TrueHoop: James Johnson

Day Five Las Vegas summer league roundup

July, 14, 2010
7/14/10
12:35
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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At summer league, athleticism is the most commonly cited variable to distinguish NBA-caliber players from the rest of the talent. DeMar DeRozan's athletic gifts established him as a Top 10 pick in 2009, despite an underwhelming one-and-done season at USC. DeRozan displayed his explosiveness and agility for much of the 2009-10 season at varying levels of refinement, finishing his rookie campaign with a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 12.58. He showed strength (finishing near the rim) and weakness (playmaking) in the precise areas where you'd expect an athlete to succeed and fail.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Can DeMar DeRozan fill the void in Toronto?


Chris Bosh's departure leaves the Raptors with a vacuum in their offense, and DeRozan is probably the only player on the roster with the dynamism to fill that void. But to be the name on the marquee in Toronto, DeRozan will have to graduate from an athlete who can ball to a ballplayer who can leverage his athleticism. If he's going to achieve as a shooting guard, he must extend his range to beyond the arc, where he converted only four shots during his entire rookie season. DeRozan will also need to apply all that athleticism and length against the scorers who are torching Toronto on a regular basis.The Raptors finished dead last in defensive efficiency last season. As he enters his sophomore season DeRozan is well-aware of this opportunity, and the improvement in his game it will require on both ends of the floor.

"If I want to be more effective, I really have to slow down and not only use my athleticism all the time," DeRozan said. "I have to learn how to play different kinds of ways and I'm learning."

On Tuesday, we saw glimpses of DeRozan's learning curve and his expanding game. He scored 23 points, shooting 10-for-15 shooting from the floor. Although he unleashed some ferocious dunks, there was substance and nuance to go along with the aerial effects. DeRozan showed off a tighter handle against pressure, something that hampered his one-on-one game at times last season. That added confidence in his ballhandling allowed DeRozan to make better decisions off the dribble, whether it was spinning away from help defenders or finding a seam.

"Athletes last for [only] so long," DeRozan said. "Being young, I want to develop now so that I can go 50-50 with my game -- skills, then use my athleticism when I have to."

DeRozan still exhibited plenty of that raw athleticism, especially in tandem with Sonny Weems, his closest friend on the team. The two wingmen teamed up on consecutive alley-oops in the second quarter. The first jam came in the half court when Weems snuck behind the Houston defense on a dive to the hoop, where DeRozan found him with a lob. On the next possession -- a break in transition -- Weems returned the favor when DeRozan ran the baseline and met Weems' pass at the rim for the slam.

"That's what young guns do," DeRozan said. "When we came out, Sonny said he was going to go back door and I threw it to him. Then I knew when we were on the fast break together, I knew he was going to throw it up."

DeRozan's primary defensive assignment on Tuesday was staying with Chase Budinger (and occasionally Jermaine Taylor) in Houston's active three-man sets, closing out on the second-year sharpshooter and staying with him in transition. For the most part, DeRozan succeeded on all three accounts. He selectively provided help, but usually opted to stay glued to his man.

"I need to improve my defense, especially going at the 2 position, going against players like Kobe [Bryant], Ray Allen, those type of guys every night."

Evidence gathered at summer league has to be viewed with a jaundiced eye. As DeRozan himself suggests, there's simply no substitute for meaningful NBA games. Matt Janning and Chase Budinger aren't exactly comps for Bryant or Allen, but at least DeRozan acknowledges that the trajectory of his growth as a player will be central to the Raptors' fortunes.

