1. Rocky Homecoming For Shabazz Muhammad
LAS VEGAS -- Playing in Las Vegas is a homecoming of sorts for Minnesota Timberwolves swingman Shabazz Muhammad. For years, Bishop Gorman High School propped Muhammad up for the world to see, watched him turn into the type of can't-miss swingman prospect that people are so eager to place in rarefied air.
He left Las Vegas at the height of his acclaim, but he returns knocked down several pegs, almost unrecognizable in the same environment that once fostered his dominance.
Muhammad hasn't exhibited anything of this sort this week. In his first three summer league games, the No. 14 overall pick has shot 32.1 percent from the field and has not scored more than eight points in a single game.
In Tuesday's 80-71 win over the Miami Heat, Muhammad finished with seven points, three rebounds, one assist, three turnovers and the worst shooting outing (3-for-10) of his three games here.
Muhammad played less than six minutes in the first half, partially because of the coaching staff's decision to try new lineup combinations, but also because of his effort on the defensive end, on which he was unengaged and appeared to be out of breath on certain occasions. In the first quarter, it appeared as though gravity had a much stronger pull on him than anyone else on the floor. He could be seen lagging behind in getting back on defense, and there were a number of points forfeited by the Wolves simply because Muhammad wasn't moving quickly enough laterally to keep up with the Heat players running full speed.
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The disparity between Muhammad's intensity on the floor has been stark compared to most of the players he's sharing the floor with. While they are fighting for a spot in training camp, Shabazz has played like someone who knows his place is guaranteed. He said he's excited for the regular season, and understandably so, but his eagerness almost belies the importance of the task at hand here in Las Vegas. When asked if his play will be different in October compared to July, it was made clear where his mind is wandering toward.
"Oh, it's going to be a lot different," Muhammad said, "I mean, with players and everything else. I just can't wait to get out there in the regular season. Like I said, this is just practice right now to help me get the experience to get in the league. I'm not sweating it, just trying to play as hard as I can."
But while he hasn't put up the type of gaudy numbers locals might remember him for, he likely won't be doing that in regular-season games, either. In limited minutes, Muhammad is largely playing off the ball, which is what a team with Kevin Love and a ball-dominant point guard like Ricky Rubio needs. It has led to a lot of mistakes and a lot of frustration, but learning to respond and adjust to his growing pains now can help ease his transition.
In the third quarter, Muhammad dove in hard for an offensive rebound and a putback -- a much-needed sign of life. Then, with just more than a minute left in the game, Muhammad found himself open for a corner 3, a shot that will be vital to Muhammad's longevity.
"It's a big court, and I have to space [it] out a lot," Muhammad said. "Sometimes, it's such a big court, you just gotta be patient and be ready to hit that shot."
Plenty of lauded prospects find themselves with significantly downgraded roles in the pros, but it can still be jarring to see in real time what two years can do. Since he's left Las Vegas, off-the-court controversies have taken over his narrative, and he's done very little in summer-league play to shift attention away from the NCAA suspension and age snafus.
"People are going to see that that's changed a lot," Muhammad said. "That's getting old, and now that I'm in the NBA, it's a fresh start. I'm just happy to be out here."
In fairness to Shabazz, coming back to a place once considered home might not be the best locale to initiate a fresh start, but Las Vegas could've also been the perfect stage to issue a reminder of the talent that brought him to this point. Muhammad proves you can come home again, but it's rarely ever the way you left it.
Danny Chau writes for the TrueHoop Network and Grantland. Follow him @dannychau
2. Warriors Continue To Flex Their Muscles
The Warriors remain summer league spectacular, continuing their reign as the 1960's Boston Celtics of vacation time. With an 84-72 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State is now on a 10-game winning streak stretching back to 2011. As a reward for their early efforts, the Warriors will be the top seed in the summer league tournament, although it's unclear as to how much of an advantage "home court" is in Las Vegas.
This time, the success is a bit surprising. The Warriors come to the desert without a single first-round draft pick. Harrison Barnes cancelled, in part due to Team USA duties, leaving the squad to be led by second-year subs Draymond Green, Kent Bazemore and Scott Machado. None of them have a long-term guaranteed contract, and none can be considered a skilled offensive player -- yet. Everyone else on the team is living on the NBA fringes, hoping to break in through an improbable, difficult route.
