NBA Summer League Notebook for Monday: Bulls’ Lauri Markkanen has a rough day

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LAS VEGAS — There is far too much going on at Las Vegas Summer League to see everything, or write about everything, so here are a few things from my notebook Monday that didn’t make it into a post, organized in the traditional bullet-point format.

The Chicago Bulls are rebuilding. The question among most Bulls fans was not “should we rebuild?” Rather, it was “can Gar/Pax handle the job?”

Their first big move — with the No. 7 pick they got from Minnesota in the Jimmy Butler deal — was to draft Lauri Markkanen, the 7-foot three-point shooter out of Arizona. He was a guy that left scouts divided heading into the draft, some loved his potential and what he could be, others thought his game would not translate.

Monday was a rough day for the rookie, who shot 1-of-13 from the field. It wasn’t pretty.

“I can definitely improve something (with my shot), being more balanced and getting lower on my shot, but I’m not really worried about it,” Markkanen said after the game, sounding like a seasoned shooter. “Those kinds of days happen, not often, but sometimes you just have them.”

The Bulls aren’t concerned either.

“Lauri missed shots, it looked like everyone was going down,” Bulls GM Gar Forman said. “You can see he can put the ball on the floor, he’s a good passer, he’s a very skilled player, he’s got some toughness he’s just got to get physically stronger, which is normal for a 19-20 year old kid. Since we’ve had him in the building, we’ve been really impressed with his work ethic and his skill level…

“I thought he played really well the other night. When he struggles to make shots, that’s just part of the learning process.”

After watching him for a couple of games the potential with Markkanen is there, you can see it in flashes, but like the Bulls it’s going to be a long process to get where he wants to be.

• I know what the Bulls gave up to get him, but if the team picks up the option on Cameron Payne for the 2018-19 season, it’s only to save face after a disastrous trade.

• The Rockets are set at point guard, with Chris Paul and James Harden, but the way Isaiah Taylor has played this Summer League, he looks like he could be the third guard on the roster — and maybe push for some run next season. He had 18 points and 8 assists on Monday and was looking good doing it.

Taylor is under contract with the Rockets but spent last season in the then D-League (now G-League).

“When you watch Isaiah Taylor play now compared to last season when we were here, it just shows you how important the G-League is,” said Rockets Summer League coach Roy Rogers. “Because when he left us after training camp and went to the G-League, he became such a better player. He learned how to distribute the ball better, to slow down, to speed up, he’s just such a different player. We have to give credit to our G-League coaching staff, they did an excellent job wit him, and he’s come up this summer, he’s really worked hard. We’re excited where his future is going…

“He’s been able to depend on his speed and athleticism, and as you get to the NBA, we all know NBA assistant coaches watch hours and hours of film and if there’s a weakness, they’re going to expose it. So they’re trying to keep him out of the lane, and he’s hitting the three point shot. He’s got a chance to be a special player.”

• The Rockets may have another G-League find in forward Troy Williams, who had 27 points to lead Houston on Monday.

“Troy has been relentless, he’s been fearless, and I like what I’ve seen out of him thus far,” Rogers said. “There’s been a couple shots he’s taken where I went ‘Ughhh… good shot’ but he has that belief in himself. He’s the kind of guy who can come in and change the game, he’s really making a defensive end. I’m really excited about how he’s progressing.

• Houston’s Zhou Qi is tall, long, and mobile — which has led to some big time blocked shots.

• It was a let down for the crowd, but the Lakers were smart to sit Lonzo Ball Monday against the Kings’ and De’Aaron Fox. The Lakers reported he had a sore groin, and whether he could play through it isn’t the point — this is Summer League. The Lakers aren’t winning this thing (they are 0-2) and considering the injury risk and other negative’s what’s the point? If you bought a Summer League ticket expecting to see stars, you misunderstand the event.

• The Suns’ drafted Josh Jackson third, and the forward who played a lot of four at Kansas is having to adjust to the three at the NBA level.

“I’m getting used to it,” Jackson said. “The three is probably my natural position. Just being out there with our guys, they’re just so versitle, so tall, so athletic, just makes the game really fun.”

The key for him making the transition is his jumper.

“Once I knock down my outside shot, I feel like the defender has to respect it a little bit more, and that opens it up for me to do what I’m really great at, which is get to the basket. Hopefully, I can keep knocking it down, but even if I’m not I’m going to keep shooting it anyway.”

Watch Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard score first buckets in returns

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It’s only preseason. But if you’ve sat out an entire season with an ACL injury,  just getting on the court feels like a milestone.

And getting your first bucket back feels memorable.

That happened for the Nuggets Jamal Murray and the Clippers Kawhi Leonard on Monday night.

For Murray, the bucket came on a corner 3 in transition.

Murray also showed flashes he’s getting his handle and wiggle back, something that made him a great fit with Nikola Jokic.

Leonard wasted no time, scoring the Clippers’ first bucket by lulling his defender to sleep and then shooting the pull-up 3.

I feel we’re going to see a lot more of that this season.