To return to respectability, Toronto will need a superstar -- and there's only one candidate on their roster.
  • Yes, that was J.R. Smith out on the floor starting for the Nuggets. You can't find Smith on the published roster, nor on any of the box scores from the Nuggets' first three games here in Las Vegas. So what's he doing here? "I'm just working out," Smith said. "I'd rather play somewhere like this than a high school gym and get hurt." Smith is rehabbing his left ankle. "Of course it's not the NBA season, but it feels good to see some familiar faces and feels good to come out and play."
  • James Johnson's teammates spent a lot of time telling Chicago second-year forward where to set up offensively in the half court. When Johnson doesn't have the ball in his hands, he floats purposelessly around the floor. Should he work off the ball to elude his man? Should he go to the ball? Often, Johnson has no idea. On the positive side, Johnson has some impressive ball skills. He has the handle and agility to find seams to the basket -- and the strength to finish. Unfortunately, he doesn't display the desire or wherewithal to make a play when he encounters heavy traffic.
  • DeMarcus Cousins posted another strong showing. The numbers were solid -- 19 points and 12 rebounds -- but the breadth of Cousins' game was most impressive. Cousins displayed a lot of polish against the Lakers' squad. Whether he was delivering a nice pass against collapsing defenders to a diving Omri Casspi for a slam, or working Derrick Caracter off the dribble from the top of the arc (finishing with a soft hook off the glass), Cousins revealed finesse to accompany that power. He even drained a jumper from 20 feet and launched a smart outlet pass that led to a bucket on the break for Casspi. Above all, he's still showing signs of becoming a pick-and-roll force. On one possession, he set a high screen for point guard Donald Sloan, then made a beeline to the rim, flushing Sloan's missed shot for a putback. Even on Cousins' misses (he finished 8-for-20 from the field), he unveils a range of skill. There's a whole lot to be explored here.
  • If Dan Dickau can play NBA ball, then it seems to make sense that Matt Bouldin should. The big point guard out of Gonzaga can deliver a sharp pass, pressure the ball, fight through screens and make good decisions with the ball in late shot-clock situations. At 6-foot-5, he has NBA size at the position.
  • On a high ball screen, the man guarding the screener is charged with the responsibility of letting the man about to be screen know the pick is coming. In the opening possession of the Houston-Toronto game, the Raptors' Joey Dorsey failed to do that and got an earful from the Toronto coaching staff. In a sparsely filled arena on a Tuesday afternoon, that bark reverberated from the rafters. Suffice it to say that, for the rest of the game, you could hear "by yourself!" and "right! right! right!" every time Houston was in a ball-screen set.
  • Jonny Flynn interviews Wesley Johnson after Matthews' first summer league game.
  • Brian Kamenetzky talks to Lakers' point guard Ibrahim Jaaber.
  • Bret LaGree of Hoopinion on Othello Hunter: "Three weeks ago Atlanta Hawks Assistant General Manager Dave Pendergraft called Othello Hunter's season-and-a-half with the team as an experiment they didn't see through. Hunter appeared in just 23 games for 125 minutes with the Hawks. Despite having no immediate need for him, the Hawks assigned Hunter to the D-League for just 3 games during the 2008-09 season. After the Hawks released him in January, he finished the 2010 season in Greece, averaging 10 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes per game for Ilisiakos. His first stretch of regular playing time since his senior season at Ohio State may have given Hunter the confidence to again demonstrate his strengths on the glass and around the basket. Through four games with the undefeated Denver Nuggets summer league team, Hunter has again produced when given playing time, averaging 13 points and five rebounds in 24 minutes per game while making more than two-thirds of his field goal attempts."
  • D.J. Foster of ClipperBlog and ESPN Los Angeles on Patty Mills: "Most 6-foot point guards with diminutive frames would be weary of mixing it up, but Mills isn't your typical guard. Despite his stature, Mills is a scorer first and foremost who actually does some of his best work off the ball. One display of his aptitude without the rock came when Mills hurled himself at a Hornets defender almost twice his size, setting such a thick baseline screen that his own man had to scurry off to help. The suddenly wide-open Mills then floated to the perimeter for a clean 3, bringing his total on the evening to 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting. In Mills, the Blazers look to have another threat off the bench who can pack a punch offensively, whether he's the primary ball-handler or not. With players like Brandon Roy and Jerryd Bayless typically dominating the ball, Mills' abilities away from the play should prove valuable going forward.
  • Jeremy Schmidt of Bucksketball on Hasheem Thabeet: "As he often does, Thabeet showed his shot blocking ability, rejecting three shots, but he still looked unsure of himself on offense. 20 seconds into the game he caught a pass and brought it down to his chest, allowing a guard to sneak in to tie him up. Later in the game he grabbed a rebound and again brought the ball down low before watching it get slapped away by a much smaller player. While signs of progress are there, Thabeet was 6-9 from the free throw line and rotated well enough on defense that his coaches were very vocal in their praise from the bench more than once, Tuesday's game reinforced the idea that Thabeet is still very much a work in progress."
  • Joe Gerrity of Hornets247 on Quincy Pondexter: "The first-round pick continues to impress on the defensive end. He's active off the ball and has shown the capability to stay in front of his man, something the Hornets desperately needed last year on the perimeter. Under the tutelage of new coach Monty Williams the Hornets are expecting an immediate contribution from Pondexter. Offensively he's a quality finisher and capable of cutting to the hole or hitting a pull up jumper at an NBA level. Before too long he should be in contention with Julian Wright to receive substantial minutes in relief of the aging Peja Stojakovic."
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

