Notes from a Summer League Thursday: Patrick Ewing talks Noah Vonleh, P.J. Hairston, Lance Stephenson

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LAS VEGAS — Things are quieting down in Las Vegas… well, at Summer League. Vegas itself never quiets down. This is the city where once you’ve been here five days and you get to bed at 2 a.m. and think, “good, I got in early tonight and can get some sleep.”

Here is stuff from my Thursday notebook.

• Charlotte Hornets Summer League coach Patrick Ewing spoke with ProBasketballTalk about the development of a couple key guys. One is Noah Vonleh, who has struggled at points finding an offensive groove — he was 3-of-11 shooting Thursday against New Orleans. There have been flashes but Vonleh is a project.

“I like Noah, I think he has a bright future in this league. He’s a rookie, he’s 19 years old, it’s going to take some time…” Charlotte Summer League coach Patrick Ewing told ProBasketballTalk. “The thing I think he needs to do is: rebound. He has to continue to rebound. His second game in here he had 18 rebounds and it’s not been consistent. Do all the things that he can be consistent with until his offense and all the other parts of his game is able to get going. He has to get stronger. But he’s a talented guy and he’s going to be one of the guys who is going to have a bright future for our team and possibly could be a star in this league.”

• Ewing also talked P.J. Hairston, who is ready to shoot the second he walks in the gym — a player on the opposing Pelicans said to press row at the half “How ‘bout how much P.J. shoots?” That said they were falling for him on Thursday.

“P.J., he had a very good game for us tonight. He shot the ball extremely well,” Ewing said of Hairston’s 8-of-16 overall, 4-of-9 from three night from the floor. “I keep telling him, get back and rebound also. Share the ball, because a lot of the shots are going to him and don’t just put your head down and take it. He should be a rotational player in this league, his future is predicated on how much he wants it and how much he wants to put in the work to get it.”

• P.J. Hairston does this thing where if he feels contact while dribbling he throws his head back to exaggerate it and try and get the call.

• While we were at it, I asked Ewing (also a Hornets assistant during the regular season) about the chances for the Hornets next season with the addition of Lance Stephenson.

“They keep saying the East is wide open, you never know,” Ewing said. We feel that we have a pretty good team. Lance definitely is a great addition to our ball club, he’s a guy that can shoot the basketball, he can handle the basketball, distribute the basketball, and he can get in there and play defense and rebound. He’s a great addition. We had one of the top 10 defenses in the league and with his addition it’s going to be even better.”

• Dontas Motiejunas showed what happened when you put a rotation caliber NBA big man in a Summer League game. He had 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, pulled down 11 rebounds, blocked one shot and altered a bunch more. The Cavs simply could not match up on him with this Summer League roster. Anthony Bennett tried but he’s not big enough to stop a skilled big. The guys big enough were too slow.

• Andrew Wiggins had a showcase game Thursday where he just attacked the rim — he had 20 free throw attempts on his way to 21 points (on 3-of-5 shooting). He’s still raw in a lot of ways but he has decent handles already and when he attacks good things happen.

• Here is Cavaliers coach Dave Blatt on Wiggins: “You know what you got to like about a kid like that is that it doesn’t matter if it’s the fourth game of Summer League, or the fourth game in seven days or eight days, or if people are keying on him, or if the crowd has funny things to say to him, he just goes out there and really plays and has a nice calm about him. A real good demeanor.” That includes him ignoring the trade rumors swirling around him.

• After seeing him a few times in Vegas I’m not the biggest fan of Zach LaVine’s game, but man can he dunk.

• Utah Jazz rookie Rodney Hood can flat out shoot the ball, and with the dual point-guard role of Trey Burke and Dante Exum there was room for him to shine as a shooter. He summed up the Jazz offense through Summer League:

“I think we did a a great job moving the ball. Some games we became a little stagnant because of the way people were playing, they were real aggressive. We shared the ball a lot, you rarely ever saw Iso ball or stuff like that for the most part, sometimes we didn’t shoot the ball well….

“It’s fun, especially for role players like my self, on the other end you’re that much more engaged if you’re going to touch the ball, playing with unselfish guys.”

• That said, Exum seemed a little frustrated that he got fewer touches on Thursday (Burke got more).

• Forced to do it because of the roster, Russ Smith showed he can create a little offense, putting up 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting Thursday.

