Notes from a Summer League Monday: Sign me up for the Dante Exum fan club

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LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas Summer League is a three ring NBA circus. There are two simultaneous games and the sideshow of agents, coaches and players just hanging out and talking. There’s a lot to take in, a lot of stories to tell.

Here is some stuff from my notebook for Monday.

• You can sign me up for the Dante Exum fan club. The guy has a real star quality about him and his game.

Monday was the first time I have seen him play in person and there is a lot to like. He has this loping dribble that he can turn into quick step to drive or to set up a pass (call it a wicked hesitation dribble). Exum is tall for a guard and that combined with a fantastic floor vision leads to some very smart passes other guards do not see (and also a few rookie passes he will learn he can’t make against this level of athlete). He is very quick on the dribble and can get into the paint. He struggled a little with his shot Monday night but his form looks good. Utah may really have something with Trey Burke at the point and Exum at the two (or Exum may take his point job).

• There were a lot of Jazz fans who made the trip to Sin City, and they love them some Rodney Hood. With reason. He showed off a sweet stroke and hit 7-of-10 from three on his way to 29 points against the Bucks. It was a shooting exhibition. He’s not going to create his own shot but he did a nice job losing his defender then getting off his shot in a small window. On a team with Burke and Exum a guy who can knock it down like Hood has real value.

• Andrew Wiggins is a physical freak of nature. I know, you knew that, but I don’t think it can be emphasized enough. We already showed you his highlight dunk, now check out his block of 7’0” Nerlens Noel.

It wasn’t just those two highlight plays, either. He ran down a Sixers fast break and knocked the ball out of bounds from a Philly guard before he could get a shot off. He had a couple steals because nobody thought he could get into that passing lane. He’s got a lot to learn about how to harness and use that athleticism, his dribbling and shot need polish (he was 2-of-6 on shots outside the paint), but there is a lot to like.

Let me put it this way, even seasoned NBA observers are left shaking their heads on some of his plays.

• Russ Smith looked good for the Pelicans, he could make a nice change-of-pace guard off the bench (a lot of teams carry three point guards, he could be in that mix). New Orleans might be a place he could latch on.

• I said this yesterday but it bears repeating: Sim Bhullar is a massive human being. Seriously. Massive.

• A nice game from Nik Stauskas Monday — 6-of-8 from the field for 15 points. If he shoots like that for the Kings he gets run.

• Mathew Dellavedova has been maybe the best point guard in Las Vegas. Not in terms of pure talent, but because he can run an offense and always seems to make the right play. Summer League is where players come to get noticed and often point guards don’t want to just organize and run the offense. Dellavedova is doing just that. He got into the paint and can finish (3-of-4 in the paint in this game) also got a nice outside catch-and-shoot motion, which could come in handy with that LeBron James guy on the Cavs now.

• One of the most fun matchups Monday: Cleveland’s Will Cherry vs. Philadelphia’s Casper Ware. To lightning quick, dogged point guards who just went back and forth. Both got overlooked because they are under six foot but both are the kinds of guys who could latch on with an NBA team as a third point guard, said Sixers Summer League coach Chad Iske.

“He doesn’t see them as physical limitations,” Iske said of Ware’s height, which is generously listed officially at 5’10”. “He doesn’t think there is anything he can’t do. And he is so strong.”

• Jabari Parker is skilled but he isn’t used to dealing with the length of someone like 7’1” Jazz center Rudy Gobert inside and got blocked a couple of times because of it. Parker has some nice moves but he doesn’t come off as NBA ready yet as had been projected.

• Gobert had a really nice game with five blocks and 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting.

• You can hear the Utah coaches yelling at Gobert to work on the “rule of verticality” every time he is defending in the post — “go straight up Rudy” ring out through the arena.

Australian NBL pumps breaks on report LaMelo Ball has bought a team

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It was a stunning headline, especially considering LaMelo Ball is just 18:

He bought a team in the Australian National Basketball League, specifically the Illawarra Hawks, the team he played for some last season. It’s an insane story.

And it’s not quite true. At least not yet. The NBL released a statement that pumped the breaks on the idea of a sale to Ball and his manager, Jermaine Jackson. Part of the statement reads:

“The league can confirm LaMelo Ball and his management had discussions about being involved with the club while he was playing in the NBL last season. At this point we are continuing to work with current licence holder Simon Stratford on a number of options for what we hope will be a fruitful outcome for Illawarra and the NBL.

The NBL has final approval on any transfer of licence and no application has been made to date. The NBL has no further comment at this stage.

Did LaMelo and his manager jump the gun? Or, is this a negotiating ploy by the NBL and Stratford to get more money by jacking up the price on a sale?

Those two follow a host of other questions, including what percentage of the team would Ball and his manager own? What would their involvement be?

Ineligible for college stateside, Ball chose to play in Australia under the NBL’s Next Stars program. It worked, he’s projected to be a top-five, maybe top-three pick. He left the NBL after suffering a season-ending foot injury, although that came under a cloud of criticism from Hawks owner Stratford.

The ultimate revenge would be to buy the team, if that is actually happening.

Doc Rivers’ reaction when Clippers traded for Lou Williams, “I was not having Lou”

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Lou Williams is integral to the Clippers’ title dreams.

Since coming to the Clippers, he has averaged 20.6 points a game off the bench, twice winning Sixth Man of the Year, and his pick-and-roll with Montrezl Harrell is as smooth and dangerous a combo as there is in the league. Come the playoffs, while teams are trying to deal with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Lou Williams will be a change of pace scorer with a second unit that can quickly tilt the game towards Los Angeles.

