Las Vegas Summer League review: How did Andrew Wiggins, other lottery picks fare?

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LAS VEGAS — For a lot of us Summer League is the first chance to really size up the rookie class. Sure, we saw them in college — that’s how they got ranked and rated in the first place — but at that level they get matched up against inferior athletes who could be pushed around. At Summer League they go up against other men, ones fighting for their next paycheck. The game changes.

So how did the rookies in what has been hyped as the best draft class in a decade do?

Here’s a rundown of the guys taken in the lottery that I saw play in Vegas (so no Joel Embiid or Aaron Gordon who didn’t play in the desert).

No. 1 Andrew Wiggins (Cavaliers). The mind-blowing athleticism is there — he made some plays, particularly on defense, where you can see the potential. Things like covering ground to block shots or get in passing lanes. His offense is a work in progress. In his final game he was aggressive and taking it to the rim and that got him to the line 20 times, which was a good start. Still, he is raw with the need to work on a few things. That has to start with an improved jump shot — his form is good but he shot just 40.5 percent overall and 15.4 percent from three.

Here is Cavs coach David Blatt on Wiggins in Vegas: “I was looking at Wigs performances, guy was in double figures every game, he rebounded, he defended, he went to the foul line, he played with intensity on both ends of the court. I thought for a rookie, for a guy with a lot on his shoulders as the first pick in the draft, for a 19 year old, I thought he played extremely well.”

No. 2 Jabari Parker (Bucks).He averaged 15.6 points and 8.2 rebounds a game and had 20 and 15 in the Bucks’ final game. He showed an ability to score in a variety of ways and some court vision for passing. He’s going to have to work on his finishing and efficiency (41.9 percent shooting overall), plus he could be come passive and settle for jumpers too much. He had some good games but some “meh” games mixed in, too.

No. 5 Dante Exum (Jazz). His numbers are not mind blowing but you could see his court vision, his ability to be a floor general, his ability to lull you to sleep them explode past you, and you could see a potential future NBA star. You certainly saw a starting point guard — Trey Burke seemed to see it as well and became a gunner who would not pass to Exum (Burke shot just 30.4 percent, he had a rough go in Vegas). Exum struggled shooting as well (30.8 percent overall and 16.7 percent from three), but there were flashes of brilliance that should give Jazz fans hope.

No. 7 Julius Randle (Lakers). It was a little hard to read his performance — he signed 20 minutes before his first Summer League game and went out there having not played 5-on-5 with this teammates. Randle can score in the post with a variety of moves, but he shot just 41.9 percent for Summer League, plus he never grabbed more than five rebounds. He showed potential but he’s a rookie with a lot of work to do.

No. 8 Nik Stauskas (Kings). He can shoot the three (45 percent over the course of Summer League) and looks like a guy that could take minutes away from Ben McLemore. That said Stauskas struggled to do things that were not “shoot the three” — he was not great at creating his own shot for himself or others, his court vision and hoops IQ didn’t really show. He’s got some work to do, but if you can shoot the three you get time to figure everything else out.

No. 9 Noah Vonleh (Hornets). Charlotte thinks he can be a stretch four someday but he struggled with his shot, shooting 28.4 percent in Vegas (12.5 percent from three). What he can do is rebound, 10 a game, and he showed moments of strong defense.

“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.”

No. 11 Doug McDermott (Bulls). The best of the rookies in Las Vegas. Yes, he can shoot the three (44.4 percent in Vegas) but he can put the ball on the floor and create a little, he showed a varied offensive game. He averaged 18 points a game for the Bulls, and that was with one clunker of a last outing. If he can defend well enough to get Tom Thibodeau to play a rookie, you can see where McDermott will have a role with the Bulls right away.

No. 13 Zach LaVine (Timberwolves). Zach Lavine likes to see Zach LaVine shoot the rock. He did average 15.7 points a game but shot just 39.7 percent in Vegas and was a gunner first and point guard second (and he had more turnovers than assists). His last game was much better but he has a lot of work to do. That said, put the guy in the dunk contest now — he can fly.