• Cody Zeller is solid backup big. Pretty good defender, works hard on the glass, willing to be physical, actually has some handles, can finish through contact. Outplayed Jeff Withey head-to-head Thursday.

• Speaking of bigs who looked solid — Patric Young. A guy who never developed into the star some hoped still has an NBA body and all week has worked hard on the glass, put in the effort on defense. Should get a training camp invite somewhere at least.

• Some team carrying three point guards really should consider Will Cherry for the third spot. Raw on the edges but a ball of energy.

• The Spurs work the ball into the post in the half court more than any other team in Summer League. (This is a league where guards trying to get noticed like to shoot the rock not pass it.)

Rumor: Indiana coach Nate McMillan is on hot seat

Indiana coach hot seat
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Last season, Indiana’s Nate McMillan finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting, taking a team that lost star Victor Oladipo after just 36 games and still got them into the playoffs. McMillan is going to get COY votes again this year for much the same reason — his teams play good defense and overachieve.

Indiana coach Nate McMillan is also on the hot seat.

It’s surprising, and it’s just a rumor, but ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe had this conversation on a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast (hat tip PacersTalk.net).

Van Gundy: “I had two people come up to me since I’ve been here [in the NBA restart bubble] and say, ‘Nate McMillan’s in trouble.’”

Lowe: “It’s been the hottest rumor all season… What you’ve heard in Orlando’s been going around all season…

“Let me be clear: It’s just a rumor. I don’t know if it’s true. When you talk to people around the Pacers, they say, ‘It’s not true’ or ‘Where you’d hear that from?’”

Maybe management wants a more modern offense, the Pacers are bottom eight in both three pointers attempted and pace. Overall, Indiana’s offense is middle of the pack (18th in the league), which is not bad considering it was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level).

It’s hard to imagine that the Pacers would make a change this offseason, which will be short and give a new coach less time to ramp up a program. Plus, does owner Herb Simon want to pay two coaches? The finances of the league are helping other coaches keep their jobs.

More than all that, McMillan doesn’t deserve to be fired.

Not that “deserved” has had much to do with NBA coaches keeping their jobs in the past.

 

Report: NBA players bypassing ‘snitch’ hotline to call Adam Silver directly

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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No NBA players have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the bubble. And they want to keep it that way. A championship and a lot of money are on the line.

That means preventing players from having close contact with anyone outside the bubble. And, in case someone contracts coronavirus, wearing masks (intact masks) to prevent a wider outbreak.

The NBA set up a hotline – quickly dubbed the “snitch” hotline – for players to report violations.

Chris Haynes of TNT:

Players have been circumventing that process. Sources informed me that multiple players are personally calling commissioner Adam Silver to issue their complaints with things they’re seeing in the bubble.

Adam Silver is accessible to players – particularly the president of the union.

I’m not sure about tattling straight to the top boss when there are other protocols in place. Are hotline calls not resulting in changed behavior?

Either way, it’s important for the NBA to keep players safe – both for their health and the league’s revenue (about half of which goes to players in salary). So, cut Chris Paul anyone calling Silver a break. They’re at least trying to help. And so far, violations inside the bubble have led to reminders, not harsher discipline.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

Pelicans big Zion Williamson
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The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.

Rumor: Next NBA season could begin in March

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and 76ers center Joel Embiid
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The NBA could reportedly delay the start of next season – currently planned for Dec. 1 – if fan attendance becomes foreseeable.

How long would the league wait?

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

one plan includes starting in March if the NBA feels they can get fans in the arena by then, as well as not lose personnel and viewership to the Summer Olympics.

I understand the temptation to delay. The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for NBA teams to turn a profit.

But this plan would invite all sorts of complications:

  • What if there’s no vaccine, cure or comparable solution by March? Then, the league would have wasted months getting practically no revenue – rather than reduced revenue – without reaching a more favorable point. (However, maybe owners could also reduce costs with a lockout.)
  • Starting the season in March would radically alter the NBA’s calendar. Shifting back to an October – or even December – start date would mean even more upheaval, potentially for several years.
  • The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July and August 2021. The Olympics have been a powerful tool for the NBA and its players expanding their global reach.

These are unique and trying circumstances. Coronavirus is a massive and confounding variable. Everything should be on the table.

Do I predict next season will begin in March? No. But apparently the possibility is being considered, which is something.