TrueHoop: Suns

Subjective: Kobe is not clutch

December, 29, 2010
12/29/10
11:21
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Ethan Sherwood Strauss writes/edits for HoopSpeak.com, Warriorsworld.net, and Salon.com. He lives in Oakland and wallows @SherwoodStrauss on Twitter. He once touched Ricky Rubio's hand.

In last night’s Spurs-Lakers game, Kobe Bryant got the better of Kobe Bryant again. When his team desperately needed him, he gave them a bit too much of him. It happens.

Credit to the San Antonio defense, offense, credit to DeJuan Blair’s ebullient flair. But, it’s impossible to watch a live game and absorb all the complexities of ten jerseys, tugging TV pixels in different directions. Frankly, I just funneled an attention span to the Kobe show.

Bryant started off shaky, out of rhythm. All seemed lost when he sauntered in with nine minutes left, Lakers down by double digits. In a rebuke to offensive sets, Kobe flooded the hoop. A deep contested two, a contested three, another three. Suddenly, the Lakers were tilting the see-saw. Suddenly, frightened announcers were sputtering: “He will score every time he gets the ball! Every time!”

(Uh-oh! Here it comes! Lava’s about to shoot out of his eyes and decapitate Gary Neal!)

Bryant’s next four shots were heavily-guarded misses. Gary Neal’s face still exists. Lakers to the exits, hence this missive.

The fourth quarter was illustrative of Kobe’s occasional crunch time lapses. When Bryant fails, it’s not because he shrinks from the moment--it’s because he tries to own it. That’s not to say that Kobe blunders often, it’s just to explain how it happens when he does. Our cultural assumption is that crunch time failing is “choking,” wilting under pressure, succumbing to the situation. But, when Bryant "chokes," he bites off more than he can chew--like a mamba chomping a hippo.

So here is my subjective, Playoffs-based needling of Kobe’s assassin credentials--the permit given to men whom you want shooting “with the game on the line.” I do it because so many Bryant debates pit stat lovers against conventional wisdom, and so many conventional wisdom clingers prey on emotional memory.

This dust-draped Youtube clip is the Game 6, 2006, series-losing airball that History forgot. It's a way-off airball, and a terrible miss amid a 50 point performance. Instead, we harp on his infamous following game, where KB “quit” in the second half. Strange that fans are willing to dismiss the botched heave, in favor of a bizarre moralistic narrative where Bryant failed out of spite. The unreasonable Puritanical screeching about Kobe’s Game 7 reminds me of the unhinged tumult that followed LeBron’s Game 5.

Below are two recent examples of fortuitous Kobe misses. I’m leaving out the most famous fortunate Bryant shank because Kings fans have it hard enough (Think: Horry, Robert). Notice the difficulty level of the Artest and Gasol shots.

His 1997 airballs versus the Jazz are barely worth mentioning. Kid Kobe was too young for the situation. Kudos to him for growing towards greatness, despite this early searing experience.

Did I remember his game-tying three against the Pistons in 2004? What about those heroics in Game 4 of that same Suns series, referenced earlier? Sure I remember all that, but so do you. The task is to highlight what isn’t sepia-toned. The goal isn’t to declare Kobe incapable in these moments, but instead to deny his mastery of them.

To quote Tom Haberstroh’s brilliant piece on Kobe vs. LeBron in crunch time--an article that gives Bryant considerable credit:

“We watch in anticipation as the ball leaves Bryant's fingertips on a contested perimeter jumper, which is the toughest shot in the game. But the degree of difficulty of the shot works both ways. When he hits the back-breaking shot, it is heroic. But when he misses, it is understandable.”

What’s understandable is that he misses a tough shot. But it's hard for many to grasp the flaw in Kobe's courage of conviction. And my subjective Bryant belief is, “The bigger the moment, the tougher the shot.” Fan wisdom says: Bravery is virtue. To claim that Kobe’s late-game confidence leads him to Icarus misses is subversive to that notion. I'd like to rebound that airball.
By Maurice Brooks

Where's the Love?

When the summer league schedule was released, Knicks vs. Timberwolves was a must-see matchup. Without New York's Danilo Gallinari (his back is still sore) and Minnesota's Kevin Love (sore Achilles) it is simply game No. 49 of 53.

Love posted a double-double in three of the four games he played in. The one game he didn't was Saturday when he was on the floor for just 18 minutes before getting injured. He led the tournament in rebounds per game and his final averages are: 18 points, 13.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 48 percent from the floor and 75 percent from the foul line.

Here are his game-by-game points and rebound totals:

Game 1: 18 points and 13 rebounds
Game 2: 18 points and 17 rebounds
Game 3: 26 points and 15 rebounds
Game 4: 10 points and nine rebounds


Non-Stop Cheering From Nate

While the game is pretty lackluster, New York's Nate Robinson, who is not playing today, has been fairly entertaining with his non-stop chatter from the stands. While his teammates appreciate his words of encouragement, I'm sure head coach Mike D'Antoni, who is seated directly in front of him, probably wishes he'd quiet down.

Minnesota's Pops Mensah-Bonsu (21 points) is letting his athletic ability shine through. His hops around the basket and his trips down the lane for buckets are the best thing about this otherwise unwatchable game.

Just like yesterday when they got blown out by the Bobcats, the Knicks have decided to let the Wolves rough them up today.

Showing off a nice touch from the outside, Anthony Roberson has 15 points for N.Y., which is down 20 in the fourth quarter. And yes, despite the deficit, Nate is still talking.

Speaking of Nate, this is his fourth straight year of playing summer league ball. At halftime there was a brief ceremony at center court where his No. 4 jersey was retired. I guess that explains why the jersey of the 2007 summer league MVP could be seen hanging underneath the far-end scoreboard this afternoon.


