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Trayce Jackson-Davis looks at home in the system

It’s a tiny step, but a step.

Trayce Jackson-Davis speaking into a microphone at a press conference Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/NBAE via Getty Images

I’ll never forget the first Summer League game I watched in person. For those who have never attended the summer basketball showcase, it’s an event unlike anything else in sports. It’s a huge party. It’s a massive networking conference. It’s a basketball nerd’s paradise.

And above all else, it’s a chance to spend 10 straight hours watching some of the best athletes in the world play in a glorified, ultra-sloppy pickup game while the summer Vegas air slowly turns your eyes into prunes.

I didn’t know that when I watched my first game. I nervously made my way down the stairs at the Thomas and Mack center to the media seating, and awkwardly sat down, lookin around with some irrational fear that I was doing something wrong.

And then I watched basketball.

In the very first game I watched, Furkan Korkmaz dropped 40 points. He was tall. He moved with grace and fluidity. He came around screens like a fighter jet, and fired a silky smooth jumper over the top of shorter, helpless defenders.

I was mesmerized. I was hooked. He was a star, it was clear as day.

He was not a star. He was not even a particularly good player. By the end of that first 10 hour day I had started to understand the reality of this bizarre event. And now, dozens of Summer League games in person and on TV later, I’ve learned my lesson.

It doesn’t mean all that much.

If you made conclusions based on the Golden State Warriors 2009 Summer League team, you’d be willing to write off Steph Curry as an inefficient chucker who couldn’t pass. You’d also be shining the NBA MVP trophy for Anthony Randolph.

The raw stats, and even a large amount of the skill on display at Summer League mean very little. My eyes have since recovered from that first game, and I’m happy to be watching from my couch these days, instead of from the Vegas dry heat. But I remember that lesson very well.

But while those things mean little, there is meaning that we can glean from the fun and messy showcase. It’s our first chance to see how players look physically — their size and athleticism — against NBA players. It’s a look at them running NBA-style offenses, even if they’ve had a few days of practice. There are things you can learn.

I have the benefit of hindsight, obviously, but I remember standing on the baseline watching Alen Smailagić’s first Summer League. I probably stupidly wrote about or tweeted some positive things about him, because I desperately wanted him to be good. But in my heart, I knew. You watched him against fringe-NBA bigs, and he no longer looked the size of an NBA center. He didn’t look like someone who moved like a professional athlete. He reacted like someone frantically skipping the pages trying to catch up.

All of that was in my mind as I watched the Warriors’ 2023 second-round pick, Trayce Jackson-Davis take the court on Thursday for his professional debut. Jackson-Davis looked large and athletic, and put up good stats: 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting with seven rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block. None of those things were enough for us to jump to irrationally positive conclusions, but there were all good enough to keep us from jumping to irrationally negative conclusions.

What I noticed was his style and his reads. The Warriors have a long history of ending up with big men who can’t make the reads or, as is often the case, can’t make them fast enough. From youngsters like Damian Jones and James Wiseman to veterans like Jason Thompson and Jonas Jerebko, the Warriors have, in the words of the great Taylor Swift, seen that film before. And they didn’t like the ending.

So the early returns of Jackson-Davis looking ultra-comfortable and making the right reads all night long are glistening. He made the right reads over and over. Cutting and screening in the right place at the right time. Making the right pass. Knowing when not to pass.

But most impressive was how quickly he did it. He didn’t download the data like Neo getting a chip plugged into his brain. He just reacted.

It is, of course, too early to make any definitive statements about TJD. But the style, comfort, and decision-making that he showed on Thursday was more meaningful to my thankfully not-dry eyes than any stat-padding could have been.

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