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!
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.
Winslow and the Miami HEAT Are “Believing in Each Other”
Justise Winslow discusses the all-around team effort of the Miami HEAT with Basketball Insiders.
The days of LeBron James in Miami are over. Chris Bosh isn’t there anymore, either. No more Ray Allen or Shane Battier. Dwyane Wade is back, but he’s not “Flash” nowadays.
Actually, check the entire Miami HEAT roster; there’s no superstar. They have an All-Star in Goran Dragic, even if he was the third alternate. But during this most recent playoff push, the HEAT don’t have a worldwide household name to plaster all over billboards as a reason for their success.
With 10 games remaining until the playoffs, Miami doesn’t have a player averaging more than 33 minutes per game. Instead, they have 11 players who average at least 20 minutes a contest. Their approach is that of a deep rotation, and its led them to a 39-33 record and the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. All while the rest of the league is star-driven.
One of those key cogs to the Miami machine is third-year wing, Justise Winslow. A former top-10 pick out of Duke, Winslow is enjoying most efficient season so far for the HEAT. To him, the fact that his squad isn’t littered with names like LeBron and Steph doesn’t make a difference.
“I think our team is extremely confident in each other,” Winslow said. “I think that’s a big thing is that we all believe in each other. We play to each other’s strengths, and most importantly we’re a defensive-minded team. We hang our hats on the defensive end, and that’s really what gets us going as a team.”
Winslow isn’t exaggerating. The HEAT is seventh in the NBA in defensive rating. Head coach Erik Spoelstra harps on the team’s defensive scheme and preparation. Without a go-to scorer capable of getting the team 30 any given night, Miami needs to do their job as a collective unit on the defensive end of the floor night in and night out.
“Each night the coaching staff preaching to us that we have enough, no matter who is in the lineup,” Winslow said. “So it’s just about going out there and executing and putting together a good game of 48-minute basketball. I think our belief in each other that we have enough to get the job done is key.”
In the current NBA landscape, a lot of the playoff contenders are centered around players with big resumes and bigger names. As a result, the HEAT get lost in the shuffle of the national conversation from time to time. Their culture of togetherness and slight from the media outside of their city could make for the perfect “chip on the shoulder” recipe. Or so you would think. Winslow doesn’t believe the chatter, or lack thereof, matters any to Miami.
“We don’t pay too much attention to that,” Winslow said. ‘We’re so focused, and locked in on our team, and each other, and trying to win each game. For us, it’s about having the respect of your peers, of the other team. I think every night no matter who we have or who’s healthy, I think teams know we’re going to be a tough, physical team. Guys in this league don’t want that, you don’t want to have to play against a Miami HEAT team that’s going to be physical, that’s going to get into your body, that’s going to make you play a hard, 48-minute basketball game.”
Because of the HEAT’s brand of basketball, an 82-game season can be grueling. For Winslow, keeping his body right throughout the grind is important to him. After dealing with a few injuries last season, and ultimately being shut down for the year last January to undergo right shoulder surgery for a torn labrum, Winslow was determined to make sure he kept his body in check throughout his comeback so he would be available for a long playoff run.
While his numbers aren’t flashy, Winslow is showing improvement. His 49.3 true shooting percentage is the highest of his career, along with shooting nearly 43 percent from beyond the arc, Winslow made strides in arguably the biggest knock against his game since coming out of college.
Because NBA players have the freedom to form partnerships with whichever companies they’d like, Winslow made the choice to strike up a partnership that he felt would not only help him off the court but more importantly, on it as well.
“My partnership with MET-Rx has been great,” Winslow said. “They’ve really helped take my game to the next level with all their nutritional supplements, and the Big 100 bar. So, for me, I’m always looking for ways to stay off my feet, but also get in the best shape possible and this was just a great way to help.”
The grind of the NBA season is also eased for playoff teams by a veteran presence. So, when the HEAT brought back franchise legend Wade at the trade deadline, their locker room suddenly had a face and feel of someone who’s been there before. A player who reached the pinnacle, with the very team that traded for him nonetheless.
