TrueHoop: Miami Heat
Special to ESPN.com
The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The East guide is below, and the West guide is here.
Adreian Payne: Stretch big men are here to stay, and the Hawks continued to hoard them by drafting Payne, a dangerous pick-and-pop threat with legitimate 3-point range. It’s rare to see this kind of size, skill and athleticism in one player, but Payne might be limited to a smaller role because of a lung condition that affects his ability to play long stretches and big minutes.
Dennis Schroder: Watching Schroder run the point is an adventure. He applies legitimate full-court pressure on ball handlers nearly every time up the court, and he’s not bashful about trying to thread the needle through traffic for perfect dimes on the other end. There’s no fear here, and there’s rarely a dull moment, either.
Walter Tavares: It’s stranger than fiction, but Taveras was completely off the basketball radar until a German tourist in Cape Verde recruited him to try out. He had never even touched a basketball until 2010, but at 7-foot-3 with a reported 7-foot-9 wingspan and traffic signal-sized hands, he has what can't be taught.
Noah Vonleh: His draft-night fall was plenty fortuitous for Charlotte, as it would ultimately need a stretch 4 to pair with Al Jefferson, with Josh McRoberts now committed to the Miami Heat. Vonleh is a little reminiscent of Chris Bosh offensively, and his length and mobility defensively will cover up for mistakes while he learns the ropes. He could be the steal of the draft.
Cody Zeller: Last year’s fourth overall pick surprised a lot of folks by shooting jumpers and playing on the perimeter during last year’s summer league, but it didn’t pay dividends when the real games started. Zeller shot just 27 percent from 16 feet and out as a rookie, and it’s still unclear what his role will be at the NBA level. He’s a great athlete and very active, but Charlotte will need more than that justify his draft slot.
Roberto Nelson: The name might ring a bell if you’ve read George Dohrmann’s excellent book “Play Their Hearts Out." It’s a testament to Nelson’s drive that he’s made it to this point despite some well-documented efforts by AAU sharks to submarine his career. Here’s hoping he gets some minutes to show his stuff.
Doug McDermott: In this strange setting where Anthony Randolph and Adam Morrison have looked unstoppable, McDermott might not quiet concerns of his ability to keep up in the NBA, regardless of how well he plays. That said, he made mincemeat of college competition for four straight years at Creighton, so he’s a strong bet to win MVP in Vegas. For your own sake, though, don’t bet on summer league.
Tony Snell: After an incredibly disappointing rookie campaign wherein Snell had a PER of 8.0 and shot 38.4 percent from the field, he’ll be looking for some redemption. You get the feeling Tom Thibodeau would have never played him if it wasn’t out of total necessity, but the scoring wing could earn some trust going forward with a more assertive offensive performance in Vegas.
Cameron Bairstow: A former teammate of Snell’s at New Mexico, Bairstow exploded on to the draft scene after Snell’s touches started to go his way. Bairstow is a serious inside-outside threat offensively, and if he expands his range on his jumper out to the 3-point line, he’ll be a nice weapon for Thibodeau to utilize off the bench.
Anthony Bennett: After missing out on the opportunity to play in front of UNLV fans last year at summer league because of rotator cuff surgery, Bennett should draw a big crowd even if the hype balloon has deflated some after a rough rookie season. It’s about baby steps at this point with Bennett, though, and showing that he’s at least in shape and playing fast will calm some nerves in Cleveland.
Andrew Wiggins: Another year, another first overall pick from Canada. Wiggins is the wing defender Cleveland desperately needs now, and perhaps he’ll be much more than that down the line. He’s not a stranger to big expectations, but the first days on the job always leave you under the microscope. If his college career foretold anything, no one in Vegas will have his performances more closely scrutinized.
Matthew Dellavedova: He was one of the only players Mike Brown could get consistent effort from last season, which led to more playing time than expected in his rookie season. With Jarrett Jack off to Brooklyn and Kyrie Irving’s shaky injury history, Dellavedova might be thrust into serious action again next season. These could be important reps.
