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NBA Summer League notes from Salt Lake City

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SALT LAKE CITY — The NBA’s official, all 30 teams are there, Summer League kicks off Friday in sweltering Las Vegas. But before that buffet of games, there are a couple appetizer Summer Leagues, ones that are a little smaller but packed with intrigue of their own.

I’ve been in Salt Lake for the Utah Summer League the last few days, here are some of my notes from the previous 48 hours:

Trae Young has a lot of work in front of him. A lot of development to do. The No. 5 pick came in hyped by fans and some scouts, but just watching him through two games it’s clear he has a lot of fundamental things he needs to do better before he can start to live up to anything near those lofty expectations.

It’s not the 2-of-16 from three for two games that is the most concerning, he’s a better shooter than that, but rather his need overall to adapt to the speed, length and athleticism of the NBA game. His shot seems rushed, and come October the defenders he will see nightly are better than the guys here (with all due respect to Javon Carter and Derrick White). Young has to both get stronger and learn how to better use his body to create space to get off his shot on drives. He needs to find a comfort level with the pace and the pressure.

He can get there, he made adjustments in these games, but after watching his first couple of days it’s clear he has a long way to go.

The Hawks praised his decision making and Young echoed that.

“For me the biggest thing is he’s making the right plays,” coach Lloyd Pierce said. “There were a ton of possessions last night where he made the right play. There were a ton of possessions tonight where he made the right play.”

“My main thing is right now to make the right plays,” Young said. “The rest of the team isn’t knocking down shots that we’re going to eventually hit. I’m excited we’re getting the looks we’re getting, we’re just not knocking down shots right now. Eventually, it will come, and when it does it will come fast.”

The shots will come. The additional games in Las Vegas will help Young. But like the rebuilding Hawks team, there is a lot of development, a lot of work to do before the results they want start to show.

• A year in the Spurs’ development system has been good to Derrick White — the combo guard spent much of last season in the G-League, with some cups of coffee (139 total minutes) with the big club. In Utah he looked like he deserved more, he has improved considerably in the past year. Last summer the speed and athleticism of the other players seemed to have him second-guessing himself. No more.

Tuesday night he was 7-of-15 from the floor with 21 points plus had nine assists. He’s been strong in both of their games in Utah.

“Derrick is a good basketball player,” said Spurs Summer League coach Will Hardy. “We’re trying not to pigeonhole him as a one or a two. He can play off the ball as a two. I think tonight we saw he can handle the ball, Atlanta pressed and trapped for the majority of the second half and Derrick was our primary handler. I think that makes him unique. He’s got sort of an old-school feel to his game in the sense he’s just a good backcourt player, and that gives him some versatility because he can play with a lot of different guys.”

White, the No. 29 pick of the Spurs in the 2017 draft, is a story of overcoming expectations. Out of high school he had no D1 college offers and just one at D2, but he grew five inches at D2 school and eventually transferred to Colorado, only to make first team all Pac-12. As a 23-year-old draftee teams were concerned before the draft about how much he could improve, but this year at Summer League the answer has been “plenty.”

We could be seeing more of him in the fall.

• We had our first coach’s challenge of Summer League — Lloyd Pierce of the Hawks challenged a clear path foul in the first game Tuesday. Sure, his team was down 16 points with 1:31 left, but it was a coach’s challenge.

He lost it. Pierce currently has the worst record in the NBA in coach’s challenges (at 0-1, but still).

Jaren Jackson Jr. is going to be very good. Yes, it’s two Summer League games and those matter about as much as the points on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” but his shooting stroke, handles, and shot blocking are a great combo in the modern NBA. Through two games he’s scored 39 points, shot 10-of-17 from three, and has been the best rookie in Utah. And it’s not just the threes that impress.

Tuesday’s second game was closer to what we can expect of him most nights — 10 points, eight rebounds and a couple of blocks, including one down the stretch of the game that was athletic and helped preserve the Grizzlies win.

“He’s a defensive-minded player and he’s an extremely talented player,” Grizzlies Summer League Coach J.J. Outlaw said. “Defense travels. You’re not always going to have your jumper, you’re not always going to be able to score points, but he was able to help us out and make some plays defensively.”

Like every rookie, there is a lot of development work ahead for Jackson, but in his case you can quickly see where he fits in the modern NBA.

• Both Grayson Allen of the Jazz and Lonnie Walker IV did not play in their teams’ second games on Tuesday for rest.

• Javon Carter is making fans. The hustle guys who defend in Summer League games — which are stylistically glorified pickup games — stand out, and that is what Carter has done. In the first game he was one of the reasons Trae Young started 0-of-10 from three, Carter was in his grill and taking away Young’s air (on some shots, others Young just mixed).

