Lang Whitaker’s Summer League Marathon, Part Deux

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER

7:55 AM ET — Here we go again. It’s summer, which means it’s time for Summer League, and today is the day I circle on my calendar and look at with an equal sense of dread and delight. Today is the day the NBA’s two Summer Leagues — in Orlando and Vegas — overlap. Which means today is the day I will blog. All day. I did it last year and miraculously survived, and today I will do it again.

Well, pretty much all day. Today, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET), I will be on the case, watching Summer League games live on NBA TV and recording my thoughts and notes here on NBA.com. If you have questions or comments, please hit me up via email (click on the header above) or on Twitter (ditto) or leave a comment below, and I’ll interact in the comments with you.

I’ve purposely avoided watching most of the Summer League games this week, because I wanted today to be a fresh, immersive experience. And I’m sure it’ll be fun, at least until I develop a blood clot in my leg that travels up into my brain due to complete physical inactivity. For the next dozen hours, we’re in this together. Right? Right! Let’s get it on!

First up? Miami vs. Detroit, in the classic battle for the Orlando Summer League’s fifth place trophy.

8:35 ET — 7:08 left to play in the second quarter, and the Pistons lead the Heat, 29-25.

We’re about thirty minutes into this marathon. As the NBA TV telecast began, my main man Vince Cellini called it “breakfast and basketball.” And I thought, it’s a little early for breakfast. It’s 8:00 AM, and there’s live basketball being played on my TV. I like this world we’re living in.

The real attraction in this Detroit/Miami game is Detroit’s Andre Drummond, who has been dominant all week in Orlando, at least from what I’ve overheard on Twitter. Today he’s coming off a 23 point/18 rebound game yesterday. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, he’s also the youngest player in the summer league. More on him later.

Also fun: Rasheed Wallace is an assistant coach for Detroit. Which is just awesome. BALL DON’T LIE.

Because the Heat are also playing in the Vegas summer league, they sent some guys ahead and only have 8 players available today. The one guy who spent any roster time for the Heat is Jarvis Varnado, who I think is like a human Sharknado. Anyway, he must be on the way to Vegas, because he’s not playing.

Of the guys the Heat do have playing, most of them are wearing numbers usually reserved for offensive linemen. And I have to confess I don’t really know who they are. Other than DJ Stephens, who can jump out of the gym and opened this game with a huge dunk on the break. Stephens, who is about 6-5, also got pinned inside defending against a center, and he was able to get up and swat the shot all the way out of bounds. Impressive.

9:02 AM ET — Dennis Scott just tweeted a photo of what you get if your team wins the Orlando summer league.

This is what u get if u win it all #champs

A photo posted by Dennis 3D Scott (@moneyballman3d) on

“OK fellas, I know we’ve been putting in work all week, waking up early, playing through injuries. You guys are all trying your best to get out and earn playing time and camp invites, but above that, we’re here trying to win this league, and you guys know why: That most sacred of rewards. It’s greater than the Stanley Cup, more storied than the Larry O’Brien Trophy… it’s a… hat!”

9:29 AM ET — So the best player of the Orlando summer league, from what I’ve read, has been Andre Drummond. Today is the first time I’ve seen him play this summer, and he should be dominant, because he looks huge out there. He could probably stumble into a double-double most games, and I’m pretty sure he has once or twice this week. He’s also shown some nice quickness — on one play he ripped the ball from a guard on a pick-and-roll switch.

Watching Drummond, I wonder how he fits into what the Pistons will do long-term. Detroit signed Josh Smith this summer, and a front line of Smith/Drummond and Greg Monroe is intimidating and huge. But it’s also unwieldy, because none of those guys can really play the three, or at least consistently defend against threes. I’m guessing it’s more likely we’ll see those three as almost a rotation at the 4 and 5, though if Drummond keeps playing like this inside, the Pistons are going to have to figure out a way to get them all on the floor at the same time.

Today, back on the floor down in Orlando, the Heat are making a bit of a run, and currently trail 81-72 with 5 minutes to play. The Heat’s leading scorers have been Rory Sparrow and Jon Sundvold.