The Las Vegas Summer League is a lot like the Sundance Film Festival of the NBA. Whereas the pageantry of most NBA games has gotten out of control, Summer League games are small indie productions. The event certainly has its share of fanfare, but it also allows participants to brush shoulders with some notables they wouldn't ordinarily have access to during the grind of the NBA season. Just as festival-goers at Sundance might find themselves sitting next to an A-List movie star in a cozy bar, it's not unusual for Summer League attendees to sit down in the stands at Cox Pavilion, only to look over and see a high-profile general manager in cargo shorts and flip-flops.

Since team executives, agents, player development personnel, and veterans who've come to watch their younger teammates are all convened in one place for 10 days, Summer League is one big, casual schmoozefest, and a great place to take inventory of the state of the NBA.

What were all those big names talking about in Las Vegas this year? Here were eight hot topics:

A Lot of Competent Players, but Only One Sure-Fire All-Star
Since early spring, the 2009 talent pool has been regarded as a one-man draft. By and large, NBA folks left Las Vegas with that consensus intact. Blake Griffin was the story of Summer League. Though he wasn't able to replicate his explosive 27-point debut, Griffin's 19.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game stood out. There were other players who matched his statistical output, but few generated the enthusiasm Griffin did among those who got a look at the full roster of rookies. "It's not only his work ethic and competitiveness," said one scout. "It's the balance, athleticism, body, and control. The stuff he can't do yet? It'll happen in no time." When asked how many certain All-Stars would materialize from the class of 2009, interviewees set the over-under barely above one, with Tyreke Evans earning a few votes. Despite the low expectations for stardom, many observers were pleasantly surprised by the depth of solid, if unexceptional, players. The prevailing opinion in Vegas was that the 2009 group is a far cry from the notoriously fruitless class of 2000. Though there was little unanimity, James Harden, Austin Daye, Wayne Ellington, Jonny Flynn, DeJuan Blair, and Earl Clark were all mentioned as possible contributors, or "third options" as one assistant general manager put it. But conversations about potential greatness consistently and almost exclusively returned to Griffin.
Anthony Randolph Anthony Randolph: All grown up?
(Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Anthony Randolph is Ridiculous
Summer League play always warrants a disclaimer, because the level of competition falls way short of what guys will confront in an NBA game, but the Warriors' 20-year-old forward seemed almost too advanced for Summer League play. Normally jaded execs and crusty sportswriters alike had their jaws agape watching Randolph command the game when he was out on the floor. Randolph came into the league as a candy dish of disparate talents, but he's graduated from curiosity to crackerjack. He has a band of admirers who gush over his range of talents, and that group got a lot bigger in Las Vegas, as his skill set was on full display. Randolph saw the court, ran the floor, passed the ball, blocked shots, got to the line, and drained mid-range jumpers as well as anyone in Summer League. In his four games, he averaged a Summer League-high 26.8 points per game on 60.9 percent shooting from the floor. He also got to the line 39 times and blocked 12 shots. But it was about more than the stats for Randolph. There's a moment when a player's talents unify into a single, coherent package. Judging from Randolph's performance, that moment has arrived.

The Global Economic Crisis
There's an area behind the near basket at Cox Pavilion where European coaches, general managers, and scouts sit and talk shop during the games. The NBA presents Summer League as a showcase of their future stars, but the real business in Las Vegas is being conducted by these guys, along with the agents and bridge-builders who are trying to get jobs overseas for the less recognizable names on Summer League rosters. Although there wasn't a visible black cloud hanging over this corner of the gym, the anxiety was palpable. They had a lot to be stressed about. Basketball clubs the world over are suffering, but none more than those in Europe. After years of escalating salaries and profits, the market has collapsed. "I've told all my European guys to expect, on average, salaries to go down between 30 and 40 percent," one European agent said. "It's definitely a buyer's market." This dynamic puts pressure on everyone -- the players who are facing a pay cut (even if they're coming off banner seasons), the agents who are terrified to communicate this to their clients out of fear of getting fired, and the teams who still haven't filled out their rosters because they're short on cash. The result is an impasse with neither players nor clubs budging, and a few teams on the verge of economic collapse.

