Minnesota Summer League Day One

Minnesota Summer League Day One
Jul 16, 2005, 01:17 am
The first thing to note about the event is the conspicuous absence of several noteworthy players. Spectators had to be disappointed to find out that several first round draft picks would not play, even though they appeared to be perfectly healthy. Danny Granger, Joey Graham, Charlie Villanueva, and Rashad McCants were all present, but in street clothes. I talked to several of these players and the impression I got was that they wanted to play, but were being held out. It’s a shame that we couldn’t get the chance to evaluate these promising prospects, but there was still more than enough to watch amongst the players that did end up participating.

Game 1 – Houston 72, Indiana 64

With Danny Granger out with a supposed knee injury, the main storyline in this one turned out to be the return of Ron Artest. While it was the lowest scoring game of the night, the game actually turned out to be quite competitive. A couple of nice plays by Lonny Baxter helped Houston regain the lead down the stretch, and good free throw shooting sealed the deal.

Ron Artest – Artest put in a great stat line (23 points, 8-15 shooting, 4 steals), but was clearly trying to ease his way back into competitive basketball. There were no antics, and little of Artest’s usual intensity. He was trying to lead this team, and was content to simply show off a bit his outside jumper. He got a tough defensive assignment in Dion Glover, and while Glover did end up with a nice line, Artest picked his pocket twice and was a main reason for Glover’s 7 turnovers.

David Harrison – Harrison (15 points, 5-5 shooting, 4 rebounds, 4 blocks, 7 fouls) still lumbers up and down the court a bit, but he simply was too much for Malick Badiane or any other Houston big man to handle. He got position with ease, and threw down several thundering dunks.

Luther Head – The Illinois product (6 points, 3-12 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) came out with a head of steam, showing a lot of intensity and energy in his first summer league game. His shot wasn’t falling, but he again showed that he has the ability to defend the PG position. He actively attempted to penetrate and kick, which would have resulted in a few more assists had his shooters managed to connect. Head still thinks a bit too much when running the point, however, and might have a tendency to dribble with head down.

Other notes: Things just aren’t working out for Jonathan Bender. His shot wasn’t falling, and he just doesn’t contribute in ways other than perimeter shooting. As more and more of these skinny, perimeter-oriented big men struggle, we ought to figure out that it’s a lot tougher than it looks to become “the next KG”, or “the next Dirk.” Malick Badiane has the look of a less developed Dikembe Mutombo, but he’s still very raw. He tries to get things done way too quickly, and has very poor hands. I doubt it surprised too many NBA types, but Dion Glover was very effective slashing his way to the basket.

Game 2 – New York vs Toronto

I don’t have a box score for this one, due to the fact that the one that was available to the media only included the first quarter. The Knicks ended up coming back and winning, but it certainly wasn’t an inspiring performance against a squad that was without Charlie Villanueva, Joey Graham, and Roko Leni-Ukic. Nonetheless, the style of play was a bit faster, and the Nate Robinson show is always going to be worth paying attention to.

Nate Robinson – Robinson never got going from a scoring standpoint, and actually went to the bench early after picking up three early fouls. However, once he got back out there, it really was Nate’s game. He made spectacular pass after spectacular pass, using his leaping ability to hang in the air and get the ball around helpless defenders. He looked like a much better creator than I remembered him being at Washington. The few times he did get to the basket and finish for himself, they were the types of plays that really get the crowd involved.

Channing Frye – Frye played a smart game, staying involved around the basket and making his presence felt on the defensive end. However, he should have been able to dominate the likes of Pape Sow, Marcus Haislip, and Uros Slokar, and that just didn’t happen. Frye doesn’t seem comfortable with his back to the basket, and that’s not something I like to see out of a guy that’s supposed to be polished and ready to play.

Other Notes: Rueben Douglas went for 20+ points, though I’m not sure if he’s helped his NBA cause all that much. He’s an opportunistic slasher with diverse scoring ability, but I wasn’t blown away by anything he did. David Lee’s calling card is his quickness. He’s pretty much already in motion before he touches the ball in the post, has a great first step, and seems to think a bit more quickly than the defense. He played both SF and PF tonight. Omar Cook had an nice stretch which included a jaw dropping no-look bounce pass and two swished jumpers, but remained quiet for the rest of the night. The overmatched Pape Sow put up an admirable fight against Frye, Lee, Bruno Sundov and company, but is still cripplingly raw on the offensive end. Big-bodied Jackie Butler never goes away from his back to the basket game, but is clearly still in need of experience at the professional level.

Game 3 – Minnesota 102, Milwaukee 69

There was a skilled foreign big man that played like a can’t miss prospect, but it wasn’t Andrew Bogut. That pretty much sums up the final game of the night, in which the Timberwolves cruised to victory over a very young Bucks squad.

Andrew Bogut – This performance definitely wasn’t what you’d expect from a number one pick playing his first summerleague game (7 points, 3-6 shooting, 4 rebounds, 5 fouls, 3 blocks, 3 turnovers). Bogut didn’t play poorly, but just didn’t stand out against defenders like Dwayne Jones, Nick Horvath, and Nikoloz Tskitishvili. He struggled to gain position in the post, and just didn’t get very many high percentage opportunities. Bogut’s court awareness, ability to get his shot off, and understanding of the game were evident – I fully expect him to shake off this performance and come out much stronger tomorrow. However, from this first impression, Andrew Bogut has some serious work to do in terms of strength and athleticism.

Nikoloz Tskitishvili – Tskitishvili (25 points, 8-11 shooting, 4-5 three pointers, 10 rebounds) was absolutely the story of the night, scoring in just about every way imaginable and becoming an instant crowd favorite. He was unconscious from the perimeter, scored going to the basket, showed off some impressive athleticism in the open floor, and was a big factor on the glass. The real question we have to ask is why in the world would two teams let this guy walk for essentially nothing? Tonight, he was nothing short of the best player at the event. Skita has played well in past summer leagues, so is this just another tantalizing glimpse of stardom that will never come, or could the Wolves have actually picked up a gem here?

Ndudi Ebi – The box score I’m looking at says that Ebi (11 points, 5-13 shooting, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 turnovers) actually ended up putting on a decent performance, but I just didn’t see it. The one positive is that he looks a bit stronger than he has in the past. Other than that, there wasn’t much to like. Ebi forced shots all night long, to the point where I can’t believe he only missed eight. He just doesn’t have the jumper to be taking the kind of off-the-dribble 20 footers that he was bricking. He might bring a bit of something on the defensive end, but I’m just not impressed. The Minnesota fans sitting near to me were in vocal agreement the entire evening.

Other notes: Bracey Wright actually showed a bit of potential, looking very smooth in connecting on several off the dribble jumpers. His handle was shaky, but he has already completely eclipsed anything he did at the pre-draft camp last month. Dwayne Jones fought like a trooper against Andrew Bogut, but was very quiet on the offensive end. He was only credited with one block, but there were several occasions in which Milwaukee players forgot who they were attempting to score against. Ersan Illyasova came down with a classic case of “deer in the headlights” in his first ever game in the United States, but did connect with Andrew Bogut on a nice dribble drive that led to a lay in for the Aussie. Take one look at Kirk Penney’s shooting form and sickeningly quick release, and you will see why teams keep inviting him to summer camp. Former Texas big man Chris Owens is trying to take his game to the perimeter, and was hitting from the outside tonight.

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