But when Williams first got to the Clippers, Doc Rivers was not thrilled.

Rivers talked about Williams on The Bob Ryan and Jeff Goodman Podcast (hat tip SI).

“When we traded for Lou, I was not having Lou,” Rivers said. “I saw a guy that kept getting traded. And I appreciated his offense, but not nearly, never thought it was this good… When he finally showed up three days before training camp, I was not having him. I was like, ‘We’re not gonna work’, you know?..

“I brought him up in the office and I told him my feelings,” Rivers said. “I said, ‘Lou, you’re one of these guys that wanna do whatever you wanna do, and you don’t want to buy-in. We asked everybody to come in. Everyone did except for you… I don’t know how this is gonna work.’ And he said, ‘I’ve been traded five years in a row. Why would I buy-in to you?’, and I didn’t have an answer.”

Both Williams and Rivers have bought into each other now. Williams has control of the offense when he is in and Rivers said he just wants Williams to “be in the right place” on defense. That defense leads to issues playing Williams at the end of big games, but used as a scorer Williams is tough to deal with.

He can still get buckets with the best of them.

 

For NBA coaches, the new game is a waiting game

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MIAMI (AP) — Orlando’s Steve Clifford figures he’s like every other NBA coach right now: Wake up, go to whatever now serves as the office, study his own team, maybe think about possible opponents, and resume planning.

Of course, nobody knows what they’re planning for — or when these plans will get used.

A stoppage in play doesn’t mean vacation time has arrived for NBA coaches, especially those like Clifford in position to take their teams to the postseason — assuming this pandemic-interrupted season is able to resume. They’re all spending more time at home, not able to run practices, but none seem to be sitting idly either.

“Not knowing the restart date is the toughest challenge professionally,” Clifford said. “Obviously, we’re all limited in what we can do, and basketball takes a back seat right now to family and health. But I will say this: When I talk to our guys, the one common question that comes up is ‘When do you think we can start again?’”

And that’s a question with no answer. The waiting game is the only game in town right now.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was coaching the fourth quarter against Charlotte on March 11 when the NBA announced it was suspending the season, a move made once it became known that Utah center Rudy Gobert was the league’s first player to test positive for COVID-19. Spoelstra found out right after the final buzzer, as he walked to the Heat locker room.

He instantly realized that losing to the Hornets that night didn’t ultimately matter much. Spoelstra and his staff are holding Zoom meetings every other day, but he’s also enjoying the benefits of time away — getting more time with his two young sons, his wife and grilling for the family most nights — and is emphasizing to his coaches and players that this is a time to help those less fortunate.

He’s checking the news as well, on a limited basis.

“My routine is checking after dinner, and I usually get on my computer, watch a little bit of what’s going on,” said Spoelstra, who often wears a T-shirt emblazoned with “Stay Positive” and like many coaches he taped a video telling fans the importance of hand-washing and other precautions. “So, I’m staying abreast of the current status of things, but I definitely do not try to start my day that way and I do not obsess about it during the day.”

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle also went the video-message route, doing one for the going-stir-crazy crowd to demonstrate his “Balance, Balance, Shot Drill” that allows players to work on their shooting form even when they don’t have access to a court or a rim.

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan took advantage of downtime to appear on a virtual coaches clinic, and had a safety message for those who attended — online, of course — before spending about an hour breaking down his philosophy.

This is the first in-season stoppage of its kind in NBA history, but Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer is equating the unknown — in terms of when the next game will be — to what the league went through with lockout-shortened seasons in 1998-99 and 2011-12.

His message to his staff: Things may be slow now, but when the suspension ends the pace of everything will be frantic. So while some projects like things in the video room and breakdowns of his roster are being tackled, Budenholzer is also having staff get ready for potential playoff opponents with a first-round series against either Brooklyn or Orlando likely for the NBA-leading Bucks.

“Things happen really fast, whether it’s three games in three nights, or playoff series are shorter or the time between the end of the regular season to the first playoff game, everything can be shorter or can happen quicker,” Budenholzer said. “We can put a little bit of money in the bank now with preparation for first round but also if you go a little bit deeper, the East.”

For 30 teams, 30 coaches, there’s many ways to spend the down time.

And they all know that they’re in the same boat — waiting and wondering.

“It’s hard for all of us,” Clifford said. “It’s hard to set a plan for yourself that will have you ready. But that’s the parallel, not just for us, but for everyone around the world no matter what profession that you’re in.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci was a high school point guard

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You know Dr. Anthony Fauci as the guy trying to inject facts and reason-based decisions into the federal government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. You’ve seen him, the guy with the Sisyphean task of standing behind President Donald Trump at press conferences and not reacting with shock or disgust.

It turns out he was a high school baller.

In a profile of Fauci, the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen wrote about Fauci the high school point guard, who led his 1-16 team to a win against Fordham Prep, led by future Knicks executive Donnie Walsh.

Classic point guard, excellent ballhandler, pesky defender. Six of his classmates and teammates described him as a tenacious competitor in short shorts and striped socks whose feistiness on the court defied some parts of his personality and reflected others.

That sounds like a young version of the person he is now.

Dr. Fauci is one of the people the NBA is listening to as it tries to figure out if or when the league can re-start and what its next steps might be. Right now, all of that is beyond the NBA’s control and more in the hands of the rest of us and whether we as a society follow Dr. Fauci’s suggestions.