TrueHoop: Shabazz Muhammad
July, 18, 2014
By D.J. Foster and Fred Katz
Thirteen notable performances from Day 7 at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas:
Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers | Grade: B+
The good: Wiggins went to the line a whopping 20 times, drawing contact against smaller defenders and getting fouled on step-back jumpers and swing-through moves. The bad: Down three with the game on the line, Wiggins allowed a blow-by in an isolation situation, then turned it over the very next possession. The ugly: All the quiet time spent at the free throw line was interrupted by a fan yelling “You’re going to get traded!” -- Foster
Dante Exum, Utah Jazz | Grade: D
If this was your first time seeing him, you’d probably wonder what all the fuss is about. This was Exum’s worst performance in summer league by a long margin, as he mostly floated in the background and deferred to a fault. Even when he’s stuck in the mud of a 1-for-8 shooting night, though, you can still catch a little glimmer: Exum attempted a two-footed, Derrick Rose-style dunk from outside the paint that he was fouled on. You just wish there was more of that, though. -- Foster
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers | Grade: C+
After briefly making the city of Philadelphia nervous by leaving the game with injury, Noel returned to the floor. Even though there weren’t many flashy moves or insane athletic displays, Noel planted himself right in front of the action at the front of the rim and used his superior length to his advantage quite nicely. He’s capable of much more, but it’s nice to see that he knows where he’s needed. -- Foster
Jordan McRae, Philadelphia 76ers | Grade: A
He was almost perfect. McRae scored 25 points and didn’t miss a single shot all night until, ironically enough, he air-balled an open 3-pointer late. You hear a lot about length leading up to events like this, but McRae puts his crazy 7-foot wingspan to real use offensively on the wings, as his ability to get shots off in traffic and finish over the top of defenders bodes well for the next level. -- Foster
Tony Snell, Chicago Bulls | Grade: B
A lot of the rookie hesitation in Snell’s decision-making has gone by the wayside, as he pulled the trigger a few times with little breathing room to spare. That willingness to fire up shots coming off screens is a nice development, as Tom Thibodeau runs a pretty structured offense that largely revolves around his ability to get shooters open looks from off-ball action. There aren’t many potential contributors for championship contenders here, but Snell is one of them. --Foster
Shabazz Muhammad, Milwaukee Bucks | Grade: B
It happened. Muhammad finally had his first eye-opening summer league performance, dropping 24 points in a “playoff” loss to the Kings. It’s not that Muhammad hadn’t scored at all before Thursday; he just hadn’t done so efficiently. Against the Kings, he got to the hoop, made a few moves out of the post and attempted 11 free throws, a high for him at summer league, while also making more than half his shots in a contest for the first time in Vegas. -- Katz
Shabazz Napier, Miami Heat | Grade: C-
Apparently, Shabazzes offset. The man with two z’s in his name looked like he was catching some z’s throughout the game, appearing lethargic getting back on defense and while guarding in the half court. Napier wasn’t impressive on the other end, either, settling for jumpers (he was 5-for-18 on field goals) and failing to create for his teammates off the dribble just one night after his appearance at the ESPYs. -- Katz
Austin Daye, San Antonio Spurs | Grade: C-
It’s simple: Daye has to make 3s to warrant playing time again at the next level. His 2-for-9 showing from behind the arc is a bad sign for his stretch 4 aspirations, as it’s incredibly unlikely he’ll be able to get into the paint at the next level due to his lack of speed and molasses first step. The silver lining here, though? Daye isn’t passing up open looks when they come his way. Play for the job you want, right? -- Foster
Isaiah Canaan, Houston Rockets | Grade: A
The Rockets are a fun summer league team to watch, if only because you can clearly identify who has previous experience on their 3-happy D-League affiliate team in Rio Grande. Canaan is one of those players, and his unabashed love for pull-up 3s (4-for-8) and hard drives right to the rim (28 points) tips it off. It’s fitting that Canaan’s trademark moment -- a lefty drive against Wiggins with a strong finish to ice the game -- came in such a manner. Keep his name in your back pocket. -- Foster
Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz | Grade: B
He’s a no-frills player. Hood has a really good sense of when to beat off-balance defenders with strong straight line drives to the rim, and his intelligence cutting to open spaces on the floor at the right time would make former Utah coach and Flex enthusiast Jerry Sloan proud. On nights like this when nothing is coming easy for the young backcourt of Exum and Trey Burke, Hood can act as a low-risk safety valve. -- Foster
Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks | Grade: C
