The Utah Summer League began Monday, featuring the Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and San Antonio Spurs for the second consecutive year. The Celtics defeated Philly, 102-94, in the opener, before the Spurs downed the Jazz, 90-69, in the nightcap.
A few collective notes from on the ground in Salt Lake City:
The Simmons Show: The top overall draft pick for 2016 made his NBA debut Monday night, and early returns didn’t disappoint. Ben Simmons was the main event on the court in the opening half, running an offense clearly built around him for this tournament with the ease of an experienced pro. He got to the line at will, particularly in the open court, where he’ll dominate at the next level immediately. He was a force on the glass, with eight boards in just under 24 minutes.
Most readily available to the naked eye, though, was how talented Simmons already is as a passer. LeBron James comparisons are always premature for any player, but there truly might not be another historical template for Simmons’ creativity and vision with the ball at this size and this age. He threaded several elite next-level dimes in this one, and will enter the NBA as a borderline elite creator from the jump.
“Obviously it’s not as easy as it was in college because these are professional athletes,” Simmons said after the game. “I think there are going to be opportunities where I can find guys like I did today during the [NBA] season.”
If this was what he looks like on an adjustment day, it’ll be nice to be a Philly fan the next few seasons.
Simmons was taken out of action in the second half with cramps in both calves, however, and it’ll be worth keeping an eye on whether he plays again at altitude in Salt Lake City. He’s already been ruled out for Tuesday’s game.
More top-of-draft standouts: Third overall pick Jaylen Brown was matched up with Simmons for much of their mutual time on the floor, and while he struggled a bit with the Aussie’s length and quickness, he found his bearings as the game wore on and really took over when Simmons went down. Brown was relentless attacking the rim all night, drawing a ridiculous 17 free-throw attempts in 28 minutes and coming oh-so-close to a couple poster dunks. He may have been a bit over-aggressive to start in his first NBA action, but settled in as the game went on, even coming from behind for a nice block on Simmons (as it turned out, that was the final tweak of Simmons’ calves, and he left the game after). With his legs under him, look for Brown to be among the dominant players for the remainder of the summer.
Lyles strikes early: Trey Lyles is Utah’s resident “probably too good for this tournament” player, and he looked every bit the part to start Monday’s nightcap. Lyles started 4-for-5 from the field, including three triples (two as the ostensible ball-handler in a pick-and-roll, part of the allure of his skill set at 6-foot-10) for 11 of Utah’s first 13 points. He was leading mini-fast breaks off Spurs misses and generally dictating the action as Utah’s offensive centerpiece.
Whether due to fatigue, opponent adjustment or simple bad luck, though, the tank seemed to run out pretty quickly for Lyles. He missed his next nine shots, several of the forced variety, and seemed too winded to do much against a fellow NBA-level player defensively (more here in a moment). Lyles was a positive on the glass the entire night, gobbling up 12 boards in 29 minutes, and we can likely chalk this one up to legs outside that early flurry. He’s already established himself as a solid offensive player in the full-time NBA; this summer and the upcoming season will be about improving as an all-around guy on both ends.
Anderson strikes back: San Antonio’s Kyle Anderson won Summer League MVP last season, and it was a surprise to see him on the roster again this year – but no surprise at all to see him casually dominate just like he did a year ago. He got off to a bit of a rough start as Lyles poured in his early flurry and did a good enough job defensively (the two checked each other primarily while on the court), but found his rhythm and owned the court from the second quarter on. Anderson finished with 25 points on just 16 shots, and could have pretty easily had more.
At this point, it’d be a bit of a surprise to see a full summer slate of games for Anderson. He’s clearly past this level of basketball, and San Anotnio won’t want to risk injury for a player they’ll expect to play rotation minutes during the regular season.
A few other brief notes:
- There are typically only a couple truly intriguing regular season NBA-level players in a given Summer League game, but this year’s 76ers squad is much more well-stocked than usual. They’ve got loads of talent even beyond Simmons – draftee Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot showed excellent versatility on both ends, and second-year big man Christian Wood was mobile and strong on the interior. Center Richaun Holmes was most impressive in the non-Simmons class, though, blocking five shots in under 24 minutes and altering several more at the rim.
- The Celtics have a few potential standouts of their own on the roster, but none made a real impact Monday. R.J. Hunter and Terry Rozier both made their share of looks, but were unable to make a consistent impact on the game – especially for second-year guys playing summer games as former first-round picks. It’s even worse for third-year man James Young, formerly the 17th overall pick in 2014, who has struggled at consecutive Summer League competitions and would appear to be working with a rapidly closing NBA window.
- 2015 Jazz draftee Olivier Hanlan, who played his 2015-16 season overseas with BC Zalgiris in Lithuania, looks to have benefited from time in a professional environment. He was decisive in the lane and created several good looks for teammates, plus was efficient with his own offense. If the Jazz didn’t have such a glut of point guards on the roster, he’d be a candidate for one of the final spots (it’s still not completely out of the question, pending further summer moves).
- Guard Bryn Forbes, of Michigan State, was San Antonio’s unheralded standout on this opening day. He finished with 16 points and a remarkable eight rebounds in 26 minutes.
- Utah’s Tibor Pleiss is gunning for more time with the Jazz and less time in the D-League after a quiet rookie season, and was a mixed bag to begin summer play. He was solid offensively, including a made three that gave Jazz fans a glimpse of the range the team had hoped to see from him, and simply out-reached his way to a few offensive boards. But defensive issues that kept him mostly out of Utah’s rotation last year remained, even against lesser competition – he was slow on several help rotations at the hoop, and lost battles on the defensive glass to stronger players. Already at 26 and on the NBA fringes, Pleiss will be hoping for as strong a summer as possible.
Stay tuned for more action tomorrow, and a happy Fourth of July to basketball fans everywhere!
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