Summer League Practice Notes: Day One
Some notes from Portland's first summer league practice on Tuesday ...
Second-Year Players Double-Down In Las Vegas
While rookies often get the headlines at summer league, it's the second-year players who have the most to prove to their respective teams. After all, rookies are expected to make mistakes at summer league, even in the notoriously low-pressure settings of Thomas & Mack Arena and Cox Pavilion on the campus of UNLV. But second-year guys? They're expected to look like veterans who don't even need to be playing summer league.
But that's fine by Portland's sophomores, who make up a third of the Trail Blazers' summer league roster. With all of those players, sans Damian Lillard, spending most of the season coming off of Portland's oft-maligned bench, they're as enthusiastic about showing their improvement in Las Vegas as fans are in about seeing it.
"I'm approaching (summer league) to play more aggressive, but with a pace to my game at the same time," said Will Barton, who averaged 15.0 points in 32.8 minutes per game in the 2012 Las Vegas Summer League. "I don't want to go out there making a lot of mistakes because I've already completed a year, so I feel like my game has matured. I've gotten better at things I want to be able to show while staying within the team concept and just winning a lot of games."
"I understand the game so much better," said Meyers Leonard of the difference between now and where he was a year ago. "I'm able to exert energy on doing the actions rather than thinking, then doing the actions. It comes a little more natural to me. The game is flowing better for me in my mind and obviously my body. Offensive game has improved as well as my defense, really worked on staying straight up whenever guys drive into the paint, defending the paint one-on-one in the post, trying to extend my range."
Keep It Simple Summer League
While winning games is nice and all, summer league is much more useful for evaluating the skill level of individuals than it is assessing an entire team. In fact, it's all but useless for gauging a team as a whole, if for no other reason than summer league rosters are typically a mishmash of players, many of whom have little chance of making the regular-season roster.
Nevertheless, the has to be some semblance of order to get something of value out of summer league, so the Trail Blazers spent a chunk of their first practice going through the basic principles of how they're going to play in Las Vegas.
"A lot of teaching, a lot of defensive concepts, some of the offense," said head coach Terry Stotts, who mostly watched while his assistants, who will handle head coaching duties in Las Vegas, ran the show. "It's kind of a crash-course in three days to be ready to play a game. Trying to keep it simple but there are still a lot of things to do. I thought everybody had good energy. I think they picked up the things pretty quickly at both ends of the floor."
The second-year players like Lillard, Freeland and Leonard could handle more, seeing as how much, if not all, of the summer league system is holdover from last season, but there's not much reason to go too in-depth.
"We put in a couple sets. I don't think Coach wants to mess with people's heads too much," said Will Barton. "It's only a couple games, only a couple roster guys, so we threw in the motion set and our flow and our principles on defense. I think they're going to give us bit-by-bit each day, but I don't think they want to put too much on us."
Allen Crabbe Arrives
Trail Blazers first-round pick CJ McCollum was introduced to the media on Monday, but for whatever reason, Allen Crabbe, who the team traded for on Draft Night, was not. My guess is that it has something to do with second-round picks having to be signed to negotiated contracts, while first-round picks' contracts are predetermined by the CBA.
But Crabbe was at Portland's first practice on Tuesday, and the extra day's wait didn't seem to dampen his enthusiasm.
"It's a great feeling," said Crabbe. "Shocked when (Portland) picked me but I feel like it's going to be a good place for me. We've got a lot of young guys so I feel like we'll be able to get along, on and off the court, well. Just a blessing to be here. Everybody is dreaming to make the NBA and I'm just glad that I'm here and do whatever I can to help contribute early."