It is dangerous to read too much into an NBA Summer League performance — remember a year ago the co-MVPs were Damian Lillard and Josh Selby. They went on to have radically different NBA seasons.
But the one guy in Las Vegas who leapt out to me as a potential steal of a pick was 19-year-old German point guard Dennis Schroder of the Hawks, who was drafted at No. 17.
In the helter-skelter, pick-up style of the NBA Summer League Schroder showed a mature game, a patient and unhurried style that stood out — especially since he was one of the youngest players there.
“I think part of that is having experience playing in Europe,” Hawks Summer League coach Quin Snyder said of Schroder, who played two seasons professionally in Germany before entering the draft. “He was living the professional life in a lot of ways… the competition he’s playing with — he’s playing against men, players that have played professionally for eight, nine, 10 years some of them. When you see him play his game reflects that at some level.”
The thing that grabbed you first about Schroder was his defense — he got down in a low crouch and pressured the ball. Again he was mature, he wasn’t gambling he was counting on his quick feet and ridiculous wingspan to take away what the ball handler wanted to do. At 19 he was the best defensive point guard in Las Vegas.
“He’s got the quickness and the length to be very good on the ball,” Snyder told ProBasketballTalk. “I think the thing that stood out for us is that it’s very difficult to screen him. He gambles a little bit, but for the most part he’s just impacting the game by consistently applying pressure.
“Maybe the biggest is his ability to not be screened in the pick-and-roll. Pick-and-roll defense is an important thing.”
There were ups and downs over the course of Schroder’s play in Vegas — he shot just 34 percent overall and 29 percent from three, and while he dished out 5.6 assists a game he also had 3.4 turnovers. He showed a great feel for the game, but everything was not smooth. He was adjusting to the NBA game.
“I think everybody’s athletic here in America, in Germany it was a little bit different,” Schroder said.
“I know some of the things coach (Mike Budenholzer) has challenged him on, he can continue to shoot the ball, his focus on the court and really maintaining it, having an even keel mentally and really keeping his poise. Some of those things you just don’t work on on your own, you need to play, and I think the more he plays that will be good for him.
“He was in the gym while we were in Vegas working on his shot, so some of those things he needs to do to evolve as a player we’re going to see more as his competition increases.”
Schroder lands in a good spot in Atlanta — Jeff Teague is back as the starter and will get the bulk of the minutes, with Lou Williams coming off the bench and wanting the ball in his hands also. Shelvin Mack is also on the roster.
But what Schroder showed in Vegas was a guy ready to get some NBA minutes — he can come in off the bench, play good defense, set up some teammates and start to get a feel for the NBA game.
Watching him, I saw what could well be a quality NBA point guard down the line, a guy who can start and lead a team on both ends if he develops.
And that would be a real steal at No. 17.
Lakers defend Rockets with hands behind their backs (video)
“Just trying to defend without fouling,” said James, who briefly locked his hands behind his body on a Rockets possession in the third quarter. “That’s a point of emphasis any time you play Houston. They got guys that can sell calls really good — Chris [Paul] and James [Harden] — so you got to try to keep your hands out of the cookie jar.”
This is what Harden – and, to a lesser extent, Paul – do. Harden is so good at drawing fouls. That’s a skill – one that pays off in numerous ways.
It generates efficient free throws. It puts opponents in foul trouble. And it irritates opponents.
The Lakers sabotaged themselves to prove a point. That’s how in their head Harden and the Rockets got.
Maybe it’ll pay off in the long run, with referees second-guessing fouls Harden draws. But last night, it just exposed the Lakers’ frustration.
Report: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope looking for Lakers to trade him
While sources confirmed that there have been discussions about trading Caldwell-Pope, the legwork is being done on Caldwell-Pope’s side to find him a better situation.
Caldwell-Pope is playing just 21.6 minutes per game, by far his fewest since his rookie year. Ostensibly, Caldwell-Pope – a 3-and-D shooting guard – would thrive with LeBron James. But Josh Hart has proven to be an even better match with LeBron and seized most minutes at shooting guard. This just might not be the optimal personality fit for Caldwell-Pope.
