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.
- 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.
- 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?