TrueHoop: Derrick Caracter

Day Seven Las Vegas summer league roundup

July, 16, 2010
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
"Go get him, 'Nique!" was the call from the Dallas bench as John Wall revved up to make his move against Mavericks' rookie Dominique Jones. A naturally dogged competitor, Jones stayed light on his feet and locked in against Wall. The top overall pick unleashed his crossover, but Jones defended him in both directions. Wall then elevated for a jump shot, but the ball never got past Jones' outstretched arm and was swatted away.

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Dominique Jones: "The plan is to get into open space."

"I like playing against people like [Wall], because they compete," Jones said. "All I try to do is make it hard for the defender. I try to predict what they're going to do and I try to reach. I've got a 6-10 wingspan so I'm trying to get lucky too."

Add that wingspan with Jones' quickness and anticipation and the Mavericks have a stifling perimeter defender. Jones spent most of the afternoon blanketing Wall, who finished with 21 points on 4-for-19 shooting from the field and 13-for-15 from the line.

On the other side of the ball, Jones was the most creative guy in the gym (Jeremy Lin's ridiculous 270 aerial spin move notwithstanding). Jones, chosen 25th overall by Memphis then dealt to Dallas on draft night, is yet another dynamic combo guard to the Mavericks' stable. His advanced ball skills give him limitless options, primarily as a scorer but also as a playmaker. The trick for Jones is seeing the court, then exploding from the top of the floor.

"The plan is to get into open space," Jones said. "Pull up in the paint, get to the rim or make things happen for my team."

For a high-volume shooter, Jones works efficiently -- his hallmark at South Florida where he led the Big East in scoring. On Thursday, he scored 28 points, converting nine of 17 from the floor and 10 of 12 from the stripe. Summer league rosters are loaded with wings clinically addicted to straight-line dribble-drives. Not Jones, who has a far more sophisticated approach with the ball than the average scoring guard.

"I just look at angles," Jones said. "It's basically reading your defender and knowing where you are on the court."

Jones' propensity for drawing contact and getting to the line isn't accidental -- it's a staple of his aggressive, but methodical game.

"I look at my defender when I'm in the lane," Jones said. If he's coming to me at full speed, then I'll make that contact. Once I get that contact, I have a chance for an and-1."

Jones played the point at South Florida and can distribute the ball in traffic, or make use of himself off the ball. He recorded four assists on Thursday and turned the ball over twice, which is a minor miracle for an active, high usage guard in summer league action.

"I love the point guard position, as people can probably tell the way I work with the ball," Jones said. "But whatever the Mavericks need me to do, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to try to prepare myself and learn from Jason Terry and Jason Kidd so that when the time comes at either position that I play, I won't be a liability."