Shabazz Napier: Kobe Bryant isn’t even following poor Kendall Marshall on Twitter, but LeBron James wasn’t bashful about giving Napier his stamp of approval even before the two were teammates. While that confidence from the best player in the world is great to have, it also puts a big, red bull's-eye on his back. LeBron called him the best point guard in the draft, after all, so now it’s on the former UConn guard to start proving it.
James Ennis: This is just what Miami needs, right? Ennis is an athletic, 3-and-D wing who opted to play professionally in Australia after being drafted in the second round by Miami last season. He has glue guy written all over him, and with Shane Battier stepping away, Ennis could potentially have a role in Miami next season.
Justin Hamilton: He received plenty of burn in the Orlando Summer League (Miami is double-dipping this year along with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers), and after playing very well in the D-League last season, the former LSU big man could win a roster spot, particularly if he continues to shoot the ball well from distance. If you haven’t caught on yet, that’s a niche every team wants to fill.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: The “Greek Freak” was Cirque De Soleil on a basketball court last season, and now he’s reportedly 2 inches taller and presumably even more capable of ridiculous feats. Few players in this setting will illicit this level of reaction -- you’ll drop your jaw, you’ll yell, you’ll jump out of your seat. He’s big fun.
Jabari Parker: The Bucks might be the hottest ticket in Vegas. Parker, the second overall pick of this year's draft, was touted as being the most "NBA-ready” prospect out there, and he’ll get plenty of chances to show why that is. Milwaukee doesn’t have to get too cute offensively –- just get Parker the ball and get the heck out of the way.
Nate Wolters: It never hurts to have a steady hand at point guard, especially since summer league is basketball’s Wild West. Shots fly everywhere and guys scramble all over the place, but Wolters has shown he’ll stay cool in less-than-ideal circumstances. In 58 played games in hi3s rookie season, Wolters had more than one turnover only 13 times. He’ll be a sight for sore eyes.
New York Knicks
Shane Larkin: The speed merchant might end up being the key to the Tyson Chandler trade despite the fact that he’s coming off a shaky rookie season. Triangle point guards are typically bigger and more physical than Larkin, but he should provide a drastic change of pace to Jose Calderon when he comes off the bench, at the least.
Cleanthony Early: Is he a 3, a small-ball 4, both or neither? Tweener forwards rarely have it easy in the early stages of their careers, but Early is an impressive athlete with a nice stroke that caught a lot of eyeballs during Wichita State’s superb season. His lack of ballhandling skills and ability to score off the dribble probably limit him to being a role player for now, but that’s not the worst thing.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo: He’s one of the few siblings of an NBA player who actually belong here. Nepotism runs wild at summer league, but Giannis' older brother earned his spot by playing very well in the D-League last season as a defensive specialist capable of wreaking havoc in transition. He’s a legitimate prospect, even if he needs more seasoning offensively.
Nerlens Noel: There’s some debate over whether Noel will play in Vegas after performing well in Orlando, but maybe that’s just Philadelphia keeping its best-kept secret under wraps a little longer. Don’t forget about the shot-blocking big man in the rookie of the year race this season -- he’s got a leg up on knowing Brett Brown’s playbook (hint: run!), and he’ll get plenty of playing time and opportunities throughout the season.
Jordan McRae: Be still, Jay Bilas' heart. McRae has a 7-foot wingspan despite being just 6-foot-5. Although the Tennessee grad and second-round pick isn’t an insane athlete, those long arms and his decent burst allow him to sneak up on opponents at the rim on drives. He’ll need to hone in on one transferable skill and bulk up that lanky frame, but he’s a whole lot of limbs coming right at you.
Scottie Wilbekin: Being one of the best college players doesn’t always translate to NBA success, and Wilbekin’s lack of size will have him fighting an uphill battle. System-less basketball isn’t always kind to guys who excel at getting their team into sets and managing the game, so it will be interesting to see how the Florida point guard can perform in the chaos.
