Five unexpected impressive players from Las Vegas Summer League

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Heading into the Las Vegas Summer League, it was expected Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, and some other big names would impress.

But part of the fun of Summer League is lesser known guys who unexpectedly jump up and grab your attention — and the attention of teams. Myself and Sean Highkin of ProBasketballTalk were in Vegas, and here are five guys that unexpectedly turned our heads.

1) Jonathon Simmons (Spurs). He won the MVP of the championship game scoring 23 points that night, but he had been playing well all Summer League averaging 17 points a game on 51.9 percent shooting. He beats guys off the dribble and knows how to finish inside — he did that well at the D-League level last season also. He just signed a guaranteed contract for this coming season with the Spurs, he may not get a lot of playing time (Kawhi Leonard will get the bulk of the minutes at the three, Simmons Summer League teammate Kyle Anderson may get some run there) but he will get a chance to prove he can keep scoring efficiently at the next level.

2) ScottieWilbekin (Sixers). The former Florida Gator, who spent last season playing in Australia, turned heads with his hustle, averaging 14.4 points per game and playing good defense. He did the same thing at the Orlando Summer League (playing for the Magic), and between the two Summer League’s he shot 42 percent from three. He just signed a four-year contract with the Sixers,  with the first two years guaranteed. The Sixers are crowded at the point guard spot, but he will get his chance.

3) Maurice Ndour (Knicks). He fit well in the vague attempt at the triangle offense New York ran at Summer League. He averaged 9.6 points and 4.8 rebounds a game, and he shot 51.2 percent. 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. In a game against the Sixers he had six straight points late in a close game, the team turned to him to get buckets. He impressed Knicks management, but coach Derek Fisher said the team might not have a roster spot to give him.

“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.”

4) Jordan Mickey (Boston). He looked like a potential great second-round pick (33) by the Celtics. Mickey averaged 13.8 points per game on 52.9 percent shooting, plus pulled down 9.6 rebounds a game. Defensively he was a strong rim protector, averaging 2.6 blocks per game. Mickey just signed a four-year deal (the first two years guaranteed) with the Celtics, which is a fantastic deal for Boston, Mickey could develop into a reliable rotation player for them up front.

5) Alan Williams (Rockets). Loved by the stats guys but undrafted out of UC Santa Barbara (I saw him play in person multiple times in college and would not have predicted this), he looked fantastic in Las Vegas. Williams averaged 20.5 points per game on 50 percent shooting, plus he grabbed 11.5 rebounds a game. He’s a free agent and while Houston may not pick him up it would be shocking to think nobody is going to give him an invite to training camp and a chance to make a roster.

Derrick White didn’t lose teeth, passes concussion test after nasty fall in USA loss

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There were plenty of ugly things for Team USA in its loss to Australia on Saturday — most of them on the defensive end — but later in the day on Saturday there was some good news.

It sounds like point guard Derrick White will be fine after his nasty fall and face plant during the game, reports Tom Osborne of the San Antonio Express-News.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, White was pushing the ball upcourt after an Australia miss and either got clipped from behind — there was a foul called — or stumbled over his own feet. I lean clipped, but the video is not conclusive.

White fell and faceplanted, with his head bouncing off the court. If he got away with just stitches, that’s good news for Team USA. If White had a concussion it is possible he would have missed the start of the World Cup, and the USA is not deep at the point guard spot on this roster (Kemba Walker and White are the only true point guards, a couple of players such as Marcus Smart can play a few minutes there but aren’t really suited to the position).

Team USA has one more exhibition game against Canada, then opens World Cup play on Sept. 1 in China against the Czech Republic.

Grizzlies officially waive Dwight Howard, first step on his path to Lakers

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Lakers fans are uncomfortable with it, but the Lakers did a good job hedging their bet with a non-guaranteed contract: Dwight Howard is coming to the Lakers.

That process started on Saturday with the Grizzlies officially waiving Howard.

In theory, any team could claim Howard off waivers. In practice, no team is picking up his full $5.6 million salary.

Howard gave back $2.6 million in his buyout with the Grizzlies, which is exactly how much his veteran minimum contract with the Lakers will pay him.

Howard and JaVale McGee will have to tag team to play all the minutes at the five the Lakers need. Anthony Davis is their best center (and it’s not close, he’s arguably the best center in the NBA) but he wants to play the four most of the game, so for 30 minutes a night the Lakers need another big body at the five.