Because he’s one a one-year contract and would have Early Bird Rights afterward, Caldwell-Pope automatically gets the right to veto any trade (as he’d lose his Early Bird Rights with a new team). He also shares an agent, Rich Paul, with LeBron. So, Caldwell-Pope has a lot of power in this situation. The Lakers don’t have to trade him, but if they deal him, they must send him to a destination he prefers.
Caldwell-Pope is incentivized to accept a trade, though. If dealt tomorrow – the first day he can be traded – he’d earn a $1,189,831 trade bonus. That amount decreases $10,169 daily.
Caldwell-Pope’s $12 million salary is reasonable. He’s just 25 and has a skill set most teams crave. If he wants to leave Los Angeles, the Lakers should likely find a trade that works for everyone.
Suns owner Robert Sarver apparently didn’t threaten to move team to Seattle or Las Vegas
One Phoenix City Council member, meanwhile, backed away from his earlier comment to me that Suns owner Robert Sarver told him he would go to Seattle or Las Vegas if the arena deal isn’t approved.
That council member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sarver didn’t actually name the two cities but that he made it clear that he would leave if the City Council doesn’t approve the arena deal. This, in a conversation that came as the votes were becoming shaky.
“He said, ‘If you guys are not going to vote for this, let me go, just let me go somewhere else,” the council member told me Thursday. “He said, ‘I want out. If you’re not going to build my stadium then I want out.’ He did not specifically say Seattle or Las Vegas but that was my understanding.”
The city official said the context of the conversation, and other conversations he has had, made it clear to him that Sarver was talking about leaving the state.
First and foremost, the Phoenix Suns are not leaving Phoenix.
Suns President/CEO Jason Rowley, via Roberts:
“What he (Sarver) would say,” Rowley explained, “is ‘Let me out of it (the contract) so I can find another place here in the Valley.’ He’s an Arizona guy. He doesn’t want to move the team.”
“We would look for another home here in the Valley but if that didn’t happen, if there wasn’t any option here in the Valley, what’s the other option after that?” he said.
So we should ease off Sarver – but just a bit. Though he apparently didn’t go as far as naming faraway cities, he’s still trying to extract a lot of money from local taxpayers to fund his multi-billion-dollar private business.
This latest update really gives Phoenix more leverage to resist.
Though Suns fans would be sad to lose their team to Seattle or Las Vegas, how many would really care if the team plays in Downtown Phoenix or a nearby suburb? The net effect is minimal. Phoenix should bargain hard with Sarver, especially if the fallback is him merely moving the team down the road.
Public funding to upgrade the arena in Phoenix is massively unpopular there. The goal should be keeping taxes low and using them on only important services. A professional basketball team doesn’t qualify. Nearly every, if not every, independent study has shown local governments lose money on arena deals.
This is still up for debate, and there’s still time to bag on Sarver. But we should acknowledge he hasn’t gone as far as naming specific cities as potential moving destinations.
Three Things to Know: Who’s your MVP? James Harden drops 50-point triple-double on Lakers
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) LeBron is your MVP? James Harden drops 50-point triple-double on Lakers. It’s early in the season, but the narratives for the race for MVP are taking shape, and right now LeBron James — having a season similar in many ways to the ones he had recently in Cleveland, just now doing it in a much brighter spotlight — is near the top of a lot of lists, with a compelling narrative around him that he has turned around the worst run of Lakers’ basketball in franchise history. (If the vote were taken today Giannis Antetokounmpo would win, but LeBron would be in the mix… just my sense talking to other voters and what one straw poll found.)
James Harden, who is the reigning MVP, has put up very similar offensive numbers to last season — 30.8 points, 8.3 assists, and 5.5 rebounds a game with a 61.8 true shooting percentage and a 27.3 PER — yet his name is not mentioned in the race.
Thursday night on TNT he threw his hat back in the ring with a 50-point triple-double (10 rebounds, and 11 assists) pushing the Rockets to a 126-111 win over the Lakers, the kind of win that makes you think maybe the Rockets can turn it around.
That was Harden’s fourth 50-point triple-double, an NBA regular season record (moving him past former teammate Russell Westbrook).