No. 14 T.J. Warren (Suns). Warren is a great fit with the Suns — he got out and ran hard then finished in transition. He averaged a team-best 17.8 points a game on 54.4 percent shooting. Most of his shots were right at the rim because he got out and ran, beating his man and everyone down the court. What he showed in Vegas will fit will in Phoenix.

Report: Kings, Hawks could pass on Luka Doncic if Suns don’t take him No. 1

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Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton?

That’s the question many NBA fans are asking themselves, but according to one report it’s not the only thing several teams in the Top 3 of the 2018 NBA Draft are thinking about.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony says that while the Phoenix Suns may still be considering taking Doncic with their No. 1 overall pick, the Sacramento Kings (2) and Atlanta Hawks (3) are not.

The Kings and Hawks are reportedly leaning toward taking an American frontcourt player, which would point us toward guys like Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, and Mo Bamba.

Via ESPN:

The growing consensus among NBA decision-makers in attendance at Stark Arena in Belgrade is that the teams drafting behind the Phoenix Suns at No. 1, the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks are likely to pass on European prodigy in favor of American frontcourt players. The question remains whether a team will trade up into the top three to snag Doncic, or if he will fall to the No. 4 (Memphis) or even the No. 5 pick (Dallas) after being heavily scouted in the Euroleague playoffs against Panathinaikos and mostly struggling.

The information we’re missing is whether the Kings and Hawks are turned off by Doncic specifically. Is it because they haven’t scouted him as much as the other guys? Is it because of perceived team need? Do they think Doncic has peaked already? Are they worried about less information being available from a Euro prospect? All are possible.

With all the hype around Doncic, it would be shocking to see him fall out of the Top 3. It’s happened before, but both Ayton and Doncic are the guys atop this draft that people are licking their chops to get.

Could we see a team trade up to get Doncic from the Hawks or Kings if Phoenix goes elsewhere? Is this just false information funneled to the media as a means of depressing the market for Doncic or for ferreting out a big trade offer?

The conference finals aren’t even over yet and here we are talking about the incessant drama of the NBA offseason. I love this league.

Larry Brown once told Trevor Ariza to never shoot

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Larry Brown is a legendary basketball coach, but he’s also been known to ascribe to a certain style. Brown’s regimen has sometimes rubbed players the wrong way, and likewise Brown has been overly attached to players which he likes.

For Houston Rockets wing Trevor Ariza, Brown’s staunch attitude almost ruined his career.

Ariza was a second-year player with the New York Knicks during the lone season Brown coached in the Big Apple in 2005-06. The UCLA product didn’t shoot well from the 3-point line in college or during his rookie season, so when Brown came to town he told Ariza to stop shooting from beyond the arc entirely.

Seriously.

Via Dan Woike and the LA Times:

More than a decade ago when Ariza was a second-year player, his coach with the New York Knicks, Hall of Famer Larry Brown, thought Ariza shouldn’t shoot from the perimeter. Like ever.

“He told me not to even look at the basket or shoot the ball,” said Ariza, 32. “I was definitely afraid to shoot. I just wouldn’t. I would not shoot.”

Woike’s story is pretty incredible, and goes on to detail how Ariza’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers reignited his career and his confidence to shoot the ball. That’s obviously crucial for the Houston Rockets who need Ariza docked in the corner as Chris Paul and James Harden run pick-and-rolls and isolate.

Stories like this always sound wild, if only because they’re contextually being compared to completely different eras. Ariza was drafted in 2004, and has seen three different eras of NBA basketball (Iverson era, point guard PNR era, 3-point era) pass by during his time.

Larry Brown’s in the Hall of Fame but he whiffed on this one.

Stephen Curry goes berserk, Warriors beat Rockets by 41 in Game 3

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Stephen Curry had yet another big third quarter. Who could have seen that coming?