Salary Cap Troubles & the NBA Financial Situation
The international game is in meltdown mode, while the NBA game is suffering from its own set of monetary issues. In Sections 104 and 115, where most of the NBA execs and team personnel sit, the dominant conversation of the week was about the financial pinch NBA franchises are feeling. In his press conference here in Vegas, NBA Commissioner David Stern said that fewer than half of NBA franchises made money last season. Ticket sales, sponsorships, and television contracts are all down. With the salary cap and luxury tax level dropping -- and scheduled to do so for the foreseeable future -- teams are having to calibrate their spreadsheets. This affects everyone: owners, general managers who are under pressure to build legitimate NBA rosters, free agents sitting on the sidelines, their agents, and also the journeymen and undrafted rookies trying to earn a spot on an NBA roster. To save money, a team that would normally carry 15 guys might trim that number down to 13 -- meaning fewer jobs. And players who would've inked rich, multi-year deals are finding that, with some exceptions, they have fewer suitors, with thinner wallets.

The Point Guard Class
Several point guards who came to Las Vegas made strong impressions. Jonny Flynn, despite all the turmoil surrounding Ricky Rubio, stood out. Though many in Vegas questioned the wisdom of playing Tyreke Evans at point guard long-term, few doubted that his strength, size, and capacity to get to the rim would make him a scoring machine. Observers had reserved praise for Brandon Jennings and Stephen Curry, the former for his unrefined shot, the latter for looking more like a gunner than a floor general. Some of the mid-first-rounders earned a lot of praise. Dallas' Roddy Beaubois led Vegas point guards in oohs and aahs, zipping through the lane in traffic and filling it up from beyond the arc. Of all the point guards in Las Vegas last week, Darren Collison was among the most polished before going down with an ankle injury. After starting Summer League 1-for-15 from the field, Ty Lawson bounced back to turn in three dominant performances, averaging 23.7 points over that span. Lawson is the kind of point guard who needs to be surrounded by scorers to excel. He'll have that in Denver.

LO, AI, Booz, and the Blazer
s

As much as NBA fans love speculation about trades and free agency, nobody appreciates the rumor mill quite like the NBA chattering class. Talk of the disintegration of Lamar Odom's negotiations with the Lakers provided plenty of fodder for late-night dinners. The same was true of the l'affaire Allen Iverson, where Carlos Boozer may land, and what the Blazers will do with the money they threw at Paul Millsap. The Odom situation was far and away the most intriguing to the insiders. Odom and the Lakers are in the second act of a romantic comedy: They need each other. The Lakers would slip measurably without Odom, and Odom needs the Lakers to solidify his place among the Lakers greats -- or at least the Lakers very, very goods. The Iverson and Boozer matters exemplify the financial issues mentioned above. So far as Portland, few teams run as much informational interference, and even some of the wiliest insiders were stumped about what the Trail Blazers might do.

The Death of the Back-to-the-Basket Game
"Name one guy here who can hit a jump hook over their left shoulder," an NBA assistant general manager asked. "I can't think of one." Whether it's the trickle-down effect of the European game, the rule changes implemented by the league a few years ago, or college teams appropriating Mike D'Antoni-style basketball, the vast majority of the young bigs who were in Las Vegas are face-up players who work either along the perimeter or out of the pinch post: Anthony Randolph, Earl Clark, James Johnson, Taj Gibson, Dante Cunningham, DaJuan Summers, Austin Daye, and even Blake Griffin. Is this a momentary trend, or will the pendulum eventually swing back? "If I were a big man about to enter college, I would develop that back-to-the-basket game," the executive said. The implication: At some point, those skills will be at a premium, and that kid will be impossible to defend. Forward-looking teams are all about buying low and, right now, traditional post players are undervalued because they don't conform to the current climate of the NBA game.

Dysfunctional Organizational Structures Breed
Dysfunctional Franchises
What is going on with Minnesota? That was a popular topic of conversation among senior NBA people in Las Vegas. The team still has no coach. Though it had one of the Summer League's most prolific players in Flynn, there's no telling if the system he played in over the 10 days will be the one installed by a new coach -- whoever that might be. This makes the Summer League evaluation process a lot less useful. Who's in charge? CEO Rob Moor? General manager David Kahn? Will the new coach be fully empowered to do his job? Critics also looked at Memphis. How did the Grizzlies end up with Hasheem Thabeet? Because owner Michael Heisley reportedly made the call. The Clippers, too, generated buzz this week with the Iverson speculation. While owner Donald Sterling wants to make a splash with Iverson, Clippers management would like to target Ramon Sessions. These historically beleaguered franchises all have one thing in common: There's no clear hierarchy that allows basketball people to make basketball decisions. The best franchises have well-defined roles that emanate from the top. Owners allow their senior executives to do their job. Those executives give their head coaches full reign, and so forth. Look no further than the San Antonio Spurs.

