NBA Summer League Sunday notebook: Dallas’ Dennis Smith is turning heads

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LAS VEGAS — There is so much going on at Las Vegas Summer League — it’s not all just the Lonzo Ball story — and we can’t get to it all, so here are some thoughts from my notebook on Sunday, in the time-honored tradition of bullet points.

• Dallas’ Dennis Smith has been a Las Vegas standout — he has been maybe the most buzzed-about player through the first weekend by media and team officials. Sunday, the rookie out of North Carolina State had 25 points on 14 shots (3-of-5 from three), 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and the numbers don’t tell the story. He’s a floor general.

Of course, Mark Cuban says he knew this was coming, but Smith fell to Dallas at No. 9 in the draft because of questions about his ceiling. Coming off an ACL he hadn’t shown a ton of explosiveness last year in college, but he has plenty of it here — in his first game he finished an alley-oop pass that few guys here could have gotten, let alone a guy 6’1”, then on Sunday he absolutely blew by Dragan Bender to get into the paint. He is strong and has been aggressive, fearless, and willing to set guys up. You never want to read too much — positively or negatively — into a couple of Summer League performances, but Mavs fans optimistic. He has turned heads in Vegas.

Check out some highlights of his matchup with Josh Jackson, who was less impressive with 15 points on 18 shots.

• Josh Jackson also got rejected by the rim Sunday (a battle he has lost before, kind of stunning for a guy with his athleticism.

• On the flip side, Boston’s Jaylen Brown threw down the dunk of Summer League so far.

• Portland’s Zach Collins has potential, but he’s got to get stronger. He tried to back down second-round wing pick Semi Ojeleye (who is stout) at one point Sunday to create space and it was like he bumped up against a wall, which led to an ugly fadeaway.

“He’s a hard-working kid, he listens, he pays attention, he does what he’s told,” Blazers Summer Leauge coach Jim Moran said. “I’m excited that when he kind of gets around our weight staff and kind of has the chance to hit the weight room and bulk up, he’s really going to be able to expand his game.”

Collins struggled with his shot Sunday, going 1-of-7, but nobody doubts that will come around. On the bright side, he has shown real mobility and put that to work contesting shots on the perimeter, plus he will put the ball on the floor and drive if guys close out hard on him at the arc.

“I feel like my defense is going to be there consistently because that’s an effort thing, something I can control,” Collins said. “I think I got a lot of good looks offensively, sometimes I was rushing it, I rushed a couple shots under the rim, I think I need to get to the basket a little bit more, but that will come.”

• Best stat line of the day goes to the Spurs’ Bryn Forbes, who had 31 points on 12-of-20 shooting, including 6-of-8 from three.

• He has been highly anticipated by Celtics fans, but Ante Zizic has work to do to find his way in an NBA-style game. He has a below-the-rim game that’s about skill, and that’s not easy to adapt to the speed and athleticism at Summer League (which is not NBA level). He showed some craftiness to his game, he hit a running hook and drew some fouls. He pulled down 11 boards and gets in good position, but got beat to some (even by teammates) who were just able to elevate higher.

For guys with his style of game, it’s tough to judge them at Summer League, which often resembles a glorified pickup game. The big men who stand out are bouncy. Zizic may fare better in a regular NBA setting, but it still looks like he has some work to do to figure out how to fit his style into a more athletic league.

“He’s going to be fine,” Jaylen Brown said of Zizic. “If he just does his job, starting the roll, rolls hard, rebounds the ball, I think he’s a good rebounder.”

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

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Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.