By JORDAN IKEDA
RAFU SPORTS EDITOR
This is the second part of my three part NBA Summer League write up. Yesterday, I began to talk about some players that So. Cal residents have cheered for and grown to love and know or will most certainly be getting to know really well in the 2009-2010 NBA season. Here’s four other players who all opened some eyes in Vegas this past weekend.
James Harden: LA native who played at Artesia High School and over the course of his three years on varsity compiled a 94-8 record and led the team to two state titles. You may have also seen him suit up against UCLA and USC as he was named the Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year balling for the Arizona State Sun Devils. Harden was the third overall pick by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2009 NBA Draft, and he did nothing but show why during his time in Vegas. He’s got an old man’s game in a young man’s body. He’s very cerebral and rarely makes mistakes though he did average three turnovers per game (1-1 assist-to-turnover ratio). He never looked out of control and got the ball where it needed to go while also deleting any signs of poor shot selection from his game’s refi ned repertoire. And he shot fairly well, 47 percent overall, 36 percent from three and 86 percent from the stripe. Of course, a lot of players shoot well in summer league, especially guards. Basically, he’s the epitome of solid. If his game translates to the NBA as well as it looks like it will the Thunder will be a playoff hopeful team. Especially if the next guy can regain some of his previous “magic.”
Shaun Livingston: With his 6-11 wingspan and uncanny court vision, Livingston was tabbed as the next Magic Johnson. He never was on the court for a long enough period of time to truly give anyone watching a chance to see if that assessment was a bunch of overblown smoke or if it was a sign of real fi re. A devastating knee injury (that you can check out on Youtube if you have the stomach for it) knocked him out of basketball for the past two years. He made it back at the end of last season, playing sparingly for both the Miami Heat and the Thunder, but only as a shell of the player he used to be. In Vegas, he started to show signs of that player who was taken fourth overall in the 2004 draft. A pump fake up in the air and dish underneath to an open man. Breaking down the pressure defense, getting to the hoop and then shovel-passing to a teammate. Of course, the explosion still isn’t back. He did get burned by Rodrigue Beaubois who dropped 23 points on the Thunder and also straight up ripped the ball from Livingston at half-court resulting in easy lay-ups. But Beaubois pretty much was burning everybody in Vegas (except for the Cavs). Livingston’s got a long ways still to go, but it’s nice to see the former Clipper getting a second chance to show what he’s got. And if the 23-year-old can get close to what he was projected to be coming out of high school, this Thunder team is going to be very, very scary.
Austin Daye: Born and raised in Irvine, Daye was shunned by the school his father attended, UCLA. Instead, he packed up his game and his lanky 6-10 frame and headed East to play for Gonzaga. Drafted by the Detroit Pistons this year, Daye played with a quiet confidence in Vegas. He tended to get overlooked by his teammates at times, but when the ball came through him, good things happened. From the top of the key, he dropped an absolutely wicked dime with his left hand to a teammate underneath the hoop who bobbled the pass and then missed the lay-up. He would continually call for the ball only to swing it to the corner man for the open three. He drove hard to the glass and pulled up for a fourteen footer and used glass to easily sink it. He stayed in front of his man on defense and always got a hand up in his man’s face when the shot went up. He also compiled back-to-backto- back double-doubles in points and rebounds, despite weighing only 190 pounds. On Friday, Daye even showed some fi re when he picked up a technical for a somewhat heated exchange between him and journeyman David Harrison who is looking for a roster spot on the Lebron James Cavaliers. He’s a unique talent, and with the stock market high on small forwards who can defend, shoot, and handle the rock, the Pistons have got to be feeling really good about their draft so far.
Darren Collison: I believe Collison could have one of the biggest impacts of non-lottery picks this coming season. Selected by the New Orleans Hornets to play caddy for Chris Paul, Collison had himself a pretty productive four games in Vegas before being sidelined with an ankle injury. He looked for his shot perhaps a little too often, but otherwise came out looking like exactly what the Hornets need. The one thing that really hurt the New Orleans last year was their bench and it wasn’t necessarily because they didn’t have any talent there. Julian Wright, though not yet consistent, has a ton of length and athleticism and can be an absolute sieve on defense. James Posey was the X-factor for the Boston Celtics when they won two years ago. And Hilton Armstrong, well, okay, the Hornets didn’t have any talent in terms of bigs. Armstrong is just plain bad and Sean Marks was a sort of novelty act. But even those two guys looked pretty good playing with Chris Paul. Go fi gure right? The real culprit behind the bench woes for the Hornets was their back up point guard position. They tried Mike James and that didn’t work. They traded for Antonio Daniels, a fine player in his own right, but one who ultimately couldn’t manage the second unit. Collison instantly makes that second unit credible. He is a four-year veteran of the NCAA having led UCLA to back-to-back Final Four appearances in 07 and 08. He can lock up opposing point guards and he can manage games. Look for him to not have an outstanding season even if his numbers don’t necessarily refl ect that.