Lopez Switches Teams

Phoenix's Robin Lopez is not with the Suns for their game against the Wizards because he practiced with the select team earlier today.

The Suns' Judson Wallace is having a game to remember. He hit his first four shots -- including three 3-pointers -- on the way to 11 points. He also has three rebounds and two steals.

After his hot start, Wallace has missed six of his last seven. Phoenix's Alando Tucker has erupted for 10 fourth-quarter points and leads all scorers with 20.

The Wizards quit playing in the fourth quarter, getting outscored 30-6 on the way to an 88-69 loss.

Dee Brown was the only Washington player in double digits with 10 points. Tucker netted 25 and D.J. Strawberry added 20 for the Suns.

Here is what Tucker told me after the game.

On how he performed:

"I feel like I did a good job creating off the dribble, but I'm trying to get better and be more consistent with my jumper. Critics were saying last year that my jumper wasn't consistent."

Comparing last summer to this summer:

"I'm always trying to learn from my mistakes. I think I did a lot better this summer than I did last year. The coaches wanted me to take on more of a leadership role and that's what I tried to do."

On his approach to defense:

"That's something else I've been trying to get better at. Defensive intensity is what I tried to focus on out here."

On the Suns' coaching change:

"I wish [Mike] D'Antoni all the best, but he only had seven or eight players in the rotation. Terry Porter will give me a better chance to play more and I think I will show what I can do."


No Bayless Tonight?

There is a chance that Jerryd Bayless' 36-point special against Phoenix on Saturday will be his final shining moment at summer league. According to a summer league official, the Portland rookie, who was added to the select team today, attended the noon practice, but did not participate because of pain in his hand. He had an MRI and the results were negative.

(UPDATE 1: I just spoke to Bayless and he says the hand is fine and he is playing.)

(UPDATE 2: Did Bayless lie to me? The game just started and instead of playing he's sitting on the sidelines with a bag of ice on his left hand. While the Hornets and Blazers were warming up for the game, Bayless was presented with the T-Mobile NBA Summer League Top Rookie award aka the MVP trophy.)

"We came in here looking to get better as players and individuals and to get our team better and I think we did that," said Bayless after the game. "We won three and lost two and now we can move on and start getting ready for the regular season. My hand is OK. It's a little sore. I'm not sure what happened."

In four games, Bayless averaged 29.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists, while shooting 48.5 percent.


Who Needs Security?

When Carmelo Anthony walked into the arena, two huge body guards walked closely behind him keeping an eye on his every move. Meanwhile, fellow superstars Deron Williams, Chris Paul and O.J. Mayo today and LeBron James on Saturday moved around the arena body guard free. 


Wesley Has Shown Up

Arriving just in time for USAB training camp is "basketball icon" William Wesley. He took a courtside seat next to Chris Paul for the Hornets vs. Blazers game.


Brown's In A Giving Mood

Hornets' point man Bobby Brown is going out in style. The ball is in his hands on every play and he continues to make the right decisions. Too bad there wasn't an all-tournament team because he deserves something for his outstanding play. He has nine points and seven assists at halftime.

If the Hornets thought they were going to have an easier time because Bayless was out of the lineup, they were mistaken. J.R. Pinnock started in Bayless' place and had a Bayless-type performance. He went 11-for-19 from the field (4-for-5 on treys) and finished with 30 points and six rebounds as Portland rolled 78-63. 

Brown had 13 points, 10 assists and four rebounds.

  • Maurice Brooks is an NBA editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mbrooksnba@gmail.com.

By Maurice Brooks

Q & A

D.J. Augustin's only contribution for the Bobcats today was putting pen to pad to appease the fans and even without their prized rookie in the lineup they roughed up the Knicks by 32.

I briefly chatted with the point guard after the game.

TrueHoop: What's up D.J., I noticed you've sat out the past two games with left knee tendinitis. How do you feel?

Augustin: I feel good. I hit my knee in the first game and then I fell on it against the Warriors a couple of days later so I've just decided to rest it.

TrueHoop: Before the injury, how do you think you were playing?

Augustin: I think I did alright. I had to make some adjustments, but it wasn't really hard.

TrueHoop: Your three-game averages of 19.7 points and four rebounds are good, but critics can point to the fact that you only averaged 1.3 assists. What do you think is the reason your assists numbers were so low?

Augustin: Everybody is trying to get used to playing with each other. We were only playing together for four days.

TrueHoop: Are there any players who have caught your eye this week?

Augustin: I'm surprised with how many teams have a bunch of great players like Nate Robinson.

TrueHoop: What's your plan for the rest of the summer?

Augustin: I'm going to keep working hard so that I can be as prepared as possible for training camp.


Will Belinelli Bounce Back?

Last night against the Kings, summer league darling Marco Belinelli was terrible -- six points on 1-for-10 shooting with no rebounds.

The Warriors are taking the floor right now against the Raptors. I'll be interested to see if he has lost any confidence in his jumper.

The first quarter is in the books and Belinelli missed his only attempt.

Toronto's Joey Graham is putting in work once again, making 5-of-7 shots for 12 points.

I don't know if Golden State's Anthony Randolph drank a Red Bull during a timeout or what, but he is playing with more energy in the second period. He seems determined to get to the cup and he hit the boards so hard in one sequence that a fourth of the crowd applauded his effort.  

Randolph's field-goal percentage is down (4-for-14), but he is making a living at the foul line where he is 12-for-14. Anthony Morrow is leading the Warriors with 21 points on a scorching 9-for-11.

Just like the real Warriors, Golden State's games are all entertaining. Heading into the last period, Belinelli only has six six points but he has handed out six assists.

