Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Summer League Notes: Games 1 and 2

Posted By on Wed, Jul 14, 2010 at 10:26 PM

Some player-by-player notes from the Grizzlies first two games at the Las Vegas Summer League — a 89-85 win over the Atlanta Hawks and a 67-64 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

O.J. MAYO: While I think O.J. Mayo's two-game (so far) point guard audition has been slightly better than his box scores indicate, there's no doubt that it has not gone well so far. Through two games, Mayo has 6 assists to 15 turnovers and hasn't looked comfortable in the role.

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You can mitigate that abysmal assist/turnover differential somewhat via observation: Some of those turnovers, particularly in Game 2, have come from offensive foul calls by overeager Summer League officials; foul calls Mayo would be unlikely to get in the regular season, but that's a relatively small factor given the extent of Mayo's turnover problems in these two games.

There's a more valid outside factor in the low assist numbers: Though the Grizzlies have more roster players on the court in summer league than any other NBA team, there's not really much offensive talent out there. So Mayo's spent a lot of time passing to perimeter players — like DeMarre Carroll — who can't hit open shots and frontcourt players — hello, Hasheem Thabeet — who struggle to finish in the paint.

That said, Mayo has still been pretty bad at the point. His ball handling is the biggest problem. He simply has to get better at handling the ball against pressure if he's going to see regular-season minutes at the one. As far as his bad-pass turnovers, I think a lot of that has to do with Mayo pressing — trying too hard in what he must feel is a do-or-die opportunity to expand if not change his role. Along the way, this particular point guard audition hasn't showcased Mayo as the type of point guard he'll need to be, and I thought Grizzlies assistant coach Dave Joerger had a very perceptive — if awkwardly worded — comment about this in the Commercial Appeal's Game 1 story:

“When he is O.J. at the one he’s better off than just trying to be a one. Don’t try to be a point guard. Be O.J., who is playing point guard. When he did that, he loosened up.”

If Mayo's going to make it at the point, whether full-time or just part-time, it's not going to be as a flashy, penetrating, pass-first point guard in the Steve Nash/Chris Paul/Deron Williams mold. He's going to have to be more of a Chauncey Billups-style lead guard: Run the offense; make the simple, effective pass; use his shooting and scoring ability; use his size and physicality on both ends.

The one good thing about Mayo's struggles is that he seems persuaded to stick around and get more minutes in Vegas — Mayo's may not play in the team's next game, but there's apparently a good chance he'll be back for the final two games. And, based on public comments by Michael Heisley (on an NBA TV broadcast) and Chris Wallace (to CNNSI's Chris Mannix), the team plans to continue using Mayo on the ball in the regular season.

As shaky as Mayo has been in these two games, I really don't have any doubts that he can hold his own in spot minutes on the ball, something the team really needs in order to be able to match-up better against bigger backcourts and maximize the talent on the roster (which is now heavy with bench players). He just needs more reps and needs to settle down and get comfortable with the way he needs to play in that position — which isn't the same as the way Mike Conley, for instance, needs to play. But as far as Mayo making a full-time switch to the point? Clearly, he has a long, long way to go.

GREIVIS VASQUEZ: If Mayo is trying to develop point guard skills, Vasquez is a natural distributor and plays the game something like a poor (perhaps very poor) man's Jason Kidd. He's always looking up, always looking ahead, and he shown his knack for making sharp passes that lead to good shots. Vasquez has also shown quick hands in generating a few steals.

On the downside, if Vasquez's hands are quick, his feet sure aren't, and he's struggled defensively, especially when he's found himself in the paint, where opponents easily finish right over him despite his good size, and is obviously going to struggle to do anything off penetration. And Vasquez has shown very little scoring ability, hitting only one spot-up jumper in two games.

It will be interesting to see Vasquez on the floor with better scorers, but right now it's hard to feel comfortable with the idea of him in the rotation next season.

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HASHEEM THABEET: There have been two positives with Thabeet so far: He's shooting a little better from the free-throw line at 13-20 through two games (65% to last season's 58%) and getting there a lot. And, even more importantly, he's doing a better job of catching the ball (only three turnovers through two games despite plenty of touches).

On the downside, Thabeet is still struggling too much to gather himself and finish above the rim. Sometimes he's putting the ball on the floor when he should be keeping the ball high and making a quick move to the rim. Other times he forcing awkward shots around the basket rather than attacking the rim directly. Defensively, he's certainly been a factor, but not consistently.

Overall, Thabeet has looked better, but hasn't demonstrated the kind of leap fans are hoping for.

DARRELL ARTHUR: Arthur played well in the first game, scoring 17 points on 8-13 shooting to go with 7 rebounds. He struggled in game two, though, with 6 points and 5 rebounds on 3-10 shooting. Arthur has been active, but to be a factor in the NBA at his size he really needs to consistently knock down mid-range shots, which he hasn't done yet.

SAM YOUNG: Young has been the team's most consistent player through two games, scoring 19 points on 6-11 shooting in game one and a team-high 15 points on 3-7 shooting (including 8-10 from the line and a game-winning three-pointer) in game two. People tend to focus on the negative with Young — that he's a tunnel vision scorer without a reliable three-point shot. But Young is tough and athletic and can get to the rim. Unlike a lot of the green players on this team, he's at least shown he can contribute at the NBA level.

DEMARRE CARROLL: Carroll just doesn't look like an NBA player. He's active, but is not yet a particularly strong individual defender. Offensively, he runs the floor, but hasn't developed a reliable jumper, can't put the ball on the floor, and struggles to finish at the rim when challenged. I was mystified by the pick at the time, but then Carroll started to win me over with his hustle players last summer and last pre-season. It's looking like I was right the first time.

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