TrueHoop: Walker Russell Jr.

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Summer League is a whirlwind, especially once the Thomas & Mack Center begins to host games in addition to the contests being held inside tiny Cox Pavilion. If you've ever been to the early rounds of a pro tennis tournament or a PGA event, you know what it's like to bounce around between courts or tees, trying to get a glimpse of as much talent as possible. 

Like any tournament, you begin to adopt favorites and follow them around. The Detroit rookies -- Austin Daye, DaJuan Summers, and Jonas Jerebko -- always put on a good show. The Warriors' Anthonys were electrifying, as were the Clippers' first couple of games when Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon worked their inside-out game. But no squad played harder in Las Vegas than the D-League Select team, and their games were imminently more watchable than most. The D-Leaguers finished Summer League with a 3-2 record, and got their final victory in dramatic fashion. Joanna Shapiro of the NBA sent me this email about how it happened while I was in the other gym watching the Clips: 

[The D-League Select team] defeated the Portland Trail Blazers last night in heroic fashion.  Down two without the ball and 2.9 seconds to play, Kurt Looby stole the Portland inbounds pass and found teammate Marcus Hubbard who connected on an off-balance long-range three from the right side to give the NBA D-League the 74-73 victory at the buzzer.

It was the only buzzer-beater of the ten days and it couldn't have happened to a harder-working group of guys. Several of the select team members had offers to warm the benches of the pro clubs, but opted to play in the baby blues of the D-League because they'd be assured more minutes. The D-Leaguers outshot their opponents 47.2 percent to 45.9 percent over the span of their five games, and outrebounded them by greater than four boards per game.

The D-Leaguers featured two of my favorite players of Summer League: Walker Russell, Jr. -- (the best passer in Las Vegas) and TrueHoop contributor Coleman Collins, who averaged 11.8 points per game and shot 51.4 percent from the floor. 

Will any of the Selecteers get a guaranteed deal from an NBA squad? In this economy, it's unlikely. But if nothing else, Vegas affirmed what a lot of NBA people have come to realize: There is measurable talent in places like Boise and Austin ready to make good in the L. 

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

  • The best pure passer in Las Vegas this week? Try Walker Russell, Jr. from the D-League Select team. Russell lives for threading needles, lobbing alley-oops, dishing on the break, and swinging skip passes to the weak side. He couldn't care less about his own shot. There are 150 players here this week with more electric games than Russell, but few of them are more enjoyable to watch, and none of them are having more fun on the floor than Russell. 
  • Ahmad Nivins looks like a pro player -- long, muscular, athletic, and coordinated. The but that usually follows this profile is ... lacks fundamentals, or doesn't have a post game. With Nivins, though, that doesn't appear to be the case. He displays good footwork, moves around the floor with purpose, and is a beast on the boards. When you ask folks here why he dropped to No. 56 in the draft, you get a lot of shrugs, followed by a soft endorsement of his skills. He's had a nice week thus far -- 14 points and 6 rebounds per game on 51.6 percent shooting from the field. The only apparent drawback is that he looks waaaay too wound up on the court, and that intensity occasionally works against him.    
  • Funniest moment of the day came before the first ball was tipped. In the opening introductions of the Timberwolves-D-League Select team, Wayne Ellington was introduced as hailing from Duke. As Ellington trotted onto the floor, he did a double-take -- Whaaa?! -- then cracked a big smile as the public address announcer corrected himself, noting that Ellington went to North Carolina. "That was ridiculous!" Ellington said of the PA's snafu. "I had to go over and say something to the guy."
  • Kurt Helin watched the Pistons-Warriors matchup. Looks like Stephen Curry is fitting in just fine with Golden State's system: "[Curry] is a gunner to the point of recklessness - but what fan doesn't want to see that. He has not met a shot he didn't like. Making said shots... well, maybe that will come with time. He was 4 of 14 in his first game, 8 of 22 in his second, 7 of 19 in the third. In case you're not up for the math, that is 34.5%. He's better from three - 39 % - and tends to drain those if you leave him open. Not only do the fans not care, neither do the coaches. 'The shots he's missing now he will make soon, he's learning to make decisions,' said Keith Smart, who coaches the Warriors Summer League team. You can see how Curry could fit well as a point guard - a shoot-first point guard, sure, but he has the ball handling skills and made some good decisions trying to set up teammates. In the third game, with some Warrior regulars around him, Curry was clearly trying to set people up. Of course, then he would jack up a 28-footer."
  • Blake Griffin was the story of the evening for the Clippers, but DeAndre Jordan continues to flash glimmers of hmmmmm. He went 8-for-9 from the field against the Lakers in 27 minutes. Jordan was on the receiving end of some alley-oops, but he also worked the post for a few of those buckets, something he had trouble doing effectively last season. It wasn't all pretty for Jordan -- four turnovers, and an 0-for-5 night from the line. But when he slows down and works deliberately (but assertively), his athleticism is a tough matchup for 95% of the bigs in the league.
  • David Thorpe had an interesting tweet-servation about Griffin that, at first, seems counter-intuitive, but makes a lot of sense when you watch the rookie up close: "Griffin is a special athlete. Not because of his explosiveness. It's the combination of athleticism, power, balance, and coordination." 
  • Jerryd Bayless has a Summer League scoring title to defend, and he got 22 points in his first game. His seven assists and eight free throw attempts are probably more important to the Blazers' brain trust. 
  • Dante Cunningham put on a show for the Trail Blazers faithful (who, needless to say, travel well), from Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: "While general manager Kevin Pritchard and coach Nate McMillan scrutinized Bayless from the stands, Cunningham stole a lot of their attention. The second-round pick from Villanova started at power forward and showcased a nice midrange jump shot, a nose for the basketball and sturdy defensive prowess. He finished with 21 points and nine rebounds, making 8 of 17 field goals and 5 of 6 free throws. After the game, he was chosen to man an autograph zone in the lobby of the arena, where he scribbled his name on jerseys, shirts and hats and posed for pictures with fans -- many of whom sported Blazers jerseys. 'If he can knock that (midrange shot) down consistently, he's going to be a player,' McMillan said. 'And I think that's going to come. His rotation and everything is good. He just needs to keep shooting when he's open.'"
  • I didn't get a chance to see the Kings-Bucks game, but Tyreke Evans put up eye-popping numbers that had the campus abuzz: 33 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists. What's more? 19 free throw attempts, 17 of them successful. Evans is the most physical guard in Las Vegas this week (with Eric Gordon coming in second).
  • The Warriors have Anthony Randolph and Anthony Morrow mic'd up for Summer League games.