John Lucas is doing a good job running the show for Toronto. He leads everyone with seven helpers.

Randolph and Belinelli wrapped up their summer league experiences in style. He had a monster game for the Warriors, who went 4-1. He finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Proof of how aggressive he was are the 18 trips to the line he earned, making 16. He misssed 12 of his 17 shots from the floor, but who is going to argue with those final numbers?

Belinelli was the primary ball handler for the Warriors at stretches and he didn't disappoint, notching 14 points, eight assists and three steals. He finished 4-for-14 and thrilled the crowd with a couple of long bombs.   


Donte the Chucker

Houston's Donte Greene leads all players in Vegas in shot attempts with an average of 17.3 per game. Couple that with the fact he hasn't had an assist in three games and you feel fairly comfortable calling him a jacker. Like most players who rely on their jump shot, he is streaky. In the first half today, he has started 2-for-8 but you know that isn't going to keep him from shooting. The Rockets' coaching staff simply have to hope he catches fire.

Houston's Joey Dorsey, who is not playing today because of an ankle sprain, is walking very slowly with a limp.

We are six minutes into the third quarter and Greene has already had enough time to fire up six more shots -- 3-pointer (made), 3-pointer (made), 3-pointer (missed), layup (made), jumper (airball), jumper (airball).

As we start the fourth, Greene is 5-for-16, while Aaron Brooks is 1-for-10. Ew.

(Update: Greene finished 5-for-19 and Brooks went 3-for-15. On another note, Dorsey managed to get himself ejected.)


Airball

Despite being 7-feet tall, the Wizards' JaVale McGee was having trouble scoring from around the basket (0-3 from the floor, two points in 12 minutes of play), so he came up with a new game plan. The center decided to launch a triple from the top of the key area. The result? The ball fell short of the rim by three feet triggering laughter on the Washington sideline and earning McGee a seat on the bench where he received an earful from a coach.


Love Gets Hurt

Early in the third quarter, Minnesota's Kevin Love appeared to roll his ankle and was helped to the locker room. I'll try to get an official word. Before the injury, Love had 10 points and nine rebounds.

The Bucks' Joe Alexander is still searching for his jumper. He has missed five of his first six shots and has just four points, two boards and an assist midway through the third.

It turns out that Love has a sore right Achilles and will not return to the game.

Alexander's cold shooting continued after halftime -- he went 1-for-5 and finished with eight points.


Love, Mayo and Lopez To Be Teammates

Three of the top performers here in Vegas -- Memphis' O.J. Mayo, Phoenix's Robin Lopez and Memphis' Kevin Love -- were all picked to scrimmage against/get crushed by the U.S. Olympic team in practices next week.


Slow Day For MVP Candidates

First Love gets hurt, now Portland's Jerryd Bayless just had a quarter where he didn't attempt a free throw. Maybe Bayless is a little tired, but he doesn't appear to be playing with his usual fire. He missed both of his shots during his five first-quarter minutes.

Actually, the entire Portland team appears to be sleep. The Suns raced out to a 17-4 lead and haven't looked back, leading by 10 after one.

It's now late in the second quarter and although he is shooting more jumpers instead of driving to the hoop, Bayless is scoring. He's hit a couple of jumpers and has seven points. As I'm typing, he just shot an airball that was so short, I don't know if he'll be credited with a missed shot or a turnover for a bad pass.

Like all good players, Bayless apparently can turn it on and off at will. Right now he has it on. He erupted for 10 points in the third quarter -- mainly on jumpers -- and has four more points early in the fourth for a total of 23. The leading scorer in summer league is 9-for-18 from the field and Portland has a three-point lead.

There is no need to have a vote for MVP tomorrow because Bayless clinched it with his performance tonight. He went crazy in the fourth quarter scoring 17 of his team's 22 points. He drained short jumpers, long jumpers, runners and layups. He hit the game-winner with under 10 seconds left -- a floater in the lane.

His stat line reads like this: 36 points on 14-for-26 from the floor, 6-for-6 from the line, three boards, three steals and an assist.


King James Is Here

Sitting courtside for the last of today's seven games -- Cavaliers vs. Hornets -- is LeBron James. I wonder if he likes what he is seeing? The Cavs lead by five late in the first quarter.

  • Maurice Brooks is an NBA editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mbrooksnba@gmail.com.

Friday Bullets

July, 18, 2008
7/18/08
7:10
PM ET
By Maurice Brooks
  • I've been giving D.J. Strawberry his props for how he has been playing in Las Vegas. Apparently, that doesn't mean he'll be Steve Nash's backup in Phoenix.
  • Unlike fantasy sports, Detroit's Joe Dumars doesn't believe in making trades just to make trades.
  • Not everyone is a fan of the Nellie-ball system.
  • Kevin Love's father said that his son absolutely made the right choice by leaving UCLA early.
  • Chris Mullin is going to make sure that Al Harrington sticks around.
  • Here are Matt Moore's thoughts on the Suns vs. Knicks.
  • In case Stephon Marbury wants to get a tattoo on the other side of his head, here are some suggestions.
By Maurice Brooks

Chandler Goes Off

Three of New York's potential starting five -- Renaldo Balkman (sprained left ankle), Danilo Gallinari (sore lower back) and Nate Robinson (no reason at all) -- are in street clothes for their matchup today against the Suns. What that means is more shots for forward Wilson Chandler who has already fired up 32 shots in the Knicks' first two games.

Chandler hasn't disappointed. He looks very comfortable on the floor, making 5-of-9 on the way to a game-high 12 points in the first half. Equally impressive are the block, steal and five rebounds he's pulled down for the Knicks, who lead by five at halftime.

