Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Orlando Summer League Update (Day 2)

Day 2- July 7, 2009

Game 1: Orlando 85, Boston 82

Orlando showed substantial improvement in their second game of their summer league. After a disappointing loss to OKC yesterday, the Magic’s squad bounced back with a huge come-from-behind win today against Boston. Orlando improved to 1-1 behind 33 points and 14 rebounds from Ryan Anderson, who has quickly asserted himself as one of the best players in this league. Anderson’s 33 came on 11-for-15 shooting, 2-for-2 from behind the arc, and 9-for-9 from the free thrown stripe. Jeremy Richardson, who played very well yesterday, struggled mightily today, logging only 9 minutes and 2 points. Kasib Powell (15), Darian Townes (10), and Maurice Ager (10) also notched double figures for Orlando. On a different note, shooting guard Courtney Fells recorded what might be the worst performance of the league so far, with a scoreless 0-for-8 outing.

Boston put up a second solid performance despite the absences of Bill Walker and Mike Sweetney. For the second straight day, it was a very balanced attack for the Celtics’ squad. A day after five players reached double figures, Boston saw four players surpass that mark against Orlando. Coby Karl led the charge with 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting, and JR Giddens added 17 points on 8-of-16. Also, for the second straight day, Gabe Pruitt (14) and Nick Fazekas (12) managed to reach double figures.

Game 2: Utah 83, Philadelphia/New Jersey 68

Utah won big in their second contest in Orlando, but in general, the performance wasn’t much better than the blowout loss they endured at the hands of the Celtics yesterday. Utah shot 41.7% from the floor, which was only up slightly from the 35.6% they shot yesterday. Josh Duncan was a bright spot again for Utah, as he led them in scoring for the second straight day with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting in 17 minutes. Eric Maynor also netted 12 points on a disappointing 2-for-9 from the floor. Kevin Kruger made it to double figures with 10 points, and former Illinois forward James Augustine had a strong showing, making all 3 of his shots and tallying 6 points, 6 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block in just over 13 minutes.

The story for the split Philadelphia/New Jersey squad was almost identical to yesterday. Again, Mareese Speights took too many shots (He went 3-for-12 on day 2.), Terrence Williams and Jrue Holiday struggled offensively, and Chris Douglas-Roberts carried the scoring load. While Speights did record 5 blocks, he only scored 8 points, which put far to much pressure on the afore mentioned CD-R. Douglas-Roberts impressed again, scoring 27 points on 8-for-14 shooting and 11-for-13 from the charity stripe. Williams shot 3-for-11, but recorded 6 rebounds, a steal and a block, and Holiday shot 2-for-6 with 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 25 minutes.

Game 3: Indiana 91, Oklahoma City 88

Indiana improved to 2-0 with a close win over a talented Oklahoma City squad. Roy Hibbert scored 24 points on 7-for-8 shooting from the field to lead the Pacers. He also added 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block in his 34 minutes. Tyler Hansbrough also had another strong showing, netting 23 points and hitting 2 threes in 25 minutes off the bench. Brandon Rush, who played very well yesterday, sat out today with knee soreness.

Second-year point guard Russell Westbrook scored 22 points for the second straight day to lead Oklahoma City. He also added 8 assists and shot 9-for-15 from the field, a huge improvement on his 3-for-11 effort yesterday. James Harden moved into the starting lineup and was impressive again, scoring 19 points on 6-for-13 shooting. Serge Ibaka continues to be one of the surprises of the league, as he scored 13 points for the second straight day, although he did struggle defensively, recording 7 personal fouls. Shaun Livingston was given a day off as he continues his comeback from multiple injuries, but is expected to be available tomorrow.

Overall Impressions through Day 2

Through the first two days of the Orlando league, three players really stand out.
The first is Russell Westbrook. He struggled with his shot on day 1, but managed to get to the free throw line at will and created opportunities for his teammates all game long. On day 2, he straightened out his shooting woes, but still managed to facilitate Oklahoma City’s offense.
The second is Chris Douglas-Roberts. Douglas-Roberts was a prolific scorer at Memphis, and led the Tigers to the brink of a National Championship two years ago, but tumbled on draft day in 2008 and made no impact as a rookie. Now, Douglas-Roberts is proving to be an integral part of a curiously constructed squad that has managed to stay competitive despite inevitable chemistry issues. He is currently second in the league with a 23.5 point per game scoring average.
Last but not least is Ryan Anderson. Anderson, who was considered by most to be a toss-in in the Vince Carter deal, has been hands down the most dominating player in this league. Through two games, he is tops in the league with 27 points and over 10 rebounds per game. Anderson is very versatile, and could easily turn out to be a very suitable replacement for Hedo Turkoglu down the line.
Tyler Hansbrough has also recorded some pretty impressive performances. However, Hansbrough has been coming off the bench in the summer league, so I’m withholding judgment until he faces real NBA competition. I still believe that Hansbrough’s lack of athleticism will keep him from contributing at the next level, but his ability to step back and shoot, even from outside the 3-point line, has surprised me.

Upcoming Game on July 8:

Indiana @ Utah 3:00 ET
OKC @ Boston 5:00 ET
NJ/Phil @ Orlando 7:00 ET

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Orlando Summer League Update

Day 1- July 6, 2009

Game 1: Indiana 75, Philadelphia/New Jersey 67

Indiana got solid production from their core young players: Brandon Rush, Roy Hibbert, and Tyler Hansbrough. Hansbrough led the team with 17 points off the bench in only 25 minutes. He also added 5 rebounds, 3 steals and a block. Rush shot poorly (4-of-18), but ended up with 15 points and 7 rebounds. Hibbert chipped in with 12 points and 9 rebounds.

