News, notes from Summer League Thursday: Kristaps Porzingis learned some lessons in Vegas

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LAS VEGAS — The Summer League playoffs continued in Las Vegas Thursday, and while the crowds have dwindled a little — the Lakers weren’t playing, and frankly even Laker fans are not flocking to watch this Summer League team anymore — the action has still been good.

Here are some news and notes from Las Vegas (and with the PBT crew headed home, this will be our last notes column from Sin City, so savor it).

• Kristaps Porzingis isn’t the first guy to learn some lessons — a few of them hard lessons — in Las Vegas.

But his could have some payoff for the Knicks. Porzingis is a project, but just through the course of four games in Las Vegas there has been clear growth. One of the biggest adjustments was just the schedule — four games in six days.

“For me it’s something new, because I had at most two games per week the first part of the season, then the second part of the season only one game, so you have to recover and stuff,” Porzingis said. “That’s not an excuse, that’s how the NBA schedule is so I just got to get used to it… You’ve got to have the same energy and going out there and competing. I can learn.”

There also was the lesson where for a half the Sixer’s Jahlil Okafor bullied him in the paint. To Porzingis’ credit, he adjusted and used his length to deny and frustrate Okafor some, even blocking a couple shots in the second half. But there were hard lessons to learn.

“I just could see just how big he is, how physical he is,” Porzingis said. “Those are the five men I’m going to have to guard sometimes in the league. I’m going to be playing the four mostly, but there are moments I’ll be playing the five, so I’ve got to be ready for that physicality.”

The important thing is that Porzingis did learn and did improve as the games in Vegas went on (the Knicks have one more game but Porzingis could sit out). Coach Derek Fisher would not commit to starting Porzingis come the regular season, but he liked what he saw.

“Just how it complements so many different players and situations,” Fisher said. “I think defensively he complements guys because of his length and his rim protection. He’s pretty active and can guard multiple guys. I think offensively because of his ability to stretch the floor and do some things around the basket as well. I think he’s a player that fits with just about any lineup, no matter how you’re trying to play. So I think that versatility has been obvious during Summer League.”

Knicks fans need to be a little patient, but they have a good player here, maybe more than good.

• After the injuries to Marcus Smart and Allen Crabbe, expect teams to start pulling guys who could be part of their rosters and rotations come the fall. At this point, what they learn in another Summer League game may not be worth the injury risk.

• Can a point guard who had 7 turnovers and 1 assist still look good? Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay did Thursday. It may have been an off night for him, but he was still making smart passes and just controlling the game for stretches despite the Hawks throwing hard doubles at him every chance they got.

The project for Mudiay will be to work on his shooting, he hit just 37.2 percent overall and 14.3 percent from three through his first three games in Las Vegas.

“This weekend I wasn’t too focused on the scoring part because I wanted to facilitate,” Mudiay said, saying he prefers to be a passing point guard not just a scorer. “The reads I was making was was wide open for my teammates…

“I didn’t shoot it like I wanted to, but I’m gonna keep shooting. You’ve got to put pressure on the defense. It’s only four games, you can’t go off four games.”

He said he also wants to work on finishing around the rim, too.

• The Spurs are just winning here in Vegas (shocking, I know), but the only name on this roster who will likely be playing for the team come the fall is Kyle Anderson — and he has looked good. Like a guy who has put in the work good. Like Popovich needs to find him a little run good.

Anderson has averaged 21.3 points a game for the Spurs and helped the Spurs execute at the end on Thursday and beat the Nets.

“I think he’s great,” said Spurs coach Becky Hammon. “The last defensive possession he’s the one who rallied everyone on the court, he’s the one who’s speaking, he’s the one being more demonstrative in a leadership role — and that’s really what we want to see from him in this setting. It was nice to see him take ownership of the situation.”

• By the way, a lot has been written about Hammon and how she’s breaking barriers at Summer League as a woman coach. And that should be lauded. But here’s what you really need to know about her:

She can flat out coach. She’s as good as any other coach in Vegas.

• Phoenix’s T.J. Warren continues to be one of the best players in Las Vegas. Thursday he put up 23 points, four assists and three rebounds to lead the Suns to a blowout win. His averages for Summer League are 20.3 points on 56.9 percent shooting, and on defense he’s averaging 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks a game.