9:47 AM ET — When Miami was down 3 with 1:01 to play, the fans started streaming for the exits. Haha/JK.

Anyway, the Heat cut it to 1 with 25 seconds left, and then DJ Kennedy scored with 15 seconds to play to take the lead. Detroit turned the ball over on the ensuing possession after drawing up a play in a timeout. Down three with a few seconds left, the Pistons got two open looks from three, but both came up empty. The Heat ended up with the win, 90-85.

To be fair, Detroit’s best player, Drummond, who had 15 and 14, didn’t even play most of the last 6 minutes. (He finally returned with 25 seconds left. Also worth noting is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored 20 for the Pistons. Go Dawgs.) But Miami, with their 8-man roster, was definitely trying to win it, and they played hard down the stretch, finishing with ball pressure and hustle. Ian Clark and DJ Kennedy finished with 18 apiece.

ONE GAME DOWN. Indiana and Utah are on deck…

10:05 AM ET — It’s probably worth remembering that these guys have been playing high-level games all week long. So by today, after having no days off, they’ve gotta be exhausted. The first time in my life I ever got leg cramps was at basketball camp after playing every day for a week. (It’s amazing to think that you can get leg cramps from sitting on the bench.) So I think a lot of whoever posts big performances today is going to be whoever has legs left.

Utah and Indiana are playing now. The Jazz are so old school that their summer league team is actually wearing tank tops. I’m interested to watch Utah’s Trey Burke, who’s been 9-42 from the field this week and hasn’t really been able to show the scoring ability that made him a lottery pick.

Also, shoutout to Donald Sloan on Indy, who’s wearing fluorescent orange kicks. Make a statement, Sloan!

10:43 AM ET — Things you see only in summer league: The Jazz currently have guys wearing numbers 56, 88, 58, 21 and 94 on the court. I’m wondering if maybe this is a test for these refs, who are also trying to work their way up to the NBA, because calling fouls on guys with all these high digit numbers requires a lot of physical dexterity.

Halftime in Orlando, where the Jazz lead the Pacers, 37-35. Orlando Johnson leads the Pacers with 10 points, while William Buford has 9 for Utah. It’s been fun watching Raul Neto, the Brazilian PG playing for Utah, who keeps penetrating and throwing no-look passes.

Also playing for Utah has been Rudy Gobert, the French player with a wingspan of 7 feet 9 inches. If he could figure out a way to play sideways, he’d be the tallest player in the League and virtually unstoppable. But then his legs would be arms, and they’d both be on the same side. And his head would be his other arm. Or something like that? Look, it’s not even 11:00 AM yet. Cut me some slack.

I need more coffee.

11:23 AM ET — Utah assistant coach Sidney Lowe was the halftime guest on NBA TV. He should be required to always wear a red blazer, no matter what league or team he’s coaching.

It was pointed out to me on Twitter that Rudy Gobert has a standing reach that’s actually taller than his wingspan. So why are we talking about his wingspan then?

Whatever, I’d still like to see him figure out a way to play sideways. That’s what summer league should be all about. Do the work, Rudy.

In the third quarter, Trey Burke briefly got hot, really for the first time all week. I think he’s going to be an interesting player to watch this season, because not only is he a bit undersized, but to me he was such a shoot-first player at Michigan. Now that he’s playing the point, he has to balance when to pass and when to go for his, and my guess is that’s been a big part of why he’s struggled this week. Nice to see him get going.

Utah’s Rasid Mahalbasic is a late entry to the all-name team. Congrats to him.

I passed on the second cup of coffee and drank water instead. I am, however, reserving my right to swap a later glass of water for a second cup of coffee later today. I learned how to do stuff like that from watching the NBA Draft.

11:44 AM ET — So we’re done with game two, as the Pacers came from behind and won 73-70. For the most part, Utah had what seemed like a never-ending parade of bigs who struggled to finish around the rim, while the Pacers lived in the midrange. Rasual Butler, who is 34 years old and played a decade in the League, knocked down jumpers for Indy, and showed NBA teams he can still shoot.