The NBA is just better with these two back on the court.

 

Cavaliers Evan Mobley out 1-2 weeks with sprained ankle

2022-23 Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
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The Cleveland Cavaliers might have the best frontcourt in the East this season with All-Star Jarrett Allen and the emerging star Evan Mobley, but it may be a few weeks before we see them together.

Mobley is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained right ankle, the Cavaliers announced a couple of days before their preseason opener. Mobley stepped on a teammate’s foot and rolled his ankle during practice, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Mobley, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in his first campaign, but his more significant impact was on the defensive end. Mobley earned All-Defensive Team consideration as a rookie — an incredibly rare feat — and with Allen formed an impressive backstop for teams trying to drive the paint.

Reports out of Cavaliers training camp rave about the improvements made in Mobley’s offensive game, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see that for ourselves now. Mobley, with a more consistent face-up game and jumper, has the potential to develop into a top 15, maybe even top-10 player in the league. The Cavaliers are banking on the young core of Mobley, Allen, Darius Garland and the just acquired Donovan Mitchell to be able to take the team far in the next few years, with Mobley’s improvement key to just how far they can go.

It sounds like Mobley will be good to go for the start of the season.

Karl-Anthony Towns just cleared to walk Saturday following non-COVID illness

Karl-Anthony Towns Offseaon Workout
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Karl-Anthony Towns has not been in camp with the Timberwolves, sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Beyond that, there were not a lot of details other than his girlfriend Jordyn Woods saying on social media that she had taken him to the hospital.

Towns spoke to the media for the first time this season on Monday and said he was just cleared to walk again on Saturday, but did not get into detail about whatever illness he is dealing with.

First, it is Towns’ right if and when to disclose what he went through. This is not an on-court injury leading to a loss of playing time, and it is his call to talk about.

Towns has been sidelined before by illness, including COVID. After losing his mother and other family members to the disease, he also had a long battle with it. Fortunately, this is not that virus, but whatever it was it sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

That missed training camp is a setback as the Timberwolves try to get used to a two-big lineup with KAT and Rudy Gobert, plus some other new faces. Still, Towns and Minnesota should be good to go by the start of the season, a team thinking playoffs and much more after spending big this offseason.

Lakers reportedly ‘seriously considered’ Westbrook trade for Hield, Turner

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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it. So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That was Lakers GM Rob Pelinka on media day talking about the possibility of the Lakers trading the only two first-round picks they control this decade — 2027 and 2029 — to upgrade this roster around LeBron. Pelinka was clear the Lakers were committed to building a winner around LeBron, “We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and he committed to us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract… He committed to our organization. That’s gotta be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.”

But should that include a Russell Westbrook trade to Indiana for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner? Shams Charania of The Athletic updated and added to the extensive previous reporting on this trade, saying the Lakers kept the door open right up to the start of training camp but didn’t pull the trigger.

Vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, owner Jeanie Buss and senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis seriously considered sending Westbrook and unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to the Pacers for center Myles Turner and guard Buddy Hield, sources said. They held a series of meetings in the days leading up to camp to analyze the possible Pacers deal from every angle, with the views of Ham and Lakers executives Joey and Jesse Buss also being strongly considered in the process. The organization even delayed the midweek news conference for Pelinka and Ham as the debate continued…

If they were going to gamble on a make-or-break move of this magnitude, the thinking went, then everyone had to have confidence in the same vision. But when that wasn’t the case, sources say, the choice was made by Pelinka to remain patient and see, yet again, if Westbrook might find a way to make this imperfect fit with the Lakers work.

Hield and Turner would absolutely improve the Lakers. Turner can play the five, is an elite shot blocker who could provide a strong defensive back line next to Anthony Davis, and is a respectable 3-point shooter who can space the floor. He’s a natural fit. Hield brings shooting that the Lakers have coveted for years and need more of now.

That trade would have moved the Lakers up the ladder to a solid playoff team in the West. Would that trade make the Lakers contenders? Probably not. It still would have come back to the bubble version of Davis and LeBron being ready for the final 16-game sprint to have a puncher’s chance (that may be the case regardless of other moves). Also, it would have messed with future free agency plans in Los Angeles — the Lakers can have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase Kyrie Irving (although Shams reports that’s not in their plans) or other name players, Hield is owed $19.3 million next season and Turner will be a free agent the Lakers would need to re-sign. This deal would end the dream of a free agent taking a little less than the max to come to the Lakers (a dream not likely to come to reality anyway).

As Pelinka said, the Lakers have one shot with trading their two picks to upgrade the roster — they have to hit a home run, this can’t be a solid single. The Lakers were not convinced Hield and Turner could be that home run tandem.

So Los Angeles will go into the season with a starting five of Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, LeBron, Davis, and Damian Jones, with a bench of Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, Austin Reaves, and Dennis Schroder. The Lakers will see if it fits, how far it looks like this group can take them under new coach Darvin Ham, and watch the market to see what other stars could become available.

The Lakers aren’t done dealing, but it looks like a deal with Indiana is now in the rearview mirror.