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
  • Jonny Flynn is making his case for Summer League MVP. We tend to forget that college offenses don't run much pick-and-roll. With the help of Garrett Siler, his own personal Erick Dampier, Flynn is getting the kind of open space that makes him lethal. Saturday's Flynn line: 24 points (7-for-10 from the floor, 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, 4-for-4 from the stripe, 4 assists). He's the single most electric guard here in Vegas.
  • We were deprived of the Flynn-Darren Collison matchup beyond the first quarter-and-a-half, when the Hornets' guard went down with a sprained left ankle. Flynn and Collison traded buckets for the better part of 15 minutes, as we witnessed the best mano-a-mano of the week. Collison plays with a smart combination of patience and assertiveness. He wants to size up the floor before he commits, but then takes direct action once he has. Before Collison went down, he had 18 points on 11 possessions.
  • Roddy Beaubois Roddy Beaubois: Breaking the speed limit.
    (Jack Arent/NBA via Getty Images)
  • Go ahead and put Roddy Beaubois directly behind Flynn in the pure point guard Vegas hierarchy. Beaubois doesn't need a screen -- just a little spacing around him. He's fearless and will probably kill himself once he encounters NBA centers, but for Summer League, he's a delight. Saturday's Beaubois Line was very Flynnian: 23 points (9-for-12 from the field, 4-for-6 from beyond the arc, 5 assists).
  • The Bulls have a project in James Johnson. He's capable of moving the ball, looks like a competent defender, but I don't think he's realized what kind of offensive player he is, wants to be, or the Bulls want him to be. He's 12 for his last 43 shots from the field, though he's managed 24 free throw attempts over that span.
  • Washington deployed trap after trap against Blake Griffin whenever he touched the ball inside of 15 feet. With Eric Gordon sitting out, there was no one else on the floor for the Clippers who warranted any real attention. The Wizards' strategy was effective, as Griffin had his least efficient game of the week: 19 points on 21 possessions, 10 rebounds, four steals against five turnovers.
  • JaVale McGee should help Washington's frontcourt rotation a good deal this season. He's got so much agility on both ends, a soft touch, and actually knows how to backpedal against a speedy guard coming off a screen. He got the better of DeAndre Jordan tonight and, prototypically, the guys have similar profiles. McGee put up a gaudy line: 19 points (9-for-11 from the field), seven blocks and four rebounds.
  • Ty Lawson again took matters into his own hands. He went nuts in the first quarter against the D-League Select team with 15 points, and he was more shooter than slasher. Lawson drained five field goals in the period, three of them from long range. He finished with 21 points on 17 possessions.
  • Jerryd Bayless appears really happy to be playing big minutes -- even if it's only Summer League. He's pressing a little bit, but when he works a simple drive off a high screen, then kicks it to a shooter in the corner, he's successful. Unfortunately, more times than not, it's penetration in traffic, often followed by careless baseline passes.
  • Benjamin Golliver of Blazers Edge, here in Las Vegas, on Dante Cunningham: "He's been the most pleasant surprise in an otherwise dismal Summer League for Portland. Pitched by Kevin Pritchard as a Travis Outlaw clone, Cunningham has shown a more instinctive, aggressive nose for tracking down rebounds than Outlaw, but clearly doesn't yet have his shot-creating and shot-making abilities. Through three appearances in Vegas, Cunningham has shown that he's fully comfortable -- and quite effective -- shooting face-up jumpers from the elbows and the baseline, even with a hand in his face. He has found those sweet spots by staying in nearly constant motion during offensive sets and by creating space for himself during effective pick-and-pops with Jerryd Bayless. The question that followed Cunningham throughout the draft process still looms: does he have a position? His is the classic three/four tweener dilemma. On offense, his lack of 3-point range forces him to play 4 for the Blazers but his slight frame prevents him from being a true interior threat. On defense, a Blazers scout this week questioned whether he has the tools to guard multi-talented threes or the size to handle physical fours."
  • DeJuan Blair recorded his second double-double of the week. Gregg Popovich on what he's getting in Blair: "A rebounder and someone who has a high effort level all the time on the boards, and running the floor. He enjoys playing, which is probably his main gift."
  • James Harden would like to dunk on Shaquille O'Neal.
  • Spoke to the vendors at the NBA store here. They don't have any of the rookies' jerseys in stock. Bestsellers among the vets? Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul.

