Kudos to the NBA. They’ve NBA done a fantastic job of finally making the summer league watchable. Higher production values on NBATV, live streaming, and a tournament based format that gives players something to play for have changed the summer league from an after season yawn to a must watch for hard core NBA junkies. This is where to tune in to see those end of the roster guys who might have more game than you thought, and the place to go to see future stars rounding their game into form. Also, all these guys seem like they’re in fantastic shape. Maybe it’s the unis, but everyone seems chiseled and fast. Another plus, with the majority of these guys playing for a roster spot, there’s no discernible room for knuckleheads. Furthermore, the NBA has given fans and the press an unbelievable amount of access to teams and players. For example, see Robert’s fantastic pieces from earlier this week. If the Las Vegas summer league keeps coming off this well, look for every team in the league to participate in the coming years.
Instead of a quarter by quarter recap, lets look at the players, most specifically the ones who have a chance to make an NBA roster.
Keni Kadji: The 25 year old Hurricanes senior was undrafted, but he definitely has NBA skills. Kadji had a couple nice putback baskets, and seemed more active on the boards this game with three o-boards and two d-boards. He’ll never be a double digit rebounder, but he could get to the league by being a stretch four/five who can block some shots. Unafraid to shoot, Kadji was aggressive and shot 2-5 from three. While he didn’t record any blocks, he played decent defense and finished the game with 10 points. He was the second best Cavalier this game.
Carrick Felix: Count me in on the Carrick Felix bandwagon. The guy runs the floor like a gazelle. He notched several layups in transition by simply outrunning everyone down the court. He also rebounds very well, possessing good length, hops, and wingspan. If he can master a corner three? Watch out. For as much upside as Felix has, he blew two lefty layups this game, and wasn’t very comfortable handling the ball in the open court. He was also 4-10, 0-2 behind the line, and finished the game with 9 points. My bet: Felix makes the Cavs squad over Kevin Jones.
Tyler Zeller: Awful game by Tyler. Aron Baynes of the Spurs, absolutely kicked his butt, outrebounding Tyler 10 to five, and outscoring him 13 to one. Two words that describe Zeller this game? Not Agressive… One word? Lazy. 0-3 from the floor, Tyler simply wasn’t looking for his shot, cutting to the basket, defending, boxing out, or rebounding. He did have one block, and drew a key charge on Dexter Pittman late in the game, but also added three turnovers. Color me not impressed.
Aron Baynes: The Washington State/Australian big man is averaging around 11 points and 10 boards a game in summer league with 1.7 blocks and 4.7 fouls. He looked like a guy who could get a team a lot of extra possessions with his active hands and aggressiveness on both ends of the floor. After matriculating in 2008, and spending the last five years in Europe, Baynes left the Slovenian league to join the Spurs this summer. Draftexpress calls him the No. 1 rebounder in Europe, and notes that he fouls a lot. This is another intriguing prospect churned up by the machine that is the San Antonio Spurs front office.
Nando De Colo: Lots of turnovers, poor shooting… He seemed pretty overmatched. I’m betting he returns to Europe when his Spurs contract is up.
Dexter Pittman: Had a couple stretches this game where he dominated around the basket on defense and scored easily with activity and an efficient over the shoulder hook. Pittman had eight points, five boards, two blocks, three turnovers, and five fouls in 12:28 . Those last two numbers are probably the key to why he hasn’t stuck anywhere in the association.
Deshaun Thomas: He had a nice floor game through the first three and a half quarters, with six boards and two assists in 30 minutes, but he struggled from the field, shooting 1-12. He looked like a guy who could play, but just had a bad shooting game. Late in the game, though, Thomas had two fouls about 22+ feet from the basket when he was playing his man too tightly. This put the Cavs in the bonus way too early. Deshaun giveth, and Deshaun taketh away.
Jermaine Taylor: The Cavs guard had 11 points on 2-5 shooting (both threes) and 5-6 from the line. His three point shooting has been solid in summer league, but I can’t remember a single thing he did this game.