For an aging Dallas squad, the time might come sooner than later -- and Jones seems far more of an asset than a liability.
  • Jeremy Lin stole the show late in the stellar Dallas-Washington game. With the Mavs down a couple of possessions, Wall and JaVale McGee trapped Lin off a high ball screen. Lin split the defenders, darting left through the opening. Against the collapsing Washington defense, Lin then propelled 270 degrees in the air to get off a right-handed jumper against contact. The acrobatics roused the Cox Pavilion crowd, who almost rioted when Lin was whistled for a charge.
  • Scoring is easy in summer league for guys who are naturally inclined to do it. They can be tempted to put the blinders on and head to the hole without any regard for what's materializing on the floor. Alonzo Gee doesn't suffer from this epidemic. With the Lakers paying him a lot of attention on Friday, Gee was more than happy to work on the weak side and keep the ball moving around the perimeter until it found the open shooter. Outside of the handful of sure-thing lottery picks, there are few players who look more destined for a full-time NBA gig than Gee.
  • Need to grab a table for ten at a popular joint during the dinner rush? Gani Lawal is the guy to send ahead. When the shot goes up on the defensive end of the floor, Lawal has two thoughts. First, can he use his reach to grab the miss? If yes, he lurches to the ball with his lanky frame and gobbles up the ball. If a teammate controls the rebound, then Lawal races downcourt, beating every defender to the rim. Any big man who wants to log minutes for the Phoenix Suns has to be able to run the floor, and Lawal has that event covered.
  • An NBA scout on Derrick Caracter: "He's really skilled offensively, comfortable and 15 feet and moves well. He's playing with chip on shoulder and has an edge to him. If the mental aspects and work ethic are solid, he should be okay. But I'm not sure what [the Lakers] are going to do with him. I don't see him playing on that team and they don't have a D-League team anymore."
  • Vinny Del Negro laced into the Clippers' summer league team at their morning practice. The Clips looked awful in their first two games, and Del Negro emphatically told the young squad that it didn't matter whether they were first-rounders who'd been paid or guys just trying to break into the league, losing two games by a combined 54 points was disgraceful. By all accounts, Del Negro's tirade was provocative and impressive. On Thursday night, the Clippers eked out a win over the Trail Blazers. Marqus Blakely brought the Clippers a badly-needed dose of defense, smarts and stability. He led the Clips with 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the floor.
  • Zach Harper of Hardwood Paroxysm on the John Wall-Jeremy Lin fourth quarter battle: "Funny thing happened on the way to the Bellagio … Jeremy Lin and John Wall faced off in the fourth quarter of the Wizards-Mavericks game in Vegas and pretty much played each other to a standstill. That’s right. An undrafted Harvard, SMAHRT kid, point guard went toe-to-toe with the number-one pick in the NBA draft and sort-of held his own. The final box score will show John Wall with an impressive 21 points (let’s just forget about the 4/19 shooting), 10 assists and seven rebounds. But it won’t show that the majority of the Lin’s 11 fourth quarter points were the result of him getting the better of the 'best player in the draft' for times than Wall will care to remember. Lin and Wall played the equivalent of an iso chess match on the hardwood game board. The kid from the Ivy League refused to back down from the YouTube sensation and while Wall walked away with the highlight reel, Lin walked away as the fan favorite."
  • D.J. Foster of ClipperBlog and ESPN Los Angeles on the Spurs' guards: "You’ll see a lot of guys provide token full-court pressure in summer league, but the Spurs’ players aren’t ones to take a task lightly. All game long guards Curtis Jerrells and Dwayne Mitchell stayed in the hip pocket of the Lakers’ ball-handlers and made them work for every inch on the court. The result of the inspired perimeter defense showed up in the box score – the Lakers’ guards went a combined 0-for-13 from beyond the arc, turned the ball over ten times, and shot just 40.5 percent from the field."
  • Jeremy Schmidt of Bucksketball on Deron Washington: "In terms of pure athleticism, Washington can match anyone in summer league. He showed that on Thursday when he called dibs on blocking a Hawks player on a fast break (a questionable foul was called). But over the past three games, for the first time, he’s been showing there’s more to his game. Washington has been the Bucks biggest 3-point threat, hitting six of his ten 3-point attempts, while averaging 14.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game."
  • Jeremy Schmidt on Sam Young, who lit up the Thomas & Mack Center: "The rims at the Thomas & Mack Center are surely glad to see Sam Young leave ... The second-year Grizzlies forward did a number on them Thursday night, dunking early and often on his way to 35 points on 12-for-17 shooting against the NBA D-League Select team. A known athlete, Young was able to get out in transition early and often and if there’s one thing that Sam Young has always been able to do, it’s finish in transition."
By D.J. Foster

Chase Budinger is no stranger to being the most athletic guy in the gym. As a top-rated basketball and volleyball prospect in high school, Budinger was loathed by opponents (including your narrator) for being graced with otherworldly athletic ability. The way he could run the floor and soar through the air effortlessly seemed downright unfair, especially from a ground-level perspective.

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Is Chase Budinger starting to put it all together?

The playing field in the NBA, of course, is a little more even. Summer league has its quirks, but there are plenty of ridiculously athletic prospects who can jump out of the gym and knock down an open 3 floating around. Budinger fits that billing, but he also has a firm grasp on what it will take for him to rise above the pack. Essentially, Budinger knows he needs to start playing chess instead of checkers.

"You always have to be thinking on the court," Budinger said. "That was probably one of the biggest things I learned right when I got to the NBA. On the defensive end you have to be in the right spot at the right time, because if you're not there then it's going to be tough."

Long gone are the days of players getting by solely on their athletic ability. After a solid yet unspectacular rookie campaign with the Rockets, Budinger came to Vegas, to loosely quote Jackie Chan, more focused on his focus.

"There were games last year where I should have been more aggressive," Budinger said. "In summer league, I had to be more aggressive."

That level of assertiveness often unseen in his rookie season came out in spades on Wednesday as Budinger led all scorers with 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting. The tell-tale play for Budinger came late in the fourth quarter when for a brief moment he seemed to piece it all together.

It started with an impressive display of leaping -- over a crowd of defenders to snatch a defensive rebound. Then came the aggressiveness when he immediately pushed the ball up the middle of the floor. Lastly came a wonderful show of confidence that manifested itself in a fancy around-the-back dribble and gorgeous no-look pass to a streaking Jermaine Taylor for the flush.

