LAS VEGAS – We came, we saw … we just kept seeing.
Eleven days, 67 games and one Kings championship later, Summer league finished with the NBA in a much different place than when it, or the Orlando portion of the July schedule that preceded desert ball, began. LeBron James moved, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh did not, Nerlens Noel played and played well, and Andrew Wiggins found that being picked No. 1 by Cleveland did not come close to answering the question of where he will play.
It was also a different summer league compared to 2013, with much better prospects in the rookie class leading to greater fan interest and, in turn, an improved atmosphere at games. Having many more electric players helped, as did the curiosity factor of the chance to see Dante Exum, surprise first-rounder Bruno Caboclo and, after a season off, Noel. Even the coaches were interesting — Steve Kerr worked a game on the Warriors bench, David Blatt went the whole way on the Cavaliers sideline and Derek Fisher likewise took over the Knicks right away.
In short, there was a lot to discuss.
* A big question on the way out of Orlando: Who is going to hit shots for the Magic? Management has loaded up on defenders/projected defenders (Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton) and rebounders, and that’s a good way to build a foundation. But that backcourt. The lack of a jumper is one of the concerns with Payton, so either Oladipo returns to his form from the final year of college, as opposed to last season as a rookie, or the Magic will be easy to defend if they play non-shooters Gordon, Payton and Oladipo together.
It was obviously one of the reasons they signed Channing Frye. But Frye can be good as a stretch four, in comparison to other bigs and not in comparison to the best 3-point marksmen in the league overall. Gordon, another power forward, said he has worked hard to improve his shooting, made 35 percent of his attempts. Oh, and 47.8 percent of his free throws. He is going to get sent to the line a lot this season. Basically, any shot within five feet is an automatic foul if the defender can get to him.
* A big question on the way out of Las Vegas: How far will be the Bucks go with this Giannis Antetokounmpo-as-point guard thing. They are adding Kendall Marshall at that position and reportedly are adding Jerryd Bayless as a combo guard. Those are significant moves after coach Jason Kidd made it clear he wanted a long look at Greek Freak with the ball in his hands, maybe even as the starter in the regular season. The new backcourt depth might ordinarily signal an end to that experiment, except the chance to maximize a blossoming talent like that should always take precedence over a Marshall or Bayless.
* Glen Rice Jr. of the Wizards was the Vegas MVP. Easy call. But Donatas Motiejunas of the Rockets was impressive in how he controlled the action on the boards, especially the last five games, and defended and scored. He was much better than most of the competition. But that’s exactly how a talented player heading into his third season should look against Summer League competition.
It goes beyond July chatter because this is a reserve big on the team that traded Omer Asik and lost out on Chris Bosh. If Motiejunas is ready to take a big step forward when it matters, that’s an important storyline to track for the Houston inside game that has supposedly been weakened, and the entire Western Conference.
* Expect event organizers and NBA officials to come up with a solution next year for selling out glamour matchups in Cox Pavilion and having to refund tickets to fans who did not want to watch the games being played at the same time in adjacent Thomas & Mack Center. The ticket office had to give back about $1,500 alone when some 60 customers were turned away at the Cox door when Wiggins and the Cavaliers faced Jabari Parker and the Bucks on opening night.
There is an easy answer. While the schedule is set before the Draft, without knowing how the lottery plays out and which games will become especially popular, it is possible for those highest-profile matchups to be switched from Cox (capacity: approximately 2,500) to Thomas & Mack (capacity: 18,776). The T&M contest that starts about the same time would move to Cox.
* This will turn out to be a good draft for the Grizzlies. Jordan Adams as a scorer from the backcourt at No. 22, Jarnell Stokes as muscle, as if the Grizz needed more ways to beat teams inside, at 35 — Memphis got two players who could contribute right away.
* Ditto Chicago, sort of. Nikola Mirotic was in the 2011 Draft, but will be a rookie this season after finally coming over from Europe. Doug McDermott, who was in the ’14 draft, showed here it is possible to be underrated and also be one of the most-publicized players in the class. Everyone talks about his shooting range, with good reason, but McDermott is a scoring threat in a lot of ways beyond catch-and-shoot. And now he’s on a team with two of the league’s best-passing big men, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, to deliver the ball.
Also, Tony Snell was one of the Vegas standouts, an encouraging sign for the Bulls in the Montiejunas way of a returning player appearing ready to step into a larger role. It’s not that Snell averaged 20 points in 30.1 minutes or made 17 of 34 tries from behind the arc. It’s that he looked stronger and played focused, factors that translate to the regular season.
* Hornets assistant/Summer League coach Patrick Ewing, on rookie Noah Vonleh: “You’re going to get pushed around, but he has to man up and fight. I don’t care how old you are, you’ve got to fight. They say if a dog don’t bite when it’s a puppy, it ain’t going to bite when it’s a dog. I don’t care how old you are, you’ve got to fight.” Vonleh, the No. 9 pick, responded by getting double-digit rebounds in three of the last four games despite not playing more than 29 minutes. “He’s going to have to work on everything,” Ewing said. “I’m very tough on him because I see the potential in him to be very good.”
* Utah’s Exum, saying he is a point guard despite skepticism from some front offices, had 14 assists and 15 turnovers in Vegas. Celtic Marcus Smart, saying he is a point guard despite skepticism from some front offices, had 21 assists and nine turnovers in Orlando (and shot 29.4 percent, the worst of anyone there with at least 55 attempts). Payton, the top prospect among prototype point guards, had 35 assists and 20 turnovers in Florida. Those are all meaningless Summer League numbers, because of the calendar, because their teammates in the regular season will, in theory, convert more of the scoring chances, and because teams had only a handful of practices before first playing. But they are exactly the numbers that will be tracked with a microscope starting in the fall.