It was a vintage Harden performance — he only had 26 shot attempts to get to 50 points, and he got to the free throw line for 18 shots. Lakers coach Luke Walton joined the long list of coaches who picked up a technical foul yelling at the referees that Harden was getting all the calls while his team didn’t get those same whistles (Harden is the master and drawing contact, then when he feels it throwing back his head, flailing his arms, and essentially flopping for the call… it works). LeBron and Lonzo Ball actually tried defending with their hands behind their backs for a stretch, trying to make a point to the officials. But what Harden does is just smart and practiced — he’s the master at it, and if you don’t foul he’s good enough to still put up ridiculous numbers.
Harden’s offensive skills have never been in question. However, he’s not mentioned in the MVP race because of the other end of the court — Houston is 13-14 with the second worst defense in the NBA, and Harden is part of the problem on that end. Last season the Rockets were a top-10 defense and they switched everything with the hope that the other team would then try to exploit the mismatch of Harden (or Chris Paul) guarding a big man, post up said big up and let him go to work. Except, Harden is very strong, especially in the lower body, and it’s difficult to back him down in the post and go to work. Harden is a good post defender.
This season, teams have largely abandoned that approach, they are working to exploit Harden in space or his help defense, both of which are terrible. Again. Harden is playing defense this season like the meme-worthy guy of 2014-15. Harden is not the only problem on the Rockets’ defense (Clint Capela looks a step slower, as does Chris Paul, and they miss the switchable wings they let walk last season in free agency, the communication is lacking, and much more) but he is a part of the problem. And it’s obvious.
That said, if the Rockets start to turn it around, string together some wins, get into a playoff position in the West, and Harden keeps putting up these numbers, he’s going to get some MVP votes. For now, the Rockets need more games like this from Harden to get them back into the West playoffs.
2) Dirk Nowitzki is back on the court, but the Mavericks suffer an ugly loss to Phoenix. For the 21st season in a row, Dirk Nowitzki — the future Hall of Famer, the best European player in NBA history, the talisman of the franchise — was back on the court in a Mavericks uniform. He was limited, playing just 6 minutes and scoring only one bucket, but it was good to see (just ask Mark Cuban).
Nowitzki is not why this game was a national TNT broadcast on one of the league’s showcase nights: they wanted Deandre Ayton vs. Luka Doncic. A 2018 NBA Draft showdown.
This was not vintage Doncic (the current clear leader in the Rookie of the Year race), who had 13 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists but added 4 turnovers. A couple of reasons for that, but at the top of the list is something the league tries to avoid on Thursday night showcases: it was Dallas’s third game in four nights, the second night of a back-to-back, and Doncic looked dead-legged (as did all the Mavericks). Also, Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. seemed to take turns, trading off who would attack, rather than letting the more skilled Doncic just take over.
Ayton was not himself either, scoring 7 points on 3-of-13 shooting, matched up with the athletic veteran DeAndre Jordan. Ayton usually puts up good counting stats — he’s averaging 15.5 points and 10 rebounds a game — but his offense is limited, half his shots come right at the rim and 75 percent of his shots are set up by someone else, and his defense is dreadful. He’s got potential as an NBA big man, but he also has a lot of work to do to live up to being a No. 1 pick.
Phoenix snapped it’s 10-game losing streak with a 99-88 win.
3) The NBA tries to win over Mexico by sending them… Orlando and Chicago? If you’re an NBA fan living Mexico City fan and you get to see a couple of games in person a year, you can’t be faulted for thinking Nikola Vucevic is a legend.
The NBA put its best foot forward in Mexico City Thursday night… okay, it put a foot forward, giving them a regular season game between the Magic and Bulls. Vucevic, who is playing at an All-Star level for the Magic this season, was the best player on the court, dropping 20 points and 10 boards, leading the Magic to a 97-91 win.
The most interesting news out of Chicago is that Bulls new coach Jim Boylen will be allowed to so something Fred Hoiberg was not — bench Jabari Parker. Despite Chandler Hutchison being out, Parker got four first-half minutes and that’s it. He’s not going to be part of the regular rotation going forward. This was one of the front office’s big moves this summer, spending $20 million to bring in Parker (when no other team was offering near that much), but with Lauri Markkanen back there just shouldn’t be minutes for Parker. (Hoiberg didn’t really get to coach Markkanen this season due to injury, so he had to play Parker, even starting him a lot at the four.)
Bulls management has made some smart moves the past 18 months, but there have been a few head-scratchers, too. Parker is at the top of that list.