Archives For NBA Summer League

Wolves Summer League

Las Vegas Summer League basketball begins this Friday and I will be in Vegas for the entire time this goes on.

That may sound like a long time to be in Las Vegas to many of you. You probably feel that way because it is a very long time to be in Vegas. But during that time, I’ll be taking in the finest basketball that the summer has to offer. Your Minnesota Timberwolves will be there as well. Today, the Wolves announced their summer league roster and there are plenty of reasons to keep an eye on what happens on the court in Vegas over next week.

Here’s the roster:  Continue Reading…

Final two games of the Wolves’ Summer League ended in wins, giving the Wolves a 4-1 record for the summer and a berth into the Las Vegas playoffs. Wait, they don’t have Summer League playoffs? The wins aren’t so important as the quality of play from the guys on the roster are. The two players everyone seems to care the most about are Derrick Williams and Wes Johnson so let’s start with them.

Derrick Williams

  • Williams’ play in the last two games wasn’t as promising as his play in games two and three, but there was still some good stuff to extract from Game 4 against the D-League Select Team. Derrick kept getting to the free throw line all week. In fact, he shot 56 free throws in five games during this stretch of games. Those are point-shaving by a referee totals. Williams was aggressive, for the most part, all week and wasn’t floating and settling like we saw for much of his rookie campaign. He may not have put up dominating statistics but he found a way to set the tone for his team quite often by getting to the charity stripe so much.
  • Game 5 was the big disappointment of the week for Derrick. He shot just 1/10 and didn’t really try to be the aggressor. That could have just been a case of Summer League senioritis. Maybe that just put him in the mindset of “I just want to get out of here” or maybe he just had a bad game and reverted to poor habits. Some people will freak out about it, but you shouldn’t. I think you can tell he just wanted the game to be over, based on the rebounding totals. He didn’t attack the glass at all in the final game. He had just one offensive rebound and zero defensive rebounds in 21 minutes.
  • Early in the week, he talked about wanting to showcase some passing ability and try to get his teammates involved. I think he kind of accomplished that in relative terms. During the season, he had just 0.6 assists per game, which is what happens when you’re just floating and taking bad jumpers. When we saw him in attack mode for the Summer League, he definitely tried to get more shots for his teammates. He averaged 1.8 assists per game in the five games, but the natural instincts for playmaking didn’t seem to be there. I think we saw much more playmaking ability for others by Wes Johnson than by Derrick.
  • I was disappointed in his defense for the week. I didn’t think he showed a real tenacity on defense and if that carries over to the regular season, it could affect him getting consistent minutes. It’s not even necessarily that Derrick has to be good. He just has to show effort and I’m not sure he did that this week.
  • I think it’s safe to say that when Derrick shows aggression in all aspects of his game, he’s a player you can see growing in Adelman’s system. When he’s a ball-stopper and a guy that seems unsure of what to do, he looks like a guy you want to ship out for high value. Personally, I liked the attempted change in mentality during the week.

