Five players who impressed in Las Vegas at NBA Summer League

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Summer League is over. Finally everyone can head home from Las Vegas. The San Antonio Spurs won there just like they have been winning all offseason.

Summer League isn’t about wins and losses; it’s about development, and a status check on players. With the rookies, we see where they really stand right now. For returning players, it’s a chance to benchmark their development.

These are five players that stood out to the PBT crew in Las Vegas (myself and Sean Highkin were there). This is not a list of the best players at the event, if so guys like Seth Curry and T.J. Warren would have been here. This is also not a complete list of guys who looked good or that we liked, otherwise Jahlil Okafor of the Sixers or Kyle Anderson of the Spurs would be on the list (among others). Bottom line, this could be a lot longer list.

But here are the five that turned our heads.

1) Emmanuel Mudiay (Denver Nuggets). He has an incredible maturity to his game for a rookie. While other players struggled to adjust to the increased athleticism in Las Vegas and defensive pressure that can bring, he was calm and making the right decisions. Mudiay would recognize what defenses were trying to do then quickly worked to exploit a weakness. He can step in right now and be a starting point guard in the NBA (while there still will be rookie bumps along that road, he is far more prepared than most).

“I feel like playing overseas professionally, that really helped me,” Mudiay said of the patience in his game. “Coming from high school to pro ball, in high school I was rushing everything. Straight out to China I was rushing everything. But I’ve got to let the game come to me.”

“When things are chaotic he remains calm, he’s very comfortable with his abilities, and he’s able to make pretty much any pass at any time, which is big time,”Denver Nuggets Summer League coach Micah Nori told PBT. “And I think the one thing about Emmanuel that allows him to do that is his skill level with his ball handling. And the other thing is he’s a big kid, a big strong kid. Some guys, when they get pressure, turn their back to the floor, the one thing he’s able to do is be facing forward, facing that rim, and that’s why he can make any pass at any time. He finds guys that are open and hits them on time and on target.”

Nuggets fans are going to love the flair he has in his game — he pushes the pace, and he’s fond of behind-the-back and jump passes. He’s got a great change of pace dribble and has shown some real explosion to the rim.

“The first thing you see is he is a true point guard…”  said. “Guys are going to love to play with him, they are going to continue to run for him because he is a pass-first point guard…. And I see him being able to lead. With his ability to pass and his unselfishness, guys are going to want to follow him.” (KH)

2) Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves). We knew the No. 1 overall pick had physical talent, but what we really liked was the high basketball IQ he showed. He does well recognizing the double teams being thrown at him, he was patient and made clever passes out of them. His game also grew quickly as he adjusted to Summer League defenses — he showed an ability to score a variety of ways, from back-to-the-basket to 18-foot jumpers. He cuts and moves well off the ball. Like every other rookie there is plenty of work to do — he picked up fouls at an alarming rate, and he needs a diversity of post moves — but there is a lot to like there for Timberwolves fans dreaming of a bright future. (KH)

3) Bobby Portis (Chicago Bulls). The Bulls were surprised on draft night when Portis was still available at No. 22, and they have to be pleased with his Summer League showing. In his Vegas debut, Portis had 23 points and 7 rebounds playing against No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns. His later games weren’t as impressive statistically, but new Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg raved about his motor and intensity. The Bulls’ frontcourt is crowded, but Taj Gibson is coming off recent ankle surgery, Pau Gasol is 35 and Joakim Noah looked like a shell of himself last year, so it’s easy to see a scenario where Portis plays significant minutes this season. He looks ready. (SH)

4) Kristaps Porzingis (New York Knicks). After all the questions pre-draft and the boos on draft night, here is the simple assessment of Porzingis:

He belongs.

He belongs at the top of the draft board; he deserves to be mentioned with Okafor and Towns. Make no mistake, he is still a project that will take a couple of years to develop, but he has the potential to be that good. Porzingis showed a raw game but one that could be efficient and smooth — he averaged just more than 10 touches a game at Summer League but was efficient with them, scoring 1.024 points per possession (much better than Towns or Okafor did). Porzingis showed a high basketball IQ, good passing skills, and while he can shoot the three he showed off an ability to get inside and make plays off the bounce as well. He was better on the defensive end than expected because of his crazy length.

“Just how it complements so many different players and situations,” Knicks coach Derek Fisher said of how Porzingis’ game fits in New York. “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.”

