A day removed from an overtime thriller capped by Will Barton’s game-winning drive (a game in which he had to beg the coaches to play following an injury a few days before), the Blazers (1-4) looked to take advantage of their unlikely placement in the “winners” bracket of NBA’s 2013 Summer League against the Phoenix Suns (4-0).
Before getting on with the recap, a quick note. In their infinite wisdom, the NBA decided to cut away from the game with around a minute to go in the first quarter for a press conference and a special announcement. After guessing through a few things it could possibly be (David Stern announcing an immediate resignation, a statement of how the NBA would hand-deliver the #1 pick of the 2014 draft to the Lakers), the news was less than an emergency: the Charlotte Bobcats are to change their name to the Hornets following the upcoming season.
“OK,” those of us who depended on NBA TV thought. “A quick announcement, then back to the game.
They made the announcement, and the first quarter ended. “Bummer,” we thought.
Then the Bobcats’ president left. The end, right? Nope. They then recapped their NBA Board of Governors meeting. And they kept talking. And talking. And took questions. And talked more, then more. And more. And more.
I kept watching the bottom crawler show how much time was left in the second quarter… 8 minutes. 5 minutes. 2 minutes. And they just kept talking.
The press conference about nothing that couldn’t be included in a two-paragraph press release ate its way through the entire second quarter.
For the life of me, I cannot think of a single good reason that fans who paid their cable providers for NBA TV would prefer to watch a press conference with NBA Commissioner Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver than watch a game. Maybe they had their reasons, but they escaped me.
Perhaps mercifully, many Blazer fans also missed a 24-0 Suns run that lasted through the majority of the second quarter. So thank you David Stern, for shielding the Blazers from that hot mess.
Due to this most unappreciated interruption, I’m forgoing a blow-by-blow recap in favor of notes for individual Blazers. If you wanted the recap, it went something like this: Blazers lead by as much as 7 points late in the first, then collapse into a hole from which they couldn’t recover, despite a spirited fourth quarter run that pulled them to within 6 late, and end up losing 84-92.
CJ McCollum (22 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, but 5 turnovers) was invisible at times early on. In both the first and third quarters, he showed some nice shake-and-bake moves at the top of the key with single coverage that led to semi-open threes, though only the first found its way down. McCollum is also trying to show a floater, a shot (which interviews have revealed) he’s deliberately working on. More often than not, the form and timing looked good even if the result didn’t. He will need to give them more polish if he wants to be taken seriously in the paint and avoid contact after his drives. The good news is that he knows it.
Another observation: McCollum knows how to play off-balance, and relishes opportunities to do so. A slithery, wobbling fadeaway down the stretch in the fourth looked about as solid as most guys look when they’re set. Not a bad skill to have. He got better as the game went on, and showed why he’s among the best rookies in this years’ Summer League. Two knocks: he had as many turnovers as assists, and he needed 26 (!!!) shots to get his 22 points.
Will Barton (21 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 Block with a capital ‘B’) has no lack of confidence. It cuts both ways, but one sequence in particular caught my eye. In the first quarter, Barton had an open Thomas Robinson under the basket, but instead elected to shoot, and missed. The very next play, Barton stole a pass and neatly lobbed it to T-Robb for the slam. Maybe it was coincidence, but I’d like to think he knew he blew the first play and was given the opportunity to make up for it. Barton also showed his ability to sniff out rebounds and play above the rim with a great putback off a McCollum miss with about 8 minutes to go in the third. If Barton can learn that aggression can also mean setting up his teammates and picking his spots (and not just running like an angry goose on every play), he’ll be okay.
Also of note: Barton (6’6’’, 175lbs) had an absolutely huge block on Markieff Morris (6’10’’ 245lbs) in the middle of the third quarter. And it was not of the weak-side, chasedown variety: it was a straight up block at the rim, right in Morris’ face. As Wheels would no doubt have said, “WOOOO, that was NASTY!!!” Very impressive, and it exemplifies the confidence that players like Meyers Leonard would do very well to emulate. He does need to make his free throws, though (2 for 7 on the night).
Thomas Robinson (14 points, 11 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block) continues to tantalize, and part of tantalizing is leaving the crowd wanting more. Encapsulating that sentiment in one play: in the first quarter, Robinson takes a poor shot, chases down the rebound, then makes a great move to the bucket. T-Robb also had a huge chasedown block halfway through the third, and made a very quick move to his left from the top of the key to the baseline to draw the foul a little later, sinking both free throws. He shows all the signs of being a contributor next year. Here’s hoping his improvement continues.
Early in the game, common themes emerged for Meyers Leonard (15 points, 13 rebounds). He was having way too much trouble getting offensive position, not only down low but even 15 feet from the basket. His footwork may be improving, but his inability to properly use his trunk and core, and perhaps a lack of strength in his lower body, are problematic. His shooting touch isn’t questioned, especially not the ever-more-deadly right-handed flip that he’s developing as his go-to move.
Meyers shot well at 6 for 10 on the night, and it’s frustrating to imagine that he could (Should? Will?) be better on defense and in the post. Whether it’s a lack of lower-body strength or confidence, he needs to develop a ways before becoming a starter. One overlooked part of his game: his ability to use his frame and box out, allowing himself or his teammates to snag a rebound. That and his pick-setting are unsung advantages to having him on the court. He also hit a three, but it would be nice for him to get out of the habit to running back down the court before the shot falls.
Joel Freeland (2 points, 8 rebounds) continues to look competent and impact the game by getting good position and hustling without having it show up in the box score. He may become a 10-12 minute guy at some point, but without being able to find his shot it’s wishful thinking to assume he’ll be anything more than that.
As for tonight’s lesser contributors:
Victor Claver continues to work hard without showing much for it.
Allen Crabbe was just as forgetful in 26 minutes as Cedric “Who’s that guy?” Jackson was in 6.
Nobody else played.
Key takeaways from this game are to be found in the development of the players.
The Blazers will end their Summer League with one final game in the losers… excuse me, consolation bracket.