Indy was up 69-68 with 1:12 to play. Burke got blocked at the rim, but after a Pacers turnover, Utah found Burke on the run out and grabbed a 70-69 lead.  Butler knocked in a three to give Indy a 72-70 lead. Burke fired up a long contested three with 10 seconds to play that missed. With three seconds left, Utah had the ball down three, and they got Burke a contested shot from the corner, but he couldn’t get it to go.

Next up? CHAMPIONSHIP TIME. The Houston Rockets are taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder, in a game also known as the James Harden Redemption. I’m very intrigued to see Jeremy Lamb play for OKC, because the Thunder haven’t done much in free agency and could probably use some production from Lamb this season.

12:24 PM ET — OKC is up 23-20 after one.

Best summer league chicanery of the day so far: Houston was shorthanded because they sent guys to Vegas, so they ended up having to borrow two players. So Utah’s Jeff Brooks is playing for Houston, while wearing Tim Ohlbrecht’s jersey. And there’s some other dude in a no. 5 jersey with the name taped over. Not sure if this is summer league or an And 1 game.

12:52 PM ET — Halftime in Orlando, and the Thunder lead 46-36. The Rockets were already undermanned, and now they appear to be down to 7 players as Casper Ware has ice on his shoulder.

I mentioned Jeremy Lamb earlier, and he’s been impressive in the first half. He’s played with confidence, stepped into his jumpers, driven to the rim, been able to get to the line. Hopefully he can find some minutes in OKC this year, because he and new draftee Steven Adams (aka Khal Drogo) are the legacy from the Harden trade, and it would be nice if OKC could get something from that deal.

Random thought I had after watching Trey Burke play for Utah — he reminds me of Derek Fisher in terms of body type, and it probably wouldn’t hurt for Burke to try to develop his game like Fish — be able to knock down those wing threes and midrange shots.

Question from reader James:

Lang, why do you think Josh Smith can’t defend the 3? He’s done it a lot and had good success defending 3′s, although he’s probably better against 4′s. In the playoff series against Indiana he was put on Paul George at the start of the 3rd game of their series. Look at the stats from the first two games for George compared to what he did the rest of the series.

The offensive side of the ball is where I see the issues. None of those three can shoot a lick outside the paint.

First of all, thanks for the question.

Josh is actually OK outside the paint, but he struggles outside the three-point line. As far as defensively, what I mean is that most 3s are now basically 2s, as the NBA goes smaller and smaller. Josh is an above-average post defender, but defending on the perimeter is just not his strength. He’s good at recovering and blocking shots from behind, but if teams play small ball and shoot threes, I just think that will be tough for Detroit’s bigger lineup to keep up with.

1:54 PM ET — So this was the first championship game in the history of the Orlando Summer League. As we saw earlier, the winners get hats. After being mostly close for the first half, OKC blew it open in the second half, pushing it to a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter.

BUT THEN! This was a championship game, and the depleted Rockets played like it, breaking off a 10-2 run and cutting it to 9 point game with 3 minutes to go. A three-point play cut it to 6 with 2 minutes to play, and made it a 3-point game with 1:35 to play. But it never got closer, and before long Kendall Gill and Rick Kamla were talking about what they had for breakfast. Final score: OKC 85-Houston 77. We then had a hat presentation.

Also important: We have reached the halfway point of the blogging marathon. Just had a salad for lunch, to stay in game shape. And I feel like I should mention that I feel pretty good. I think Sekou Smith is on the bench down the way, waiting to get in and back me up if needed, but we don’t need him. I’m good to go.

Next up, Orlando versus Boston.

2:27 PM ET — After one quarter, the Celts lead the Magic 29-14. Kelly Olynyk, the human spell check, has had quite a summer for the Celtics, and he has 4 points and 2 boards in the first quarter. He’s tall, can rebound, and most importantly he has a really nice outside shot. I can see him hitting jumpers on the pick and pop, and knocking down some of those 18-footers that Kevin Garnett used to take for the C’s.