Wes Johnson

  • This is the part of the summer in which I try to talk myself out of talking myself into believing Wes Johnson has a good season, relatively speaking.
  • I talked to Wes after his 28-point explosion against the D-League Select Team, and he talked about the differences between last year and how he was playing now. Obviously, you can just point to the talent of player opposing him and say that’s the reason. However, it seemed more like he played a different game, rather than just took advantage of worse players. Here’s what he had to say:
    On his improved play from the end of his second game in Vegas and the 28-point game, “I’ve just been relaxed. I think that’s the main goal for me coming into this is to relax more. I think the previous season I was a little tense and they were throwing a lot of stuff at me. I got away from being myself. So me coming out to Summer League is establishing myself back to the player I was, and I’ve been doing that so far.”
    On confidence going into next season with a year of Adelman’s system under his belt, “I would think this will be the first solid year I have. When I came into my rookie year, I got hurt and didn’t get to play in Summer League. The lockout shortened season with no training camp. This year is like my rookie year all over again.”
    –  On what he meant by the coaching staff throwing a lot at him last year, “It was the system. It was a lot of defensive stuff they wanted me to do. They wanted me to be a defensive stopper on the team. So I was really focused in and geared toward that. And you know, it’s the offensive side of the game too. I got away from that. So me coming in here is to help me get my stroke back.”
    On the passing ability he showed during the Summer League, “I feel comfortable with it a lot. It’s me out there playing a game, just playing basketball. I think if I get to go out there, relax and play, then everything will take care of itself.”
  • Now, you can take these comments with a grain of salt all you want, but part of me believes the sincerity with which he said them. He wasn’t ducking his poor play but he wasn’t feeling like he couldn’t improve. Granted, I don’t think he “justifies” being selected over guys like DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, Paul George, and any other players who have had early success. But I also think it’s unlikely he plays as poorly next season as he did last season. If he’s showing a much more comfortable demeanor on the court and it allows him to relax and make plays, he could be a pretty decent backup wing player.
  • The key thing I saw from Wes, outside of his passing ability which looked like a nice addition to his game, was the comfort with which he took his shots. Last year, there were hitches in his shot and hesitations in his decisions. You could tell he had very little confidence. This year? Who knows? Maybe he’ll go from a bad shooter to a decent shooter. Maybe he’ll think about putting the ball on the ground more like he promised on Media Day in 2011.
  • Again, I can’t stress enough that I’m not advocating for Wes Johnson having a breakout year. I just don’t think he’ll be as bad as last year. IF he actually ends up being more comfortable with his basketball surroundings, I think we won’t mind him being in the rotation. Or perhaps, he could have another terrible season. Regardless, it seems like he’s in the right mindset right now.
  • And hey, he shot 16 free throws in four games. That’s nearly half of his 34 attempts in 65 games last year. Progress?

Other key players from Summer League

  • Robbie Hummel – I love his shooting stroke and think he could be a fantastic player in the corner. Kind of like a small forward version of Steve Novak or maybe a less athletic James Jones. But his defense looked really bad for most of the week. He was active and kept some rebounding chances alive for the Wolves, but he looks like he’s playing on ice when he’s matched up with a quicker player.
  • Mike Harris – Harris had a really good week overall and showed he belongs on somebody’s depth chart. He has great touch around the basket, a solid jumper and he’s physical. His big problem is he’s already 29 and he’s also a 6’6″ power forward. At worst, he’s a guy you want challenging your rotation guys in practice.
  • Kammron Taylor – Kam showed a really smooth shooting stroke and did a decent job of running the “offense.” I think he needs more time in the D-League, but it would shock me if he became the third point guard on a team in a couple years.
  • Coby Karl – This guy is a professional basketball player. I know he’s bounced around and hasn’t been in the NBA since 2010, but he can set guys up, knock down shots, and shows grittiness in the backcourt. Wouldn’t mind him getting a camp invite from the Wolves.
  • Luke Sikma – I was impressed with Luke the last two games of the Summer League. Seemed like he realized he is bigger than a lot of guys and was willing to throw his body around inside to make things happen. He grabbed key rebounds on both ends and showed some ferocity down around the basket. A year or two in the D-League could help him figure out how to become an NBA power forward/center.
  • Lior Eliyahu – Everything Noam Schiller has ever told me about Lior showed out in Summer League. He’s a very good athlete that has almost no basketball skills. He’s not an NBA guy.
  • Paulo Prestes – I don’t really see how this guy can be a rotation player in the NBA. He’s very big and does a good job of keeping rebounding chances alive. But he’s incredibly slow defensively and brings the ball down too much on offense. He seems like a liability. He could stand to get into better shape, and if that happens, then maybe he’ll be quick enough for this league.
  • Corey Fisher – I had an irrational fascination with his game when he was at Villanova. Now that I’ve seen him in person, he looks like a guy that stopped taking his game seriously. He’s out of shape and incredibly slow for a guard. You can tell he still has an incredible amount of skill. His jumper is really solid and he created space pretty well to get it off. But he has to get quicker to make the league.
  • Zabian Dowdell – He didn’t shoot the ball well at all, but I loved his tenacity on defense. He’s very opportunistic and finds a way to contribute by moving the ball. Seemed like he got a lot of hockey assists during the week. He’s another guy that’s definitely an NBA player who just needs to latch on with the right training camp roster.

That’s all I’ve got with the happening-ons with Las Vegas Summer League. Did anybody leave lasting impressions on you?

