Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Final Notes on Summer League

Posted By on Tue, Jul 20, 2010 at 8:26 PM

The Grizzlies finished their Las Vegas Summer League season Sunday with 3-2 record, losing their final two games to the Minnesota and San Antonio summer squads. What I took away from the games:

O.J. Mayo: After several hints that Mayo would return for one or two more games in Las Vegas, they didn't happen? Did Mayo decide not to play or did the team shut him down? There are hints that it's the latter, with coach Lionel Hollins offering skeptical comments about Mayo's potential transition.

With nothing new to factor in since my previous Summer League post, I'll just reiterate: I remain agnostic on the question of Mayo becoming a point guard. His awkward, mistake-heavy play at the position certainly doesn't help the case, but nor do I find it definitive. The bigger issue is that the team's current roster (where the three best bench players might be wings) and penchant for having match-up problems with bigger guards at both backcourt spots both point toward needing to put Mayo on the ball for stretches. And if the team is giving up on that after two poor Summer League games, then what's the end game going to be?

Sam Young: The one Griz player who definitely had a good summer league season.
  • Sam Young: The one Griz player who definitely had a good summer league season.
Sam Young: Before turning in a clunker in the teamwide debacle of a final game (3 points, 1-6 shooting), Young had been one of the best players in Vegas, highlighted by a league-best 35 point eruption against the D Leaguers.

Young has already proven he can score against pros. In Vegas he need to expand his game beyond the ball-stopping, one-on-one, slashing play that marked his rookie season, and I think he did that. Young scored plenty on isolation plays, but it seemed to be a much better mix than during his rookie season: More catch-and-shoot jumpers, more transition scores, some quick post scores.

The Grizzlies two biggest acquisitions this summer — Tony Allen and Xavier Henry — both play the same positions as Young, but on a team so devoid of quality depth, the Grizzlies can't let Young languish. He's a legit NBA contributor.

Hasheem Thabeet: Thabeet made modest but real progress this summer. After routinely having passes bounce off his hands last summer, he was much more reliable in Vegas, with very few bobbled or botched catches. His free-throw shooting (58% last season, 71% in Vegas) looked much better, a shooting improvement that seemed to even translate to the halfcourt, where Thabeet looked much more comfortable and effective shooting a free-throw line jumper. There was even a shocking moment near the end of the team's loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves summer squad, where Thabeet, facing up along the baseline, gave a defender a ball fake, took a dribble right into open space, and knocked down a midrange jump shot. This inspired the game's announcer to proclaim, "You might not see than again over a whole 82 game season." And he might have been right about that.

Thabeet also didn't freeze up with the ball as often as was the norm last season and made some simple, effective passes. He seemed to be blocking out better and rebounding out of his area more. He even had something of a dominant game, albeit against a subpar even by summer-league standards D League select team: 21 points (7-8 from the floor, 7-9 from the line), 14 rebounds, 6 blocks.

All of this happy talk has to be put in perspective: Thabeet's improvement is based on the deplorably low baseline he established last season. And even with the improvements, there are plenty of areas that didn't see much progress: His straight-up defense is still plagued by a maddening tendency to bite on pump fakes. His post game, minus an occasional jump hook, is mostly non-existent. His focus was still way too inconsistent.

But with Thabeet right now, the question isn't whether he can live up to his draft position. The question is whether he can emerge as a viable contributing player. He's not there yet, but Thabeet's play this summer was somewhat encouraging.

Greivis Vasquez: Vasquez looked like what we already know he is: A good college point guard trying compete with pros. Vasquez is a good passer with good floor vision and had solid assist numbers by Summer League standards. But there were plenty of problems: Vasquez was slow getting the ball up court, struggled to stay in front of his man defensively or get by his man offensively, shot the ball erratically, and struggled to get to the rim and finish.

Overall, he didn't look ready to step into an NBA rotation, which is a problem if the team isn't going to be willing to continue giving Mayo minutes at the one. Vasquez is a rookie though, and five games isn't nearly enough time to fully adjust. Vasquez is a work in progress.

Darrell Arthur: Arthur, who sat out the final game in Vegas, doesn't have the size or athleticism to work out of the post or probably ever be a viable starting power forward. In order to emerge as a quality reserve, he needs to do three things in particular: Hustle, rebound, and hit open jumpers. He did all this in Vegas, but only in spurts, notching 17 points and 6 rebounds against the D League team, then only 4 points and 4 rebounds against the Minnesota team.

DeMarre Carroll: Carroll looked like a bad use of a first-round pick last season and looked no different this summer. Unless he suddenly develops a reliable jumper, he's going to be an end-of-the-bench guy next season.

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