Each day in summer league, Basketball Insiders will recap the day’s action with our studs and duds. Today we will deviate a bit from the formula to report on other notables as well.
Yes, it’s only summer league. Yes it’s only the first game. And yes, many would consider coaching in summer league beneath the head coach. That said, the former Maccabi Tel Aviv and Russian National Team coach had as auspicious a debut as possible. The summer Cavs moved the ball quickly from side to side and played an effective zone on out of bounds plays in the 70-68 victory over the Bucks. Blatt had his team taking Euro-style fouls to stop the fast break when they weren’t in the bonus, and effectively fouled up three in the closing seconds to prevent a tying shot attempt, eliciting boos from the crowd witnessing perhaps the most anticipated summer league game ever between top two picks Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Like Tom Thibodeau before him, we may end this season wondering why it took so long for Blatt to get a head coaching job in the NBA.
Parker tallied 17 points on 16 shooting possessions along with 9 rebounds in 30 minutes. More importantly, he showcased just how much of a matchup problem he is going to be. Parker has the best handle of anyone his size since LeBron James, which he showed off attacking in transition. Many bigger players can handle, but dribble defensively with smaller guards around. Not Parker, as he had a few really nice grab and gos for buckets. Playing at the four he is going to be unguardable for most at that position. Cleveland eventually had to put Wiggins on Parker and have Anthony Bennett guard Giannis Antetokounmpo, a matchup which also played to the Bucks’ favor.
The negatives: it looks like the reports of Parker’s somewhat poor shape may have been accurate, as he often looked winded. While he had a few decent possessions in individual defense, it is clear he does not have the greatest help instincts. Since it appears Milwaukee’s plan is to play him at the four, that will be his biggest weakness at first.
Overall though, for one game at least Parker looked every bit worthy of the number two pick.
After spending last year in China, Johnson struggled today. He went 2-9 with 4 turnovers from the power forward position. Plus minus can be misleading, but Johnson earned his -29 today. He looked notably thicker compared to his NBA days and was not able to make much of an impact at the basket on either end, most notably when starring in Cleanthony Early’s first career highlight dunk. It was only the first game, but Johnson will need to play better if he is to regain a foothold in the league.
This summer began much as the last did for McLemore, shooting 2-8, 2-6 on threes and managing a team-worst -21 in 36 minutes. He also had an astronomical eight turnovers as he tried to show off his dribble game. The only bright spot was eight free throw attempts, although he only made five of them. Meanwhile, he still does not have a summer league assist. Unfortunately, it does not yet appear that McLemore has expanded upon his core skillset of jumping really high in one spot and shooting.
Wiggins managed 18 points on 20 shooting possessions, going 1-8 from three. He also had only three rebounds and no assists in his 31 minutes. He did get out in transition, and finished well at the basket when he got there. However, Wiggins did not get by anybody off the dribble all night despite plenty of chances, and had to devolve into a number of tough Js, some of which he made. Getting his jump shot off will never be a problem for Wiggins, but to truly be a star he will need to create shots at the basket.
That said, Wiggins did play very hard and defended effectively. With the Cavs suddenly in win-now mode with the acquisition of LeBron James,* Wiggins offers the best skill set among the top five picks to contribute to what is looking like a defensively challenged Cleveland roster in the near term.
*Still can’t believe I’m typing that.
Basketball Insiders previously reported that Bennett had really improved his shape, and it showed. He looked much trimmer (although he still has a bit to go), fought hard on the offensive glass, and had a couple of nice postups in transition right under the rim to take advantage of crossmatches. The UNLV product also tallied two massive two-handed dunks, to the delight of the Vegas crowd.
He also tried a few mixes off the dribble which predictably ended in bad J’s. Those won’t be a part of his game this season, but he still proved unable to nail his jumpers. He went 6-16, 1-5 on threes, with many of the misses not particularly close. His jumpers look so smooth that you think they must go in for him in practice, but they still rarely do when the lights are on. Another Bennett bugaboo that reared its head was interior shooting, as he had a couple of shots blocked due to inartful finishes.
The fact he is in better shape is encouraging, but Bennett needs to start making some shots to become a contributor. That appeared no closer to fruition today.
Midway through the second quarter, when the Greek Freak had taken only one shot, I tweeted that his relatively low usage was a reason I was not quite as high on him as some others are. He then proceeded to shoot the next five times down the floor, kicking off a solid performance that saw him score 17 points on 14 shooting possessions. Antetokounmpo was able to really take advantage when Cleveland went with a wing on Parker, as he blazed past overmatched bigs on a few occasions.
One thing he needs to work on is going left. All of his effective drives were to his right. On one notable occasion, the Cleveland coaches screamed to send him left, and Matthew Dellavedova immediately drew a charge. Five turnovers and seven fouls also marred Antetokounmpo’s line, but it is worth remembering he is only about four months older than Parker due to his December 1994 birthday. He entered the league at the same age that LeBron James did.
The Wichita State combo forward showed off his three-point shot, draining 3-4. But he also only managed one rebound and no assists while making only 2 of 6 twos. With that said, he is clearly athletic and did not unnecessarily force the action in the Knicks’ 76-64 victory. If he can keep up solid three-point shooting he could contribute this year.
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