Also, Olynyk has a really strong personal look, with the long hair and the headband. He kind of reminds me of the lead kid from “Dazed and Confused.”

Boston’s Tony Mitchell is wearing some Kobe VI’s, I believe, that are the color of a green highlight marker.

2:50 PM ET — Boston’s up at the half, 61-36. Yikes.

Meanwhile, the Thunder celebrate their new hats…
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3:12 PM ET — Well, this really got out of hand, fast. I’d say it jumped up a notch. Boston leads 70-43, and we aren’t even halfway through the third quarter. So I’m going to give you one more video to tide you over while we ride out this blowout, in the final game of the Orlando Summer League. Here’s the best plays of the Orlando summer league…
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3:58 PM ET — OK, so we’re done in Orlando. The Magic made a run in the second half to cut it to 14, but the Celtics didn’t let them any closer, and Boston won 102-83.

So that’s it for another year from Orlando, and now we go to VEGAS, baby, VEGAS!

And you can tell we’re in Vegas instead of Orlando, where the games are played without fans in the Magic practice gym. In Vegas, tickets are sold, fans are there, and the games just feel a bigger.

We start the games in Vegas with the Knicks against the Pelicans, with Mike Breen and the styling and profiling Clyde Frazier on the call.

Meanwhile, I’ve got two games to go. And as my main man Rick Kamla understands, I can use some caffeine about now!!

4:22 PM — Mike Breen: “Just 10 minute quarters here in the summer league.”
Clyde Frazier: “Thank goodness.”
4:53 PM — Halftime in Vegas, and the Pels lead the Knicks, 37-34. Tim Hardaway Jr. leads the Knicks with 10 points, and Austin Rivers has 13 for N’awlins.Clyde Frazier opened the telecast by telling us that Iman Shumpert has “an insatiable desire to improve.” He also described Jeremy Tyler as “unbridled,” and said Rivers has “bedevil”ed the Knicks off the dribble. I love Clyde.For whatever it’s worth, I really like CJ Leslie, the forward who went undrafted but signed with the Knicks. The hype around him slowed as his career at NC State went along, but he’s versatile, and if he finds a role I think he could be a contributor in the NBA for a long time.BTW, best uniforms of the day go to the Knicks, wearing black v-neck t-shirts with orange numbers and white letters on the back.MUSCLEWATCH: Austin Rivers looks much bigger than he did a year ago. It is yet unclear if Rivers is going to reach the vaunted 15 pounds of muscle that generally signals inclusion in MuscleWatch(TM), but he seems to be well on his way to getting there by the fall, when MuscleWatch(TM) will return. He’s been getting to the rim throughout the first half, although as Clyde pointed out, he was going to his right almost every time. The Knicks sealed that off toward the end of the quarter, and with time winding down, Rivers crossed to his left, drove to the rim, made the bucket and got the and one. Really impressed with Rivers so far today.5:24 PM ET — Clyde: “Rivers has had feline quickness all afternoon.” A moment later, following a shot of Doc Rivers in the stands watching the game. Clyde says: “There’s his Dad, enjoying the antics of his son.”5:52 PM ET — An interesting subplot in the Knicks/Pelicans game was whether or not Jeremy Tyler will foul out for the Knicks. Heading into the fourth quarter he had 5 fouls in 17 minutes. But because this is summer league, you need 10 fouls to foul out. Tyler finished with 5 fouls. Oh well.

Mike Breen also mentioned that summer league games that go into overtime only get a two minute overtime, and then double overtime immediately becomes sudden death. So that’s a fun wrinkle.

Anyway, the Knicks kept it close, but the Pelicans held on to a slim lead, and pulled away a bit at the end to win, 77-72. Austin Rivers continued his great play, finishing with 24 points (getting to the line 11 times), and Hardaway Jr. finished with 13 for the Knicks.

