Just before the 2017 Las Vegas Summer League began, I provided a really simple — and, admittedly, simplistic — method of evaluating returning players based on what I’ve seen over the last few years from the Warriors.
Put simply, a NBA roster player should be able to not only dominate, but dominate by making positive plays in a broader way than one might normally expect.
Rising (or falling) to expectations
Summer League done right
A memorable example to me was in 2013, when Kent Bazemore and Draymond Green came back after their rookie years. Bazemore was getting time at point guard (something, in fairness, he was also tasked with in Santa Cruz) and put up some pretty big scoring numbers. Green was given the green light offensively to the point of creating some threes that might have seemed forced or excessive. But he did so while remaining his future-perennial-DPOY-candidate self on defense.
There are other examples we could probably think of, such as Klay Thompson — who can now score 60 points with less than one dribble per point — also returned in 2012 and played some pointed guard.
Summer League done wrong
In contrast, guys like Nemanja Nedovic and Ognjen Kuzmic returned to Vegas after spending time in Santa Cruz and on Golden State’s bench and struggled to do anything more dynamic than we’d already expected of them.
Guys should be trying to expand their games when they return to Summer League after a year of working in Golden State’s system. They should be able to get what they want when they want, even if they don’t always put up great numbers. It’s a positive sign when they not only can do that, but do it well — consistently. It’s not really a good sign when they continue to show weaknesses that prevent them from impacting the game.
Hmm ... are there any examples of Warriors’ players who put up big numbers in Summer League but did not really pan out?
Cue the Anthony Randolph reel. After putting up 42 points in a 2009 Summer League game, Tim Kawakami referred to Randolph as a “major Warriors centerpiece.”
After trades to the Knicks, Timberwolves, Nuggets and Magic, Randolph found himself playing for a Russian team in 2014. As of 2016, he has played for Real Madrid.
For rookies, the bar should be lower: seeing that they’re in the right spots and making good decisions with the ball even if they don’t quite execute. Numbers are far less important for rookies than how they play the game in a process over product sense.
Ian Clark obviously put up big numbers as a rookie, as he won 2013 Summer League MVP as the Warriors went undefeated on their way to the title. He put up great numbers, but most important is that he did it playing out of position. It took him a few years to develop into the contributor he is now, but he has played his way into a bigger payday than the Warriors can afford. So, congrats to him!
Green actually provides a pretty good counter-example of how to “read” rookie performances. He had 11 fouls in his first two games during his rookie season in Vegas and had more fouls than points in his third and fourth games. But most of those fouls came on plays where he was rotating to cover for someone else or simply got whistled for questionable calls. He was scoreless after shooting 0-for-9 in his third game. But Green was consistently in the right position and making the right decision even if he didn’t quite execute.
Green essentially used Summer League as a playground where he could try things out against the JV team. And, I’d say it paid off. You’d hope to see that kind of dynamic from any player who endeavors to become a contributor on a NBA roster.
Coincidentally, I find that framework — position, decision, execution while experimenting — useful in looking at what Warriors’ players have done so far. Obviously, a good Summer League performance guarantees nothing — a player also has to acclimate himself from his actual role in a real game and whatever system his team is running, which is often not one that will be feeding him the ball repeatedly. Nonetheless, you can begin to make tentative assessments with Summer League results, especially with returners.
The Good: McCaw shows growth, Bell shows promise
Patrick McCaw declared his intention to dominate Summer League in the first half of his first game this summer.
While his scoring primarily came from an array of three-point shots, his ability to run the offense, push the ball in transition, hit threes in catch-and-shoot situations and create off the dribble was extremely impressive. There were times during the regular season when he looked almost passive on offensive — and justifiably so, given his teammates. So this was certainly a new McCaw we were seeing.
The key here is in the variety of ways McCaw was creating shots rather than the fact of his 25-point first game. Just to underscore that point, it’s worth pointing out that his aggression continued in the second and third games even when he wasn’t nearly as hot — still showing the ability to get to the rim and finding ways to put pressure on the defense throughout the game.
He missed the shot but Pat McCaw is out here breaking ankles!!!! pic.twitter.com/Zan4qf4o2o— GSWdelivery (@GSWdelivery) July 11, 2017
Those are the kind of impressive moves he wasn’t showing during the regular season — when he seemed to be thinking too much at times — that he was able to consistently execute during Summer League. That’s something the Warriors can continue to work with as McCaw grows as a player.
Is he ready to take Stephen Curry’s job as lead ball-handler, or best three-point spacer in the league? Probably not.
