2014 Summer League

LaVine delivers more than dunks in Vegas

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Rookie Zach LaVine from UCLA tore up the Samsung Summer League in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Zach LaVine jumps really high and talks really fast. He exudes a brash confidence like Russell Westbrook and plays with a chip on his shoulder the size of Bill Walton.

This latest UCLA product is headed either for a stunning rookie season with the Minnesota Timberwolves or cold, hard NBA reality.

“I’m a very confident person, I always hold myself to high standards,” LaVine said Friday after scoring 22 points with four assists in the Wolves’ sixth and final Summer League game. “You know, there’s a lot of doubters on me. I feel  always like changing peoples’ minds, you know, ‘He’s not NBA-ready, why’d he come out?’ and different things like that. So I just come out here and always try to prove my point. I think I fared well for myself.”

There was little not to like about the 6-foot-5, 19-year-old’s debut in the Las Vegas Summer League. Everybody was aware of his athleticism coming in, but many were skeptical about his decision-making and the durability of his 180-pound frame..

“I definitely have to get in the weight room and let my body mature. But if they can’t touch you, you know, strength really isn’t a factor,” LaVine said. “I feel I’m a pretty physical person, just not the strongest yet, so I definitely have to get into the weight room. But I use my speed to my advantage.”

He averaged 15.7 points a game and more than five free-throw attempts per game in the Summer league. Twice he got to the line 10 times.

Fans mostly will remember a dazzling array of dunks. He’s already nominated himself for the dunk contest when February’s All-Star weekend props up its big tent in New York City.

“I’m definitely going to be in the dunk contest, know that,” LaVine said  “I haven’t lost a dunk contest for a long time, maybe since I first started dunking. So I have some dunks in my package.”

The Wolves are more intrigued by the 13th overall pick’s size at the shooting-guard position, his ball-handling and his higher-than-expected court IQ at point guard. He bounced between the two positions during Summer League.

He scored in double figures in all six games. In the final three games he averaged 19.3 points, 3.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds. He had two games with five turnovers, but averaged just 3.6 turnovers in 32.2 minutes a game, a good rate considering he was playing with little practice time and with unfamiliar teammates, most of whom won’t sniff the NBA.

“We knew he had talent, we knew he was good, but he exceeded all our expectations thus far,” Wolves assistant coach Sam Mitchell said. “He’s smart, he’s athletic, he can handle the ball, he can shoot the ball, he’s a sponge, he learns. We threw a lot at him. We’ve run a lot of NBA sets, we’re doing a lot of things defensively and he just picks it all up.”

The Wolves could have playing time available. Behind point guard Ricky Rubio is the diminutive J.J. Barea, who is in the final year of his contract and has seen his shooting percentages drop the last two seasons. Behind shooting guard Kevin Martin is young Russian Alexey Shved, who took a step back last season after a promising rookie campaign.

“I feel like I’m player,” LaVine said. “Wherever he [team president and coach Flip Saunders] needs to play me at; if that’s the 1, I feel like I can handle the ball and run the team, to a point where I’m still learning the position, but I feel like I can handle it. I like scoring the ball as well, so whatever he needs me to do, facilitate, shoot, defend, anything he needs me to do.”

There’s a chance LaVine could be one of two 19-year-old talents in Minnesota. If the Wolves deal Kevin Love to Cleveland for Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota could be set up with two tremendously gifted athletic wings for years to come.

For now, LaVine is headed back home to Seattle to train. The league will have to wait to see if he builds on his Summer League success. But Timberwolves fans should know that they will hear from their newest addition.

Summer league ends, but the topics don’t

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.


VIDEO: Elfrid Payton of the Magic talks after a Summer League victory

* 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. (more…)

Rockets’ Johnson aims to go from second round to the top


VIDEO: Nick Johnson closes out Summer League with big performance

LAS VEGAS — Summer League is a place in transition, where you see players with shoes that don’t match their uniform, where coaching staff members can outnumber active rosters, where players have to flip their uniform waistbands over to keep their oversize shorts from falling down during play. After one game, I saw a player exit the locker room shirtless with only a backpack, because the trainer had accidentally packed away the shirts before he was finished dressing.