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

  • When Austin Daye was being sized up as a pro prospect, one of the first shortcomings mentioned by his naysayers was his lanky build. Watching him up close in Las Vegas, Daye seems wholly unintimidated by back-line defenders. He actually initiates contact off the dribble, and it rarely throws him off his drive. He's gotten to the line 16 times in the past two games. He also recorded a double-digit rebound total for the third consecutive game. 
  • DaJuan Summers has the proverbial nose for the ball. When Pistons point guard Sean Singletary drove baseline, Summers made a hard basket cut down the lane to collect the pass. When his man left him alone on the weak side, he crashed the offensive glass. That's how you get 15 shot attempts even though your team isn't running stuff for you. Summers hit only five of those 15 shots in his final Summer League game, but helped himself as much as anyone over the course of the past week.
  • Jonny Flynn Jonny Flynn didn't start ... but finished frequently.
    (Jack Arent/NBA via Getty Images)

  • After a silent first quarter against the Pistons, Cavs rookie Christian Eyenga got involved, did some nice work off the dribble against Daye, and worked hard defensively against the Pistons guards. Eyenga was the quickest guy on the floor when he was out there. The Cavs haven't been looking for him at all this week -- and he never calls for the ball -- so it's been hard to get a feel for the full range of his skills.
  • Jon Brockman is a hoss. Even though he looks like a tree trunk, he actually moves his feet well, has the makings of a good team defender, and did a nice job on a couple of Toney Douglas-Jordan Hill pick-and-rolls. There's no offensive game to speak of, but a good find by the Kings.
  • There's a good pick-and-pop player inside Jordan Hill, but it just hasn't materialized yet. Against the Kings, he demonstrated the mobility to work within Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni's system and get himself shots. "He's got a lot of offensive talents," D'Antoni said. "He just has to get a little stronger and get his jump shot down to where he's confident with it." Hill went only 3-for-11 from the field.
  • Jonny Flynn didn't start on Friday, but he took sole ownership of the game when he checked in at the start of the second quarter. Time and again, Flynn would get a hard screen from one of his bigs (both Garrett Siler and Adam Parada did good work), then exploded through the middle into daylight, absorbing any and all contact. In the fourth quarter, Flynn unleashed the theatrics: a behind-the-back pass to Parada, a two-handed dish over his head backward to a waiting shooter, a kickout to the arc while he was airborne in traffic. He finished with 21 points on 7-of-11 from the floor, and a perfect 7-for-7 from the stripe.
  • In eight days, James Harden has yet to take a truly questionable shot. He's the most measured rookie in his class on the court. Even his turnovers are of the "... but it was a good idea" variety. 
  • James Johnson's game can be disjointed at times. It's not that he looks lost. It's just the opposite -- he's a small forward with too many choices. Johnson couldn't buy a shot Friday (2-for-11 from the field), but he made four or five beautiful plays for teammates -- including a pinpoint interior bounce pass in traffic between two defenders to find James Augustine for a layup. Johnson finished with seven assists. 
  • There's one team out here playing at maximum effort: The D-League Select. On the pro squads, everyone has an individual agenda. A contracted, first-round stud is out there for an entirely different reason than the journeyman trying to catch the attention of a European scout. The D-Leaguers, some of whom had offers to warm the bench of an NBA Summer League roster but opted for DLS -- as they're known in abbreviation -- are collective underdogs. 
  • David Thorpe on Ty Lawson: "When he has to be your best offensive player, he's going to look average. This is one of the reasons he didn't stand out in the pre-draft camp a year ago in Orlando. But give him four talented players around him, and he'll make that collective group better than most other point guards could -- especially if those players can run." Friday, Lawson was playing with Coby Karl, Sonny Weems, Ronald Dupree, and Cedric Simmons, so he stopped deferring. Lawson initiated the offense himself, keeping the ball off high screens to either drive or shoot. He poured in 26 points on 17 possessions. 
  • Word association with Blake Griffin
  • Zag Alert! Swingman Micah Downs carried Phoenix on Friday. He hit from distance, slashed from the wing, posted up his smaller defenders, racked up five steals, and was key in transition en route to 19 points on 12 possessions. 

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