Summer League is just one big crap shoot, if you think about it, making Vegas the perfect fit to host the event each year. Players from all different backgrounds gather in the City of Sin to dodge the limelight and focus on the task at hand: Proving your NBA worthiness.
It’s not easy, I’m sure. Being a Vegas visitor just six months ago, it’s nearly impossible to ignore all the glitz and glam that is the Strip — Even though that was my prerogative. But for players that already had a taste of the high life that the NBA offers, staying focused on improving your game is a troubling and difficult task. There’s no hiding Derrick Williams’, a recent 21-year-old turnee, Instagrams of him photobombing with bitties in the club. It’s all in good fun, right? Maybe. But maybe not considering all eyes were on him, urging for a change in his approach to the game, from start to end.
I’m not scolding or pointing the finger at anybody. I actually think Williams had a strong showing in Vegas, but I’m merely suggesting that Vegas is an interesting spot to plop these in-between pros and recent college grads as they fight for NBA glory, or even just a shot at making a team. Vegas has the ability to sift out those that are trying their hardest and those that may have other matters on their mind.
Musings aside, I digress. It’s time to review what we saw or didn’t see in Vegas.
Considering he was the most intriguing prospect on the Wolves’ squad, let’s begin with him. Instagrams and partying aside, Williams had himself a Summer League. That’s all. Not great, not bad.
Williams reported to the Wolves’ camp about 15 pounds lighter. I really wonder whether the weight loss was his, Adelman’s or Kahn’s suggestion. No matter who’s idea it was, it was apparent they were looking for a leaner, conditioned and hopefully quicker Williams with the hopes that he could fill the 3 spot the Wolves so desperately need to fill. The weight loss certainly attributed to a cut and faster Williams but was it enough to consider him a 3?
The debate will go on and on. My opinion? Sure, why not. It’s all going to depend on how well Adelman can integrate Williams into the offense and how well Williams can make decisions within the given sets. Oh, and don’t forget how well he can defend other 3’s. Adelman’s screen-heavy offense could bode well for Williams but it really lies on whether he can think fast on the court. Last season, we didn’t see that. But with a little more chemistry with his teammates, he may be able to succeed on this team after all. He set out in Vegas to make attacking the hoop and drawing contact a big priority, and that he did. But his jump shot is still pretty ugly and his dribble-drives are oft-wild and always result in a foul, in his favor or against. There are plenty of kinks that need ironing but you can visibly see the talent there. It just becomes a matter of sprouting him in the right spot to capitalize on all that potential. And, yeah, I do see that happening in Minnesota.
Everyone seems surprised with Johnson’s Vegas outing. Not me. Like everyone, I’ve shared my frustrations over Johnson the past two seasons but I can honestly say that I’ve never waived the white flag. I’m hoping that those of you who did, can at least sail it at halfmast for just a little bit longer.
Before jumping into Johnson’s performance, I think it’s important to note how ignorant we can really be. We get too spoiled thinking top-5 picks will succeed right out of school but that’s not always the case. Johnson was the fourth overall pick in 2010. He came into a lousy franchise with lofty expectations that he couldn’t possibly fulfill. Of course, he struggled, and it mirrored over to 2011 due to the lack of a true offseason and the roster turnover — Johnson claims he’s a “chemistry” player. But with a full offseason under his belt and clear vision of what the team needs him to improve on, Johnson has set out and done just that.
Now, having said that, Johnson certainly turned up the heat in Vegas, leading all Wolves in scoring with 20.5 ppg. The jumper we all dreaded last season has a new spunk to it with actual rotation on the ball, and they were all falling in Vegas. He worked on adding some aggressiveness to his game too by utilizing a susceptible pump-fake to get the defender off his feet. Two hard dribbles later, he rose with a mid-range jumper that almost always went in. There were still pieces of his game that seemed skeptical like his overall ball-handling and attacking the rim but everything else seems to be settling in. There was an air of confidence above his head at all times, good shot or bad, it didn’t matter. With a spring in his step, Johnson could finally grow into the lottery talent he was expected to be.
I’m disappointed in Hummel’s performance. Maybe he was shaded behind Williams and Johnson but he actually never played alongside them too much. I do, however, know what he’s capable of and I think he knows what his niche is with the Wolves moving forward, and that’s to be a three-point specialist. I also hope he doesn’t get caught in that mold at the same time. There’s a fine line of of staying in your comfort zone (Three-point shooting) and going above and beyond the call of duty. I just hope Hummel doesn’t get too comfortable and pushes himself to get better in his rookie season.
Ahh, the Chris Rock of the NBA. Taylor did a great job of directing the starting five each game. He’s a solid pick and roll point guard with good speed. But the fact that he can’t use his left hand at the rim is alarming, and his passing skills are nowhere near that of Rubio or even Ridnour. Taylor has a future in the D-League and certainly abroad, just probably not with the Wolves due to the depth at the point guard position right now.
Fischer shoots way too much, even if he is a good shooter. He’s more of an undersized 2-guard than a true point. Fischer will likely be playing abroad again next season.
The Wolves came to Vegas with the best names on their roster, starting with Dowdell. Unfortunately, Dowdell didn’t do enough to put his name in lights. He won’t be at Wolves’ vet camp.
This one hurts me. I actually really like Buford and wish he got more playing time. In high Ohio State days, I saw him live multiple times and he reminded me of Harrison Barnes-lite. Obviously he’s not that good but there are aspects of his game that mirrored Barnes’. But because he didn’t see much time, Buford’s NBA future is in doubt.
The name train continues. Chang played 0 minutes unless you count the scrimmage against Denver. Just sad.
Karl is your true-blue coach’s kid. Learned from his father, George, Karl shows the basketball i.q. of someone who’s been around basketball his whole life (Duh). He’s just really, really smart. Thing is that he’s got game too. His three-pointer is solid and he has good court vision. If Wayne Ellington is on his way out, I’d love to see Karl get an invite to camp in the Fall. He could make the most of it.
Eliyahu was part of the Budinger trade coming from Houston. He really could’ve stayed in Houston for all I care. He doesn’t have much of an NBA future.
Easley didn’t see a whole lot of time but he has serious length. He’s 6’9″ and his wingspan is enormous. That’s all I got, though.
Another coach’s kid, Sikma had a fine Vegas outing. His gritty work in the paint says a lot about his character — and a little on how his dad probably coached him throughout his life. He’s a relentless force to be reckoned with and has a non-stop motor. With the Wolves needing some girth on the front line, maybe Sikma can get a shot.
Harris is one beefy dude. Like Sikma, he was tough to keep off the boards, and even had a team-high in points in the finale against Memphis (22 and 12). Sadly, Harris is much too small to do any damage against any NBA frontcourt.
Prestes was the starting center each game. He’s a wideload of mass, an immovable object in the post. He actually has some game to him too; he understands the game much better than a lot of big guys do (Think Hasheem Thabeet). But in the end, he’s still a big guy searching for his place in the world. I don’t see him making the roster this year or even next. The big fella has some work to do before that can happen.
Gary Johnson/Luke Nevill/Luke Sigma/Garrett Stutz:
Good luck next year.