Monday, July 20, 2009

Summer League Notebook: Games 4 & 5

Posted By on Mon, Jul 20, 2009 at 1:07 PM

The Grizzlies JV team completed a 5-0 run at the Las Vegas Summer League over the weekend, crushing the Phoenix Suns 90-67 Saturday, and then squeaking by the San Antonio Spurs 76-75 last night.

I was out of town over the weekend and unable to watch the Saturday game until yesterday, so I'm going to combine to two games into one final summer league entry:

f9e1/1248113235-thabeet_portrait.jpgHasheem Thabeet: The play of #2 overall pick Hasheem Thabeet was always going to be the primary story of the Grizzlies' summer league, which makes it harder to be enthused by the 5-0 record. Though summer league is only a small step in any player's evolution as an NBA player, clearly Thabeet's play in Vegas was discouraging. He even gave himself a (generous) "C" via Twitter.

The big man finished up with 10 points (3-7 shooting), 7 boards, and 0 blocks in 26 minutes against the Sun and 9 points (4-11 shooting), 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 26 minutes against the Spurs. He had three missed dunks in the Suns game and 8 fouls (you're allowed 10 in summer league) against the Spurs.

Essentially, Thabeet should leave summer league with the following mantra ringing in his mind: "Get stronger. Play harder. Get stronger. Play harder." The Grizzlies should make him a tape and let the refrain sing him to sleep each night, because those two things — getting stronger and playing harder — would probably be sufficient to make Thabeet a valuable player.

Thabeet has displayed very little offensive skill so far, but can still be a high-level center even if his offensive game doesn't expand as long as he can block and contest shots, rebound, and finish above the rim. And his inability to do those basic things at a high level in Vegas was mostly a result of weakness and lackadaisical play — and timing.

What should be blocks have instead been fouls, either because Thabeet has been late to the spot or hasn't timed his attempt well, this has lead to Thabeet getting scored on pretty regularly by such lesser talents as Taylor Griffin and Ian Mahimi. If he improves his focus and conditioning, then getting a better grasp on the speed of the NBA game should allow his defensive potential to begin being tapped.

Offensively, Thabeet was pretty good catching the ball, but was a beat slow getting off the floor to finish plays. He could get away with that in the NCAA, but it won't work with the big boys.

Amid the bad play, there was one glimmer of hope in the Spurs game, as Thabeet put together multiple plays in sequence: Stepping out to visibly alter Stephane Lasme's baseline jump hook, running the floor hard, and catching and finishing in traffic.

DeMarre Carroll: Carroll finished up a strong summer-league session well: 9 points (3-10 shooting) and 7 boards in 27 minutes against the Suns and 16 points (6-9 shooting), 5 boards, and 3 steals in 30 minutes against the Spurs. Beyond the solid numbers, it was the same cornucopia of "little things" that stood out: diving for loose balls, breaking up plays in transition, streaking past defenders to get open, snatching offensive boards and scoring on contested putbacks, etc. Equally promising, Carroll scored at a better-than-expected rate from mid-range both on catch-and-shoot plays and off the dribble. Carroll's athletic limitations will limit his scoring potential, but he looks like an impact player.

Sam Young: Young got better as the summer league wore on and had his two best games this weekend: 20 points (7-12 shooting, 1-2 from 3) in 24 minutes against he Suns and 16 points (8-12 shooting) and 5 boards in 31 minutes.

He had a nice rapport with point guard Marcus Williams. If he can develop a similar feel with Mike Conley and/or O.J. Mayo, then he might end up being as useful offensively as defensively, in which case he could play a big role for the team next season.

Young was very effective in transition, shot the ball well from mid-range, and show some craftiness with the ball with his soon-to-be-famous shot fake and a nifty spin move. He's already 24 and summer league performance is no guarantee of future results, be Young has all the makings of a quality rotation guy.

Hamed Haddadi: Haddadi's stat lines were pretty consistent throughout, and he finished with 4 points (1-2 shooting ) 6 boards, and 2 blocks in 10 minutes against the Suns and 7 points (2-6) 4 boards, and a block in 14 minutes against the Spurs.

In the Suns game, NBATV analyst and former pro Antonio Harvey was blunt, saying that Haddadi looked like a better prospect than Thabeet. Now, that was more of a condemnation of Thabeet's play than a compliment for Hadaddi, but there was something to it. Both players have similar strengths (size, shot-blocking, defensive presence) and weakness (lack of upper-body strength, wooden post game) with the primary difference being Thabeet's ability to play above the rim balanced by Haddadi's better court awareness and passing. And, frankly, Haddadi's rebounding and shot-blocking per minute was better than Thabeet's. Also: in Vegas, Haddadi was much more assertive getting down the court and much more aggressive about sealing his man in the post, even if he was equally unlikely to score when he got the ball.

Haddadi showed offensive flashes, especially in the Spurs game. He posted up Robin Lopez on the left block, dipped his shoulder, and powered to the hoop for a hook shot. A few possessions later, he connected with Donta Smith on a nice little give-and-go play. If Haddadi can continue to improve his strength and conditioning, he has a chance to be a viable bench player.

Marcus Williams: Free agent point guard Williams had what I thought was his best all-around game against the Suns, notching 11 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 1 turnover in 25 minutes. He shot 5-11 from the floor and took 0 threes (a good thing since he can't shoot it from deep). Against the Spurs he was not quite as impressive, with 11 points (2-10 shooting) in 32 minutes, along with 4 boards, 5 assists, and 6 turnovers. He did however, hit the game winner with a sharp drive at the end.

Williams helped himself in a bid to make an NBA team, be it the Grizzlies or someone else. He managed the break very well and was good in pick-and-rolls. His defense and shooting is subpar but he showed a knack for scoring or drawing fouls off penetration. After three rocky years in regulation NBA action, I don't see giving him guaranteed money based on five summer-league games, but if you need depth at point guard — and the Grizzlies do — then he certainly seems to be worth a training camp invite.

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