Phoenix big man Robin Lopez had better enjoy today. When the season tips off for real there aren't going to be too many games when he has to go up against the combination of Paul Miller and Zhang Songtao. Lopez is having a field day against those two, hitting on 6-of-9 for 13 points. He also has five rebounds.

Someone at press row wearing a Suns.com shirt just asked me if Chandler deserves MVP consideration? That is an indication of how well he has played today. He has used his mid-range shooting and drives to the basket to torch everyone in a Phoenix uniform. After a slow third quarter, he has erupted for 14 points in the fourth to run his total up to 31.  Throw in the fact he has 12 rebounds and this was easily one of the top performances by anyone at summer league.

Chandler, who was mobbed by a group of kids with autograph requests after the game, was averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds.

Phoenix's D.J. Strawberry (21 points) just pulled up for a game-tying 3-point attempt in the closing seconds only to have it swatted back in his face by Delonte Holland.

Final: NY 85, PHX 80.


Mistaken Identity

Last night while waiting in line with NBA.com's Dave McMenamin to get into a restaurant at Caesars, former NBA banger Dale Davis walked by.

Two older ladies in front of me asked out loud, "Is that a pro basketball player or something?"

Before me or McMenamin could respond, a guy behind me blurted out with a straight face, "I'm pretty sure that is Kevin Garnett."

Not exactly.


Show Me the Video Tape

Word on the street is that OKC's Kevin Durant drained 10 3-pointers on the way to 60 points while suiting up for a squad called the Sweat Mob.


Where's the D.J.?

Charlotte point guard D.J. Augustin will not play in today's game against the Pistons because of knee tendinitis.

In a sign that the Bobcats' coaching staff is more interested in evaluating than winning, 14 different Charlotte players have seen court time today. Coming off the bench, Kyle Weaver, the 38th overall pick of this year's draft, played his best game of the week for the Bobcats. His numbers don't jump off the stat sheet, but if you watched the game you saw him doing a lot of things right. He had 13 total points in the first three Charlotte games. Today he made 4-of-5 for 12 and also had two assists and two boards.


Summer Ball In Utah

On another note, the Utah Summer League begins play tonight with two games: Dallas vs. Atlanta and San Antonio vs. Utah. Here is a good preview.


Breaking Down Washington's McGee

Earlier today on the John Thompson Radio Show, I said that JaVale McGee's offensive game was raw. And he appeared to be proving me right against the Cavaliers, missing all four of his attempts in the first quarter. I don't know what he did at halftime, because he looks like a different player in the third quarter. His footwork is much better and he has shown off the entire big man skill set (dunk, up and under, jump hook). If his offensive game catches up to his defensive talent, he has the potential to be a quality power forward/center. The 7-footer, who is second in the league in blocks, has two rejections today, while altering several others.

McGee made 5-of-12 for 11 points. He also had four rebounds and two blocked shots. Here is what he told me after the game.

"I've been playing OK," said McGee, who noted his favorite move is the turnaround jumper. "For some reason, I've been scoring all of my points in the second half. The game on this level is a lot more physical and I have to work on getting stronger."

Andray Blatche continues to be the best player for the Wizards. He has led the club in scoring in all three of their games. He had 22 points and nine rebounds on an assortment of moves around the basket.


No Stopping Douby

Sacramento's Quincy Douby is cooking. I haven't figured out which was better, the 3-pointer he hit in Marco Belinelli's mug where he left his follow through up for what seemed like forever or the driving now you see me, now you don't spin move he used on his way to the last of his 23 (12 in the first quarter, 11 in the second) first-half points.

Golden State's C.J. Watson is lighting it up too. Doing his best Belinelli impersonation, the speedy Watson has gone 7-for-12 from the floor, including 2-of-5 on treys. He hasn't completely abandoned his point guard responsibilities, leading everyone with three assists.

As for Belinelli, he has been invisible. Anytime you have four times as many fouls as points, it's not a good thing. He missed all four of his shots in the first half and his lone point came on a technical free throw.

It's early in the third quarter and Douby has 27 points. Twice this period he has put a little mustard on his passes on the fast break and the ball has ended up at my feet out of bounds instead of in the hands of a teammates. When you are 10-for-13 from the field, what are you doing passing the rock anyway? Let it fly.

Belinelli finally hit a triple and added two free throws to bring his total to six late in the third. Everyone focuses on his shooting, but he is also a very gifted passer.

Meanwhile the Warriors still haven't figured out how to cool off Douby who now has 34. His jumpers have been pretty to watch, but it's his drives to the hole that are keeping everyone off balance.

Golden State's Dion Dowell had the chance to be a hero and he let it slip through his hands. With his team down two in the closing seconds, an inbounds pass by the Kings landed right in his hands. As he went in for the uncontested game-tying layup, he lost the ball on his way up.

Douby finished with 36 points for the Kings, who handed the Warriors their first loss. Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson both had double-doubles.

Watson led the Warriors with 24 points. Anthony Randolph had 16 and Belinelli went 1-for-10 for six points. He didn't grab a single rebound.  


Joey Graham Watch

The same way I slow down my car to stare at car accidents and move closer to people fighting so that I can get a better view, I find myself focusing on Joey Graham during every Toronto game.

I don't know why, I just do.

Graham appears to be the perfect combination of speed and strength -- two skills that play a big part in a successful NBA player. Why then has his career been on a steady decline since he was chosen with the 16th pick out of Oklahoma State in 2005?

He saw action in just 38 games this past season, averaging a paltry 3.6 points and 1.8 rebounds as his confidence dwindled along with his playing time.

"Last season was tough for me," said Graham following the Raptors' 89-71 win over the Lakers in Day 8 action at summer league. "I didn't really play that much."