You could almost see the light bulb pop over Budinger's bushy head of hair as he ran back up the court. It was the perfect blending of ability and confidence and of body and mind that the Rockets can only hope Budinger can retain going forward.
  • DeMarcus Cousins filled the boxscore with 22 points, including the game-winner, but it's a single technical that's going to raise a few eyebrows in Sacramento. Cousins got mixed up with T-Wolves big man Greg Stiemsma in the first half and earned a quick T from the ref after a little jaw-jackin'. As the Kings went to the tunnel at halftime, assistant coach Mario Elie had some words for Cousins after watching his brush with the Wisconsin big man: "He's trying to get a job, you already have a job. Forget him."
  • Ish Smith is a 5-foot-11 point guard who weighs 155 pounds. In his senior season at Wake Forest, he shot a DeAndre Jordan-esque 49.4 percent from the free throw line while converting on 22.2 percent of his three-point attempts. Can a player like that survive in the NBA? Just maybe. Smith showed impeccable court vision, speed, and playmaking abilities, running the Rockets offense more like a seasoned vet than a prospect. Smith had six assists to just one turnover in 29 minutes and went a long way in showing he's not a completely incompetent scorer by going 7-for-8 from the field.
  • D-League all-star and former Utah Jazz draft pick Morris Almond continues to get buckets wherever he goes. The 25-year old scored 14 points in just 14 minutes for Chicago in their shellacking of the Clippers, showing off impressive range and a good first step in the process. Almond is too selfish for most offensive systems, but a bad team looking for instant points off the bench could do much worse for themselves.
  • The young Clippers can't hit the broad side of a barn right now, scoring just 50 points against the Bulls on 28 percent shooting from the field. Meanwhile, superfan "Clipper Darrell" remained right at 100 percent on his "U-G-L-Y" chants producing laughter from opposing players on the free-throw line.
  • The path for Joey Dorsey has already been paved by Raptors' dirty worker and possible future teammate Reggie Evans. Dorsey is a nasty screen-setter and a banger on the block, but similar to Evans, it's his offensive rebounding that could be his meal ticket on the next level. The big man out of Memphis is averaging nearly five offensive rebounds a game in Vegas through his first three games. Dorsey's solid frame and nasty disposition could lend itself well to a Toronto team short on toughness.
  • The best musical selection of the day by the DJ at the Cox Pavilion? The SpongeBob SquarePants theme song, played in its entirety. Media row was completely baffled.
  • Courtesy of Land O' Lakers, here's David Thorpe on Derrick Caracter: “The guy clearly should have been a first-round pick. A bunch of teams messed up. There’s really no other way of saying it.”
  • John Krolik of Cavs The Blog on J.J. Hickson: "Hickson had one of the most dominant performances of Summer League, putting in 34 points on 12-19 shooting from the field. He's really trying to add new aspects to his game, and the results have been fairly mixed. On one possession, he'll drain a smooth step-back jumper. On the next, he'll walk trying to execute a post move or force an off-balance shot over a waiting defender. What really allowed Hickson to dominate was the Cavs' focus on getting out in the open-court. Fast-break basketball has been the buzzword for the Cavs during this summer, and Hickson really thrives in an up-and-down game. He ran the court all day long, and he was usually rewarded with a pass for an easy dunk or layup, either from the break or the spacing the threat of early offense created. He's so much better as an athlete than most summer league bigs are, and it really shows in the uptempo game."
  • Jeremy Schmidt of Bucksketball on John Lucas: "In 60 career NBA games, Lucas has hit exactly one quarter of his 3-point attempts. But his last NBA game came in 2007. Since then, Lucas has turned himself into quite a shooter, hitting 44 percent of his threes in a 2008-09 D-League stint and then 45 percent last year with the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association. Lucas was showing off that refined stroke Wednesday night, hitting all six of his 3-point shots en route to 25 points."
  • Joe Gerrity of Hornets247 on J.R. Smith: "Smith surprised the Vegas crowd by not only showing up at the Cox Pavilion, but actually suiting up and playing significant time against the Houston Rockets. Asked why, Smith cited his 'love of the game.' Early on he knocked down a silky smooth three-pointer and a rolled in a sweet reverse-layup in traffic, but that would do it for the Nuggets sixth-man. Despite the lax summer league defense, Smith finished 2-for-12 from the floor (1-for-8 from deep) with four fouls, three turnovers, two rebounds and only a single assist."
  • Surya Fernandez of Hot Hot Hoops on Garret Siler: "With Duke guard Jon Scheyer going home due to an eye injury and most of the starters for the Miami Heat summer league roster taking the day off, there wasn't much to take out of the Heat's game against the Detroit Pistons. Well, maybe there was one 'big' reason to watch: The steady play of 6-foot-11, 304 pound Garret Siler who is raising his game with each opportunity. Over on the Pistons end, center Greg Monroe also had a solid game by getting to the free-throw line regularly. Most impressively, both big men kept their turnovers down while remaining active in the paint -- a rarity in summer league where most bigs try to do too much and commit unforced errors."
  • John Krolik of Cavs The Blog on Christian Eyenga: "Eyenga is invisible for long stretches of play, but he does have his moments. He had an offensive rebound and putback where he just came from out of nowhere, and a crushing fast-break tomahawk that took the air out of the building. He's a ways away from harnessing his talent, but it's there."
  • Kevin Arnovitz on Alonzo Gee: "Never underestimate the power of being the most assertive guy on the floor in a summer league bout. That's how the Spurs' Alonzo Gee was able to dominate the floor in the Hawks-Spurs game. Not only was Gee the focal point of the offense, he was also the guy making sure the 5-man unit was on the same page coming out of a timeout. In transition -- but increasingly in the half court -- Gee can change direction on a dime. Pressuring him out on the perimeter just gives him an invitation to drive. If you play off Gee, he'll bear down, draw contact and finish."
By John Krolik

