News, notes from Summer League Tuesday: Okafor vs. Porzingis was matchup of the night

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LAS VEGAS — Tuesday was the final day of the round-robin play at the NBA Las Vegas Summer League, which only matters if you care who wins the game. And let’s be honest, not many people do (even the teams, up until the title game). To paraphrase Drew Carey from “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” Summer League is where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.

Still, there were interesting things to see and take note of before the tournament play portion of Summer League begins. Here are things we saw in Las Vegas. (Notes are from Kurt Helin and Sean Highkin.)

• Maybe the most entertaining matchup on Tuesday: The Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis matched up against the Sixers’ Jahlil Okafor. As you would expect the stronger and more polished Okafor won the matchup — he had 18 points on 18 shots — but Porzingis had a couple blocks and a quality shot over Okafor.

“He’s a five man, I’m a four man, so it was a bit of a mismatch,” Porzingis said. “He’s really strong, he’s really good player. Very skilled with the ball, so he’s hard to defend. I just tried in the second half to play more aggressively (fronting him), trying to keep him from receiving the ball. But it’s really hard to stop a player like that.”

Against other Knicks Summer League bigs Okafor seemed to have his way. He just gets to where he wants to be on the court and has an array of moves and shots. He was able to muscle to the rim and score on Porzingis too, but he also had shots blocked and altered — the length of Porzingis bothered Okafor a little.

“I think you could see early on Jahlil is a bigger, stronger player but as the game went on I thought Kristaps made the adjustment and used his activity level and his length and impacted him,” Knicks coach Derek Fisher said.

“(Okafor) is a big strong guy, doesn’t mind using his body, any time you’re going to go against length you’ve got to attack the body first, and that’s just a teaching lesson for him right now,” Sixers Summer League coach Lloyd Pierce said. “He’s got great footwork, he’s able to spin out, it’s just creating that initial separation rather than playing to a shot blocker’s strength.”

This is not a matchup the Knicks will want much in the future, but Knicks fans had to love the fight in Porzingis. There’s some real potential here. (KH)

• On another note, Pierce was happy with Okafor’s defense through the summer, although that is still a learning process.

“(Defensively) I thought he’s done a great job,” Pierce said. “He’s never been a big-time shot blocker, the way we’re going to try to use him is to keep him between the ball and the basket, make them score over his size, his length.” (KH)

• Noah Vonleh has been impressive in the Blazers’ first three Summer League games. He’s shown off his athleticism, ballhandling skills and three-point range, which give him an intriguing skillset for a big man. He had 20 points and 8 rebounds in Portland’s 79-75 loss to San Antonio on Tuesday. (SH)

• The more I see Jerian Grant play, the more I like his game. He attacks the paint off the dribble, has fantastic court vision and gets the right guy the rock. He can finish inside and hit some jumpers. Knicks’ coach Derek Fisher was talking about him as a guy who could see a lot of minutes when the season starts if he improves at taking care of the ball.

“We really enjoy having his playmaking out there, his vision, his comfort level with handling the basketball,” Fisher said. “That’s one of the things that really excited us when we drafted him at the number we did (No. 19, a trade with the Wizards) because of that ability. To play the guard in our system, both guards need to be able to make plays, and Jerian gives us a little versatility that way, where he and Langston (Galloway) can play together, he can play with Jose (Calderon), a lot of different combinations we can put out there.” (KH)

• Another Knick playing well in Vegas is Maurice Ndour. If you’re not familiar (and a lot of people weren’t) he’s a power forward/center from Senegal, played his college ball at Ohio (not State), and he went undrafted. But when the Knicks needed buckets late in a close game against the Sixers he had six straight points. He’s got good footwork, hustles on defense and uses his length to be disruptive, he can score in around the basket, and he plays with constant energy.

The problem? The Knicks may not have a roster spot to give him — they have a pretty packed roster, and that includes along the front line.

“I don’t know if there’s any more he can do,” Fisher said of Ndour making the Knicks roster. “I think he’s doing everything that’s at least in his control to be a guy that — whether it’s our team, hopefully so, but there are 29 other teams — he’s giving teams a look that he can play at this level and be pretty good at it.”

Ndour is going to be playing in the NBA this fall. Somewhere. (KH)

• One guy who again looks good in  Summer League — T.J. Warren of the Phoenix Suns. It’s not hard to see why, he thrives in transition, in chaotic games, and that is the definition of Summer League ball. He had 16 points on 13 shots for the Suns on Tuesday. (KH)

• Dallas big man Jeremy Tyler had 15 points and 10 boards, he had a good day out there. (KH)

 

Kings’ De’Aaron Fox: ‘I don’t crave to be in a big market’

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De'Aaron Fox was the breakout star of the Kings’ breakthrough season. The future looks bright in Sacramento.