I don’t know how things will work for Carter when the skill and athleticism levels jump in the fall, he struggled at moments down the stretch against Utah when it got tight, but he is going to put in the work and you know Grizzlies coaches will want to keep a guy like that around.

• Great advice from Naz Mitrou-Long, the former Iowa State player who spent most of last season in the G-League (and dropped 19 points with eight assists Tuesday night), had some fantastic advice for other rookies looking to make an impression in Summer League:

“If you come here and take every single shot when the ball touches your hands, it’s not going to benefit you. I know I personally came in here last year thinking ‘I need to average 30 in this thing’ but nobody does that, and it’s for a reason. You’re playing high-level talent. Find out what your organization wants, find out the right way to play basketball and do that. Max out your potential in your role.”

• The Utah Summer League is the kind of experience was old school in a good way. It was small, intimate, with a couple of games a day and a chance for fans to get closer to players — and the NBA guys who show up to watch — than happens in Las Vegas now.

Also a plus: A passionate, loud home crowd. Tickets are cheap ($8 for some in the lower bowl and that is for both games) so people turn out. Tuesday night the Jazz were getting blown out by 26 to the Grizzlies, but battled back to make it a game late (and even took a brief lead). The crowd was large and loud. They cared. That added an energy and passion to the game usually missing in other Summer Leagues.

Throw in that Salt Lake is a great city to visit — walkable downtown, impressive food scene — and I’m going to try to make it back if they keep doing this.

Report: If Brooklyn signs Kyrie Irving then D’Angelo Russell will leave

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Rumors have been flying around for weeks that Kyrie Irving is leaning towards signing in Brooklyn as a free agent. Things can still change, the Irving/Kevin Durant pairing with the Knicks is not off the table (or with the Nets), but there is, at the very least, strong mutual interest between Irving and the Nets.

Last season, Brooklyn extended Spencer Dinwiddie, giving them a quality reserve point guard at a reasonable price.

Where does that leave All-Star D'Angelo Russell? Out the door if Irving signs, reports Ian Bagley at SNY.com.

If Irving signs with the Nets, SNY sources familiar with the matter say it is highly unlikely that Russell remains with the Nets. Members of the Nets organization have communicated that idea in recent days, per sources.

Russell will have no shortage of suitors, including good teams looking for another shot creator in Indiana and Utah.

Russell is a restricted free agent and if Irving does not sign the Nets likely want Russell back. One interesting thing to watch, if the Nets rescind their rights to Russell, it would mean they are about to sign two max guys (they would need to get Russell’s cap hold off the books to get that done).

Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7 assists a game last season, shooting 36.9 percent from three. His shots started falling at a higher rate, he improved as a floor general, and his game took a leap forward to All-Star level last season.

How much did five Finals runs, fatigue factor into Durant, Thompson injuries?

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Klay Thompson ran more than 60 miles on the court during these NBA playoffs, that coming off a season where he ran nearly 198 miles during games.

Kevin Durant, even after missing a month with a calf injury, ran 29.5 playoff miles during these playoffs.

And that was just this season. In the past five seasons, the Golden State Warriors have played 105 playoff games. That means they essentially packed six seasons — including a playoff run — into five seasons of time.

The sports science on this is clear: Catastrophic injuries — such as a ruptured Achilles or ACL tear — are far more likely to happen when the player is fatigued.

With many trying to assign blame for the Warriors two devastating injuries in their final two games, part of that needs to fall on the Warriors’ own success. “Blame” may be the wrong word here because it’s not like the Warriors would give back a title, but becoming the first team since the Bill Russell Celtics to make it to five straight finals added to the fatigue for the team and likely played a role in what happened.

“I don’t know if it’s related to five straight seasons of playing a hundred plus games and just all the wear and tear, but it’s devastating,” an emotional Steve Kerr said after Game 6 discussing Durant’s ruptured Achilles and Thompson’s torn ACL.

Kerr is not alone. Twitter doctors and Charles Barkley aside, nobody knows how significant a role the extra games played in the injuries because there is seldom a straight line to draw between cause and effect on major injuries. Human nature is to want simple, clean answers, but life rarely presents those. It’s a complex stew of factors. LeBron James can go to eight straight Finals and not have this issue (although he is a physical outlier in the NBA in many ways).

Fatigue, however, appears to play a role.