The fourth-year pro is in Las Vegas trying to get a head start on fixing what has been wrong with his game.

"I want to stay consistent," Graham said. "The coaches asked me to come here and provid
e leadership, play defense and score points. I give myself a B minus."

Graham posted 20 points and five rebounds Friday. That is right in line with his four-game average of 19.3 and six.

"I have some things I need to work on," Graham said. "I want to rekindle the flame."

A couple of teammates have really impressed the power forward.

"[Nathan Jawai] is very athletic and C.J. Giles is like a sponge," Graham said. "He'll be able to learn a lot from guys like Jermaine O'Neal and Chris Bosh."

Like everyone else, Graham can't wait to see how O'Neal and Bosh play together.

"They both have all of the tools," Graham said. "It's going to be exciting to see how Jermaine fits into the chemistry of the team."

  • Maurice Brooks is an NBA editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mbrooksnba@gmail.com.
By Maurice Brooks

Afflalo Impresses

ESPN's David Thorpe says that Arron Afflalo has been one of the best players here at summer league. While I've been most impressed with Portland's Jerryd Bayless and Golden State's Marco Belinelli, Afflalo does deserve to be in the conversation.

Here are Thorpe's thoughts on Afflalo.

"Every team likes a backup player to either be solid or to bring a spark off the bench -- think Eddie House, think Jannero Pargo, those are spark guys as two guards. Afflalo is a solid guy. He always knows what to do and where to be. He doesn't waste dribbles or movements. He digs in on defense and makes the right play on offense. Out here he is showing a better ability to score because that's his role. Going forward, that is something we might see, that he is someone that can provide production on offense off the bench for the Pistons."

Wouldn't you know it, on the day I choose to hype "Double A", he goes 1-for-7 from the field for six points in the first half. The Pistons are trailing the Mavs by six.

In the first three games, Afflalo is averaging 19.3 points and 4.0 rebounds.

With Rodney Stuckey out of the lineup again because of his bad toe, Afflalo has taken on more of a playmaker role today. He leads everyone with six assists. It's almost like he's switched places Will Bynum, who got the start at point guard. Bynum is 6-for-8 for 14 points.

Call it the TrueHoop curse. Afflalo missed all six of his shot attempts after intermission, finishing with seven points and six assists. Walter Sharpe showed a nice touch from outside, making his first two treys. Overall, he finished with 16 points and even though he hung out on the perimeter a fair amount of time, was still able to get three offensive boards.

Gerald Green, who scored eight points, closed out Dallas' six-point win with a big dunk.


Leading the Pack

Here are the statistical leaders through day six:

Points
Donte Greene, Rockets: 28.5
Jerryd Bayless, Blazers: 27.0
Marco Belinelli, Warriors: 23.0
J.J. Hickson, Cavaliers: 22.0
Alando Tucker, Suns: 22.0

Rebounds
Kevin Love, Wolves: 15.0
Joey Dorsey, Rockets: 14.0
Elton Brown, Nuggets: 10.5
Shelden Williams, Kings: 10.5
Marreese Speights, Sixers: 10.0

Assists
Ramon Sessions, Bucks: 6.5
Bobby Brown, Hornets: 6.0
Aaron Brooks, Rockets: 5.5
Jamont Gordon, Sixers: 5.0
D.J. Strawberry, Suns: 5.0

Blocks
C.J. Giles, Raptors: 3.5
Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Wolves: 3.0
Javale McGee, Wizards: 2.5
Cheikh Samb, Pistons: 2.0
DeAndre Jordan, Clippers: 2.0

Steals
C.J. Watson, Warriors: 4.3
Quincy Douby, Kings: 3.3
Julian Wright, Hornets: 3.0
Donte Greene, Rockets: 2.0
Hassan Adams, Raptors: 2.0


Williams starring again

Clippers forward Marcus Williams went off for 23 points and 10 rebounds last night against the Grizzies. He is following that up today with another strong showing, dropping in 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the first half. The key for Williams is shot selection. While a lot of players in Vegas have forced shots, Williams seems to let the game come to him. He also has four rebounds.

Al Thornton (1-for-4 from the field) is having a quiet game for L.A. He seems to be willing to let his teammates do the shooting.

Hornets' forward Hilton Armstrong is in a groove. He has 15 points and five rebounds for New Orleans, which trails by nine going into the last period.

The Hornets won the game by four in overtime. Armstrong stayed hot, totaling 25 points and eight rebounds in easily his best game here. Julian Wright misfired to the tune of 4-for-13, while Bobby Brown helped build the brick house by going 7-for-18. He posted 17 points and six assists.


Jordan's Glass Work

Clippers' forward DeAndre Jordan plays with a lot of emotion. Although that can sometimes be a bad thing, it seems to be working for him -- I'll ignore the airball he just shot from the foul line. He has six points on 3-of-8 shooting and 11 rebounds.

Here is Thorpe's take on the big man.

"If he was a stock on the market, you could pick him up at a pretty low price right now. I just don't think his future looks bright as a second-round pick because they don't have a lot of incentive to invest time with him. His 11 rebounds look great, but most of them came right to him. I don't think that he has got any rebounds out of area. It doesn't impress me that he jumps straight up in his spot and grabs rebounds. He doesn't play with great energy or intelligence and his emotional IQ is very low. He is a young man and he wouldn't be the first to change his career path. It doesn't happen very often."


Late Is Better Than Early

Once again, it seems like the better games are scheduled later. No, Tim Duncan and Steve Nash aren't here, but I'm sure the Suns will get out and run, making their game against the Spurs at 5:30 p.m. PT interesting.

At 7, the closest thing there is to a must-see game at summer league will take place between Jerryd Bayless' Blazers and Kevin Love's Wolves.

