:

As expected, Julius Randle will opt out of contract with Pelicans, become free agent

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The math on this is very simple.

After a couple of impressive seasons in a row, Julius Randle‘s stock is going up. The 24-year-old forward averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Pelicans last season, using his strength and athleticism to bully his way to buckets. That said, he also shot 34.4 percent from three, you have to respect him at the arc. He’s impressed a lot of teams.

Randle had a player option for $9.1 million with the Pelicans next season. On the open market, he likely will get a multi-year deal starting in the low teens ($13 million at least). So what do you think he was going to do?

The Pelicans are okay with this move. While they like Randle, they have Zion Williamson coming in playing a similar role (and they hope better).

A few teams to keep an eye on rumored to have interest in Randle are the Phoenix Suns, Brooklyn, Nets, and Dallas Mavericks. Others will throw their hat in the ring as well.

It’s going to be a good summer to be Julius Randle.

2019 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Zion Williamson, the perfect prospect at the perfect time

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Over the course of the next two weeks, as the 2019 NBA Draft draws closer and closer, we at Pro Basketball Talk will be taking deep dives into some of the best and most intriguing prospects that will be making their way to the NBA.

Today, we are looking at Zion Williamson.

Previous draft profiles:

The thing that stands out when it comes to Zion Williamson, the biggest reason that he has become an internet sensation with a chance of becoming an international superstar, is his athleticism.

It’s the dunks.

Human beings aren’t supposed to be the size of Zion, and the people that are that big certainly are not supposed to be able to move – or fly – the way that he does. That athleticism plays a major role in the reason why he is, for my money, the best prospect to enter the NBA since Anthony Davis, but it is far from the only reason that he has a chance to be a generational talent at the next level.

In an era of positionless basketball, Zion Williamson has the potential to develop into the NBA’s preeminent small-ball five, or point-center, or whatever term it is you want to use to describe the basketball’s biggest matchup nightmares.

It starts on the defensive side of the ball. Williamson stands just 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, but between his athleticism, his strength and his anticipation, he plays like a 7-footer. He’s not going to get buried under the rim by even the biggest centers in the league, and he is terrific at coming from the weakside and blocking shots at the rim:

His anticipation is on another level defensively, which is what makes him such a dangerous playmaker on that side of the ball. He jumps passing lanes, he can pick a point guard’s pocket when blitzing a ball-screen, he has an understanding of what an opponent is going to try to do before they do it.

He’s not just a rim protector, however. He can move his feet on the perimeter, staying in front of point guards when he is caught in a switch:

He can do all of the things that bigs are asked to do defensively in the pace-and-space era, and he may be the best that we’ve ever seen when it comes to grab-and-go ability. In transition is where he may end up being the most valuable and the most dangerous. Williamson can lead a break. There is room for him to improve his handle, but he would be able to step onto an NBA floor today and be capable of bringing the ball up the floor. His speed and strength makes him nearly impossible to stop when he gets up a head of steam, but he also has terrific vision and is capable of making pinpoint passes through traffic when defenses throw multiple bodies at him.

That vision was most evident in transition this past season, but he did show flashes of being able to create off the bounce in a halfcourt setting as well.

Part of the reason those chances were limited was due to the way that defenses played Duke this season. The Blue Devils were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country last year, and the result was that by the the ACC and NCAA tournaments rolled around, the secret was out — other than Cam Reddish, you didn’t really have to worry about guarding anyone else beyond 10-12 feet. Opposing defenses simply packed as many bodies as possible in the paint, and while Williamson was still able to get to the rim just about at will — and shoot 68 percent from the floor in the process — it limited the chances that he had to actually rack up assists. He wasn’t dumping the ball off to the bigs when there were four defenders standing with a foot in the charge circle, and kick-out passes to the likes of Tre Jones, Jordan Goldwire and Jack White were precisely what defenses wanted.

Put another way, I think that Williamson’s assist numbers are going to be what spikes at the next level. Not only will he be playing in a league where there is significantly more spacing, but the reason for that spacing will be the fact that he is surrounded by guys that can actually make threes.

That spacing, by the way, will make Williamson significantly more difficult to guard. There simply are not any traditional fives in the NBA that are going to be able to keep Williamson in front with any kind of consistency, and the players that are quick enough are not going to be strong enough to keep Williamson from getting to his spots. And for all the concerns that have been voiced about Williamson’s shooting ability, he did finish the season hitting 33.8 percent of his three-pointers. If Draymond Green shot 33.8 percent from three, then the Raptors might actually respect him enough to feign guarding him beyond the arc in the Finals.

I bring up Green for a reason, because I think he is the perfect place to start talking about what Williamson can be at the next level. Williamson will be able to do, and has the potential to be better at, all of the things that Green does so well — guarding 1-through-5, protecting the rim, bringing the ball up the floor, leading the break. But what really sets Green apart from the field is the way that he is able to exploit 3-on-2s and 2-on-1s offensively and stop 2-on-1s defensively.

I’m not sure there is a player in the NBA that is as basketball smart as Green. He almost never makes the wrong decision on the offensive end of the floor, and part of what makes Golden State’s offense so lethal is that you’re forced to choose between using an extra defender to keep Steph Curry or Klay Thompson from getting a clean look at a three or letting Green make a play with a numbers advantage. On the defensive end, there is no one that is better at stopping those exact same 2-on-1 situations than Green.

There just isn’t.

And I think that Williamson has the basketball smarts and ability to be able to, potentially, do all of those things just as well one day.

He’s also bigger, more athletic, a better natural defender, a better scorer and a more difficult player to stop 1-on-1.

Imagine if you took Julius Randle‘s scoring ability, gave it to Green and then super-charged that Frankenstein with the kind of strength, speed and athleticism that would make the NFL’s best defensive ends jealous.

Would that be a player you might be interested in?