Wesley Johnson's first summer league game did not feel like the professional debut of a top-five overall pick. The Thomas and Mack center was nearly empty, with only a few hundred people there to populate the full-sized home of the Running Rebels. The starting lineups were listlessly announced to little fanfare. The pregame song was the theme music from Space Jam. To put it plainly, nothing about the start of Wes Johnson's pro debut felt like the start of something big.

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Wesley Johnson didn't dominate, but he showed off his skills.

When one watches Johnson play, it becomes clear why he doesn't have the kind of hype surrounding him that most top-five players do when they come into the league. Johnson is a perimeter player, but he doesn't seem to have the mentality of a go-to scorer. The Syracuse product only scored 16.5 points per game during his final year with the squad, and he wasn't looking to take over his first summer league game. After the contest, Johnson said that he's still "trying to find his spots" in an offense he's still trying to learn, and "wasn't going out there trying to over-exert himself."

Johnson was all but invisible during his first stint on the court for the Timberwolves, and his first basket of the game didn't come until he crashed the offensive boards for a tip-in. For most of the first half, Johnson waited around for a ball that wasn't coming to him. While Jeremy Pargo and Wayne Ellington were busy dominating the ball, missing 14 of their 20 field goal attempts, and committing a combined 10 turnovers, the No. 4 overall pick waited patiently for his turn to get a shot or make a play. The sparse crowd in the Thomas and Mack Center didn't come expecting to see a show, and Johnson wasn't looking to provide one.

Johnson didn't dominate the game by any stretch of the imagination. But he also didn't waste possessions, which is a bad habit most summer-league guards and wings have a hard time kicking. When Johnson did get a chance to make a play, it became apparent why the Wolves think he was worthy of a top-five pick. There was the time Johnson came off a pick and smoothly drained a 33. Then there was the moment in the second half where Johnson made a perfect cut, caught a Patrick O'Bryant bounce pass without breaking stride, and easily dropped in an and-1. Then there was the resounding tip-slam that drew audible gasps and finally got the stadium buzzing, even after the dunk was disallowed.

Johnson isn't a No. 1 option, but he has every skill you could ask for in a wing player. He's a smooth but explosive athlete, and can get to the basket with one or two long steps. He calls himself a slasher, but he can punish teams if they leave him open from beyond the arc. With his athleticism, length, and defensive instincts, Johnson will be a plus defender from day one; the Spurs' Alonzo Gee was the first NBA player to get shut down by Johnson in the half-court, but he won't be the last.