Howard has the potential to fill that role. For three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, Howard averaged 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, was a big body on defense, and played at least 71 games in averaging 30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use. The problem was Howard was never happy those years just playing that defense/set-a-pick-and-roll/rebound role. He wanted more touches and particularly in the post, which led to disruptions as he pushed for a larger role. It’s why he bounced around. Then last season he played just nine games due to more back and hamstring issues.

Howard is saying all the right things about accepting that role, and he convinced the Lakers to a degree, but that non-guaranteed contract shows the Lakers go into this eyes wide open. If Howard is up to his old antics, the Lakers can cut bait and move on.

It’s among the many things to watch in what should be an entertaining Lakers’ training camp this year.

On Mamba Day (8/24), former Lakers’ trainer Gary Vitti talks about what made Kobe great

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Kobe Bryant’s work ethic is legend.

It takes talent to become an MVP, 15-time All-NBA, 18-time All-Star, and lock future Hall of Famer. However, it was how Kobe got the most out of his talent that separated him from his peers. Long-time Lakers trainer Gary Vitti retired a couple of years ago and will soon publish an autobiography, “32 Years of Titles and Tears from the Best Seat in the House: What I Learned about Happiness, Greatness, Leadership and the Evolution of Sports Science.”

Vitti joined Hall of Fame photographer Andrew D. Bernstein this week on an episode of Legends of Sport to discuss his upcoming book, and he talked about Kobe (hat tip to CNBC).

“He was talented, but what if I told you he wasn’t the most talented guy out there? I’m telling you, and I’ve had them all, there’s nothing really special about Kobe. I mean he’s a big guy, but he’s not that big. He was quick, but he’s not that quick. He’s fast, he wasn’t that fast. He was powerful, but he wasn’t that powerful. I mean, there were other players that had more talent than he did, so what was there about him that more talented players had zero rings and he ended up with five?…

“He was tough in the sense that he took ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ out of his lexicon and he just believed that he could do it. Kobe taught me that talent is the most overrated thing in life; it’s what you do with your talent.”

Nobody in NBA history did as much with the talent they had as Kobe.

On Mamba Day, enjoy his ultimate mixtape highlights above and remember what it took for Kobe to get there.

 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: ‘I am not Russell Westbrook. I’m just going to try to be myself.’

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Thunder fans are going to love Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The Clippers did not want to give him up in the Paul George trade but had no real choice — Gilgeous-Alexander was a prize get for OKC. As a rookie last season he started 73 games, averaging 10.8 points and 3.3 assists per game for a 48-win playoff team. Playing the most difficult position to learn in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander grew as the season wore on and has a promising future.

But he is taking over for Russell Westbrook as the point guard for the Thunder, so the comparisons are inevitable. Even though they have radically different games. Gilgeous-Alexander handled the question well when asked, as reported by Erik Horne at The Oklahoman.

Gilgeous-Alexander smiled and said he could compete with Westbrook’s fashion sense. He also deflected any notion of pressure to live up to the legacy of the 2016-17 Most Valuable Player. “He set the bar pretty high,” Gilgeous-Alexander said…

“I am not Russell Westbrook,” Gilgeous-Alexander said with no malice. “I do not have the same name, same body type, stuff like that. So, I’m just going to try to be myself and be the best me and everything else will take care of itself.

“I’m just a basketball player. Regardless of the situation, I’m going to continue to work hard and play my game. I know that eventually it will come out. I don’t worry about starting. I’m not worried about accolades or things like that. I just work hard, keep my head down and (stay) true to who I am.”

That attitude is part of why Thunder fans will love him. Gilgeous-Alexander is confident but not cocky, and he knows his game.

That game is more traditional point guard, more game manager, than the dynamic and explosive Westbrook. Gilgeous-Alexander learned for a season under a smart, player-friendly coach in Doc Rivers, who built his point guard’s confidence up as the season wore on. Rivers showed the rookie how to be a professional, how to prepare, and most of all trusted Gilgeous-Alexander — and that trust included being matched up on Stephen Curry in a playoff series. Through it all, Gilgeous-Alexander showed real promise.

Whatever is next in Oklahoma City — and there is a lot of rebuilding to do with that roster, a lot of picks to be made still — Gilgeous-Alexander can help lead it. He will be at the heart of what is next for the Thunder.

Just don’t expect him to be Westbrook. There is only one of those.