Marcus Denmon: The Spurs leading scorer was the only thing keeping the Spurs in this game. 7-14 from the floor and 5-10 from behind the arc: Denmon was a sharpshooter extraordinaire. Of course he had a lot of wide open looks with Dellavedova guarding him. Denmon might be able to catapult himself into a camp invite with another strong game, but he’s an NBA long shot.
Dion Waiters: There was Dion, and there was everyone else this game. He was far and away the best player on the floor. Isaiah Thomas noted early that Waiters doesn’t seem to want to “dominate” in the summer league games, and I agreed. As Robert mentioned the other day, Dion seemed to be in Vegas to tinker with his shooting and ball handling. Of course I wrote that sentence when it was 22-18, Spurs in the first quarter. After that, The Cavs had a hard time scoring early in the second, when Waiters wasn’t on the floor. As if on cue, Dion came off the bench, strung out a pick and roll, forced a switch, and then took big man Baynes baseline for a pretty little floater at the rim. Out of a timeout, he canned a long two on the left wing. Then he rattled off about three more buckets around the basket with nifty spin moves as he began to dial it in, and then crossed over left to set himself up for a wide open long two. Then Dion drove, picked up a blocking foul on Deshaun Thomas, fell hard, and limped to the bench. Yeah, it’s safe to say that this will be Dion’s last summer league. Thankfully, he came back in and canned the freethrows. Waiters continued his shooting barrage and finished with 15 points for the half.
Then in the second, Dion continued his aggressive play: a nasty Kobe-esque reverse layup on the break, his patented pullup out of the pick and roll where he fades to the left baseline (I swear he never misses this shot), a rip through j off the left block, a jumper off a screen curl from the left elbow, and many trips to the basket where he hit little floaters off that nasty spin move he has. He dominated, and grabbed six boards and dished a dime with four turnovers, not to mention more than a couple Kobe assists. My all time favorite announcer, Isaiah Thomas, was riding Dion Pretty hard though for not passing to his teammates at impossible angles, and noted, “Can Dion waiters be like a John Paxson? That can move without the basketball, free himself up off the screen, get open, and knock down the shot?” Oy. I’ve missed Isaiah. Dion finished the game with 27 points on 12-23 shooting, and was an unPaxonlike 0-4 from deep.
Crunch Time: Dion’s decisions with the game on the line weren’t the best, though. First, immediately after Deshaun Thomas put the Cavs in the bonus with 2:20 left, Dion Jacked up a very stupid pull up three point brick with 8 seconds left on the clock. When the Cavs lead melted, and the Spurs tied the game, Dellavedova hit a cutting Justin Harper who converted a layup for an and-1 to give the Cavs three points: the play of the game. After a Spurs miss, The Cavs went iso with Waiters at the left wing. Dion got fouled on a drive, in a play that looked an awful lot like last year. Dion’s still dipping his left shoulder on free throws, causing some misses (he went 1-2 on the trip). The Spurs scored, and the next time down, with the Cavs up three, the Spurs doubled Dion hard on the isolation. He didn’t move the ball, and was forced to launch a flailing three as the clock ran down. Byron Scott was seen in the stands with a walkie talkie.
Fortunately on the Spurs inbound, Tyler left his man to close out hard on Marcus Denmon who airballed a three, and then Dellavedova grabbed the board and passed ahead to a streaking Felix who closed out the game with an and-1 soft slam.
Dellavedova et. al: The Aussie point guard was 0-4 and 0-2 at the line with four dimes, one turnover and awful defense on Marcus Denmon. He and most of the rest of the Cavs were utterly forgettable.
Tristan Thompson: TT kicked off the third quarter with Vince Cellini and Isaiah Thomas on the sideline. Tristan talked about taking Anthony Bennett under his wing, playing defense for Mike Brown, and Toronto basketball. Man, is that kid engaging. If there’s a better spoken young player in the league, I haven’t heard him.