Getting Wade back to Miami was crucial for the team’s playoff run down the stretch, and more importantly for Winslow, who benefited greatly from his time with the future Hall of Famer when he was fresh out of college.
“First and foremost, it was great to get him back,” Winslow said. “Just the role that he played in my career as a rookie, and everything I learned from him. But then also, just the energy and positivity that he brought to the locker room, and also the community of Miami, the city of Miami as a whole. It was a much-needed energy boost, and good vibes that he brought back for that post All-Star break push for playoffs. So, it’s just been great having him back, and it’s kind of rejuvenated the team and the locker room, and just the city in general.”
Wade is the MVP-caliber player he once was this time around, though. But that’s okay. This version of the Miami HEAT is charging toward the postseason with a team-first mentality.
NBA Daily: The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.
Michael Porter Jr. is an elite prospect, but questions surrounding his back will determine his landing spot in the NBA.
The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.
While some of the highly thought of college players have made their intentions on declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft known, Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr still hasn’t made his proclamation. Most people in NBA circles believe he’ll be in the 2018 NBA Draft class—you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think he’s in.
Back in November, the Missouri staff was somewhat vague and guarded about Porter’s condition until it was announced that he’d have back surgery on a couple of problematic discs in the lumbar area of his spine. The procedure is called a microdiscectomy and by all accounts was a success.
Porter missed virtually all of his college season but opted to play in the post-season for Missouri, who got eliminated fairly quickly.
There were certainly a lot of ugly things about Porter’s game. He looked out of shape, and certainly wasn’t the overwhelming dominating force he’d been in high school. Some executives applauded his decision to play, even though he wasn’t at a 100 percent. Some pointed to that fact that too many college players play it safe and that’s not always viewed positively. Almost no one Basketball Insiders spoke with was holding the less than stellar outing against him. In fact, most had far more positive things to say than negative. There was one resounding theme from the NBA executives who spoke about this situation—none of it matters until they see his medical.
Assuming Porter does as expected and hires an agent and enters the draft, the next challenge he’ll face is how open he wants to be to teams looking at drafting him.
In recent years, NBA teams have not shied away from using high draft picks on injured or recently injured players. Once a team can get a sense of how the player is recovering, they can make a value judgment.
Agents often use this information and access to the player to help steer their client to the situation they deem most favorable. While fans and outsiders often get caught up in the pick number a player ultimately lands at, more and more agents are concerned with fit, especially for a player that may need time to get back to 100 percent.
Most agents would want to steer their client to a team with favorable medical staff, a team with a proven track record of patience or more importantly, a team with the best chance at a long and fruitful career.
This won’t be good news for some team that could end up in the top 10, as it’s more likely that Porter isn’t made available to everyone. NBA executives will tell you, they can certainly draft him if they wanted to, but most teams won’t draft a player if their medical staff doesn’t sign off, and without information and access how can they do that?
There is a significant financial difference in going third in the draft ($5.47 million) and 10th ($2.964 million) – but several agents commented that the short-term money shouldn’t drive the long-term decision, especially if the player isn’t 100 percent. The fit and situation typically trump everything in these situations.
Another concept to consider is while Porter did play, there are questions about whether he’ll host a pro-day, take part in private team workouts or simply let his body of work drive his draft value.
Almost no one who spoke about this situation believed Porter would take part in the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, as he’d have to subject himself to the medical testing that’s part of that event.
The common perception on Porter is he’s a top-five talent, although it seems more likely that his camp is going to try and work the process to ensure he lands in a favorable situation. That could mean he falls out of top-five selections, simply because he and his agents choose to.
There is still a lot that needs to play out for Porter, including his announcement that he will enter the draft. But given where things stand with him, it’s more likely than not he’s coming into the draft, and it’s more likely than not he’ll have a lot of questions NBA teams will want to understand before his real draft position is clear.
The NBA Draft Lottery will be held in Chicago this year and is scheduled for May 15th. The annual Draft Combine, also in Chicago, gets underway on May 16th.
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