NBA Summer League Nothings

Jul 15, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Shabazz Muhammad dribbles the ball towards the basket during an NBA Summer League game against the Phoenix Suns at the Thomas and Mack Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Alright, first off, let’s make this non-apology apology: I’m sorry if you think there should have been more Summer League information being featured, passed along or dissected ’round these parts. Feel better?

After witnessing the utter meaningless performances of one Jonny Flynn I simply cannot manage the enthusiasm to even speculate as to the gravity of a pickup game in the desert or his free agent possibilities, for that matter.

That Wesley Johnson and Derrick Williams underwhelmed in their outings should speak to the importance of, you know, at least putting up SOME numbers or making an impression — but honestly, for every story about Summer League dominance, there is an accompanying piece on a lottery pick’s struggles. And I’m not too interested in the drama of your six-foot-and-under weeklies, either, so let’s just pretend we had a nice week at camp and get back to it.

The curious and somewhat notable part of this charade is the national press and what amounts to a preliminary about-face when it comes to their lauded picks and busty predictions. Predictions like: Shabazz is a steal and a perfect fit as a scoring, shooting wing for the Wolves.

The national press seem to hold their convictions based on something something hype something — so Summer League breakdowns are like the first frost. The ground is softened for I-told-you-so’s and consensus building — so you’ll excuse me if I remember reading how after a spectacular Summer League performance the Wolves should trade Ricky Barcelona because they already have their Flynning point guard of the future.

Anyway, the news-ish news: Could’ve-been Wolf, CJ McCollum Barea’d his way (by that I mean he chucked a ton of shots, I’m sorry) to a sub-40% fg% while putting up points and earning ire by not assisting enough. Meanwhile, McLemore somehow still evoked Ray effing Allen comparisons with the eye test while shooting 19% from deep. 19% is worthy of Ray Allen comparisons, according to the four letter. (But he’s SO SMOOTH, they say.)

I guess Shabazz looks alright with his 39% from deep. But still… SUMMER LEAGUE!??!

CJ McCollum, Trail Blazers
21 PPG, 4 RPG, 3.4 APG, 36.6 FG%, 31 3P%

The good: McCollum proved that he has the skill set to fulfill the team’s primary expectation for him, which is to score a ton of points. With one of the quickest triggers in the desert and refined instincts for finding points, McCollum is a genuine threat from most spots on the floor, and led summer league in scoring before hanging it up prior to Friday’s game against Minnesota. In a backcourt sorely lacking punch behind starter Damian Lillard, those are qualities the Blazers will surely covet.

The bad: Those points that fans latched onto were the result of McCollum hoisting more shots than any other player in Vegas, making them at just a 36.6 percent rate. What’s more, McCollum struggled to free teammates and orchestrate a coherent offense. Nobody really expected slick no-look passes or for McCollum to lead summer league in assists, but the Blazers sometimes hurt for points with the rookie at the helm.

Bottom line: We didn’t learn all that much about McCollum. His credentials as a scoring talent remain unquestioned, but the questions about his other talents remain unanswered. In sum, McCollum was probably very much what the Blazers expected, and while fans have every reason to be excited, they should also be prepared for a rookie season that exposes a few current weaknesses.

– Danny Nowell

Ben McLemore, Kings

15.8 PPG, 5 RPG, 0 APG, 33.3 FG%, 19.4 3P%

The good: McLemore had two strong games at summer league, most recently downing a talented Hawks squad with a 19-point third quarter. When he’s on, he moves with uncommon grace and power, both on and off the ball. He’s also been a terror in transition because of his ability to outpace defenders and throw down reverberating dunks.

When balanced, McLemore’s shot can evoke Ray Allen memories, especially when he sweeps along the baseline, through screens, to get an open look. Because of his athletic prowess, not much room is needed for a clean jumper. The kid rises quickly off the floor, unfurling a rainbow arc that eludes closeouts. Even if his shot hasn’t been going in this tournament, the form looks good.

The bad: He hasn’t been good at that which he’s supposedly good at. For a shooter, McLemore hasn’t shot especially well, converting only 33 percent of his attempts. Though the form looks good, his balance appears to be off, to the point where he airballed consecutive jumpers against the Warriors. He’s yet to demonstrate an ability to reset his legs and square up when shooting off the dribble.

Shaky as the shot’s been, his handle is more concerning. McLemore’s dribble is loose, and often stolen. He carries the ball with nearly every dribble, often losing the rock on the way up or down. He’s especially bad at dribbling left, which teams have taken advantage in this chaotic setting. Defenses are shading McLemore leftward, daring him to attack open driving lanes.

Bottom line: Despite his glaring flaws, I certainly wouldn’t give up on McLemore because his positive qualities are just as striking. He’s probably the most powerful dunker in Vegas, and if the college stats are any indication, he’ll grow into a sharpshooter from deep.

– Ethan Sherwood Strauss

Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves
8.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.8 APG, 41 FG%, 38 3P%

The good: The fit is there. Muhammad has the build of your everyday athletic, break-you-off-dribble wing scorer, but he thrived at UCLA mostly in situations where he didn’t have to dribble — off the catch, running the break, posting up. And on a team like the Timberwolves, with a scorer/rebounder and ball handler as its two cornerstones, it’s those “other” areas where Muhammad will need to do his work.

Despite the lure always present at summer league to isolate everything, Muhammad primarily stuck to that script, floating around the arc and running off screens, and looked right doing so. His rebound numbers in Vegas were ho-hum, but he can be a great wing rebounder with his size, if he puts in the effort. He also shot 41.1 percent from 3, better than his college average (38 percent).

The bad: The production was not there. The 20-year-old (we hope) Muhammad averaged just 8.5 points on 41 percent shooting. Which isn’t awful. But when a player who lives off offense can’t produce, particularly against inferior competition, the deficiencies in the rest of his game become more noticeable. And in Muhammad’s case that’s his ambivalence toward passing (five total assists) and mediocre defense despite the tools to be pretty good.

Bottom line: Muhammad has a lot to work with, and you’re inclined to dismiss some of the disappointment to playing a defined and limited role, but it’s hard to write all that off after a drama-filled freshman season. That age stuff doesn’t matter anymore, but can he be happy with an even smaller role in snowy Minnesota than the one he griped about in Los Angeles?

– Justin Verrier

Topics: 2013 NBA Summer League, Ben Mclemore, Cj Mccollum, Derrick Williams, Jonny Flynn, Minnesota Timberwolves, Nba Free Agency, NBA Summer League, Portland Trail Blazers, Ricky Rubio, Sacramento Kings, Shabazz Muhammad

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