Everyone likes to make the Rajon Rondo comparisons with Schroder, but at this point, the greatest similarities between the two point guards probably come on defense. Rondo may not drain 3s, but he has a killer midrange game. Schroder, who started Thursday’s game off with a couple of turnovers in the opening minutes, is still learning how to shoot, clanking a few 16-footers off the bounce after dribbling around screens. Per usual, the German was a pesky on-ball defender, but if the shots aren’t falling, he can’t afford to toss careless passes in the wrong direction. -- Katz
P.J. Hairston, Charlotte Hornets | Grade: B+
After a pretty rough stay in Vegas thus far, Hairston showed why he’s considered such a natural scorer. Other than a few impressive feats of athleticism on dunks at the rim, the thing that stood out most was the quick, high-arcing release on his jumper that he’s certainly not bashful about letting fly. Even though he’s a high-usage player, Hairston’s penchant for shooting a high percentage of his shots from behind the arc (4-for-9) is a good sign for a Hornets team that desperately needs that type of production. -- Foster
Ray McCallum, Sacramento Kings | Grade: A-
Just because he was in relative basketball obscurity at Detroit Mercy, we all forget that McCallum was a highly coveted recruit coming out of high school -- and even at summer league, playing on a floor conducive to chaos, he looks like a coach’s son. At least against guys who are still learning how to play the game, McCallum has turned “making the right play” into his M.O. Now, he’s even added some moves, including a nice step-back off the dribble, to his arsenal. -- Katz
July, 15, 2014
By D.J. Foster
Nine notable performances from Day 5 at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas:
Dante Exum, Utah Jazz | Grade: C
An average outing in the second part of a back-to-back? He’s got this NBA thing down already. The level of aggression offensively wasn’t quite the same as it had been in previous games, as Exum willingly deferred to others instead of really forcing the issue and creating offense. The limited minutes probably didn’t help him stand out much, but most of the decision-making was fine. This was just a scaled-back effort.
Will Barton, Portland Trail Blazers | Grade: B
Remember those “my fast is faster than your fast” commercial spots? It really feels that way when Barton takes the floor, as he flies up and down the court at a breakneck pace. Don’t mistake his energy as a cover-up for a lack of skill, though, because Will “The Thrill” displayed great shake off the dribble to get into the paint early and often, gashing the interior defense. The between-the-legs alley-oop to Thomas Robinson wasn’t half bad, either.
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers | Grade: A-
McCollum is a really sneaky athlete, mainly because it factors into situations you don’t normally pay much attention to. For example, McCollum gets a ridiculous amount of elevation on his jumper, which allows him to pull up off his own dribble or shoot right over the top of a closing defender. After hitting six 3-pointers and tallying 28 points, McCollum is making it clear he’s a spot-up threat defenses are going to have a whale of a time with going forward.
Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls | Grade: A
There’s a lot of legwork that goes into getting an open look when you’re a shooter with his reputation, but McDermott has the rare ability to read a defense while he’s on the move. Multiple times after manipulating his man into a screen, McDermott burned the overcompensating help defense with a picture-perfect pocket pass. He gets it.
Glen Rice Jr., Washington Wizards | Grade: A-
Could a sophomore second-round pick end up stealing the summer league MVP award? Rice may not bring the hype that accompanies the fresher faces, but he once again looked a cut above his competition. Rice’s game is all about explosiveness.
Miles Plumlee, Phoenix Suns | Grade: B+
We were robbed of seeing the only two projected starting centers in Vegas go up against one another when Nerlens Noel sat out, but Plumlee put on a nice show against the Sixers regardless. Given his production last year and his role going forward, it’s a bit surprising to see Plumlee here, but it’s evident he’s working hard on becoming a better rim protector and defensive presence. In order to take the next step, Phoenix will need that from him.
T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns | Grade: A
He didn’t earn the bandage over his eye by accident. Warren was a human wrecking ball offensively, smashing his way to whatever spot on the floor he desired before simply overpowering his defender for easy buckets. It’s not very often you see a perimeter player rack up 28 points with no threes, but Warren seems to get the best of every physical exchange he gladly partakes in. If he ever develops 3-point range, watch out.
Shabazz Muhammad, Minnesota Timberwolves | Grade: D-
Muhammad once again elicited groans from his hometown crowd for his selfish play, as he chucked his way to a 3-for-15 night while providing almost nothing across the board. At this point you have to begin to wonder if Muhammad, whose lone strength is his ability to bully smaller defenders, really belongs in a league in which he’s regularly outworked. On the bright side, he did register his first assist in three games, so at least there’s that.