Looking ahead to tomorrow, Mike D'Antoni's old team plays his new team at 1.


Strawberry and Lopez

I just got done watching a half of the game between the Spurs and Suns. What can't D.J. Strawberry do? He used his explosive first step to get into the lane at will and once there he caused havoc on San Antonio. Sometimes he drove and kicked it out to open teammates for jumpers. Other times he went to the bucket hard. He seemed to be playing at a different speed than everyone else. What was refreshing is that he gave the same kind of effort on the defensive side of the floor. Completing my observation of him was how he embraced his leadership role. After a busted play between himself and Jared Jordan, he took 20 seconds to explain what he was thinking and where he wanted Jordan to be on the floor.

Strawberry had 11 points and three rebounds at the half for the Suns, who led by eight.

With his three brothers watching, Robin Lopez put on quite a performance. He followed up one miss with a thunderous dunk. He tipped in another miss. He caught a pass on the break and made a gorgeous feed to Strawberry in stride for a jam. And most importantly, he was a force on the glass, grabbing seven boards to go with his 10 points.

After going 0-for-10 and 0-for-6 from the field in his last two games, respectively, San Antonio's George Hill won't hit a shot tonight either. The San Antonio coaching staff gave him the night off.


Philly's Gordon to the rescue

The Sixers ended their time here in Sin City with three straight wins after starting 0-2. Jamont Gordon hit a reverse layup off a feed from Marreese Speights with 0.6 showing on the clock to give Philly an 87-85 win.

Speights had another double-double, posting 15 points and 11 rebounds while blocking four shots. Jason Smith had 12 and 12 and Thaddeus Young led all scorers with 21 points.

C.J. Giles continued to throw his body around, tallying 13 points, 12 boards and three blocked shots for Toronto.

I've noticed the same spectator alternating rooting and heckling at every game since summer league began. He has been rewarded for showing up. After the Wolves' game the other day, he asked Corey Brewer for his handband. Brewer responded
by tossing it to him -- sweat dripping off it and all.

Just now he begged Speights for his jersey. Although it is way too big for him, I bet it will be a nice addition to his collection.


Wolves vs. Blazers

Unlike during the regular season, the officials at summer league don't have numbers on the back of their jerseys. Portland's Jerryd Bayless appeared to get bumped going to the basket, but the ref on the baseline didn't make a call. This prompted a fan in the front row to yell, "You'll never get a number on your back blowing calls like that."

Funny.

Kevin Love just pleased the crowd with a dunk and is off to a great start. He has scored seven of Minnesota's first 14 points, while Bayless has seven of Portland's first 15.

Once Bayless gets the rock, you know he's going to attack the basket, hence he has already attempted seven more free throws today. I would like to see him knock down a few jumpers and improve on his assist total (he has zero), but it's hard to argue with the way he is playing. He has 11 points and the always steady Petteri Koponen has 10 for the Blazers, who trail 40-36 at halftime.

Love has 13 points and five rebounds, but has missed a couple of shots from close range. He is 3-for-11 from the field.

How about that, Bayless just hit a step-back jumper and threw a no-look pass to Josh Davis for a bucket.  As I'm typing, he drained another jumper to cap his 12-point period. He leads everyone with 23 points and at last, he got an assist. 

Love has done more than his part, posting 20 points and seven rebounds en route to leading the Wolves to a double-digit lead heading into the fourth.

Portland's Brandon Robinson sat on the bench for three quarters before finally entering the game so obviously he was a little cold. Still, does that explain the long-sleeve shirt under his jersey? He is the second player in seven days to rock that look.  

In the Love vs. Bayless matchup, Love came out the winner. For starters, his team won by 10. He went 7-for-20 from the field, 12-for-14 from the line, grabbed 15 rebounds (10 offensive) and had two assists (official stats say one, but there is no way the outlet pass he threw to Pooh Jeter for the and-1 wasn't a dime, even if he didn't receive credit for it).

Bayless, who had a heating pad on his back and ice on both knees after the game (maybe he was sore after crashing into press row and almost sending my computer into my lap), wasn't a slouch. He had 29 points on 8-for-15 from the floor, 13-of-16 from the line (that's 55 attempts in three games), gave out two assists and grabbed six boards. 

When it came time to vote for the MVP of summer league last year, I put New York's Nate Robinson at the top of my ballot for two reasons -- he was playing outstanding and the Knicks were undefeated.

Since Portland and Minnesota both have 1-2 records, I may have to change my way of thinking. With apologies to the fans in Golden State (Marco Belinelli is hot, team is 3-0), Bayless and Love are the two best players after seven days in Vegas regardless of what their team's records are. 

  • Maurice Brooks is an NBA editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mbrooksnba@gmail.com.