Photo by Werner Kunz

Much like Las Vegas itself, with its miles of ersatz culture, its endless, eerie replicas and synecdoches, Monday’s Wolves-Spurs game looked strangely familiar. The Wolves hit only 36.5% of their shots (and 33.3% of their threes). Their opponent, the Spurs, hit over 50% of theirs. The Wolves look ragged and confused on both sides of the ball. They lose by 21. I’m pretty sure we’ve been here before.

Happily, this was not some disheartening, mid-February grinder. This was the summer league, itself a strange, brightly lit but dishevelled version of the NBA itself, in which nobody really cares who wins and loses (although I don’t think that single-digits are too much to ask) and ragged confusion is an essential facet of the game.

Now, this game was slightly less wild and free than your average summer match-up (apparently the Spurs corporate culture filters all the way down); there were some token efforts by both teams to run an actual offense and move the ball. Still, it was easy to tell what was foremost in most players’ minds: getting up shots. A pageant of adventurous dribbling, long jumpers and forced passes ensued. Viva Las Vegas. Here are some observations:

  • Wesley Johnson did all of the things we were told he would do: he got way up in the air; he came off a screen to hit a towering, perfectly balanced catch-and-shoot three; he played active, spidery defense, blocking shots, deflecting passes and creating turnovers with well-timed traps. So far so good. But, as promised, he also looked a little shaky with the ball in his hands, at one point allowing it to sort of drift from his fingers and languidly float out of bounds in the open floor. Then his hamstring tightened up and he left the game. As Kevin Arnovitz points out at Truehoop, Wes made little effort to force the action–and this was a good thing since nearly everyone else on the court was doing more than enough forcing. Arnovitz puts it well:

Johnson didn’t dominate the game by any stretch of the imagination. But he also didn’t waste possessions, which is a bad habit most summer-league guards and wings have a hard time kicking…Johnson is the rare summer league player who will look better playing with and against the best players in the world rather than trying to dominate the rookies and fringe prospects that populate NBA Summer League rosters. When Johnson’s teammates start looking for him and setting him up with opportunities to finish plays, he’ll shine as an offensive player while making an impact on the defensive end.

  • Lazar Hayward looked a little bit small and a little bit slow. But, while other players were clearly playing a notch or two faster than their skills could manage, Hayward stayed pretty chill, showing some Paul Pierce/James Harden-esque craft and a deceptively quick release. And while its hard to tell whether his splay-footed shooting style is a harmless quirk or a sign of poor balance, it does seem like Hayward has developed some useful old-man tricks to overcompensate for his lack of more obvious gifts.
  • Jeremy Pargo seemed pretty overwhelmed. He over-dribbled; he missed open teammates; he took ill-advised shots. Jonny Flynn can tell you: this is what it looks like when a guy who is used to being the most skilled and athletic player on the floor finally finds himself matched up against his peers.
  • It has been wondered aloud just what prevents Patrick O’Bryant, despite his size, length, and touch, from sticking in the NBA. Apparently its because he has terrible footwork and seriously limited ball skills. He did fight for some boards and play relatively thoughtful defense, but when O’Bryant had the ball in his hands he looked lost in the wilderness.
  • Holy smokes, Wayne Ellington had a terrible game. He seemed to have made up his mind, as the team’s presiding veteran, to dominate with his scoring and playmaking. But instead he just ended missing open shots and forcing the ball where it wouldn’t go. I would imagine we’ll see a more measured, poised Ellington in the coming days.
  • Speaking of trying too hard, announcers Rick Kamla and Steve Smith were working manfully to affect a bro-ey camaraderie.  Smith is a likeable, knowledgeable guy but his emulation of Mark Jackson’s wisely macho proclamations–“you know the rule: hand down, man down!”; “Mama, there goes that man!”–has got to go.  And Kamla is kind of unbearable. That Stu Scott-ish combination of outdated playground slang and classic broadcaster over-annunciation almost always just ends up sounding like someone’s dorky little brother trying to hang with the cool kids. Can’t take it.