One would expect some tension on a split squad like the Nets and 76ers put together, but the team definitely provided a steady challenge in their first contest together, taking Indiana into overtime. Marreese Speights led the way with 28 points and 11 rebounds on 11-of (gasp) 26 shooting, and Chris Douglas-Roberts added another 20. The two first round rookies on this squad struggled offensively, which was no real surprise, but they did manage to fill out the stat sheet in other capacities. Terrence Williams shot just 1-of-8 and managed only 2 points, but also tallied 9 rebounds, 2 steals, and 3 blocks in 35 minutes, while Jrue Holiday put up 9 points on 3-of-11 shooting, but also managed 4 steals and 2 blocked shots in 38 minutes of action.

Game 2: Oklahoma City 88, Orlando 77

Russell Westbrook’s inclusion on OKC’s Summer League roster was somewhat of a surprise given his level of success as a rookie last season, but his performance against Orlando showed he still has a lot of growing to do. Westbrook had a very solid line, tallying 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 9 assists. However, Westbrook shot just 3-for-11 from the floor, although he did manage to get to the line 18 times (converting 16). Rookies James Harden and BJ Mullens played respectably as well, chipping in 17 and 11 points respectively. DJ White and Serge Ibaka also added 13 apiece in a very solid first outing for the Thunder.

Orlando was thoroughly outplayed by Oklahoma City’s squad on this day, but there were a couple of bright spots. Recently acquired Ryan Anderson, a second year combo forward out of California, scored 21 points on 6-of-14 shooting, and added 2 threes, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. Orlando also received 18 points and 11 rebounds from the D-League’s 2008 All-Star game MVP, Jeremy Richardson, who is definitely one player to keep an eye on this summer.

Game 3: Boston 87, Utah 56

In the most lopsided game of the day, Boston saw five players reach double figures: Bill Walker (14), Nick Fazekas (13), Lester Hudson (11), Gabe Pruitt (11), and J.R. Giddens (10). The Celtics’ squad didn’t have any jaw-dropping performances, but they played a solid team game and forced Utah’s squad to shoot a measly 35.6% from the floor.

There wasn’t much positive to report from the opener for Utah. A blowout 20-point loss and a terrible shooting day leave a lot of room for improvement. Only one member of the team cracked double figures - Josh Duncan from Xavier, with 12. Duncan’s Xavier teammate Derrick Brown, and first-round pick Eric Maynor each added 9 in a losing effort.

Upcoming Games on July 7:
Boston @ Orlando 3:00 ET
Utah @ Phil/NJ 5:00 ET
OKC @ Indiana 7:00 ET

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Minnesota Timberwolves Summer Plans

I was asked recently why the Minnesota Timberwolves (my hometown team) aren't expected to be more of a player in free agency this summer. I gave it some thought, and this is my (somewhat lengthy) explanation:

The Timberwolves clearly find themselves in a relatively favorable economic situation, but have some very serious gaps to fill in their 15-man roster. As nice as it would be to sign a big name free agent, it seems highly unlikely, due primarily to the unattractive nature of the Timberwolves organization, as well as the location in general.

While acquiring a lesser player seems more plausible, either via trade or free agency, there are some major hurdles hindering those outcomes as well.

Although the strategies of many NBA franchises are remarkably different right now than they have been in the past (as recently ago as 24 months), the assets that Minnesota has to offer are still not considered highly valuable. Minnesota can offer various expiring contracts, including Bobby Brown, Brian Cardinal, Mark Madsen, and Etan Thomas. However, at this point, none of those players (with the possible exception of Thomas) has any ability to help a team next season, and while teams are focusing on the future, most haven’t exhibited a willingness to completely forego short-term success for a chance at long-term success. (Memphis is an example of a team who has done this, and look at the public perception of that organization.)

Therefore, landing a quality player in a trade for an expiring contract of a useless player isn’t highly likely at this point, unless a quality young player is attached as part of the deal as well. Clearly, Minnesota is in re-building mode and would be unwilling to part with any of their young pieces (Kevin Love, Jonny Flynn, Wayne Ellington).

Minnesota’s perceived lethargy in the free agent market is an entirely different story. The Timberwolves will clearly have some money to play with, especially if Ricky Rubio fails to sign next season. (He would be due around $3.2 million.) However, the question I would raise is this- which single player in this free agent crop, aside from Kobe Bryant, would allow Minnesota to win next season? The answer is none. The Timberwolves’ franchise is in the center of a long re-building process, as witnessed by the pre-draft trade of Randy Foye and Mike Miller to Washington. It is an extremely young group with some talent, but they are entirely unprepared to make a playoff push this season. Why then would the team spend more money next year with no hope of obtaining any meaningful goals?

Shelling out money to a free agent this summer, even Mid-Level-money, would be like using your one phone call to have a pizza delivered to your jail cell. Sure it would improve things for a short time, but couldn’t it be better used on something that would help you in the long term?

If the Timberwolves are able to land a good player with solid value this summer, I say by all means, go ahead. But, keeping the bigger picture in mind, I think the better course of action is to stay under the cap, let the young players mature, and see what happens as the trade deadline approaches. Last year, the same strategy allowed the Los Angeles Clippers to acquire Marcus Camby for essentially nothing. With the summer of 2010 approaching, I expect teams to try and unload contracts even more feverishly.

While there are some quality players available this summer, I would anticipate even more quality options to be offered once the All-Star game rolls around. Sometimes patience is the best option, and just because you have the money doesn’t mean you should spend it right away.

Waiting a few months and sacrificing one more season will likely allow Minnesota to maximize their assets and improve their chances in the long run, which will likely mean things will be relatively quiet in the Land of 10,000 Lakes this summer.