Former Kings selection Georgios Papagiannis leaves NBA historically quickly for lottery pick

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Even if he were talking about hot yoga, then-Kings star DeMarcus Cousins perfectly captured the feeling of Sacramento picking Georgios Papagiannis No. 13 in the 2016 draft: “Lord give me the strength.”

Ranked No. 46 on Chad Ford’s board – which attempted to show league-wide consensus – Papagiannis was an old-school plodding center. He flashed interior skills during his limited playing time with Panathinaikos in Greece, but athleticism was a major concern. He was the type of player teams learned over the previous two decades not to fall for.

While an NBA team picking someone so high should be a positive indicator, it did little for Papagiannis. The Kings’ draft record had been miserable under owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Vlade Divac. They didn’t get the benefit of the doubt (though their draft-night trade with the Suns that landed the No. 13 pick used on Papagiannis turned out well).

Every concern about Papagiannis and Sacramento proved justified.

The Kings waived Papagiannis during his second season – absurdly quick for any first-rounder, let alone a lottery pick. His agent blamed the team. Nobody came out looking good.

Papagiannis signed with the Trail Blazers, though he played only one game for them. Portland waived him earlier this summer.

Now, Papagiannis will return Panathinaikos on a five-year contract, the Greek team announced. Will this conclude the 21-year-old’s NBA career? It seems more likely than not.

If so, it will be one of the shortest ever for a lottery pick.

Papagiannis’ 477 career minutes are the sixth-fewest ever by a lottery pick, excluding 2017 and 2018 picks, who haven’t had time to play more.

Fran Vazquez (No. 11 pick in 2005 by Magic) continued playing overseas and never signed in the NBA. Len Bias (No. 2 pick in 1986 by Celtics) tragically died of a cocaine overdose after the draft.

Among lottery picks who actually made the league, only Aleksandar Radojevic (No. 12 pick 1999 by Raptors), Yaroslav Korolev (No. 12 pick in 2005 by Clippers) and Mouhamed Sene (No. 10 pick in 2006 by SuperSonics) played less than Papagiannis.

Here are the fewest minutes played by lottery picks between 1985, when the NBA instituted the lottery, and 2016:

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Papagiannis could still drop down the list.

After all, Radojevic left the NBA after two seasons, spent three years in Europe then somehow returned stateside to play 12 games for the Jazz. That NBA comeback seemed unlikely as he shuffled between the Raptors, Nuggets and Bucks while playing only three games (all with Toronto).

Nothing precludes Papagiannis from returning to the NBA, even if he must complete his entire Greek contract first.

But just because one unlikely thing happened before, I wouldn’t bet on another happening with Papagiannis.

Isaiah Thomas to Danny Ainge: ‘If the opportunity is there, I would just like to let you know that I’d love to come back’ to Celtics

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Isaiah Thomas had a rough year.

The Celtics traded him to the Cavaliers. He missed most of the season with a hip injury. In between, he played destructively bad for the Cavs and Lakers and got run out of Cleveland, in part, for making waves in the locker room. Free agency was especially cruel, Thomas’ Brinks-truck dreams ending in a minimum salary from the Nuggets – a historically low figure for someone who finished top-five in MVP voting just two seasons prior.

On a bright note: Thomas ended his feud with Celtics president Danny Ainge. In fact, those two spoke during Thomas’ free agency.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Before finalizing the agreement with Denver, Thomas had reached out to Boston GM Danny Ainge. They talked for 15 to 20 minutes, Thomas says, and he told Ainge: “If the opportunity is there, I would just like to let you know that I’d love to come back.”

Ainge says his mind was open to the idea, but the Celtics needed to work through Marcus Smart‘s restricted-free-agency discussions before they could consider making an offer to Thomas. Ainge was willing to continue the conversation, but Thomas accepted the Nuggets’ offer before Boston had reached its new deal with Smart.

“S—, I’d have gone back,” Thomas says. “I don’t hold grudges.”

Thomas played his best basketball in Boston. Brad Stevens empowered Thomas as a go-to offensive player and successfully hid him on defense. I understand the appeal of going back.

But that Thomas could never return to those Celtics. He’s older, and his hip injury might have sapped his athleticism. Boston acquired Kyrie Irving, and Terry Rozier broke out. Marcus Smart remains.