5) Noah Vonleh (Portland Trail Blazers). Vonleh, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2014 draft, didn’t play very much in his rookie season in Charlotte, and they gave up on him after one year to trade for Nicolas Batum. He’ll have plenty of opportunity to get minutes at power forward for the Blazers, who just lost LaMarcus Aldridge and are very much in “throw a bunch of young guys with upside out on the floor and see who sticks” mode. The “it’s only Summer League” caveats fully apply here, but Vonleh was impressive in Vegas, showing off an uncommon handle and shooting range for a big man in addition to the explosiveness that made him such a high pick in the first place. He’s still a very raw prospect, but the tools are there, and there’s reason to believe the Blazers got a steal in their rebuilding effort. (SH)

Report: Clippers emerging as frontrunner to sign Kawhi Leonard

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Does Kawhi Leonard prefer the Clippers or Lakers in 2019 free agency? Reports have been mixed, though credible journalists have increasingly favored the Clippers since LeBron James signed with the Lakers. Yet, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN held out on the Lakers being Leonard’s top choice.

Now – with Jimmy Butler reportedly preferring a trade to the Clippers – Wojnarowski appears to be coming around on the Clippers.

Wojnarowski:

The Clippers have two max contract slots available in July, and are emerging as a front-runner for Toronto’s All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard when he becomes a free agent in July, league sources said.

Leonard and Butler would form a tantalizing tandem.

Butler reportedly wants to showcase himself in a big city while Leonard seemingly wants both to be in Los Angeles but remain out of the spotlight. Together, maybe they could both get what they want.

Though Butler’s demanding style has worn on teammates in Minnesota, nobody has ever accused Leonard of lacking work ethic or competitiveness. I bet Butler would respect Leonard.

They’re both elite defensively and at least very good offensively. There could be issues with how often each likes to isolate, but get all that talent to L.A. then figure out the rest later.

The question for the Clippers: Do they trade for Butler now or wait to try signing both stars in free agency next summer? The latter option carries more upside, allowing the Clippers to preserve assets. But it also risks Minnesota trading Butler and his Bird Rights to another team and him re-signing there.

The Clippers have several veterans – Tobias Harris, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari – who might appeal to Thibodeau, who seemingly wants to win now. L.A. could also offer 2018 lottery picks Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Alexander. However, the Clippers can’t convey a first-round pick until 2021 at the earliest.

I don’t know whether they’ll trade for Butler, but if the Clippers do, I know we’ll crank up the Leonard-Clippers speculation even higher. There’s value in putting that in Leonard’s mind while the Raptors are trying to woo him first-hand over the next year.

Reports: Jimmy Butler’s trade preference is Clippers, Knicks less interested

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Knicks president Steve Mills said New York wouldn’t trade its draft picks and wouldn’t trade for players it could just sign in free agency. In other words: No more Carmelo Anthony– or Andrea Bargnani-type deals.

Then, Jimmy Butler – who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer – requested a trade from the Timberwolves and put the Knicks on his list of preferred destinations (with the Nets and Clippers).

Will Mills hold firm in his patient plan?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Brooklyn and the Clippers appear motivated on Butler, while the Knicks have been firm all summer that the team does not want to part with assets and instead prioritize signing free agents outright, according to sources.

The Knicks should be reluctant to trade for Butler now. Especially with Kristaps Porzingis injured, Butler is unlikely to help New York win meaningfully this season. It’d be much better to sign him next summer and preserve assets.

But there’s no guarantee the Knicks sign him next summer. Whichever team has his Bird Rights and ability to offer him a larger contract will have the upper-hand. There is value in trading for him now.

Perhaps, the Knicks can find a worthwhile Butler trade that includes trading picks. The only way to find out is negotiating with Minnesota.  For New York to eliminate the idea outright because the team made mistakes in similar situations would be misguided.

But Knicks are going to Knick.

At least New York isn’t Butler’s first choice.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

https://twitter.com/wojespn/status/1042568202314764289

Might that other max slot go to Kyrie Irving?

First, L.A. must make the best offer to the Timberwolves and one acceptable to a reportedly reluctant Tom Thibodeau. Then, the Clippers must lure Irving – or any star (Kawhi Leonard?) – from his team.

It’s easy to imagine. It’s far more difficult to turn into reality.