In Durant’s case, his exertion may correlate with his injuries. His initial calf strain — and the Warriors insist that is all it ever was — happened against the Rockets, a series where Durant saw a jump in playing time of about five minutes a night because Kerr leaned heavily on his core in a series where the Warriors realized the threat. Studies have shown that injuries are more likely to occur when a player sees a sudden jump in minutes played and load carried, in part because that players’ body becomes more fatigued.

When Durant returned to the court for Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the plan was to play him in “short bursts,” meaning four- or five-minute stints. After the first five minute stint (there was a timeout at 7:11 in the first quarter), Durant said he felt good and asked to stay in, so he remained on the court until 5:50. He rested for about two and a half minutes, then was back on the court — and playing well. Durant had 11 points and the Warriors offense flowed far more smoothly again. Kerr left Durant in to start the second quarter, and at the 9:46 mark we all know what happened.

After missing 32 days of basketball, Durant played 12 of the first 14 minutes in Game 5. How much did that play a role in his torn Achilles?

Thompson missed Game 3 of the NBA Finals with a strained hamstring and was not 100 percent the remainder of the way. If that hamstring was healthier would he have landed differently or been able to withstand it better, not tearing his ACL after being fouled on a dunk attempt? We will never know, but it’s possible.

Meanwhile, across the way, the Toronto Raptors took heat in some quarters for the “load management” of Kawhi Leonard, having him miss 22 regular season games to rest his body and keep his quad tendon healthy. Leonard played through a sore right knee — suffered compensating for that left quad tendon — but was out there for every game and was Finals MVP.

Players, agents, and teams all took note of that. The next time a player is coming back from injury, Durant in particular (but also Thompson) will be seen as a cautionary tale. Expect guys to make sure they are 100 percent (or close to it) before getting back on the court, not wanting to risk a greater injury. Most guys are not still going to get the same contract offers after a catastrophic injury. Also, “load management” will become even more of a thing.

The NBA is a recovery league where fatigue is a constant issue. Maybe this is all another baby step toward shortening the NBA regular season schedule, but we all know the financial complexities of that make it a long way off. At best.

But for those that need to assign blame for the injuries to Durant and Thompson, starting with the Warriors own success is a good idea.

NBC Sports/Rotoworld NBA Draft preview show and mock draft

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With the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, the New Orleans Pelicans’ select…

Zion Williamson. That’s just obvious. Then the Grizzlies will take Ja Morant second, and the Knicks — or whoever has the pick by draft night — will take R.J. Barrett.

Then things get interesting.

I joined Rotoworld’s Tommy Beer and Steve Alexander to do a mock draft of the first round, from Zion through… you’ll just have to watch. The full video is above, and we also talk a little about potential trades and fantasy impact.

If you can’t get enough mock drafts, CollegeBasketballTalk’s Rob Dauster and I did a mock draft podcast of the first round a couple of weeks ago. You can check out the list and listen to picks 1-10 here, and then the rest of the first round at this link.

Raptors title sees Canada set viewing, spending records

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LAS VEGAS — The final numbers are in, and the NBA Finals were a smashing success for Canada all the way around.

The NBA said Friday that 56% percent of the Canadian population watched at least some part of the NBA Finals, with an average viewership of about 8 million for the Toronto Raptors’ title-winning victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 6.

The league also said the total combined U.S. and Canadian audience for the finals was up 11 percent over the combined viewership of the 2018 title series between Golden State and Cleveland.

Thursday’s game was the most-watched NBA game in Canadian television history, a record that was toppled several times during this postseason because of the Raptors’ popularity. Viewership for each of the six finals games rank among the 10 most-watched television programs in Canada so far this year.

“Everybody who supported us during the season, all the fans in Toronto, everyone in Canada – this is for you,” Raptors forward Serge Ibaka said after Toronto’s first NBA championship. “This is for Canada, baby. You should be proud.”

And not only were Canadians watching, but they were buying.

The NBA said that online sales through the league’s official portals smashed records for the day following the end of a championship series, up more than 80 percent from the previous mark (set when Cleveland beat Golden State in 2016) and were more than 100 percent over sales on the day following the Warriors’ sweep of the Cavaliers last season.

The Raptors are planning a parade in Toronto on Monday, one that will likely take more than two hours.

“This means so much to our city and to many in Canada, and we are looking forward to showing everyone the Larry O’Brien Trophy on Monday,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said. “Bringing the NBA championship to Toronto is the realization of a goal for our team and for our players, and we are thrilled to be able to celebrate together with our fans.”

The newly crowned NBA champions, who won the title in Oakland, California on Thursday night, are expected back in Toronto on Saturday. They were planning to spend Friday night celebrating in Las Vegas.