Getting One’s NBA Fix in Vegas

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Denver Nuggets second year guard, Sonny Weems takes a fallaway jumpshot against the Portland Blazers in Friday’s game at the COX Pavillion on the campus of the University of Las Vegas. (JORDAN IKEDA/Rafu Shimpo)

Denver Nuggets second year guard, Sonny Weems takes a fallaway jumpshot against the Portland Blazers in Friday’s game at the COX Pavillion on the campus of the University of Las Vegas. (Photos by JORDAN IKEDA/Rafu Shimpo)

By JORDAN IKEDA

Rafu Sports Editor

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I was able to get out to the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas this past weekend and hoped to check out Japanese player, Takuya Kawamura who was supposed to be running with the Phoenix Suns summer league squad. More about him and his journey to the NBA this weekend.

It’s amazing how fast time flies, a notion clearly evident when I saw some of my most favorite players coaching the summer league teams. My absolute all-time favorite Phoenix Sun and top-10 most favorite player of all time “Thunder” Dan Majerle paced up and down the sidelines for the Phoenix squad while former Clippers great, Sam “the Alien” Cassell was jawing off at the refs and teaching his young stars as the Washington Wizards coach.

Summer League action is defi nitely not NBA-action, but it’s the closest thing anyone can get at this time of the year. It’s also a place for fans to get up close to the up-and-coming generation of young stars newly drafted and talk to guys who are working their butts off trying to get in. There’s also the random appearance of established stars coming down to check out his teammates. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant didn’t play, but he was at every Thunder game I was able to see, sitting on the bench with all of his teammates, cheering his squad on. Baron Davis (whom my wife noted really knows how to dress) showed up to check out the Clippers.

But above everything else, the NBA Summer League is a place to see the development of talent. Here’s a list of a few guys who might be familiar to those of us in Southern California and who left an impression in Vegas.

Newest Clipper, Blake Griffin watches as teammate DeAndre Jordan slams home a rebound.

Newest Clipper, Blake Griffin watches as teammate DeAndre Jordan slams home a rebound.

Blake Griffin: First and foremost, the kid looks pretty awesome up close and in person, even in spite of his lackluster fi nal game on Saturday, when I got to see him. In pre-game warm-ups, he was catching alley-oops and finishing with windmill dunks, and giving his teammate, the freakishly athletic 7-foot beast known as DeAndre Jordan, a run for his money on warm-up dunks. But that athleticism also translates to the game (which is obviously the most important part). Griffin moves well, has a good handle from the power forward position (he would face up guys and drive to the hoop) and has a very solid jumper that stretches out to the three-point line. He did get swatted a few times by the freakish length and athleticism of Washington’s Ja- Vale McGee, but he was absorbing a lot of punishment down low and still battling through it. He’ll be a lot better when he’s no longer the focal point of the offense. It seemed like the Clips were running everything through him when he was on the court. Case in point, when he played with Eric Gordon, he put up much more efficient numbers. As much energy as Mike Taylor brings, he’s yet to get the cerebral part of the game down, and he’s looking to score the majority of the time. Even still, Griffi n was named the Summer League’s MVP and put up 19 points and 11 rebounds with 3 assists on 50 percent shooting per contest.

DeAndre Jordan: The evidence is right there for all to see, and Mike Dunleavy Sr. haters (me included) need to take a step back and appreciate the things the General Manager/Coach has done the past two off-seasons. I truly believe the Clippers had one of the fi nest drafts out of anyone last season when they took Gordon, Jordan and Taylor, all three who are expected to make sizeable contributions to the team next year (well, Taylor’s place on the team is still up in there and he didn’t help his cause with his wildly erratic play). Jordan was one of the biggest sleepers of the draft, who dropped out of the lottery when questions about his lack of readiness persisted and eventually landed him the dreaded title of “big man project with upside” that has been bandied about on players like Robert Swift, Johan Petro, Saer Sene, well, basically any Seattle/OKC center drafted in the past 10 years. But Jordan’s upside, in only one season, has begun to manifest itself and was clearly evident in the Summer League. The kid, who turns 21 today, averaged 12 points and 8 rebounds 1.6 blocks on 61 percent shooting. Not eye-popping, especially for Summer League, but just watching him play, I could immediately see the difference from this year to last. He’s more under control. He’s making better decisions. He’s attacking the glass with vigor. In a couple of seasons, if he continues to work hard and develop, he could be considered one of the best players from the 2008 draft—the best draft in the past 20 years.

Coby Karl: The ex-Laker and son of Denver Nuggets coach George Karl, put up some terrific shooting numbers for the Denver Nuggets in Vegas. He shot a scalding 61 percent overall and 50 percent from beyond the arc. Remember, this is Summer League, a place where Marcus Banks once dropped 42 points, so numbers should be looked at with a healthy degree of skepticism. Still, shooting is shooting. What impressed me most in the games I got to see him was his ability to drive the hoop and draw contact (and make the “And-1”). When he got some burn with the Lakers, he was mostly a catch and shoot guy. There’s still a question of what position he’s going to play. He didn’t run much point, what with first round selection and former North Carolina guard, Ty Lawson putting on a show. So, no, I’m not sold on Karl’s combo-guard ability yet, that 1-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is pretty bad, and his lack of athleticism will leave a lot to be desired defensively when he’s matched up against bigger, more athletically gifted twos in the Association. However, I am impressed with his effi ciency. He looked like a legit NBA player and won’t have to settle for burning the nets in the D-League next year.

Former USC star and current Washington Wizard, Nick Young drives to the hoop against while playing the Los Angeles Clippers.

Former USC star and current Washington Wizard, Nick Young drives to the hoop against while playing the Los Angeles Clippers.

Nick Young: Being a second year player, it wasn’t surprising that former USC star, Nick Young lit it up in Summer League. He dropped 24 points a game on a cool 50 percent overall and 40 percent from the line. The kid proved he could score last year in the NBA, so I thought he would be using Summer league to work on his facilitation skills, especially considering how stacked the Washington Wizards are going to be with scorers next season. Instead, Young absolutely torched Cleveland in his first Summer League game, dropping 36 points on 13-19 shooting. In spite of the additions of Mike Miller and Randy Foye to the roster, I’m sure Young showcased enough over the past 10 days to at least have a chance for a starter’s role next year.

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