Meditations on a Summer League
As Steve discussed earlier, the precise relationship between the Summer League and competition is a little foggy. We know the wins and losses mean almost nothing; we know that two thirds of the Wolves’ Summer League roster won’t be around in September. And yet it was still a little disheartening to see the stagnant mess that was the Wolves’ offense for much of the tournament. And it was still pretty cool to see that offense turn itself on and really flow as it did in the team’s final game, against the Pelicans. What do we take away from this? Well, for one, I think we discover what happens when Shabazz Muhammad takes half of your team’s shots.
I think we also discovered that most of the players the Wolves invited to Summer League really lacked the dynamism to get a real look in the NBA. Sorry to fans of Matt Janning, Dennis Horner, D.J. Kennedy and Markel Starks, who all showed flashes of skill but all struggled, for various reasons, to really hang. Jordan Morgan some charges and worked the glass, but his lack of size, skill and explosiveness really showed. Brady Heslip is, without a doubt, one of the purest shooters I have ever seen. Heslip is so pure, in fact, that it’s a damn shame he looked so overmatched in every other phase of the game. Depending on what happens with Kevin Love, the Wolves will probably have an open roster spot or two. Unfortunately, I don’t think any of these guys have a real shot. So: on to some players who we might be seeing in the fall.
As Steve alluded to, Lavine’s performance was easily the most welcome sight of the Wolves’ Summer League. Most pleasantly surprising was his steady ballhandling and his poise while running the offense. He executed the team’s sets competently. He found open shooters. He kept his cool and kept his eyes up in the face of ball pressure. While the timing and angles of his pick-and-rolls were a bit ragged, he was able to find the roll man and make the pocket pass fairly consistently. And that jumper: How effing easy and gorgeous is that jumper?
Most of the things we knew would be problems were problems. As the week wore on, Lavine showed signs of being able to get into the paint, especially early in possessions before defenses had a chance to set themselves. But, in general, he didn’t seem to have a plan for how to attack the basket in isolation or when turning the corner on the pick-and-roll. He just doesn’t seem to have developed a set of go-to moves for those situations. And, as you might guess by just looking at his ridiculously skinny, young body, he lacked the strength to finish at the rim consistently, not to mention stand his ground defensively when his opponent got into his body. Probably as a result of all of these things, Lavine settled for a lot of jumpers off the bounce, many of them long twos and many of them contested. Because he was a willing passer, these didn’t feel like selfish shots. It just seemed like, because of his inexperience reading defenses, because of his relative lack of skill in the paint and because he could simply get it off so easily, his off-the-dribble jumper was his default. I mean, did you see how high he got on those shots?
These are things that can be improved, though, especially by a player as poised and, by all reports, eager to be coached as Lavine is. In a Wolves’ offseason as depressing as this one has been, Lavine’s performance was a sight for sore eyes.
So Shabazz Muhammad did not play well. He showed solid defensive effort, but struggled to navigate screens and was overmatched by the skill of scoring wings like Ben McLemore and MarShon Brooks. Even with a nice night against the Kings (7-13 from the floor; 9-11 from the line), he still hit just 37% of his field goals over the course of his five games. Which wouldn’t be so much worse than some of his teammates except that he shot the ball so very much more than those teammates (14 shots per game in just 25.8 minutes per game). And while he did get to the line and hit a few threes, his True Shooting percentage still hovered south of 48%. And really, it wasn’t so much the results of his shots as how those shots came about.
Muhammad was a black hole. Once he caught the ball in the half-court, the Wolves’ offense ground to a halt as the other four players stopped to watch him slowly work his matchup. And that work wasn’t much to look at. If he couldn’t muscle his way to the hoop, he settled for what is not just his go-to move, but really his only move; that right shoulder turn lefty jump-hook. And it didn’t seem to matter whether he had space or not, whether he had a matchup advantage or a double team; he took that shot come hell or high water. He didn’t read the defense; he wasn’t able to use his skills to create space for himself to operate. And even when he was able to use his strength to get the the basket, he struggled to finish once he got there. Multiple announcers commented on Muhammad’s ability to get off the floor quickly, which is indeed a strength of his. But he doesn’t seem to be able to generate enough elevation to finish over big bodies.
Muhammad’s greatest skill is his energy on the glass and, as he showed in his brief stints during the last regular season, that is a valuable skill indeed. But Muhammad clearly thinks of himself as a scorer. And so far, he hasn’t done anything to deserve that designation.
Until Lavine went off against New Orleans on Friday, Gorgui was the Wolves’ best player. This was obviously a strange situation for him, the relatively seasoned, reliable veteran at the apex of the chaos. He tried to do too much, especially offensively. And when Gorgui tries to do too much, things become very wobbly and strange. This is fine, of course. Summer League is exactly the place where second-year players can explore the outer reaches of their games a little. So if Gorgui wants to take 15-foot fades, I say why not let him give it a go? If the team wants to dump it to him 10 feet from the basket with the shot-clock winding down and say, “Just go create, big fella”–well, who am I to stop them?
Suffice it to say, Gorgui Dieng is not ready to become anyone’s first option. He’s still not consistent with his slooowly unwinding jumper, especially when he’s under pressure. And he still tends to fade away from the basket–rather than attacking–when he’s trying to score in isolation.
But, as we know, none of this is his bread and butter. Gorgui’s bread and butter is defense and rebounding. And while his relative lack of strength is still a problem, he protected the rim like a champ and rebounded with abandon. Gorgui’s body position on defense can be inconsistent, a problem that led him, as it has in the past, to chase shooters and get into foul trouble. And it seems to me that his lust for blocking shots sometimes distracts him from the less glamorous work of simply establishing position between the attacker and the basket. But he should improve at all of these things. I like this dude.
Glenn Robinson III
I understand why so many people are enamored of Robinson and so sure that he is a steal in the second round. It’s not every day, after all, that great leapers with long bodies and smooth, polished three-point strokes fall to you at the 40th pick. When the game became fluid and fast you started to really appreciate Robinson’s potential. He filled lanes gracefully on the break; he flowed into open space without the ball; he calmly knocked down spot-up threes.
But from where I sat, it seemed that Robinson mostly played without much force or conviction. I know that many players that move as smoothly as Robinson often come across as passive. I also know that moving deliberately can be a real skill in the NBA. But despite his his skills and athletic gifts, Robinson seemed to lack the energy or the ability to really impact the game. Like Lavine, he settled for contested midrange jumpers and he seemed to have even less of a facility for getting to the basket in the half court. Defensively, he tended to get wiped out on ball screens and seemed to lack the fire to recover to his man once it happened. I would have thought we’d see more from a guy who has no guarantee of making the final roster.