Report: Jimmy Butler less enthused about Lakers after they signed LeBron James

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In 2014, Jimmy Butler said, “I like being a role player. Star has never been next to Jimmy Butler’s name. It never will be. I’ll always be an under-the-radar dawg.”

Then, Butler kept getting better and better. He started to appreciate his stature within the game. He took a leadership role on the Bulls. He embraced celebrity.

Maybe his trade request from the Timberwolves – ideally to the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets or L.A. Clippers – is the next step in this evolution.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

He is enamored with the idea of playing a central role in a big market, sources said. Butler had once imagined playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, but LeBron James‘ arrival as the franchise’s cornerstone made it less appealing for Butler in the prime of his career, league sources said.

Playing with LeBron isn’t for everyone. Kawhi Leonard reportedly became more reluctant to join the Lakers once they got LeBron. (Interestingly, Leonard is reportedly dissuaded by the hoopla LeBron would attract while Butler apparently believes he wouldn’t get enough of a spotlight).

And of course, Kyrie Irving requested and received a trade from LeBron’s Cavaliers last year. Irving and Butler are friends, and maybe Irving warned Butler about the perils of playing with LeBron.

I’m not sure how this report fits with Butler wanting to play with Irving, though. Irving is more popular than Butler. Perhaps, Irving holding a smaller stature than LeBron is enough for Butler. Maybe playing with Irving would be the exception to Butler’s desire to have his own team in a big market.

Or maybe Butler still winds up in Los Angeles with LeBron. Butler was reportedly open to it, though that’s a pretty low standard.

No matter what, Butler should pursue what he wants. NBA careers are short. Players should make the most of theirs, whatever that means to them.

Butler has so far shown he can balance working hard and playing well with stardom. He has earned the right to seek a larger public profile without major consternation about what it’d mean to his on-court production.

Would Jimmy Butler actually sign a contract extension?

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Timberwolves president Tom Thibodeau reportedly doesn’t want to grant Jimmy Butler‘s requested trade request – to the Knicks, Nets, Clippers or elsewhere.

Just how badly does Butler want to leave Minnesota?

Per Shams Charania of The Athletic, Butler is “open to signing extension” with one of his preferred destinations. That could be Butler’s silver bullet out of town.

Or it could be a miswording.

There’s a significant difference between signing a contract extension and getting traded then signing a new contract after the season. However, those different events often get described (sometimes inaccurately) under the term “extension.”

The largest extension Butler could sign while still being dealt before the February trade deadline is two years, $45,994,418 ($22,998,209 annually). It doesn’t matter whether he gets traded first or signs the extension first. That’s the limit.

However, if Butler gets traded then re-signs with his new team next summer, his max projects to be about $190 million over five years (about $38 million annually).

Would Butler really sacrifice so much? If so, that’d make him a far more-appealing asset. Not only would the team getting him gain longer team control, Butler would be locked into a relatively cheap salary. Teams that want him would offer more for him in that scenario – maybe even enough to convince a reluctant Thibodeau to deal the star.

Butler could also pledge to sign a larger extension with his new team six months after the trade. That extension would be capped at four years, $100,514,631 – the same extension he rejected from Minnesota this summer.* However, at that point, Butler will be near free agency. He might as well wait until his current contract expires.

His max contract next summer projects to be worth about $190 million over five years (about $38 million annually). Or, if he wants to leave his team, his max projects to be worth about $141 million over four years (about $35 million annually).

Either way, Butler’s max next summer far surpasses his largest-possible extension.

Of course, Butler isn’t guaranteed the max next summer. He’ll turn 30 before playing on his next contract, and he has plenty of mileage. But it seems likely he’ll come out well ahead on a new contract compared to an extension. That’s why he rejected Minnesota’s offer this summer.*

*The Timberwolves’ extension offer was frequently reported as four years, $110 million. But Butler’s base salary for calculating an extension is lower than his cap number, which also includes a portion of his signing and trade bonuses. The $110 million figure is based, incorrectly, on his cap number.

So, I doubt Butler will sign an extension. Promise to re-sign somewhere? Sure, that could definitely happen, though it’d be a non-binding pledge.

But as long as a potential extension is being reported, we should still consider the possibility.

Here are Butler’s four major options – signing an extension in conjunction with a trade now (blue), signing an extension six months after a trade (blue), re-signing on a new contract next summer (green), signing elsewhere on a new contract next summer (green). Rounded numbers are based on the projected 2019-20 salary cap.

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