Summer League players: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly so far

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LAS VEGAS — As we enter the tournament phase of Summer League, it is pretty much the halfway point, which seems a good time to take stock of some of the player evaluation and development that is really the focus out in Las Vegas.

And when you talk player evaluation, you should always try to use a Clint Eastwood movie theme. It’s one of the Web’s golden rules… or it should be. We almost went with “The Bridges of Madison County,” but at the last minute went with “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”

THE GOOD

Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats. I’ll admit it, I thought the Bobcats missed on this when they grabbed him at No. 4. Turns out he’s been the best rookie at Summer League (in my estimation, he is at least in the conversation). He played primarily in the post in college but with the Bobcats next season Al Jefferson owns the post, so Zeller has been working to be more of a midrange, stretchy type four — and he’s shown a real skill for it. He’s averaged 15.7 points and 9.3 rebounds a game, has a decent midrange game and is a pretty deft passer.

Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors. He is probably the most improved veteran at the tournament and it’s all about his physique — the skinny kid out of Europe has worked out and filled out his upper body, and with that he’s been a man among boys in the paint at Summer League. He has been a force on both ends of the court. We’ll see how that translates when he starts playing against men again, but Masai Ujiri has got one key piece from the Bryan Colangelo era that can be part of the future here.

Andrew Goudelock, Chicago Bulls. If after three games there was a vote for Summer League MVP, Goudelock would probably get the win. That’s a fairly dubious honor, but Goudelock has a game built for Summer League — he can score. He had a 31-point game to show that off, he is averaging 22.7 points per game and is hitting 60 percent of his three pointers. He can score off the bounce, on the catch-and-shoot, he has crazy range and hasn’t seen a shot he doesn’t like. There’s a reason Lakers fans called him mini-Mamba — he will take shots just like the big Mamba. He is a disinterested defender, but his scoring at Summer League will remind GMs of how he can fill it up and that should get him an NBA contract somewhere.

(Note: There are a lot of other players who could have made the good category such as Dennis Schröder, John Henson and Ray McCallum, but I just pulled out the big three.)

THE BAD

Jan Vesely, Washington Wizards. Maybe bad is too harsh a term here, he has shown improvement on the offensive end. It’s clearly working on his game a little. But his defense is still unimpressive, particularly in transition. As Wizards Summer League coach Sam Cassell told PBT, he just expects more out of Vesely, and I think we all do. He needs to make a jump with his game or the Wizards have to think about what’s next.

Otto Porter, Washington Wizards. His game is just not a good fit with Summer League, on top of that Cassell and the Wizards’ brass want to see what kind of player they have so he has played the one, two, three and four spots. He’s smooth, he makes smart decisions, I think in the season when he gets a more defined role and in a less pickup style 5-on-5 he will look better. But not a great time in Vegas from him.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats. He has the athleticism and kind of determined game that should show better in Summer League, but if you’re a guy who works off the ball in a showcase league where point guards what to get noticed, you don’t always get the looks you want. The result is he floats through games and just hasn’t impressed.

THE UGLY

Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s shooting 29.5 percent in Summer League and turning the ball over a lot. He’s better than this, he showed it in games that mattered last year, but his Summer League has not been good.

(Summer League is supposed to be a little ugly, so we’re not going to pile on a bunch of guys here.)

Could Kevin Durant return from torn Achilles, play for Nets this season? Maybe…

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Every case is different, but many players return from a torn Achilles in about nine to 10 months. Kobe Bryant pushed and did it in eight. Other players will take a full year.

If Kevin Durant returned in nine months it would be March, enough time to get in game shape and be ready for the Nets’ playoff run.

There’s a growing sense from teams we could see just that scenario, and Spencer Dinwiddie talked about it with Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Though Nets GM Sean Marks refused to rule Durant out for the season, the feeling within the league is trending toward him potentially playing this season.

“I know KD is taking the rehab process ultra-serious. He wants to come back as soon as it’s appropriate, and healthy and the right decision for him, and then also subsequently that would also be the right decision for,” said Dinwiddie, who points out that even a slightly-diminished Durant could still be a superstar.

“The beautiful part about this is, the man is 7-foot and one of the best shooters of all time. At worst you get Dirk [Nowitzki], and Dirk was a monster. So we’re ready for him to come back whenever he wants to and whenever he’s ready to do so, and we know that he’s going to be a phenomenal major piece of our roster.”

Durant is an intense competitor who wants to get back on the court. He pushed to get back from a calf injury and play in the NBA Finals only to suffer the Achilles tear. He’s smart enough to be sure he’s all the way back before he steps on the court, if that means he sits out a full season so be it. However, he absolutely could return this season.

If he’s back, the Nets go from interesting team to potential threat to the Bucks and Sixers at the top of the conference. Durant was the best player in the world the past couple of years and he could return to that status quickly, and lift Brooklyn up with him.

Will Toronto give Pascal Siakam a max extension?

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In his third year in the league last season, Pascal Siakam made a leap. He averaged 16.9 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, shot 36.9 percent from three, became a shot creator, played quality wing defense, and he was a key part of the Raptors earning the right to have a parade and hoist a championship banner. He earned that Most Improved Player trophy.

Siakam is Toronto’s future after a summer where Kawhi Leonard left.