First Cup: Tuesday

July, 15, 2008
7/15/08
9:35
AM ET
  • Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: "David Stern needs to step down. His league's credibility depends on it. Former Suns Chairman Jerry Colangelo would make a pretty good replacement. If it is determined that Foster was involved with Donaghy, then Stern needs to take one more step. Remember when the NBA filed a court request to have Donaghy pay the league $1.4 million in restitution? They factored in the salary he was paid in games he fixed and even the cost of his shoes. Oh, and $1 million for the league's internal investigation into the matter. Well, we figure Stern needs to pay the league $10 million in restitution, because all this happened on his watch."TrueHoop First Cup
  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Kevin Garnett said he still hasn't gotten a full night's sleep since winning the championship. 'A lot of cat-napping,' he said. 'I am the No. 1 spokesman for cat-napping.' Soon, however, Garnett will begin to push the past season aside and focus on banner No. 18. 'Enjoy 17,' he said. 'Enjoy that right now. Enjoy the winning part of it. Enjoy the fact that we're doing this together. Then when we lock back in, we lock back in.'"
  • Kyle Hightower of the Orlando Sentinel: "After several seasons of playing catch-up with the Western Conference, the Beasts of the East may be coming back. Following the Boston Celtics' title, Eastern Conference teams have gone to work in free agency and the draft to enhance the talent of the NBA's perceived weaker half."
  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: "Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard has a tough decision to make in the coming months: Sign up-and-coming point guard Petteri Koponen, or keep an open roster spot entering the regular season. On Monday, after Koponen scored 19 points and made 4-of-6 three pointers in the Summer League opener, his decision became even tougher. 'I don't know. I don't even really want to think about it,' Pritchard said. 'I want to watch these games, have fun with that, see if he improves as the week goes on ... and if he does, he has a spot.'"
  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: "Cleveland Cavaliers assistant John Kuester was on a roll Monday, thinking up new ways to praise rookie J.J. Hickson. 'We're talking about an N.C. State guy, and I'm still saying nice things,' former Tar Heel Kuester joked. 'He's that great a kid.' And seemingly that good a prospect. Hickson looked spectacular during a 97-94 summer-league loss to the New York Knicks, with 26 points and nine rebounds."
  • Ross Siler of The Salt Lake Tribune: "Kyrlo Fesenko returned to town for the Rocky Mountain Revue with blond hair, apparently forgetting he plays for a no-nonsense coach who doesn't even allow his players to wear headbands. Although he was able to joke about Fesenko -- 'I didn't know who he was. I was totally taken aback by the blond hair' -- Sloan clearly would have preferred his 21-year-old center call attention to himself with his play on the court instead of the coloring in his hair. 'He's got a long way to go to make himself a better player,' Sloan said. 'He has skills, but sometimes the outside things will take you right out of this game. If those things are more important than basketball, that's where you get in trouble." ..."A lot of people have skills, Sloan added. 'A lot of them are sitting on the sidewalk wondering what happened 20 years ago when they had a chance. He's got to figure out what he wants to do and play basketball or be a clown.'"
  • Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Posterity will record the trade that brought Rodney Carney to the Timberwolves as a morsel of NBA bookkeeping, a shuffling of digits on the financial ledger that summoned shock and change to a player who spent his first two seasons in Philadelphia. Carney considers differently the deal that sent him and Calvin Booth packing for a future first-round draft pick and valuable salary-cap space that let the 76ers sign free-agent Elton Brand to an $82 million contract. 'The way I look at it is, they traded me and Booth to get Elton Brand,' Carney said. 'So I say I got traded for Elton Brand. You put it that way, it sounds pretty good.'"
  • Michael Grange of The Globe and Mail: "With one career goal accomplished, Gordon Herbert moves on to the next. As a bonus, he gets to come home, too. The newest member of the Toronto Raptors' coaching staff is in Las Vegas working with the team's summer league entry, but that's just the latest stop on a long basketball journey that began in Penticton, B.C., visited Idaho for college basketball, and took him all over Europe as a player and coach. 'Since I began coaching, it's always been a goal of mine to coach a Euroleague team and to be an assistant coach in the NBA,' Herbert said in a telephone interview yesterday. 'This opportunity allowed me to get into the NBA and come back to Canada, too.'"
By Maurice Brooks

The Tractor

The sight of Robert "Tractor" Traylor running up and down the floor for the Cavaliers is exactly what summer league hoops is all about. The veteran, who last played in the NBA in 2005, is trying to earn a roster spot.

He is performing well for a guy who hasn't been in the league in a few years -- making three of his first four shots, while pulling down a board and giving out an assist.

Traylor finished with eight points and three rebounds in 17 minutes.


The Rooster

Meanwhile, New York's Danilo Gallinari is not off to a good start. The No. 6 pick in the draft has missed his first five shots before splashing a jumper with just over two minutes left in the third quarter.

Danilo Gallinari
Gallinari is going to turn boos to cheers in N.Y.
(Laura Rauch/AP)

ESPN's rookie guru David Thorpe weighs in on what he's seen so far from Gallinari.

"Basically the first adjustment he has to make is to the style of play in summer league with these athletes compared to a physical but smooth, smartly played European game. These are boys for the most part, compared to the men he is used to playing against. There isn't any kind of rhythm to what's going on. He's obviously a good shooter, but the NBA line is further back than the European line -- so he has to change his shooting habit, meaning he has to bend his knees more to make up for the difference in range.

"Physically, he looks great. He's not a stick figure, he has a great body. One thing I love, even though he missed his first five shots, it didn't impact how hard he played and because of that he has now scored eight points in the last two minutes. The teaching point: You can't let success on shots impact effort. He has that figured out. He kept fighting and now look, the Knicks have the lead thanks to his play."

The Knicks lead 68-67 after three quarters thanks to Gallinari, who knocked down two long jumpers, followed up a missed shot with a dunk and made two free throws after drawing a foul on a strong post move.

He has picked up in the fourth quarter where he left off in the third. To the crowd's delight, he just nailed another jumper and is clearly in a groove now.

Everyone in Knicksland feels good as the Knicks edged the Cavaliers by three and Gallinari showed that he is a player. After a scoreless first half, he finished with 14 points on 5-for-11 shooting (0-for-4 on treys). He pulled down six rebounds and handed out two assists.


The No. 26

New York's Wilson Chandler didn't have ice on his elbow after the game, but it has to be sore after firing up 21 shots. He played extremely well, making 11 of those attempts to finish with 26 points. With Quentin Richardson and Stephon Marbury in the crowd, he also tallied eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks.