Bruno Caboclo: He should start a support group with Mickael Pietrus (the “French Michael Jordan”) after being dubbed the “Brazilian Kevin Durant” by Fran Fraschilla on draft night. Caboclo has a 7-foot-7 wingspan and a prayer at ever getting anywhere close to Durant’s level, but performing well against legitimate competition right away could help justify the boldest pick of the draft.
Lucas Nogueira: The Bebe and Bruno show should give Brazilians a nice distraction from their World Cup hangover, as there should be plenty of highlight moments to go around. Nogueira won a lot of fans last year in summer league with his energy and amazing hair, and opposing guards should proceed with caution while he’s patrolling the paint.
Dwight Buycks: Lots of players are fighting just for a camp invite, but Buycks has a little more on the line. If he’s not waived before July 22, which is right after the end of summer league, the point guard’s contract for next season becomes guaranteed. After a performance last season that really put him on the radar, he’ll be scrapping to keep his status this time around.
Otto Porter Jr.: It’s been a rough 365 days for last year’s third overall pick, as his awful debut in summer league led right into a completely unproductive rookie season. Truthfully, it would have been a bigger deal had Anthony Bennett not absorbed all the ire, but Porter has to put it all behind him. The Wizards might need the jack-of-all-trades forward to play a big role next season with Martell Webster out three to five months for another back surgery and Trevor Ariza still an unrestricted free agent.
Glen Rice Jr.: They’ll be teammates here, but they might be battling for the same playing time. Rice Jr. barely played last season, but his 3-point stroke could come in handy for the Wizards. He’s been pretty solid as a shooter and scorer in the D-League, so he’ll get plenty of chances, especially if Porter looks out of place once again.
Khem Birch: We’ll see how the UNLV faithful treat him; he was very productive and won Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year two seasons in a row, but he also left after his junior year only to go undrafted. Birch should win neutral fans and general managers over anyway, as he’s a good hustle player and an active athlete at the 4.
D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.
What will LeBron ultimately decide about his future? From cupcakes to planes to cars to cops, social media is searching for answers while we wait ...
July 5: Home sweet home?
July 6: Dan Gilbert's plane flies to Florida
“. @LullOnSports:Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is currently en route to south Florida.” I am? Sorry folks but enjoying weather in my backyard today— Dan Gilbert (@cavsdan) July 6, 2014
July 9: LeBron's cars on the move
Two Exotic Auto Transport Trucks outside of LeBron's home have just left after loading cars. pic.twitter.com/V6fmN8L6kW— Jorge Sedano (@SedanoESPN) July 9, 2014
I can say this now, unequivocally: LeBron James moves his cars every summer.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) July 9, 2014
July 9: Mike Miller posts a picture ... of LeBron's Cavs jersey
July 10: Tracking LeBron's official website
July 10: Cleveland Zoo's owl picks Miami
July 10: Checking in with the police
Folks in Bath feel strongly that LBJ will sign w/ CLE. LBJ's camp contacted cops hour ago to alert them of tonight's annoucement. #kingjames— PHIL TREXLER-ABJ (@PhilTrexler) July 10, 2014
Bath Township, Ohio police -- home to Lebron James -- tells NBC News they are NOT preparing for an announcement or extra police details.— Tom Winter (@Tom_Winter) July 10, 2014
July 10: Party at LeBron's house
The current scene at LeBron James' house. pic.twitter.com/3KqnltcGQA— Ben Belden (@CST_BenB) July 10, 2014
You all need to get off me.— LeBron's Lawn (@LeBronsLawn) July 10, 2014
Almost makes you long for the days of a one-hour TV special.
• Going rogue: Miami’s Big Three do not appear to be acting in concert -- yet. These are ominous early signs for Heat fans, who would be far more comforted had Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh opted out of their contracts simultaneously with James. That scenario would have strongly indicated that the three of them had a plan for returning to Miami. This scenario gives the appearance that James is either putting pressure on Miami to make the choices he wants, or that he has one foot out the door.
