Las Vegas is a city best known for fleeting, failing connections.
“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” is accurate, mostly because by the time you leave the dessert, whatever good fortune you acquired has already deserted you.
The money you won gambling was promptly fed into a different slot machine or blackjack table, gone forever. The connection you made on the dance floor has returned to a different state, and already forgotten your name. The entertainment you shelled out for is a hazy memory, as though it happened in a dream.
It’s not a city that fosters long-lasting relationships.
Yet in the Thomas and Mack Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the Golden State Warriors watched a connection build that they hope will hold strong for years to come.
2019 was the most important Summer League for the Warriors in a very long time, in large part because the players making up the Vegas squad figure to play a big role on the Warriors this year, and in the coming years.
That was most evident in the backcourt, where the team’s 2019 first-round pick, Jordan Poole was paired with its 2018 first-round pick, Jacob Evans III.
Poole and Evans were the most important players for the Summer Dubs - the two prospects that the front office and coaching staff were sure to be watching the closest. It was convenient, albeit coincidental, that their skillsets complemented each other.
Evans, tasked with transitioning into a point guard role, would spend the summer in a primary ballhandling role. Poole, a quick-trigger sharpshooter, would do his best Klay Thompson impression, coming off a flurry of screens, searching for an open look, receiving passes and firing away.
Individually, they showed the type of growth and development that will inspire cautious confidence within the organization. But it was their play alongside each other that stood out.
Summer League is a funny concept. Not only do players step on the court together when they’ve only practiced once or twice, but they do so while still trying to remember each other’s names.
Poole was drafted on June 20. Eleven days later, he was suiting up for his first game in a Warriors jersey. The handshakes were still fresh.
It took some time for Poole and Evans to get to know each other - their style, their game, their preferences on the court.
A week into their basketball relationship, Evans stood behind the court after a game, and spoke about the developing chemistry between the pair of #28 picks.
“Since day one when he got there, me and him have been getting real close off the court, hanging out a lot, just getting to know each other,” Evans remarked. “Knowing each other’s games, what he likes to do, what I like to do. How I can help him just get easier shots. Especially when he gets hot, makes one or two, I try to make sure I get him some shots. Being a point guard, you got to know your shooters and where they want to be. So me and him just building that comfort from being familiar with each other on the court I fell is going to help us continue to have success.”
It was evident, and it went both ways, with each guard finding the other on numerous occasions.
GAME DAY!— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) July 8, 2019
Dubs take on the Lakers tonight at 8:30pm. pic.twitter.com/sapjPdBRZ3
Great teammates don’t need to be great friends. But developing chemistry off the court never hurts in the pursuit of increasing it on the court.
As Summer League neared an end, it became apparent that what Evans had referred to - “getting real close off the court” - wasn’t just a postgame trope rolled out for the media.
Following the Warriors victory over the Denver Nuggets in their penultimate Summer League game, I stood in the mostly empty tunnel behind the court. The heart of Summer League was in the rear view mirror, and as a result, the bulk of the media and the fans had already departed.
Poole exited the locker room, and entered a media scrum of just three reporters. Shortly after he took his place, Evans emerged, waiting for his turn.
With Evans merely a few feet away, I asked Poole about the chemistry the two young guards had been developing, on the hardwood, and off it.
He beamed, and laughed, and while the camera doesn’t show it, Evans joined the scrum, teasing Poole, cracking jokes, and even making a few funny faces at him.
Yesterday, Jacob Evans III told me that he and Jordan Poole were getting to know each other and that was growing their basketball chemistry. Today - with Evans behind the scrum messing with Poole - I asked Poole about that.— Brady Klopfer (@BradyKlopferNBA) July 11, 2019
Warriors fans are gonna like this guy pic.twitter.com/tT3KDos0wk
Evans hung around the scrum until Poole finished, occasionally flashing bunny ears above a reporter’s head. Then they swapped spots, and as Poole left to catch up to the team bus, he and Evans tried to make plans for the evening.
It was clear on the court that the two enjoy playing basketball with each other, but it was even more transparent behind the scenes.
The Warriors need as much chemistry and energy as they can get, on the court, in the locker room, and on the road. So much of their team is gone, and Poole and Evans will be tasked with replacing not only minutes, but sparks, joy, points, and assists.
There’s a long way to go for that to happen. But if Las Vegas taught us anything, it’s that they’re clearly on the right path.