Seeing as the first game of Las Vegas Summer League has yet to be televised due to tape delay, I thought I’d make a few quick points from what I watched in the Wolves-Mavs matchup this evening.
- If I had to name just one thing I learned from tonight, it’s this: Shabazz Muhammad gets buckets. This is exactly what we wanted to see from Muhammad, — who dropped 27 points on 10-24 shooting — not just putting up big points but doing it as a leader of the offense and not just some selfish ball-stop. What’s really impressive about Muhammad’s offensive game is that he’s very good at mixing up his moves and scoring from everywhere on the court. But even better, he’s constantly giving it his all even in the half-court offense, which includes attacking the offensive boards; he finished with seven tonight, 11 rebounds total. I don’t think anyone hustled more and moved as well as Muhammad did on offense, particularly without the ball. He’s a very good slasher, and if he’s playing alongside someone who can actually play the point, say Rubio, he’s going to thrive off those off-ball movements. There’s a valid reason that Flip Saunders chose him last season and it’s obviously his offensive prowess. But there’s also a valid reason that Rick Adelman didn’t play him much at all last season. Now’s his time to shine and play his way into the rotation and even past some of Adelman’s guys last year such as Corey Brewer and Chase Budinger. Whether he’ll be able to reach starter-status within the year remains to be seen but at the very least we saw first-hand just how threatening he can be on offense tonight.
- Mentioned a little bit about Muhammad being able to thrive by playing with a true point guard. Well, Zach LaVine, after just one Summer League game (Which is WAY too early to tell anything right now) is not going to become a true point guard. He’s a solid ball-handler but doesn’t have the knowledge or the leadership abilities to lead an offense, put guys in position, etc. Way too often he actually lagged in advancing the ball up the court, burning precious second off the clock. Once he was in position and the offensive sequence started to run, it was already too late. When that happened we saw Gorgui Dieng suffer the final consequences by catching the ball 18-feet from the basket — WAY out of position — and with just seconds remaining on the shot clock. That happened multiple times. Not much good came out of LaVine running the point but it’s obviously way too early to tell at this point. From what I could see in this game, though, is that LaVine is gifted in many ways and will become a very good player if he excels at just one thing. He did finish the game with 13 points on 5-12 shooting but had five turnovers and just two assists, which did include a sweet dime to Muhammad on a fast break. Anyways, playing the point guard role actually limits some of his abilities athletically because he’s too busy dribbling the ball and setting up the play. By playing him off the ball and running along the perimeter freely more often, he can get the ball in one-on-one situations that suit his game much better. From there he can take guys off the dribble and attack the hoop more vigorously. When he was playing point there was less of that going on and more passing out of the PnR. His decision-making will need some serious tuning but that will come with more experience. For now, it’s a clear assessment that this him playing the point — or major minutes within the rotation at all — is a definitive work in progress.
- As for the other rook, GRIII wasn’t overly impressive but that’s simply not his nature. At Michigan, he conscientiously took a backseat for the betterment of the Wolverines offense. He’s going to do a lot of that with Minnesota, largely because he won’t see extensive minutes for much of the season — or at least most likely won’t barring injury or trades. That doesn’t mean GRIII doesn’t have talent; in fact, he looks more seasoned and polished than LaVine at this stage. He’s a versatile defender, even though he’s not particularly great at staying in front of the ball but still very capable of becoming a solid team defender, who can defend three positions or so. On offense, however, there were some ticks I didn’t like to see. His jumpshot looks fine but, whether it’s nerves or what, he overextended on a couple shots, causing him to launch into things a tad much. Then, while in transition, he received the ball on a 2-on-1 break. Instead of rising up to challenge the only defender at the rim — which, with his athleticism, should be the automatic decision — he decided to pass the ball backwards into traffic to Muhammad. The lay up attempt was easily blocked and went the other way. You wonder if his selflessness is going to hurt him moving forward but I don’t think that will be the case. He’s a smart player, who just needs more time and experience to learn when he has to step up and make a play instead of forgoing his opportunity.
- Gorgui Dieng was solid for most of the game, finishing with yet another double-double (Gotta love that) of 12 points and 10 boards. That goes to say that his impressive stint towards the end of last season may not be a fluke after all. It may be tough to repeat if Nikola Pekovic can stay healthy but we’re going to see Dieng take another step forward this season. In fact, I actually expect Flip Saunders to play Pekovic and Dieng together in some lineups, especially if Love is traded before then. Anyways, the only moment that caught my attention in Dieng tonight was when the defense started to slack severely, leaving him all alone. For some reason, even as the team’s best interior defender, he definitely struggled. The Mavs spaced the Wolves defense out big time and used a barrage of plays to score on the Wolves. A lot of it was perimeter-oriented but they still had great success attacking the paint even with Dieng in it, which led to four personal fouls from the big man. From what I could see, Dieng struggled to help from the weakside and seemed to trap himself too often. He defends the PnR very nicely but when it comes to protecting the rim, he just wasn’t able to do that tonight. I think that’s more of a result of an incredibly poor team defensive effort from the Wolves in general but it’s something to look for in the next couple games.
- It’s probably no surprise that the most composed player for the Wolves was Alexey Shved. He’s coming into his third year in the league and still remains a huge question mark. Flashes of brilliance shine but fade very quickly. I love Shved’s game, personally, but he still lacks general strength to attack the paint like he tries. Anyways, he hit a couple shots from around the perimeter, which is very important to him for his confidence’s sake. You can tell that he gets bothered when he plays poorly and things just get worse from then on. So when he’s making shots and seeing positive numbers, you can see it in his confidence. One thing that shouldn’t be a surprise was his defensive effort. It was, how shall I say, NOT GOOD. But, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Guarding Ricky Ledo is not an easy task. He’s a perimeter threat, who actually pulled up for a few treys in transition. He was really good tonight, and part of the reason was his talent and the other was Shved’s saggy defense. Shved’s never going to be a defensive star, so this isn’t news. But, in Summer League, you’d hope he can limit his man next time out. For his sake, let’s hope it’s not Ledo again.
- The recurring theme for the entire Wolves was the pathetic defense. Everyone’s defense was below-average except for maybe LaVine, who actually showed how well he can move his feet and stay in front of his man. He can definitely defend both guard positions, leaving Rubio (If that’s the lineup) to defend the best guard and become a very pesty little backcourt duo. LaVine was very good at defending the PnR, very rarely getting lost in transition. I only counted a couple times where he was late on a switch but still recovered and wasn’t punished for it. That’s pretty solid when facing a guy like Gal Mekel at the point.
- Other than the five starters, the Wolves’ team is pretty bad. With maybe the exception of Kyrylo Fesenko, who wasn’t very good tonight, the Wolves’ bench isn’t worth a thing at this point. I was expecting a little more game from Jordan Morgan, perhaps, but he was a train wreck, getting lost on defense multiple times and also forgetting what he was supposed to be doing on offense. D.J. Kennedy got the most burn off the bench but didn’t provide anything useful. Markel Starks played backup duties at the point, and although he was solid, doesn’t seem like he has enough talent to make the team this season. Time will tell on that, so I’ll leave it at that.
There you have it for the first game of the Wolves in Summer League. Next game is tomorrow night against the Wizards at 10:30 pm EST.