SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz play at the second highest elevation in the NBA, 4,226 feet, or 8/10ths of a mile. The air is a little thin.
For young players working on their conditioning — and especially some young players playing the second night of a back-to-back — it showed on Tuesday. Dylan Windler, the Cavaliers standout from Game 1, looked gassed by the second half. He wasn’t alone. It led to some sloppy basketball at points, even by the sliding scale of Summer League standards.
Here’s my notebook from the second night of games in Salt Lake City.
• With three games in three nights in Utah, the Fourth of July off, then games starting at the Las Vegas Summer League on Friday, teams rested a lot of guys on Tuesday. The Spurs sat Lonnie Walker IV (who scored 20 the night before), and the Grizzlies rested Yuta Watanabe (who also had 20 on opening night). Utah rookie Jarrett Brantley, who looked good in the opener, also got a night off. Combine that with the other guys sitting for injuries, such as Darius Garland (knee), or guys not yet officially traded so they can’t suit up (Kevin Porter Jr. for the Cavs, Brandon Clarke for the Grizzlies) and Tuesday was a little thin on names you know suiting up in Utah.
• It’s gotta be the shoes!
Spurs rookie Keldon Johnson — the Spurs’ No. 29 pick in this draft, a wing out of Kentucky — scored 29 points on 10-of-17 shots, including 3-of-4 from three. But all anyone wanted to talk about was his LeBron kicks.
With Walker and others out for the Spurs, Johnson found the ball in his hands a lot, but it was his defensive effort the Spurs coaching staff — and Johnson himself — liked.
“Defense comes first, then offense will come,” said Johnson, who had questions about his defense going into the draft. “Today I felt I was more assertive and more aggressive, which I felt translated on the offensive end.”
“Expecting that [level of offense] every day is a lot, but I thought he was good,” Spurs Summer League coach Blake Ahearn said. “He made some plays.”
Among those plays was the shot of the night, this half-courter at the buzzer.
The Spurs needed Johnson to step up with all the guys resting, and he did. That’s a good start for the rookie.
• Players who have had even a taste of NBA-level basketball often have a level of competence that means they just take over a Summer League game.
Case in point, Jazz big man Tony Bradley — the No. 28 pick back in 2017, who spent most of last season playing well for Utah in the G-League but has had played in a dozen NBA games — had probably the best night of anyone in Salt Lake Tuesday.
Bradley had 26 points on 9-of-13 shooting, pulled down 16 rebounds, and Cavaliers coach John Beilein credited him for making the Cavaliers miss a lot of shots at the rim.
“After the season, [Jazz coaches] gave me a few things to work on: defensive rebounding, communicating on defense, and being loud…” Bradley said. “I think I’ve done a better job.”
He’s done an impressive job so far.
• Along those same lines, Cleveland’s Naz Mitrou-Long has had a couple of cups of coffee in the NBA — 15 games total, he was on a two-way contract with the Jazz last season — but that little bit of experience and the touch of class he brings was evident in the first two games with the Cavaliers. He had 16 points and 8 assists in the first game on Monday, and 17 points in the second game.
“Experience is definitely the best teacher,” Mitrou-Long said. “I’ve been through this twice now, this is my third time. Especially being in this building, very comfortable here. So it’s something that definitely plays a big role.”
• Spurs Summer League legend Jeff Ledbetter showed out on Tuesday night, scoring 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting from three.
Ledbetter, 31, stands out in Summer League because of his smart play, hustle, shooting — and because he’s on the Spurs Summer League team seemingly every year. He’s not an NBA guy, he has spent the last three seasons with the Spurs G-League team and may do that again, or may go to Europe and bank a little cash. He’s a guy a lot of overseas teams could use.
Whatever happens with him next season, if he’s not back with the Spurs for Summer League next year it will be weird.
• The alley-oop of the day belonged to Utah second-round pick Justin Write-Foreman, who has some hops (and 20 points on the night).
Honorable mention in this category goes to the Spurs Thomas Robinson (yes, that Thomas Robinson).
• Spurs first-round pick Luka Samanic once again showed he has a good feel for the game, once again showed his three-point range (although he hesitated on a couple he should have pulled the trigger on), and displayed some deft passing skills. Also once again showed he’s just got to get stronger — three times over two days he tried to drive and dunk on someone only to get rejected. He got pushed around a few other times on defense. There’s a lot to like, but he’s a project.