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Summer League Wrap-up

Published: July 22, 2009

The Hornets ended the Summer League on Sunday with a triple overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets, wrapping up with a 1-4 record.  The team fielded by the Hornets was eerily similar to what the Hornets rolled out in the 2008-2009 regular season.  The team was built around a clever, low-mistake point guard who can score efficiently off the pick and roll(Collison), an undersized power forward who loves to shoot long jumpers(Tolliver), a wing player capable of coming off screens and burying shots from any distance(Thornton), and (unfortunately) a talented injured center (D-League MVP Courtney Sims) who was replaced by a mixed cast of big men who were totally outmatched by their opponents.

Now, I use stats in this post, but the Summer League is a tiny sample size against inferior competition, so take them with a grain of salt.  The highlights:

Marcus Thornton

Where the comparison above breaks down was Marcus Thornton.  Thornton was much more than the 2008-09 Peja-style shooter, and finished as the team’s leading scorer, scoring 20.7 points per game.  Thornton was the summer league’s 6th leading scorer, and the top scorer among the rookies in Las Vegas. He was also third in the summer league in steals per game.  Unfortunately, he only played three of the five games after spraining his ankle, so the small sample size was even smaller for him. 

The question then becomes how did he play?  By all accounts, Thornton played with high energy on both ends of the floor.  When his  shot wasn’t falling consistently he did what any good scorer would do and began going to the hole.  In the two games he shot poorly from deep, he also drew a combined 20 free throws as he changed up his game and attacked.  As a result, he ended with solid efficiency, earning 1.24 points per shot despite finishing 44% from the field, 29% from the three point line, and 65% from the stripe.  Thornton also managed only a single turnover per game, carrying over his NCAA talent of having one of the best turnover rates among shooting guards despite a high usage rate.  Being a low mistake player like that is going to be something Byron Scott will love.

Darren Collison
While Marcus was the team’s leading scorer, I don’t think anyone will argue that Collison was the best player on the team.  After three and a half games (Collison also sprained an ankle) he finished as the league’s 14th leading scorer, hitting for 18.5 points per game.  He didn’t get a lot of assists(3.8 per game), but I don’t know if I blame him;  The starting crew wasn’t hitting a high percentage of shots.

Collison’s best attribute was his decisiveness.  Unlike most young guards who have a tendency to dribble and test the defense, then dribble more, then test more, then dribble more, Collison had a plan on every posession.  He would either get the ball to the attacking player or simply call a play and go, showing crafty penetration.  His ability to get into the paint paid off as he drew seven free throws in every game but one – and that one he drew nine.  He also hit all of them but one, displaying that fine free throw touch he had in college.  His free throws combined with a solid mix of floaters in the paint to more than off-set his lack of success from the three point line to give him a crazy efficiency of 1.51 points per shot.  His turnovers were at 2.5 per game, which is respectable for a starting point guard – and even better, most of those turnovers weren’t the costly sort that lead to fast break baskets. 

By the end of the Summer League most of the dozens of reporters covering the event had been surprised and impressed by Collison’s tools and had begun looking forward to how he matched up against more heralded players like Johnny Flynn and Eric Gordon.  The way Collison’s talents are dismissed by those who cover basketall reminds me of the way one of my favorite Hornets, David Wesley, was treated when he played in the league.  For about five years, the Hornets regularly brought in some young athletic scorer with the stated intention of having them try and take Wesley’s starting shooting guard role.  Every year, Wesley retained his spot in the starting five through an underrated combination of smarts, toughness and determination.  Collison got the starting point guard position his sophomore year, and over the next couple years UCLA brought in flashy new point guard recruits to try and take his job. (Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday)  Both players ended up as lottery draft picks.   Neither player threatened Collison’s job.  Don’t sleep on him.

Julian Wright
Julian Wright’s consistent inconsistency was again on display in Las Vegas, as his points varied from 4 to 24 and rebounds varied from 1 to 7 despite playing a fairly consistent 30+ minutes per game.  Not really unexpected at this point.  Some observations:

First, Wright doesn’t have a scorer’s mentality. At all.  In the first three games he did not demand the ball and instead seemed perfectly content to try and manufacture points at the end of the shot clock after other players had failed to score, leading to low percentage shots.  In the games Collison and Thornton played, he only averaged 11 shots and an abysmal .96 points per shot.  However, once both Collison and Thornton had gone down with their ankle injuries and the coaches made him the centerpiece of the offense, Wright scored 43 points on 33 shots for a healthy 1.3 points per shot. 

That tells me that he’s capable of scoring, but needs plays run for him AND he’s not going to insist on those plays. This dovetails with all the interviews I’ve seen of Julian where he says how Byron Scott keeps telling him he has to become more aggressive.  I think Julian may be mistaking energy, which he has in spades, for aggression.  Energy is a part of aggression, but he has to combine that with assertiveness, of which he has none.  In other words, Julian needs to call for the damn ball.  In the NBA, if you aren’t assertive, you aren’t going to get the ball.

As for the rest of his game, he’s still brilliant in transition, mediocre in the half court, a lame shooter, an excellent on the ball defender, and too eager to help on help defense.

The Rest
Anthony Tolliver was one of the Hornets primary offensive options.  He had a ten-day contract with the Hornets last year, so it was likely that a good stint in Vegas could have netted him an invite to training camp.  Sadly, he did not impress.  He played with energy, but was a so-so rebounder and really, really likes to take, and miss, long shots.  I doubt we’ll see him.  Jaycee Carroll and Earl Calloway were the primary backup guards.  Calloway was efficient, but not prolific, only netting 9 points in 28 minutes a game on nice shooting percentages.  Carroll was aggressive, but shot poorly.  Earl Barron, sadly for a three year NBA vet, looked like he fit in perfectly with the fringe talent displayed at the Summer League.  Luke Nevill and Brian Cusworth showed little in what little time they got. 

I would have loved to see what the injured Courtney Sims would have done in the middle for this team.  The Hornets squad posted better numbers than their opposition on assists(13 to 10), steals(9 to 5.6), Blocks(5.4 to 3.8) and turnovers (13.8 to 17.8) but struggled due to a high number of low-percentage perimeter shots and were out rebounded by more than 6 rebounds a game by their opponents.  Sims could have changed that.  Maybe we’ll see Sims in training camp again, like last year.

Anyone of you get a chance to see the Summer League?  I’d love to hear your thoughts – and the thoughts of the rest of you too, of course.

Oh – I can’t say how disappointed I am that no one commented on that excellent Dungeons and Dragons video I posted along with the CP3 highlight films.  Are there no appreciative nerds among you?  Am I truly alone?

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