Siakam also is eligible for an extension right now.

Should the Raptors give him the max of five years, $170 million? A number of executives around the league told Frank Urbina of Hoopshype that Siakam may be worth that number.

A Western Conference coach agreed: “With Toronto in the situation that they’re in, no longer having Kawhi Leonard or Danny Green, Pascal Siakam may be a safe bet for them and they may want to give him a max extension to lock him up. I’ve been impressed with his development; he’s improved into a highly, highly serviceable player who’s very efficient and does a lot for that team. From the outside looking in, it seems like he’ll be able to continue his development too. He seems highly motivated and very grateful to be in the situation he’s in and he doesn’t take anything for granted.”

Is “highly serviceable” worth the max? The two players who got that money this summer were Ben Simmons in Philly and Jamal Murray in Denver. Most of the GMs spoken to for the article would try to extend him for less than the full max.

“I think they’re going to try to extend him,” one current Eastern Conference GM said. “I haven’t talked to Toronto, but he’s obviously a huge piece for them, helped them win a championship, he’s getting better, he’s young, he’s athletic and he can shoot. They’re going to try to extend him. Do I think he’s a max player? No. Do I think he’s a good player? Certainly. It’ll come down to what he thinks he’s worth, and I’m sure his agents have called around to see what kind of offers he could get if he enters restricted free agency.”

Another Western Conference executive agreed that he’s not worth the max, telling HoopsHype: “Out of Pascal Siakam, Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram and Buddy Hield, [the main candidates remaining for a rookie-scale extension], I don’t think any of them will get the max or deserve the max. If I was running each team, I would force them to play it out. In some situations, keeping their cap holds is so much more beneficial. You should only extend if you get a below-market-value deal or if it’s a no-brainer extension.”

If the Raptors come in at less than the max with an offer, Siakam may just want to play out this season and head into restricted free agency next summer. If he has another strong season, when he hits the market in a down year for free agents he may find a team willing to make a max or near max offer and Toronto will have to match or let him walk. Essentially, Siakam would bet on himself.

We’ll see if Toronto and Siakam’s people can find a number that works for both sides, the deadline is Oct. 21. The sides are talking, but its more likely this rolls into next summer.

Alex Abrines says Russell Westbrook stood by him through mental health issues

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Alex Abrines is a big fan of Russell Westbrook the person.

Westbrook takes some hits as a selfish teammate from some quarters of NBA fandom, but Abrines had to leave the Thunder due to personal, mental health issues and said Westbrook stood by him. This is from an interview with Basket en Movistar+, via Eurohoops.

“He’s a very nice guy. He helped me a lot especially in the first year. In most of our trips we did something together, watch a movie, have dinner. When I went through all this and did not travel with the team, he kept in touch. He asked me to meet him for dinner. He cared for the person beyond the player. He calmly told me what I should do noting that he would support me if I decided to leave.”

“Athletes are normal people, but are pressured above average. Medication helps, but at the end of the day you must seek professional aid, discuss with friends and family, move forward with their support” adds Abrines on his illness, “It is a different kind of pain. Physical pain is something you can see and feel. Mental pain can not be observed and can not be treated like an injured knee for example. If you don’t go through something similar, you can’t realize it. In the end of the day, money is not above everything. Until it happens, you don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about money.”

Abrines signed with FC Barcelona, but could not travel with the team to all its games last season. He’s still on his path to wellness, and hopefully he gets there.

We tend to think of professional athletes in two dimensions, focusing on how they entertain us or help our fantasy teams. However, as Abrines notes, they are ordinary people with families and challenges, including mental health issues. More and more players are willing to speak out about that, but having friends — not just teammates, but real supporters like Westbrook was here — is also a big help.

Andre Drummond focused on conditioning heading into contract season

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Andre Drummond can be a free agent next summer. That would mean walking away from a $28.8 million player option for that season, so he’s not going to do it unless he thinks he can land an even bigger payday (a max contract) or he decides he wants some security long term. Drummond has said he’s excited to be a free agent (then quickly tried to walk that back).

How Drummond plays this coming season will play a big role in what kind of offers he will get. What is Drummond doing to prepare for this contract year? Improving his conditioning, reports coach Dwane Casey to Pistons.com.

“One, his overall conditioning. He’s in the best shape since I’ve been around him, the year and a half that I’ve seen. His body is slim and trim, his body fat is down, he’s been in Vegas working with Coach Gerg (Tim Grgurich) and Sean Sweeney all summer religiously, two and three times a day. That in itself is going to pay great dividends. Watching him in pickup games, he’s running like a deer. His decision making, I think the 3-point shooting experiment, we kind of put that on hold in the second part of the year last year but still, catching the ball on pick and roll, making decisions, he’s doing a great job of that – a much better job than he did last year. That’s something he’s worked on this summer, making the right read, the right decision.”

This time of year, right before training camp, reports of players being in “the best shape of their life” is worth as much as tickets from the Fyre Festival. It’s good to hear this about Drummond, but we’ll want to see it before we believe it.

Can Drummond punish teams that go small against him? Can he find a way to get easy buckets in transition and space the floor a little more? Do that, with his rebounding, and he may get the payday he wants. But he’s going to have to show it all season long.