McCaw w good court vision and handles, but got stripped for the gm winner, couldn't get open for the tie/win. Not quite ready to be Steph...— Eric Apricot (@EricApricot) July 9, 2017
But thinking back to the improvements we saw from guys like Bazemore, Clark and Thompson in Summer Leagues past, the encouraging sign is that he’s becoming able to put himself in the right position to impose his will on games at this level more often, which can only help in building his confidence and skill for actual NBA games.
Jordan Bell came into summer league as a second-round steal who drew comparisons to Green. Of course, this is exaggerated almost to the point of absurdity given what Green has accomplished thus far in the league. Yet, Bell did his best to justify the comparisons.
The biggest concern coming in, based on scouting reports of Bell, was that he was turnover prone, as described by Anthony Slater of the Bay Area News Group after the draft.
Despite rarely handling or passing the ball out top, he turned it over nearly two times per game last season. That primarily came on the interior on fumbled passes or mishandled post-ups.
“Coughs the ball up a lot when he gets it inside,” Bilas said. “But he gets you extra possessions with his rebounding and his ability to protect the rim.”
There was just about no evidence of that problem in Summer League, as Bell currently has five turnovers in 60 minutes over three Summer League games. That’s pretty good for a turnover-prone rookie forward.
Even more impressively, Bell has been a pretty talented passer, showing both poise with the ball in his hands and solid court vision.
Love Bell's poise with the ball, both as a passer and scorer, in this sequence. Oozing with upside in W's O https://t.co/lwRgeggFN8— CollaborativeBlogger (@NateP_SBN) July 12, 2017
This is a great pass by Jordan Bell to set up the and one (goaltend)! pic.twitter.com/CSoJYS5oh7— GSWdelivery (@GSWdelivery) July 11, 2017
A great pass by Bell after getting dunked on. He doesn't quit, moves onto the next play. pic.twitter.com/1JlomcuBtq— GSWdelivery (@GSWdelivery) July 11, 2017
Bell’s defense came as advertised. Adjusting for the fact that he is a rookie, he and Damian Jones had quite the block party in their win against the Wolves.
Yet, most impressive was his agility, foot speed and instincts that allowed him to recover to make plays defensively after he gets beat.
Although we should always temper expectations for rookies, Bell offers a lot to work with developmentally. It’s definitely exciting to think about how the Warriors can use him to complement their star-studded rotation, even if in spot minutes.
Needs improvement: Damian Jones
Jones showed on a number of occasions why people compared him to
State Farm star DeAndre Jordan as a draft prospect — especially in that first half against the Wolves.
He’s big, he’s athletic, and he knows how to use the combo for blocked shots and dunks.
The problem is that I was never able to shake this feeling I got in the first half of the first game:
Jones is sort of frustrating - he'll make an impressive play/effort one possession then fall asleep on the next...— CollaborativeBlogger (@NateP_SBN) July 9, 2017
I've seen enough of Damian Jones. Granted McWhee role is as simple as it gets, but I don't want to watch him play basketball.— feltbot (@feltbot) July 11, 2017
It seemed that Jones is really engaged when it comes to blocking or making a play — pick-and-rolls or cuts for a dunk — that will lead to points. But, at other times — like a lot of other times — Jones seems very disengaged. And what really stands out is his rebounding (or lack thereof).
Really poor sequence for Jones here: gets loose ball pf on reb, beat again on next play. Consistent prob https://t.co/J89YygzfR4— CollaborativeBlogger (@NateP_SBN) July 11, 2017
Jones did a lot of good things, but the reason this issue of rebounding, effort and focus stands out so much is that it was exactly his weakness as a draft prospect, an issue that the Warriors were working with him on in Santa Cruz, and something that coaches also apparently highlighted after the first game in Vegas.
Specifically they want to make sure he's setting solid screens and finding his man to box out on defensive rebounds.— Brownie (@rgbrownie) July 9, 2017
Aside from McCaw interrupting the interview, Damian Jones admitted that he was late on some helps vs 76ers, but also that he was winded. pic.twitter.com/6wfewr7Rfe— LetsGoWarriors (@LetsGoWarriors) July 9, 2017
For whatever reason, this appears to be a recurring problem for Jones. And even when he was more energetic and focused against the Wolves, he still didn’t turn that into production on the boards, which is a concern when he’s the biggest guy on the court against fringe NBA competition.
Again, you can see where the DeAndre Jordan comparisons come from or why people think he could take JaVale McGee’s spot. His highlight reel from this summer is impressive. But looking at the whole body of work, it’s just hard to see him cracking a rotation and being productive this season.