The Cavaliers remain unbeaten in Las Vegas Summer League play as they defeated a Sixers team featuring Nerlens Noel and 2014 Draft pick, KJ McDaniels. The Cavs, led by Mathew Dellavedova, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins took a lead on the game’s fourth possession that they wouldn’t relinquish. After a relatively even first quarter, Cleveland closed the the first half on a 10-2 run. The Sixers were limited to nine for 29 shooting at the break. The lead swelled to as many as 21 before the Sixers’ full court pressure ignited a 16-2 run spanning the end of the third quarter to the middle of the fourth. But some steady play and a parade of free throws pushed the Cavs to a 3-0 Summer League record.
Heading into the contest there were many questions: How would Wiggins match-up against KJ McDaniels? Will Grant Hill’s pleasant baritone sustain us in his new color commentator role? But really most Cavs fans were focused on Noel vs Bennett and the 2013 Draft debate.
Nerlens Noel started the game by winning the tip from Bennett. On the first possession, the lanky PF/C flashed to the middle, took some contact, kept his pivot foot and dropped a nifty left-handed hook. Cavs fans sighed in unison. On the Sixers’ next trip down the floor, Jack Cooley overplayed the pass and Noel easily drove left for the layup and the foul. It wasn’t looking good until you noticed who was guarding him. Noel had some nice moments and a strong first quarter, but most of his highlights came against Cooley and Kirk. He took advantage of the quickness difference when he could, but it wasn’t a dominating performance. Of his four blocks, two were against flatfooted layup attempts that might as well have been volleyball tosses. The much replayed block against Bennett was more a function of Tony’s uncalled travel. You’re right. That doesn’t really help the argument. Noel’s best play came in the third quarter when he stole the ball and got it back on the break for a dunk against a lurking Wiggins. The kid is good, but he wasn’t the most talented player in the dual.
Anthony Bennett continues to play like he believes he is the best player on the floor. Tony didn’t have a dominating stat line with only 14 points and four rebounds, but his swagger was set on high. Early in the first quarter, AB caught on the left wing, dribbled into post position and spun for a turn around jumper. The entire sequence screamed of confidence. My second favorite play of the game ended with a monster jam after Tony buried his man in the post, Joe Harris passed up to Wiggins, who dropped an extended high/low dime over top of the defense. A beautiful sequence all around. Bennett’s dunk on Noel in transition during the 10-2 run to close the first half was equally impressive. Too frequently, AB decides to shoot before he catches the ball, but that increased confidence is going to help in the long run. His flashes are scary good.
Andrew Wiggins made the entire arena rock with 2:56 left in the second quarter with this jam. He caught the ball on right side, Bennett slipped the screen to pop, which lead Wiggins to spin through the baseline double team before elevating for a ferocious two-handed dunk. Nerlens Noel’s help defense was on time to get into the poster. ‘Drew seemed to pause at the apex of his jump for the cameraman’s flash. He is very kind. Immediately following the dunk, Wiggins poked the ball out of bounds in transition. On the same possession, he helped down to block Noel’s shot. It is sequences like these that should terrify the league. Andrew has a wonderful habit of following up poor offensive plays with good defensive plays. But when he couples strong offensive play with his consistently sound defensive prowess, the entire arena goes crazy. Bennett and Wiggins teamwork to end the second quarter strengthens my belief in this team’s youth. I don’t think a trade for Love is completely necessary. Wiggins did have some ball-handling miscues as usual, and he ended the game with some strange fouls, but he continues to be the most talented guy in Vegas.
Mathew Dellavedova is not the most talented, but his strong and steady play helped win this game. Delly wasn’t dishing quite as much, but his one assist does not properly tell the story. Most of Shane Edwards’ 13!!! foul shot attempts came off Delly passes. Delly dropped 19 points on only nine shots and played solid if not spectacular defense. He takes fouls in summer league that he wouldn’t take in the regular season. Might as well take advantage of the rules, right? He made two bad turnovers off Sixers’ pressure. But, he was responsible for stopping both of the Sixers scoring runs. Delly’s size is often overlooked. He played a bit of bully ball in this game. I like it.
Joe Harris hit a timely three during the masterful second quarter run. His handle is a bit looser than I would like, but his off ball movement is solid. There were conflicting reports on his defense coming into the draft. They are being clarified. Basically, Joe is very good at ball denial and team positioning. He chases through screens well. He doesn’t stick to the screen setter. His three quarter ball denial position is great and he has a knack for adjusting his route depending on the situation. But, if his guy catches the ball, he is a bit at the other player’s mercy. Harris is undersized with a short reach that doesn’t allow him to contest a high released shot. Regardless, I liked what I saw from him in this game other than his work in breaking the press.
KJ McDaniels was taken the pick before Joe Harris. His length and defensive instincts were on display against Andrew Wiggins. On more than one occasion, McDaniels got his hand on a Wiggins pass. In one possession he drew a foul on the block before hitting a long three. He has great potential. I assume his minutes were limited because of his bulky ankle.
Jordan McRae somehow led the Sixers with 18 points despite being invisible. Really. I vaguely remember Grant Hill talking about him, but he didn’t pop at all.
Dwight Powell reminds me of Ryan Hollins. He looks slightly terrified. He is very springy. He plays like a puppy on a linoleum floor. Hope he has fun in the D-League.
Shane Edwards had a double double, but left many more points on the floor. He missed a dunk that would have have punctuated a beautiful defensive sequence. He seems to fall down on every play. He did do a solid job on the glass and knocked down his free throws. He should join Powell in Canton.
Jack Cooley plays solid ball, but he is simply not long or athletic enough for a team that will try to compete for a championship. He probably has a future in Europe where he can use his decent skill-set without being overwhelmed physically.
David Blatt has already made a huge mark on this team. The missed dunk by Edwards came off of inbound ball pressure that lead to a steal. A five-second inbound call was whistled against the Sixers in the first half after a Cooley free throw. Blatt is well renowned for tossing in wrinkles at random times to keep the opponent off balance. After timeouts, Blatt went to a 3-2 match-up Zone to force the Sixers to ditch their designed play. He has also made it incredibly clear to his guys that ball denial is an absolute necessity. Harris, Wiggins, and Delly have really taken to the approach. Bennett is showing improvement in his ability to read angles in tandem with his guards. Shooting percentages in Summer League are almost always poor, but much of the opponents’ trouble against the Cavs is a result of sound defensive play.
Offensively, there are only few occasions when the ball is sticking too long. There are even fewer occasions when off ball players are standing around and watching. The Cavs look for a back-cut to begin almost every possession. It starts the whole offensive action and puts tremendous pressure on the defensive back line. Even if the back-cut is defended well, the subsequent ball swing is attacking an unsettled defense. Blatt has also given the guys the green light to shoot open shots. That leads to a few more jump shots than we might ultimately want, but it also limits turnovers within the flow of the offense. The team got sloppy in the second half against the press, but in general, ball security is decent within the set offense.
It’s just one summer league game, but Cavs fans can breathe a bit more easily. Grant Hill can do color commentary. Oh, and Anthony Bennett can hang with Noel. Until next time.