• Finals not a factor? James has indicated that the result of the Finals has no bearing on decisions happening right now. While this could be true, you have to wonder if Miami had a Finals disastrous enough to change one’s vision of its future. After a season of carefully managing Wade’s minutes, he looked old and ineffective for much of the Finals. The Heat went from being considered a roughly even bet against San Antonio to losing by the most points per game of any Finals team in history.
• What about Wade? The educated guess is that if James leaves, Miami’s on the hook to pay Wade the remainder of his expensive contract. If Miami isn’t contending with a returning James, there’s little incentive for Wade to opt out of his deal right now and take a pay cut. If Wade does opt out of his deal right now, that’s a positive indicator that James is returning.
• Remember Serge Ibaka: NBA history may have turned on Ibaka’s calf, as the injury compromised the Thunder’s effort against the Spurs. The Heat matched up much better against Oklahoma City than against the San Antonio team that ended up throttling Miami. It’s hard to envision the possibility of James leaving had the Heat just won a third title –- as opposed to the current reality of James making this choice in the aftermath of the Heat losing three consecutive games in embarrassing fashion.
• Panicky Pat Riley: He’s the definition of cool, but Riley seemed less than in control during a June 19 news conference in which he exhorted other people to “get a grip.” If James leaves, certain Riley quotes will seem telling in retrospect. For instance, Riley said of his exit meeting with James, "He was restless. He wanted to get out of town with his family." On his relationship with James, Riley didn’t exactly betray a close working bond: "It's a texting relationship. It's a short meeting in the hallway. He knows I love him. He knows I respect him."
• Remember Mike Miller: Would Miller have been the difference against the Spurs? Probably not, but James was reputedly less than happy to lose a versatile floor spacer because owner Micky Arison wanted to save money. After getting amnestied by Miami, Miller had a fine season with Memphis. He was sorely missed by a Heat team that relied on his production in past playoffs. If Miami wishes to keep its Big Three at a discount, there’s perhaps hypocrisy in ownership asking for monetary sacrifices from players after Arison refused to foot the bill last season.
• LeBron gets lambasted for leaving: There’s a pattern to this, as we learned in 2010. Few criticize James till he finally chooses a new team and incurs the wrath of 29 LeBronless fanbases. He won’t be pilloried for returning to Miami. Fair or unfair, he will likely suffer an image hit if he does leave to compete in a more favorable situation. That’s the reality of spurning a fan base that’s rooted for you over a long period of time. Its pain gets amplified by the jealousy of others, and it builds into a storm of ill will directed at James and his newest team. That’s what happened when he left Cleveland. Ironically, this calculus is different if he actually comes back to Cleveland, as many have a sentimental preference for LeBron returning to his home state.
If you’re blaming LeBron James, you’re missing the point of what the San Antonio Spurs just did.
As much as we want to reduce this game down to heroes and legacies, basketball has grown out of the isolation-era 1990s. It’s a team sport, and while superstars can have a big impact on the outcome, they don’t wholly determine it. Remember that as you watch highlights of the balanced, Euroball-style Spurs picking apart the Miami Heat from all angles, leading to a 104-87 NBA Finals-clinching win in Game 5. If Miami wants to forge forward with LeBron, they have to be more than a vehicle for his talents.
When the series started, it was easy to convince yourself these teams were similar. They spread the floor, worked defenses in pursuit of corner 3-pointers. Both were creative, versatile units, dedicated to and successful in uncovering analytically savvy shots. Both lived by the mantra of moving the ball, not letting it stick for too many Hero Ball possessions.
For his efforts, James ended the series with an average of 28.2 points on 68 percent true shooting. This wasn’t a repeat of the 2011 Finals, where James really was subpar. He showed up in this series. His teammates did not.