A reunion would have likely ended in disappointment.

Instead, Thomas will try to prove himself in Denver, backing up Jamal Murray. Thomas is aware of his standing, and his interview is both endearing and sympathetic. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and carries a chip on his shoulder – the reason so many of us are drawn to him. And he’s keenly aware that, in a league where so many players are paid based on past performance, he’s judged by a hip injury teams believe will hinder him going forward.

Thomas, as always, seems driven to prove himself. And maybe he will. Returning to a reserve role isn’t glamorous, but there’s an opportunity with the Nuggets.

But I also fear, no matter how well Thomas plays next season, teams will be apprehensive of a 30-year-old 5-foot-9 point guard with a history of hip problems in 2019 free agency. He might be stuck in a no-win situation and just can’t get his big payday.

Especially after this interview, though, I’m excited to watch him try.

Report: Carmelo Anthony to sign minimum contract with Rockets

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Carmelo Anthony signing with the Rockets has been a near-certainty for a while.

The final steps – the Thunder trading him to the Hawks, Atlanta waiving him, Anthony clearing waivers – are close enough that specifics are emerging.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Carmelo Anthony is planning to sign with the Houston Rockets upon clearing waivers in coming days, according to two people with knowledge of his plans.

He is expected to receive a one-year deal from the Rockets at the league’s veteran minimum salary

The Rockets have the $5,337,000 taxpayer mid-level exception available, but clearly wary of an expensive payroll, they’ll get Anthony for much less.

Anthony will count just $1,512,601 toward the cap and luxury tax. He’ll pocket pocket an extra $1,871,635 – in addition to the $27,928,140 paid by the Hawks. Not a bad summer for him, as he’ll get all his money plus a little more and get to join his desire team.

For the Rockets? It’s a classic tale. They let more expensive players – Trevor Ariza ($15 million from Suns) and Luc Mbah a Moute ($4,320,500 from Clippers) – leave and settled for minimum-salary players: James Ennis and Anthony.

Ennis fits well in Houston, but he lacks the talent of the departing players (who also fit well). Anthony brings name recognition, but unless he works to complement James Harden and Chris Paula huge question mark – this won’t go well. That’s why he’s leaving Oklahoma City, and there are many reasons to be skeptical he’ll acquit himself better with the Rockets.

You get what you pay for.

John Wall calls Washington’s off-season moves “pretty interesting”

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After another season where the Wizards underwhelmed — due to injuries, due to chemistry issues, due to a lot of things — what were the bold moves of this summer in our nation’s capital? Well, they signed Jeff Green. And in a trade they got Austin Rivers.

The other part of that Rivers’ trade was the big news — they sent center Marcin Gortat to the Clippers. That cleared the way to sign Dwight Howard this summer. The idea of adding Howard to a locker room with questionable chemistry is a bit of a punch line.

In a podcast with Chris Miller of NBC Sports Washington, Wall called the Wizards’ summer “pretty interesting” and praised Howard.

“Even though [Howard] is older, he’s still an athletic big averaging 16 [points] and 12 [rebounds],” Wall said in the pod. He talked up Howard as a pick-and-roll threat lob threat as he rolls to the rim, saying defenses can’t cheat off of him.

“Not only do you get more layups, probably, you get more wide open threes.”

That’s great, but Howard got the ball back as the roll man on 12.5 percent of his possessions last season — it has never been something he wants to do a lot. Post-ups, however, accounted for 40.1 percent of his possessions, once you include his passes out of the post (and the Wizards scored a rather meh 0.85 points per possession on those post ups). Howard has long been better as the roll man, he just dislikes to do it.

Last season, Marcin Gortat got 20.9 percent of his shots out of the pick-and-roll and just 18.2 percent on post-ups. The Wizards don’t want to take the ball out of Wall’s hands. Nor should they.

Howard, even at this point in his career (when he is not the force of nature he was back in Orlando), can be an upgrade for the Wizards at center, but not a massive one. Nothing else GM Ernie Grunfeld did this summer moved the needle in Washington.

It’s all “pretty interesting” I guess. The Wizards look like another middle-of-the-pack team just not living up to all the potential on the roster, and it’s hard to see what changes about that this season.