NBA Summer League Update

The three-week-long festival of essentially pickup basketball that is the NBA Summer League experience is winding to a close. The two sessions (first Orlando, then Vegas) have been dotted with Orange this summer. No fewer than seven former Syracuse stars have appeared on at least one Summer League roster. I bet you won’t guess which one just had a double-double though.

We’ll start at the top, with the #4 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, Wesley “Crusher” Johnson. Wes had a reasonably good debut with the Timberwolves on Monday, scoring 10 points on 4-7 shooting (including 1-2 from deep). Surprisingly, he only grabbed one rebound. The general mood was that he began the game playing tentative, if not quite invisible, but picked it up as the game wore on. Unfortunately, Wes left that game early with a tight hamstring, and sat out their second game (yesterday) for precautionary reasons. No word yet on whether he will play in tonight’s contest or in any games the rest of the week. Jonny Flynn is also on the Wolves’ summer roster, but he’s been out with a hip injury. It’s the same injury that caused him to miss the final game of last season, and it sounds like it will keep him out of all the summer league action but he expects to be ready before the official start of training camp in the fall.

The other draftee from SU this season has not been hindered by injury, but hasn’t quite found his shooting stroke. Andy Rautins has played three games for the Knicks’ summer entry, starting all three. His first game was by far his best. He had 11 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 steals, shooting 3-8 from deep and 4-11 overall in 30 minutes of game time. The second game he played 25 minutes but tallied only 3 points (1-6 shooting from deep) and 1 assist. His minutes dropped off in the third game; he played only 13 of them. He had another three points (1-4 shooting) and 3 rebounds. He also avoided the turnover bug in the third game, after committing two turnovers in each of the first two games. Meanwhile Landry Fields, the guy the Knicks chose immediately after Andy, is tearing up the summer league. New York has two more games this weekend.

So that’s three guys; who else is out there?

Donte Greene, for one. He’s becoming a key member of the Kings as his game grows, and was undoubtedly encouraged by their front office to participate in this summer’s festivities (even though he’s entering his third year in the league, and most summer league players are rookies or have only one year of NBA time). Donte has played in three games for the Kings, tallying double-digit points each time. Overall he has averaged 13.7 ppg and 2.7 rpg, and is shooting over 55% from the floor in about 20 minutes per game. The Kings have two more games left too.

Paul Harris played for Utah’s entry in the Orlando summer league session last week. He didn’t have the greatest camp, but he did improve as the week went on. Most important, probably, was that he was back playing competitive ball after missing the entire season last year due to injury. In Paul’s first four games he played a total of 27 minutes and scored a total of three points, with one rebound in each game. But in the last game of the session he played 12 minutes and scored 6 points (on 3-4 shooting) with 3 rebounds and a steal. He didn’t get invited to the Vegas session, but may have done enough to end up in someone’s training camp. At the very least I expect he will make a D-League team this fall.

Then there are Demetris Nichols and Darryl Watkins, both of whom have participated in both summer league sessions, with different teams. Nichols was Harris’ teammate with the Jazz in Orlando, and had a better time of it than Paul did. He played in four games for them, starting one, and averaged 5 points in 11.5 minutes per contest, shooting 40% from deep and 44% overall. Then he moved on to Vegas where he hooked up with the Portland Trailblazers’ entry. He’s played in two games for them so far, playing 19 minutes per game and averaging 7.5 points and 3.5 rebounds, and shooting 50% from deep (3-6) overall. He was held out of their most recent game, as they decided to play only 8 players in last night’s contest. Strange for a summer league game but when you are an organization that fires your GM immediately before the NBA Draft and then lets him run your draft anyway, you don’t necessarily have the best long-term strategy.

Finally, Mookie Watkins. Things are suddenly looking up for the Mookster. He was on the Pacers in Orlando, but didn’t make much of an impression. He averaged 1.8 points and 2.8 rebounds in 9.8 minutes per game for them over 4 games, shooting a ridiculously poor 18% from the field. He hoped for a fresh start when he got to Vegas to play for the Mavericks, but in his first game with the team he only saw 4 minutes of action, scoring 2 points (both from the line). That prompted a change. Mook jumped ship and switched his allegiance to the Spurs, who needed some size on the floor with DeJuan Blair out injured. (You may recall that Watkins was in training camp with the Spurs two years ago, but cut shortly before the season opened.) In his first game with San Antonio, he had 6 points and 6 rebounds in 18 minutes, impressing the staff enough to get a bit more court time. The second game he had 5 points and 5 rebounds in 25 minutes; on the downside, he also committed seven(!) fouls. But his most recent game was his most impressive. Mookie dropped a double-double on the summer league Lakers with 10 points and 11 rebounds in 27 minutes. He was 3-7 from the floor and 4-6 from the line, and also contributed one steal and one assist. And he cut his fouls down to only six.

From the looks of it, Nichols and Watkins have done enough to earn an invite to a training camp somewhere. Whether they have enough to make a roster is questionable, but there is always that chance that they will hit the right combination of circumstances and make it. The ridiculous amount of player movement in this NBA offseason means a lot of uncertainty but we’ll keep you posted on where they end up in October.

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