The points James scored might as well have been water poured into a bottomless bucket. In Game 4, James claimed more than 90 percent of his team’s points in the third quarter. That was the extreme of what happened all series. James was scoring efficiently, surrounded by teammates who couldn’t. The points that did come were futile because San Antonio was scoring more on the other end, buoyed by a better bench, and veterans with fresher legs.
Ironically, Miami’s silver lining is they got crushed. Had they lost this Finals by a play, or even by a game, it’d be easy to convince themselves that little needed changing. Instead, they’re starkly confronted with a mandate to make necessary moves. They put a lot into Dwyane Wade’s maintenance plan this season and the upshot is they can’t rely on like they used to, at least not until he develops an accurate 3-point shot.
The Heat also learned the extent to which they could trust Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole -- not a whole lot, it turns out. Erik Spoelstra’s starting lineup with Ray Allen at nominal “point guard” might be a window into the future. A team with LeBron doesn’t necessarily need to be playing 6-foot tall guys. They have a big guy with point guard skills. There’s little reason to play a little guy if you’re not getting the offensive punch many smaller players bring.
Above all, Miami should look to San Antonio as a model for how to handle their stars’ minutes. Tim Duncan was able to win championships 15 years apart because he was adequately rested along the way. James played nearly 38 minutes per contest this season. That figure has to come down if the Heat are to rise -- and that figure will come down only as the quality of the rest of the roster comes up.
After dispatching Oklahoma City to get to these NBA Finals, Tim Duncan suddenly became Joe Namath in flannel: “We have four more [games] to win. We’ll do it this time.”
It was a rare moment of brashness from a serious competitor who consistently shrouds what drives him. Even more unusual than the audacity, Duncan betrayed an awareness of how the outside world views his team.
“We were ready last year, too,” he said. “People keep talking about it like we weren’t close to winning it. We were ready last year, we just couldn’t get over that hump. We’re happy to be back there this year. We’re happy to have another opportunity at it. We’re happy that it’s the Heat again. We’ll be ready for them.”
Perhaps he knew. This is a better San Antonio Spurs team than last season's. This is a worse Miami Heat team than last season's. And while it’s difficult to envision the Spurs as fueled by “revenge,” a want for vengeance is certainly understandable as the Spurs moved past the Heat 107-86 for a 3-1 NBA Finals lead.
It’s incredible to behold San Antonio’s seemingly boundless capacity for improvement, but we’re unlikely to hear the Spurs tell us what that feels like. After Timmy’s Namath moment, it was back to SpursSpeak, a language that rarely conveys a sense of anything apart from a monk-like dedication to process.
The Spurs, as we experience them, are the team that gives people little to draw off. It’s not just a dearth of bulletin-board material. San Antonio refrains from knocking foes asunder in the lane. When Ray Allen fell down in the third quarter Thursday night, Duncan gladly helped him up. Perhaps the Spurs have found that not playing like jerks is a market inefficiency. Other teams, steeped in the hyper-macho culture of the playoffs, throw elbows and scowls at their rivals. The Spurs offer a blank expression and a helping hand.
It numbs the foe to a fueling kind of hatred and the team’s implacability makes death seem all the more inexorable. After San Antonio crushed Miami in the first half, LeBron James pushed himself hard to close the gap. He scored 19 points in the third quarter, good for one third of Miami’s total 57 points in the game. All through it, the Spurs didn’t panic. They just used crisply run sets, smothering defense on the other Heat players, and big baskets by household names such as Patty Mills.
Game 3 wasn’t shocking, even though the Spurs killed the Heat at home. Big losses happen sometimes, even at home. Sometimes a team gets hot. What’s shocking is they did it again in Game 4. That’s the Spurs for you. It’s not just that they achieve brilliance on the court, it’s that they keep sustaining it. They’re perhaps the most floor-bound team in the NBA, but they now seem like someone who jumps impressively high and confoundingly never comes back down to earth.