Next up, Hawks vs. Clippers. I grew up in Atlanta as a Hawks fan, so I’m interested to see what the Hawks do this season with Mike Budenholzer at the helm, and I have high hopes for new German PG Dennis Schröder, who is a lot of fun to watch on YouTube.

There are more games after this one on NBA TV, but this is my final blogging game. I’m tired and a little hungry, to be honest, but planning on giving this my all.

LET’S GO!

6:47 PM ET — Clips lead 53-37 at the half. First half notes…
Steve Kerr and Reggie Miller are doing the game with no play-by-play guy. Love it. Kerr could be a good game show host if that was a career path he wanted to explore.

– Between Lucas Noguiera and Al Horford, the Hawks are going to have a lot of bigs taking flat-footed jumpers.

– The Clippers are wearing jerseys with sleeves, the latest team to take the plunge.

– Favorite moment of the first quarter was Hawks forcing a 24 second clock violation and the bench players giving them a standing ovation.

– Schröder moves almost identically to Rajon Rondo. He doesn’t play as well as Rajon, obviously, but he’s got a similar body type and style of play. The Hawks’ other rookie first rounder, Lucas Noguiera, wins best hair of the day for his afro.

– The Hawks, I believe, also have the biggest guy I’ve seen today in 7-3 Boban Marjanovic. He’s slow, but it’s always fun to see a guy tip in a miss without having to jump.

– New Clippers coach Doc Rivers sat in for a moment and talked about how the Clips are going to use Blake Griffin more on the elbows this season.

– I should note, the Clips look really good, I think because they’ve got a mostly veteran team on the floor. Samardo Samuels got Nogueira in the post and put a shoulder into him, and nearly knocked Noguiera through the basket support. The Hawks started strong, but the Clips went on a 9-0 run to take the lead and just kept their foot on the gas. Rookie Reggie Bullock has also looked good, finishing with 11 points.

7:45 PM ET — And the second half was basically just more of the first — the Clips sat on that big lead and the Hawks couldn’t cut into it in any meaningful way. The Hawks finally got L.A.’s lead to 8 with 2:28 to play, but the Clips held on and got the W, 90-83. Reggie Bullock led the Clippers with 18 points. John Jenkins led the Hawks with 24.

It’s been a long day, and I’ve been sitting here on my couch for a dozen hours, blogging away. There were a lot of interesting performances — Austin Rivers going for 24 against the Knicks immediately comes to mind. But it’s important to remember it wasn’t against the New York Knicks, it was the New York Knicks’ summer league team.

We saw a lot of performances today from players whom we probably won’t see much of once the season starts. But that’s also why I love summer league — these guys play hard, because most of them are playing for futures that are not guaranteed. So the games are played at an incredible pace, with palpable heart and spirit. At its best, that’s what sports is about. And that’s what summer league is about.

I’m done for the day, but the games don’t stop. Keep it tuned to NBA.com and NBA TV. And thanks for hanging with me today.

I need a nap. Later…

5 Comments

  1. James says:

    Lang, why do you think Josh Smith can’t defend the 3? He’s done it a lot and had good success defending 3’s, although he’s probably better against 4’s. In the playoff series against Indiana he was put on Paul George at the start of the 3rd game of their series. Look at the stats from the first two games for George compared to what he did the rest of the series.

    The offensive side of the ball is where I see the issues. None of those three can shoot a lick outside the paint.

    • Jimi Sode says:

      Its interesting to see the leauge go to more small line ups, and the Pistons go after a bigger line up. I feel problems arise when switches occur against a line up of Drummond, Monroe, Smith, Knight (possibly KCP) and Billups.

  2. Brendan says:

    How do I get your job. I am at my job and all I keep doing is refreshing this page. I feel like i’m doing the 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with you. I would definitely rather be there watching live. How did Lamb look?

    • langwhitaker says:

      Lamb looked good! Appreciate you following along. We’ve got 4 hours to go!

      • Brendan says:

        Fab Melo put up a decent stat line in ~17 mins. Does it look like he is ready to contribute at all in the NBA?