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.