David Roth is a tremendously fine writer and a good friend of this blog (I promise, this is not a joke about David Lee or his spandexed namesake–sometimes real life is more complicated and Paul Auster-y than I want to think about). Though he lives in New York, he grew up in idyllic suburban New Jersey and loves the Nets with a resigned nausea that we Wolves fans can’t even begin to imagine (give us another 20 years of this, though…). Like me, he appreciates the Summer League for its combination of unstructured, all-star game fabulosity, absurdly disjointed amateurishness (it takes 10 fouls to foul out!), and feverish, livelihood-on-the-line competition.

He’s also tuned in to the sad way that athletes who were once iconized for their physical talents can be sloughed off once the league and fans and the pundits agree that their lives as commodities have been used up. (As you may know, this is something that bothers me too; I was recently made awfully uneasy by the chilly, corporate way in which the Wolves cast off Ryan Gomes). As a Nets fan, Mr. Roth has carefully considered the sadly illustrative case of Shawne Williams, a basketball savant who is not very good at making decisions that do not involve dunking.

The piece is terrific and you should read the whole thing because it discusses not just Williams’s significant role in his own demise but also the rather thoughtless, machine-like way that we create narratives for elite athletes (although I think I’m supposed to warn you that its got some swears).  Also: the basketball card business, Darius Miles, Omar from the Wire and, of course, Ndudi Ebi :

The sort of sports fans who wonder what happens to athletes once they stop being the most special people in the room know how this goes. Which is to say that we were about to hear the last from Shawne Williams. When the promise is dispelled, the narrative trail goes dead. There are exceptions to that, if the failure to deliver on past promise is dramatic enough — here, for instance, is what Ed O’Bannon is up to these days — but, for the most part, ‘Where Are They Now’ is a rhetorical question.

Of course, the person who is also the player goes on doing whatever it was he did before the world started and stopped caring. He goes to jail for associating with the sort of visionaries who see a way to get high in a bottle of Triaminic or he goes to Europe and makes a bunch of money and learns a foreign language. Maybe he signs with a pro team in Iran, makes some money, writes a blog, and grows up into an interesting man or maybe he opens a barber shop or coaches or finds God or loses God or looks back and laughs or ferments in all that curdled narcissism into the meanest and most righteous sort of depressive. But all that happens off-camera, and to a certain extent the moral to Shawne Williams’ story, and that story’s ending, are already written, regardless of how the middle chapters fill in. The ending is yours to pick, not his: he’s another knucklehead not ready for the spotlight or unready for failure or an incautiously pampered kid who has never previously been required not to be lazy or a nice kid surrounded by bad influences or a helpless/hapless product of a rotten environment or whatever you choose.

Photo by Alcino

Friends, the Wolves’ stint at the Las Vegas NBA Summer League begins next Monday (the schedule is right here) and our Puppies have released their roster.  And although, despite my promises, Ryan Hollins’s aggro spazzitude will not be in attendance, it should be pretty weird anyway.  Here it is:

5 Mo Charlo F 6-7 210 07/22/83 Nevada R
19 Wayne Ellington G 6-4 200 11/29/87 North Carolina 1
10 Jonny Flynn G 6-0 185 02/06/89 Syracuse 1
32 Lazar Hayward F 6-6 225 11/26/86 Marquette R
24 Damian Johnson* F 6-7 205 03/09/87 Minnesota R
4 Wesley Johnson F 6-7 205 07/11/87 Syracuse 1
13 Patrick O’Bryant C 7-0 260 06/20/86 Bradley 4
12 Jeremy Pargo G 6-2 220 03/07/86 Gonzaga R
8 Cedric Simmons F 6-9 235 01/03/86 North Carolina State 3
6 Jamar Smith G 6-3 190 04/07/87 Southern Indiana R
34 Greg Stiemsma C 6-11 260 09/26/85 Wisconsin R
33 Deon Thompson F 6-9 245 09/16/88 North Carolina R
20 Lawrence Westbrook* G 6-0 195 01/17/88 Minnesota R

*Competing for the final two roster spots

For me, the most intriguing player, assuming he makes the team, is the U of Minnesota’s Damian Johnson. Johnson is a long-limbed, sad-faced kid who made up for his lack of strength and offensive skill by defending like a total maniac. He’s probably not big or athletic or skilled enough to play in the Association but I always enjoyed watching him in college; I would guess that he’ll bring some serious energy to the floor in Vegas. Let’s see what happens.