So this Warriors roster is full of players under immense pressure. They've taken that pressure and unleashed it on their opponents in the form of a rabid defense, one that's especially terrifying in this already disjointed and chaotic setting. Golden State foes are shooting 33 percent and coughing up more than a turnover every two minutes.
Warriors summer league coach Darren Erman did much to help the Warriors improve on defense last season, and he's currently flaunting those behind-the-scenes skills on this Vegas stage. Bucks point guard Ish Smith actually sidled up to the Warriors bench midgame and teased Erman's squad on how well they'd scouted Milwaukee's plays.
When asked if the Warriors were the "nerds of summer league," Green chuckled and reframed: "We just want to win. At the end of the day, it's 'do what it takes to win basketball games.' So far, that's what we've been doing, and we just have to keep that up."
Ethan Sherwood Strauss writes for ESPN.com. Follow him @SherwoodStrauss
3. Robinson Ready For A Fresh Start
Talk about Portland Trail Blazers big man Thomas Robinson long enough, and you'll inevitably end up sounding like a used-car salesman. He has an amazing motor. He'll run all day. He's practically brand new!
Prospective buyers are always wise to check the history, and the circumstances surrounding Robinson's rookie season only complicate the matter.
The Sacramento Kings were the definition of dysfunctional both on and off the court last season, and with that in mind, you begin to understand how a top-five pick was traded after playing 51 games.
The Houston Rockets landed Robinson during their full-blown asset-acquisition phase, but when Dwight Howard became a realistic option, he quickly went from valuable prospect to a salary that needed to be dumped.
Along the way, the perception of Robinson seemed to change. He's no longer as shiny and new as the other prospects on the lot, even if it's mostly by no fault of his own.
Still, Robinson is perfectly fine with holding himself accountable.
"I'm not going to play the victim," Robinson said. "I'm a grown man. I didn't come into the league with the right mindset, and it messed me up a little bit. There's no fault on Sacramento or Houston."
Players who work as hard as Robinson does probably shouldn't be on their third team in just their second season, but that's the reality of the situation.
It's all a little ironic, simply because Robinson is the type of player teams usually don't want to trade. He has an elite skill already with his rebounding, which he put on display by grabbing 18 boards during Portland's first summer league win.
Sure, there might be a few dings and dents here and there, but it doesn't seem like Robinson's whirlwind rookie season has done any long-lasting damage. If anything, it was a hard introduction to the realities of the league.
"They [Sacramento and Houston] did what they had to do," Robinson said. "Houston made a great power move. If I were the GM, I would have done the same thing. But I'm in Portland now."
D.J. Foster writes for the TrueHoop Network. Follow him @fosterdj
4. First Look: C.J. McCollum
Despite a poor shooting night, C.J. McCollum wanted to take the big shots late in regulation as the Blazers tried to come back against Chicago, which speaks to his confidence. He made a pair of free throws after drawing a shooting foul and then knocked down the game-tying 3-pointer with 10.8 seconds remaining, which speaks to his ability. McCollum reads the floor well and finds open space, though he can get in trouble at times by overpenetrating and leaving himself few options when the defense closes in. His mindset also remains to score rather than to pass, and he'll have to look for teammates more when playing point guard behind starter Damian Lillard.
Kevin Pelton is an NBA Insider for ESPN.com.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tuesday's Best
Jan Vesely, Wizards: It's never good to be a third-year player at summer league, even if the lockout deprived you of your first one; for example, Bradley Beal, the Wizards' rookie last season, is now watching the action in street clothes. But, if only for one night, Vesely looked like the lottery pick that he was, scoring 18 points on 11 shots in 21 minutes.
7. Tuesday's Worst
The Bucks' starting lineup: It's truly a miracle that the Summer Bucks hit 73 points given that they could barely hit anything from the field. As a team, Milwaukee shot 28.6 percent from the floor, but their starting lineup was even worse: 26.7 percent with 13 turnovers. John Henson, who impressed in his first game, somehow turned it over eight times all by himself.
8. Shining In Defeat
9. Tweet Of The Night
10. Quote Of The Night
"I'm not going to play the victim. I'm a grown man. I didn't come into the league with the right mindset and it messed me up a little bit. There's no fault on Sacramento or Houston."
--Thomas Robinson, on his struggles last season