On the heels of the Houston Rockets’ 22-point win in Game 2, the Golden State Warriors decided to turn up the intensity as they returned home to Oakland on Sunday. The Warriors leapt out of the gate, scoring 31 points in the first quarter and playing monumental defense at the rim. Houston suffered from blown attempts in the paint for the entire first half, but it was their 3-point defense that stabilized their offense. The Rockets shot just 27 percent from beyond the arc in the first two quarters.

Then, perhaps expectedly, came the third quarter. The realm of 2-time NBA MVP Curry.

Golden State’s golden point guard failed to miss a single field goal in the quarter, helping the Warriors rally to start the half as well as fend off a Houston charge midway through the period. Curry completely took over with around six minutes left, dropping five of the Warriors’ next six made baskets.

It was enchanting, and everything we’ve come to expect from Curry when he’s at his best. After a made bucket, there was a shimmy. After a follow-up layup, a defiant stance on the baseline as he yelled to the crowd about Oracle Arena being his house.

Indeed, it was.

Curry and the Warriors did not let off the gas in the fourth quarter, finally burying the Rockets that both sides called a truce with 5:11 left, subbing out their big stars.

Houston was led by James Harden, who scored 20 points with nine assists and five rebounds, although he turned the ball over four times. Chris Paul had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Eric Gordon helped with 11 points off the bench. The Rockets turned the ball over 20 times, allowing 28 points off turnovers to the Warriors.

For Golden State it was Curry’s 35 points and six rebounds as the big story. Kevin Durant added 25 points, six rebounds, and six assists. The Warriors shot 41 percent from 3-point range as every starter scored in double-digits. Golden State was also able to limit its turnovers to just eight.

Game 3 exemplified the stratification between the two teams. Houston was arguably the best team of the regular season, with the caveat being that Curry was out for huge swaths of time due to injury. With Curry back on the floor and playing at full tilt, Golden State again looks unbeatable.

Steve Kerr was able to counter the Game 2 strategy from Mike D’Antoni, who ran everything during Houston’s win directly at Curry on defense to tire out the recently-returned star. Kerr’s tweaks resulted in a complete eruption from Curry, one Houston was powerless to stop. Coupled with the continuous pounding from Durant and the incessant, extra pass 3-pointers, the Rockets didn’t have a counterstrike option.

Game 4 is in Oakland on Tuesday at 6:00 PM PST. We’ll see if D’Antoni can work his magic and come up with another new strategy to try and slow the Warriors.

Marcus Morris: II did a s–t job defensively against LeBron’

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The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t dead. Not yet, at least.

LeBron James helped lead his team to a victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday, 116-86, to set the series at 2-1 with the Cavaliers trailing.

James was efficient, scoring 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding 12 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. As a team Cleveland shot an impressive 50 percent from 3-point range, dwarfing their marks from Games 1 and 2 in the series.

Meanwhile, the team-first strategy implemented by the Celtics finally got its first big test of the Eastern Conference Finals. A top defensive team, Boston was embarrassed by how it played in Game 3 and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Four of its five starters were double-digit minuses in the box score, including Marcus Morris, who many were touting as a LeBron stopper (or LeBron slower).

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Morris gave his honest opinion of how he played vs. LeBron. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown said he was embarrassed.

Via Twitter:

Sounds about right.

Because you play the same team over and over again, by the time you get to the conference finals it’s all about finding counters to your opponent’s counters. The game-by-game strategy changes so much, and out of necessity.

The Cavaliers finally found their sweet spot, not only from beyond the 3-point line but in limiting the offensive contributions of both Morris and guys like Al Horford.

How Brad Stevens counters Ty Lue’s Game 3 strategy should be fun to watch, and reciprocal changes in the coming games will be the story of the series. Boston still has the edge, but the Cavaliers aren’t letting someone take The King’s crown without a fight.