Las Vegas Summer League: 10 snapshot evaluations from the first two days
LAS VEGAS — Anyone who has attended Summer League can attest to the event’s ability to warp time. Watching four consecutive games back-to-back, day after day, simultaneously feels like a sprint and a marathon.
Eleven games are in the books after two days of play, and all five 2013 lottery picks have had the chance to get their feet wet. On Saturday, The Point Forward took a longer look at Bobcats forward Cody Zeller, the No. 4 pick in last month’s draft. Below, a round-up of first impressions from notable picks and standouts from games played on Friday and Saturday.
Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors
Valanciunas, a top-five pick in 2011, is an easily forgotten man because he delayed his NBA arrival for a year and then missed 20 games last season. Here, he was the MVP of the first 48 hours, the only big man in the building who could be thrown into the same paragraph as Pistons center Andre Drummond, who had his way with the competition down in the Orlando Summer League.
Valanciunas finished with 23 points and seven rebounds in a loss to the Heat, doing much of his damage early on before Miami committed extra defenders to stop him. Most compelling was his comfort and command of the ball in face-up situations. Ready to uncork a pump fake and drive past the defender, Valanciunas didn’t accidentally stumble into his 8-for-10 shooting night. He found ways to get to the rim repeatedly and he positioned himself well to accept passes in the basket area. On the other end, he made his presence known. He seemed to fatigue a bit as the game went on but his energy level going up and down the court in an open setting like this was impressive for a man with his size. Still just 21, he looks primed for a headline-generating breakout in the near future.
CJ McCollum, Blazers
The No. 10 pick in last month’s draft turned in the best performance so far from a lottery pick here in Vegas. He scored 22 points and dished four assists in a loss to the Suns, turning in a 15-point first half that saw him score in multiple ways from various spots on the court. McCollum is a skilled ball-handler and shot-creator in one-on-one situations, but he didn’t adapt well to Phoenix’s pressure defense that came in waves during the second half. His teammates — who collectively shot 30-for-69 — didn’t do him any favors either.
The four-year guard out of Lehigh looks best suited as a scoring two guard in a reserve role this year although he will likely share the court with Damian Lillard for stretches. His lack of size will be a problem on the defensive end against NBA two guards and there’s no good way to hide him in small ball orientations. His scoring ability and shooting stroke, though, guarantee he will play meaningful minutes from Day One.
Ben McLemore, Kings
Well, I guess you can’t call a guy “passive” if he shoots 23 times in his first Summer League game, right? The No. 7 pick in the 2013 draft put up an eye-popping box score line: 11 points, 4-for-23 shooting, 1-for-11 from deep, and zero assists. Critics who felt he disappeared too often in college definitely couldn’t say that about his debut in Vegas. His presence was felt, for better and (mostly) worse, in Sacramento’s down-to-the-wire loss to Dallas.
There’s no doubt who will lead the NBA in aesthetically-pleasing missed field goals. McLemore’s shooting stroke is intoxicating, and that held true on a night where he consistently came up well short. He needed to put the ball on the deck much more frequently; if he’s not yet comfortable with that aspect of his game, then there’s no time to waste in getting more comfortable. Using his physical tools and the threat of his jumpshot to get to the free-throw line will be a key determining factor in his career arc.
It will be interesting to see whether he’s able to put his slow start behind him as he goes forward the rest of the week.
Otto Porter, Wizards
If there was one 2013 lottery guy whose game probably wasn’t going to flourish in Vegas, it was bound to be Porter. McCollum, McLemore, Shabazz Muhammad and even Zeller entered Summer League with expectations of major production; how does a polished, intelligent player whose reputation revolves around his ability to do the little things stand out in a fairly selfish and cutthroat setting?
The first-glance answer to that question: he doesn’t. Porter finished with seven points (on 3-for-13 shooting) and six rebounds in a loss to the Warriors. Really, he got eaten up by Kent Bazemore, who got into his body on the defensive end and generally kept him from finding a comfort zone. Porter wasn’t able to match that intensity level or bring sufficient physicality in response. The immediate impression is that a full-time starting role is probably not a realistic expectation in 2013-14, especially with Martell Webster back in the fold. That said, there’s no reason to rush to judgment quite yet.
Austin Rivers, Pelicans
Frankly, it was nice to see Rivers find some success on a basketball court. It feels like it’s been a long time. Rivers had a game-high 24 points against the Knicks, and he consistently found paths to the basket off the dribble. His rookie year numbers weren’t pretty, there’s no sugarcoating that, but he’s setting up nicely for a more manageable second season. With Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans all in the fold, Rivers’ role will necessarily be narrowed and the weight on his shoulder lessened, and that should inspire some confidence that was lacking for much of last year. The ball-handling and scorer’s instincts that made him a highly-touted high school prospect and a 2012 lottery pick are still there.