But we’ve seen this story play out so many times. A young player excels in a small market then eventually moves to a more desirable destination. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George.

Will Fox be different?

Fox, via Corban Goble of ONE37pm:

“I don’t crave to be in a big market,” he says. “After last season, there was a buzz in Sacramento. Everyone in Sacramento is a Kings fan. If we start making the playoffs, or if we become a championship contender, the entire city is going to go nuts. That’s the difference between a big market and a small one.”

I’m glad Fox is happy in Sacramento. He had minimal say in getting there. The Kings picked him in a draft that gives teams massive control over top young prospects. That he landed somewhere he likes so much was largely coincidental. He could’ve easily wound up with Boston, Phoenix, Orlando, Minnesota or any other team picking in that range.

Some of this is Fox’s attitude. I suspect he would’ve found joy nearly anywhere. Now, he’s with the Kings and feeling positively about them.

They’ll have to continue to keep him happy as he approaches free agency. Unrestricted free agency is still several years away. A lot can change between now and then.

But Sacramento ought to feel good about Fox’s outlook now.

Damian Lillard on leaving Trail Blazers for super team: ‘We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?’

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Kevin Durant left for the Warriors for many reasons. LeBron James left for the Heat for many reasons. Anthony Davis and Paul George forced their way to Los Angeles for many reasons.

Those are life-altering moves. Nobody does something so consequential for a single purpose.

But whether or not it intended, each of those stars took an easier route to a championship. That’s just the reality.

Damian Lillard, on the other hand, has done so much to elevate himself then pull up the Trail Blazers with him. Lillard has often touted his loyalty to Portland. He showed it by signing a super-max extension that locks him in through 2025.

Lillard, via Adam Caparell of Complex:

“To leave, what did I invest all this time for just to leave, you know?” he says. “If I go play with three other stars, I don’t think that many people would doubt that I could win it. We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?”

I disagree with Lillard’s certainty about winning a title if he teamed with other stars. Not every perceived super team has won. A championship still must be earned. It’s not easy.

But it would be easier.

It also probably wouldn’t be as rewarding.

Durant has admitted winning a championship with Golden State didn’t fill the void he thought it would. Maybe for other reasons, but it’s easy to see the Warriors’ talent advantage as a reason. He joined a title contender and made it even better. He didn’t build that team. Perhaps, a championship with the Nets would mean more to him.

Lillard is less likely to win a title by staying Portland. I think he knows that. He enjoys the city, and the $196 million he projects to earn on his four-year extension doesn’t hurt, either.

But if Lillard ever wins a championship with the Trail Blazers, it would be so gratifying. That’s what he’s chasing.

Lillard made clear he’s not criticizing stars who chose an alternate path. He’s doing what’s right for him, just as they did what was right for them.

His quest should earn him plenty of fans. For everyone who disliked Durant joining Golden State because it offended their sensibilities of how a title pursuit should work, Lillard is a great foil.

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

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Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.

Report: Executives expect Thunder to say they are not trading Chris Paul (but they are)

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It’s all about leverage.

Right now the vultures are circling the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping to get a free meal. Everyone knows the Thunder are moving into a rebuilding mode and want to trade Chris Paul for picks/young players, so other general managers — the vultures — are throwing out lowball offers hoping to get a steal of a trade. And by steal we mean making the Thunder throw in a first-round pick as a sweetener to get CP3 and the three-years, $124 million left on his contract off their books.

Oklahoma City’s response? Say “we’re not trying to trade him” and be patient. Here is how Brian Windhorst phrased it on ESPN’s The Jump (hat tip Real GM):

“Here’s what executives expect to happen: they expect the Thunder to put out a message that we’re not looking to trade Chris Paul…We want him to work with our young guys. Because they don’t want anybody to think they’re panic-trying to trade him, and they want to hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul,” said Windhorst.

Royce Young, who covers the Thunder for ESPN, added that he believed the Thunder would hold on to Chris Paul rather than surrender a draft pick.

This is the smart play. CP3 is still a top-flight point guard in the NBA, even if he has taken half a step back, and there are at least eight NBA teams going into this season thinking they have a shot at a title, and a few more looking at deep playoff runs. Some team is either going to realize they are not as good as they thought they were, or are going to suffer an injury, and be looking for an All-Star level player and replacement. Enter the Thunder and Chris Paul.

What this ultimately means is expect this to drag out. Not just through the summer and through training camp, but maybe all the way to the trade deadline.