Johnson is the rare summer league player who will look better playing with and against the best players in the world rather than trying to dominate the rookies and fringe prospects that populate NBA Summer League rosters. When Johnson's teammates start looking for him and setting him up with opportunities to finish plays, he'll shine as an offensive player while making an impact on the defensive end. Johnson probably won't be a superstar in the NBA, but he has a very good chance of being an above-average starter in this league for a very long time. Teams can, and have, done much worse things with a top-five pick.
  • There's a lot to like about Knicks second-round draft pick Landry Fields. Fields isn't the most athletic guy in the world, but he uses every ounce of athleticism he has. He knows where the ball is going to be, wants to make plays, and does a great job using his body to keep defenders at bay when he puts the ball on the floor or goes up for a layup. There's no telling whether or not Fields' tricks will work against NBA defenders, but he certainly looked good today.
  • Devin Ebanks knows how to set himself up for his jump shot -- his footwork is good, he's usually squared up when he shoots, and he can get his shot off from a variety of spots on the floor. At one point, Ebanks turned down a 3, took two hard dribbles, and pulled up for an easy mid-range jumper. It's surprising how few slashers have that move in their bag. The problem with Ebanks is that he's much better at setting up his jumper than he is at making it. Ebanks flicks his shot up there, and his release leaves a lot to be desired. If Ebanks can fix some of the mechanical issues with his jumper, he could become a surprisingly complete offensive player.
  • Derrick Caracter played an extremely sloppy game, and ended up committed eight turnovers and eight fouls. On the other hand, his ability to finish in traffic continues to be impressive.
  • Toney Douglas had a sloppy game as well, and he spent more time forcing shots than trying to be a real point guard. Maybe he's trying to prepare himself for his new role as a bench scorer, which the Raymond Felton acquisition will almost certainly relegate him to.
  • Gerald Green had one stretch where he made a smart swing pass, hit an open 3 and swished a tough pull-up jumper. For a second, everyone in the arena wondered why somebody that talented didn't make it in the NBA. Then Green got picked clean in transition and got stripped going to the basket on consecutive possessions.
  • Alonzo Gee looked amazing in full-court situations. He's a great rebounder for a guard, can start the break after grabbing a rebound, is a wonderful passer on the break, and is more than capable of finishing the break with a resounding slam. In the half-court, Gee was completely shut down by Wes Johnson, who might be the best perimeter defender I've seen at Summer League thus far.
  • Patrick O'Bryant has bounced around the league since he was a top-1o pick, but he looked like a serviceable pro on Monday. He's still a legit 7-footer, showed some nice touch around the basket, made a nice low-post seal and bucket at one point, and was telling his teammates where to be on defense. He'll never live up to his top-10 billing, but there could be a spot for him on the end of somebody's bench.
  • Dwayne Mitchell turned some heads when he scored 12 points in 12.5 minutes against the Wolves without missing a shot, with five of those points coming on a 3 3and a resounding alley-oop dunk.
  • Rob Mahoney on Donté Greene: "It's entirely possible that Donté Greene was put on this planet purely to thrive in Summer League games. His ball-handling skills and decision-making aren't exposed against the inferior competition, and he essentially has license to fire at will. As a result, Greene reveals the flashes that made him such an intriguing prospect coming out of Syracuse. Yet that's part of the problem. Greene is so athletic and so talented for a 6-foot-11 player, but he's more or less the same talent he was a year ago or the year before that. Donté manages to catch lightning in a bottle in Vegas, but in the big leagues? He still has a fair way to go."
  • Rodrigue Beaubois is really trying to add a more consistent jumper to his game, and has turned down some opportunities to drive in order to set up that jumper. The results have been mixed in Summer League, but he'll be scary if he can add that dimension to his game.
  • Harvard graduate Jeremy Lin might be the most fearless driver in Summer League. He goes straight to the rim, and isn't afraid to take contact when he does. His and-1 while being taken down by Larry Sanders was one of the best plays of the week.
  • Jeremy Schmidt on Jeff Teague: "He was the name many Hawks fans were calling for last season when Mike Bibby was showing his age. Teague gave a sampling of what he's able to do on Monday night. The Hawks second year point guard took advantage of Memphis' lack of a true point guard and was able to use his terrific quickness to repeatedly beat them off the dribble. Teague shot 5-7 from the free throw line, often drawing contact in the lane after getting by his first man. Teague controlled the game better than his three assists and four turnovers would indicate and, even with O.J. Mayo out there, often looked like the best player on the floor. Hawks fans will surely hope to see more of him next season.
  • Michael Schwartz on Scottie Reynolds: "The Suns were not sure if Reynolds was supposed to play at all because of a strained Achilles he suffered last week, but Reynolds surprised even his coach Dan Majerle by coming in ready to play today. He then sparked the Suns with 16 points in 19 minutes in their 96-88 win over D-League Select. Reynolds led Phoenix at a Suns-like pace by pushing the ball up the court and his shooting touch was on target in a 4-for-6 outing that that included a pair of 3s. 'He brought a lot of spark pushing the ball,' Majerle said. 'It was good to see.'"
  • Nick Young looks like a new man when he can take catch-and-shoot 3s off of John Wall passes. Between Young and JaVale McGee, Wall is already showing his ability to make his new teammates better.
  • John Wall isn't just a leaper, he goes to the basket with force, and he can finish after taking a hit. Eric Bledsoe bounced off of Wall before he converted an and-1 in transition. Something else to feel good about: Wall looked much happier after throwing a successfully converted alley-oop pass than he did after making the aforementioned and-1.