J.J. Hickson
Hickson looked like the real deal Monday afternoon.
(Laura Rauch/AP)

Cleveland rookie J.J. Hickson, who played only one year at N.C. State, matched Chandler's 26 with 26 of his own. He went 11-for-15 and grabbed nine rebounds.

Here is what the No. 19 pick had to say after the game.

"I was trying to be aggressive. I competed well, but not well enough because we didn't win," Hickson said. "My role is to play hard and block shots. I wouldn't have come out of college early if I didn't think I was ready to play on this level."

Thorpe, who just updated his Rookie Report, liked what he saw from Hickson.

"He got his points with a skilled face-up game. He gave a great effort and was very active and physical. He finished well around the rim."


Nuggets vs. Raptors

I've watched the entire first half of this contest and have yet to be moved to write anything. Joey Graham continues to play as if he has a point to prove and leads all scorers with 11 points. Dahntay Jones is high man for the Nuggets, who lead 39-34, with eight.

Although he hasn't scored a point, I'm happy that Nuggets guard Chris Lofton is on the floor. The former University of Tennessee standout, who made more triples than anyone is SEC history, had a cancerous tumor removed from one of his testicles in March 2007.

He didn't get drafted, but is now trying to catch on with Denver.


Blazers vs. Wizards: Bayless Is the Truth

It took Jerryd Bayless all of 15 seconds to be whistled for his first summer league foul. That was about the only thing that didn't go his way during the first 10 minutes of his professional career. Playing mostly off the ball, he went to the line eight times -- making six -- and led all players with 10 points. Despite his lack of size, the Portland guard had no problem creating his own shot.

Petteri Koponen did a good job of running the team, and although he didn't have an assist, he did score five points as the Blazers took a two-point lead after one quarter.

Washington big man JaVale McGee is still trying to work the kinks out of his game, missing five of his first six shots in eight minutes.

It's halftime and Bayless has run his point total up to 17. It's not supposed to be this easy.

In the second half, Bayless has continued his strong play, but it has been Koponen who has impressed with his outside shot. He just hit back-to-back long jumpers and has 19 points for the game.

Bayless just fired in two pivotal free throws with 12.3 seconds left to give himself a game-high 27 points and the Blazers a four-point lead.

He finished with 28 points (5-for-12 from the field, 18-for-23 from the line) in a Portland victory.


DraftExpress President Jonathan Givony

DraftExpress president Jonathan Givony has joined me courtside to give his thoughts on the first half of Wizards vs. Blazers.

TrueHoop: What did you think of Portland's Jerryd Bayless in the first half?

DraftExpress: Probably the most impressive first-half performance by any rookie in the summer league so far. He played a similar role to how Portland will use him in their real offense at the 2 alongside a big point guard -- Koponen/Roy. I love how aggressive he was, trying to get to the rim, finishing with both hands. He's athletic, skilled and doesn't fall in love with his jumper like a lot of combo guards these days tend to do. He also competed admirably on defense and tried to take a charge.

TrueHoop: I think Portland's Petteri Koponen did a nice job of handling the rock and can play both guard positions.

DraftExpress: He was very impressive, much better than last year. I'm very intrigued by his combination of size, ballhandling skills, athleticism and basketball IQ. He showed a lot of poise and has a pretty stroke and didn't look bad defensively.

TrueHoop: Washington's JaVale McGee didn't look good at all out there. What did you notice?

DraftExpress: No surprise here whatsoever. This is how he looked in college often. The Wizards would be the first ones to tell you that he is two or three years away. Still, you can't ignore his physical tools. The guy is a freak, look at his arms an
d athleticism. He just needs to learn how to play.


Getting Up and Down

At Thomas & Mack, the Suns and Rockets are playing at break-neck speed. As a result, Houston's Donte Greene is in position to break the summer league record for points in a game (42). The forward hit 7 of 10 shots and 7 of 8 free throws for a first-half total of 23 points. He scored 19 in the first quarter.

He got his buckets in a bunch of different ways -- off the dribble, cutting to the basket, knocking down jumpers. He hustled for loose balls and played hard on both ends of the floor.

Phoenix, which leads 64-51, received strong contributions from Robin Lopez and D.J. Strawberry.

Lopez went 4-of-5 from the field and the line en route to 12 points. He had a monster dunk and a big rejection.

Strawberry, who led summer league in helpers last year, has 17 points, five dimes and four rebounds.

Greene finished the game with 40 points. He went 12-for-20 from the floor, 5-of-10 from deep and 11-of-12 from the charity stripe in Houston's 100-97 comeback win.

Lopez, who is known for his defense, showed he has offensive skills, too. His final numbers: 19 points (5-of-13 shooting) and five rebounds.


The Love Era Has Begun

Somebody tell Kevin Love that in the NBA you have to move your feet. He picked up four fouls in seven minutes and now finds himself sitting on the bench. Before he left, he did some good things. He put the ball on the floor, drew a foul and was awarded the basket on a goaltending call for his first two pro points. He also knocked down a 15-foot jumper and passed well in the half-court set. On the defensive side, he snatched a board, and his first outlet pass ended up out of bounds. The point guards are going to need time to learn to appreciate his ability to get them the ball in stride.

Midway through the second quarter, the Mavericks have doubled Minnesota's point total.

It's a safe bet that Love is going to lead summer league in rebounds. He attacks the glass as if his life depends on it. If the ball comes off anywhere near him, it's his. In the first half, he struggled from the line, missing three of seven, but still finished with eight points and five rebounds.

In the second half, he is trying to score more. He has two putbacks. He made a layup off a nice pass from Corey Brewer. He just hit a hook shot. The good: Love has 16 points and 10 rebounds. The bad: He has six fouls and his team is still down 20.

Love finished the game with 18 points and 13 rebounds. The Mavericks got the 88-74 win. 

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