Cameron Bairstow, Chicago Bulls | Grade: B+
It’s unfortunate for Bairstow that Chicago’s frontcourt is so loaded, because it sure looks like he’s an NBA quality big man. On defense he’s physical and doesn’t give up ground, but on offense he’s more of a finesse guy who can step away from the rim, pass from the elbow and really knock in midrange jumpers at a high clip. He’s the best player in Vegas that looks like "Karate Kid" villain William Zabka, by far.
July, 13, 2014
By D.J. Foster
Ten notable performances from Day 2 at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas:
Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks | Grade: C-
Here’s the Tim Hardaway Jr. basketball logic tree: Am I open? Shoot it. Am I covered? Shoot it. Someone else has the ball? Do nothing until I get it ... and then shoot it. Hardaway put up 16 attempts in 25 minutes and registered zero rebounds, zero assists and zero steals. Knicks teammate J.R. Smith catches a lot of heat for chucking, but Hardaway makes him look like a regular Magic Johnson by comparison.
Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets | Grade: A
Is there a little more to Harris than originally projected? The Michigan State guard split defenders and attacked in the pick-and-roll game, looking more like a complete wing scorer than a limited 3-and-D guy. Even though 3-point shooting was his calling card (5-for-10 from deep) and should continue to be going forward, the whole package was on display.
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers | Grade: B
Even on an iffy shooting night (4-for-11), it’s easy to see why McCollum is a big-time scorer in the making. Rarely do you find a wing with this combination of size, shake and shooting ability, and perhaps more importantly, the smarts to use those skills and base an attack around threes and free throws. Making even your worst shooting nights palatable is an underrated aspect of being a quality scorer, and McCollum can do just that.
Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards | Grade: B
With Trevor Ariza off to the Houston Rockets and Martell Webster out with another back surgery, the third pick in the 2013 draft might have to grow up in a hurry. Porter is a little reminiscent offensively of Tayshaun Prince, as he curls well off baseline screens and uses his length to shoot over the top on contested midrange jumpers. While you’d like to see him extend his range, establishing a comfort zone might be more important for the time being.
Glen Rice Jr., Washington Wizards | Grade: B+
There are a lot of aggressive dudes at Summer League trying to bully and pound their way onto a roster, but no one attacked the rim on Saturday quite like Rice. In just 26 minutes, Rice went to the line a whopping 16 times. Considering he’s a better athlete and shooter than Porter, Rice could really syphon some minutes from Porter this season if he keeps up this level of aggression offensively.
Shabazz Muhammad, Minnesota Timberwolves | Grade: C+
Muhammad has mastered the art of throwing garbage up at the rim while simultaneously creating space with his huge frame for an easier putback attempt after securing the offensive rebound (7 on the game). I’m not entirely sure that’s a viable strategy against better athletes, but Muhammad’s whole bag is non-traditional scoring.
Justin Holiday, Golden State Warriors | Grade: A
It’s not often you see a player smile while making a game-winner, but Holiday couldn’t help but grin as he caught an airball (or a Kobe assist?) under the basket to flip in, effectively keeping Golden State’s summer league winning streak alive and well. Holiday has always lacked a “specialty” that really appeals to NBA teams, but his smooth all-around game and length served him well Saturday.
Tony Snell, Chicago Bulls | Grade: A
Maybe Doug McDermott loaned out his jumper for the evening, as it was Snell who stole the show in his debut by hitting just about everything he put up (10-for-14, 27 points) while McDermott struggled (2-for-8). Chicago can always use more perimeter shooting and scoring, and Snell looked confident firing from deep and flying in with long strides on drives to the rim.
Dante Exum, Utah Jazz | Grade: A-
Hype machine, activate! Comparisons to a young Kobe Bryant, Penny Hardaway and Brandon Roy were flying around after Exum’s first game, and his displays of smooth athleticism and skill were often breathtaking. Although there were better overall performances elsewhere, no one flashed more star potential than Exum did. With his vision and first step, he has lead guard written all over him.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz | Grade: B
Sometimes all it takes for players with high motors is one positive play to start a chain reaction. That happened for Gobert a few times, as a block or a steal would lead to an offensive rebound, which would then turn into an easy bucket. The consistency isn’t quite there yet, but Gobert absolutely has the natural ability to impact a game defensively in spurts.