Posted by fendo
on July 7, 2015
More so than the college game with its mini-three point line and suspect officiating, summer league offers a chance for a first look at some of the league’s best and youngest players playing what is mostly an NBA game – right down to the annoying cutaways to Secaucus for summer reviews. (Also, double OT is sudden death – to my knowledge, a wrinkle players will find nowhere else on the planet.)
After catching a couple games on a lazy post 4th of July afternoon, a handful of players stood out to me for various reasons and I wanted to share these first (and second) impressions for posterity:
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia:
- I don’t know who informed me (Twitter or NBA TV), but people are calling him “Jaws.” I give the nickname a C-.
- The big man from Duke is as-advertised with terrific footwork and hands.
- He doesn’t lumber or labor up and down the floor despite weighing 270lbs or more. That being said, my buddy Bug accurately compared his physique to Jared Sullinger and that’s not a good thing.
- He ran the floor and hit the boards with effort.
- His sense of space around the hoop is advanced for kid that’s just 19.
- This is completely personal, but there’s something vacant in his eyes and missing in his body language. Is he interested? Is he entitled? Bored? Is summer league just another opportunity for him to bully opponents like he’s done his entire life? Is he just an even keel dude? I don’t know, but I’d like to.
- The combination of size and skill is already good enough put up 15+ points-per-game against pros.
- Okafor has an advanced handle for his size, but maybe that’s to his detriment as he instinctually put the ball on the floor and occasionally tried to dribble out of double teams which may work in summer league but could be a costly habit against NBA regulars.
- Insists on taking his man one-on-one or creating his own looks.
- I wasn’t paying attention to him too much on defense so I can’t speak to the deluge of criticisms there.
- Free throws are an adventure.
- His massive hands are a great asset for ball control and rebounding.
- Post spin move already on par with the best post players in the league.
- Like watching a great wave roll in.
TJ McConnell, Philadelphia:
- McConell’s the Arizona point guard that kind of looks like Aaron Craft, but doesn’t play like him.
- As the conductor of the Philly offense he fed Okfaor, kept him locked in, pushed when the opportunity was available, and finished well around the rim.
- I have no idea if/how his game translates against the deepest position in the league, but after seeing him for a game and a half, I was surprised and impressed.
- Struggled to stay in front of Terry Rozier.
- Already reads and executes well on the pick and roll.
Marcus Smart, Boston:
- #36 is the second year point guard for Boston with an Earl Campbell-esque build. In summer league with guys that can’t legally drink, but can smoke all the cigarettes they want, this is even more pronounced.
- Ridiculously physical for the position, nothing has changed here.
- Owned Jazz defenders with his strength, but used change of pace and timing to penetrate and draw fouls over and over.
- Still showing signs of lacking mental toughness. Got caught on a screen from beefy Jazz big man Jack Cooley and wound up with a flagrant foul. He’s feisty and irritable which is a dangerous combination for a guy with his strength.
- Shot miserably from the field (2-10 from three), but made up for it with great shooting from the line (12-13).
- He’s a man against boys in this league.
- Sat out Boston’s second game on Tuesday.
RJ Hunter, Boston:
- It’s one game, but watched him repeatedly bounce off bigger, stronger bodies.
Dante Exum, Utah:
- What a feel for the game.
- This is not the skinny kid I saw a handful of times last year.
- He’s put on some much-needed pounds since last season and it shows in improved balance and body control, particularly when getting into the paint and getting his shot.
- Used strength and feel to get 10 free throw attempts. Of note: I think it was @Ben_Dowsett who hipped me to this on Twitter, but Exum only shot 32 free throws in all 82 games last year. Wow.
- Even more so than Smart, he stood out as the best player on the floor. The fluidity, the grace, my word.
Jack Cooley, Utah:
- Who is this beefy Luke Harangody clone?
- Well, @deehaze24 enlightened me:
- Former Notre Dame player from Glenview, IL, played in the D-League last year and had a 29-rebound game.
- On Monday against Boston, he repeatedly used a combination of his wide body, strength, and craftiness to suck in rebounds. He ended up with 13 boards in 16 minutes – seven of those were offensive.
- On the flip side, he picked up six fouls in those 16 minutes. Not certain, but I’m guessing some were the result of Smart breaking down the defense.
- Get a real arena or find a way to deliver a higher vantage point for the camera. Frank Kaminsky on the camera-side of the court looked like a balletic Gheorghe Muresan.
- Salt Lake City is the superior viewing experience.