Always Be Closing. ALWAYS. Be Closing.
I was going to start this post by saying, “Summer League is not really about wins and losses,” but then realized I was hedging: Summer League is NOT about wins and losses. What it is is a living breathing existential paradox. On the one hand, it’s an inherently fragile and unstable arrangement, a weird bardo region where agglomerations of rookies, sophomores and journeymen masquerade as NBA teams while competing for the glory of … something via a tournament that each team seems more interested in losing. On the other, it’s where professional basketball reaches maximum entropy, an undifferentiated state where possessions are born and die in a vacuum without accumulating any meaning beyond their short lifespans.
So how did the Wolves do? Well, they finished 2-4 but see above. The returns on rookies Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III — both based on what I got to see of them and talking to other media members and the buzz on Twitter — are good overall. In last night’s consolation game (the team’s fourth in four days), LaVine had 22 points, including going 9-10 from the line, a very positive sign for a player about whom there are some questions with regard to his physicality in getting to the rim through contact. Robinson had 17 and, although he struggled with his shot to the tune of 2-6 from distance, his overall game looked solid, if not particularly polished. Overall, he’s shot 38.5% in Summer League, but neither his jumper nor LaVine’s (who shot .397) look broken. Like most rookies, they need to adjust to the speed of the game, the length of the 3-point line and hundred other little things.
They both seem to feel pretty secure in their self-assessments after their first taste of quasi-NBA action.
“I’m a very confident person and I always hold myself to high standards,” said LaVine after the Wolves final game, a 97-78 pantsing of the Pelicans. “You know, there’s a lot of doubters on me and I always like changing people’s minds. You know, ‘Am I NBA ready?’ and things like that.”
LaVine’s tack of “prove the haters wrong” is a time-tested one, a solid choice for a rookie and one that works pretty well as he continues to navigate the fallout from his less-than-ideal word choice after being picked by the Wolves. He went on to tick off all the right things to work on and/or show in Summer League.
“Show people that I can play point guard, run the team, knock down shots, play good defense and help the team win. I know we didn’t win many games, but we competed and that’s the main thing coming out here: getting a feel for the game and competing.”
Summer League might be wearing me down to a nubbin, but LaVine was very positive about the experience. “This is one of the coolest things,” he said. “I feel like I’m going to be in it next year as well and it’s really enjoyable. It’s good for the fans and there’s a lot of excitement getting out there with your team.”
He also continued to flash some considerable charm when I asked him about how he’s enjoyed Las Vegas outside of the basketball so far. “Hey I’m 19: there ain’t much for a 19 year old to do in Vegas. But I kick it in my hotel. Me and my whole family went bowling. I beat my little sister and my dad in bowling — no, wait: my dad beat me. I’m not very good.”
Glenn of House Robinson, Third of His Name, King of the And-ones and the Second Round was as steady in talking about his game as he was on the court, where he neither over- nor underwhelmed but instead did chunks of good stuff here and there. Basically, perfectly whelmed.
On the broadcast of the Wolves’ first Summer League game, Mateen Cleaves commented that he thought Robinson’s game might actually work better in the NBA than in college and I think Robinson’s Summer League performance showed flashes of this. He’s athletic and a capable finisher, but not an overwhelming physical force at the college level the way, say, Derrick Williams was. Williams’ physicality hasn’t translated so far at the NBA level, but Robinson’s — which is more reliant on opportunism at the rim — could, especially if he gets his 3-point shot sorted out enough to make people bite on it.
“On the court with a point guard like Zach or with Ricky Rubio, I love penetrating and reading other players,” he said. “I think it’ll be fun. I think my game definitely fits the NBA style.”
Most heartwarmingly, he said he was a big fan of NBA 2K and when I asked him about which teams he uses, he said, “Man, now I just play with the Timberwolves.” There’s something so endearingly sweet about a guy getting drafted and then playing with the team who drafted him before he’s even hit the court with them.
Of course, this Wolves Summer League team had to endure the swirl of rumors and jokes (many of them by me) about whether Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett were going to suit up for them in Vegas. There’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the roster, but that’s nothing new at this point in the year. Last year, the Wolves player who looked the best coming out of Summer League was center Chris Johnson, who was waived before the season started.
The one thing you can count on is A LOT of Glengarry Glen Ross jokes in recaps this season.
“Your name’s LaVine? You call yourself a salesman you sonofabitch?”
— Steve McPherson (@steventurous) July 19, 2014
— Ryan Lezer (@RyanLezer) July 19, 2014
These are the new leads. These are the Glengarry Glenn Robinson III leads. And to you they are gold. And you don’t get them.
— Steve McPherson (@steventurous) July 19, 2014