That player was Rockets rookie Nick Johnson. While the Rockets quickly issued Johnson a long-sleeve T-shirt to solve that problem, his path to getting an NBA jersey of his own has been a bit less direct.

“The last few months have been pretty long, pretty wild,” Johnson says. “But it’s been good.”

Last season, as a junior at Arizona, the 6-foot-3 Johnson averaged 16.3 points, earning him consensus first-team All-American honors as well as a Pac-12 Player of the Year nod. Feeling he’d proven his worth, Johnson entered the 2014 NBA Draft. Leading up the Draft, Johnson had fifteen different workouts for NBA teams. “It was a grind. I was going from city to city, going for two weeks at a time.”

Then, on the evening of the Draft, Johnson sat to wait for his name to be called. The first round — with the accompanying guaranteed contract — came and went. Eventually, the Rockets drafted Johnson in the second round, 42nd overall, and the eighth player from the Pac-12 selected.

“It was a long night,” Johnson admits. “I’ll tell you, there’s not 41 players better than me in this year’s draft. And I don’t know anywhere the player of the year has seven players in his same conference get picked before him.

“But overall, it was a good process for me,” he continues, “because I went to a good organization, right now they’re going to the playoffs every year, and I think we have a lot of potential to go pretty far. I’ve always been a winner, always been about winning. So I’m happy I went to an organization that wins.”

Johnson — who is, coincidentally, the nephew of Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson — may be considered undersized at the two, but in Houston’s system he projects at either the one or the two. During Summer League, his athleticism has been a prominent asset in Johnson’s game, and he flashed it Monday during a loss in the Summer League final with a reverse alley-oop dunk en route to a team-leading 17 points. At least initially, that athletic ability should go a long way toward helping him find a place in the NBA.

“I think my game fits really well,” Johnson says. “In the NBA, I have the ability to use my athleticism a lot more than I did in college. I believe that the floor, the spacing is a lot wider with so many shooters around. I saw that a little bit in both of these summer leagues. And with my ability to make plays and get after it on the defensive end, I feel it will translate pretty well.”

“His athleticism is at an elite level, so it’s always going to allow him to compete and he’s a competitor,” says Houston’s summer league coach Chris Finch. “I think he’s right, I think he’ll find more space on the floor provided he gets out and runs, learns to play real quick off the catch where he can beat his man. His athleticism will help near the rim as long as he gets there quickly.”

Besides athleticism, Johnson excels at many of the things that don’t show up on draft previews, such as toughness and leadership. And it’s exactly that kind of hard-minded approach that will help him go from 42 into the upper echelon.

“It’s not where you start it’s where you finish,” Johnson says. “I’m going to make sure to work my hardest, to do my best, to finish at the top.”

The Hang Time Podcast: Vegas Impressions

LAS VEGAS — The Samsung NBA Summer League might be winding down, but the offseason storylines never end.

Will Kevin Love join LeBron James and the revolution in Cleveland or will Andrew Wiggins get his chance to play his part in the coming home movement? And speaking of Summer League action, who stood out in Vegas? Who needs to get busy and crank up their workouts between now and the start of training camp? When are the Lakers going to get a coach? And what team has the most work to do coming out of the busiest portion of the summer?

The Hang Time Podcast crew offers up some Vegas impressions, plenty of them as always, after our stint working the broadcast booth (fine, the table) during the Samsung Summer League:


VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew in Vegas

For Rockets’ Motiejunas, what happens in Vegas should not stay in Vegas


VIDEO: Donatas Motiejunas has been a load for defenders in Summer League

LAS VEGAS — There were 50 seconds left and the Houston Rockets trailed the Charlotte Hornets, 80-79, in the semifinals of the Samsung Las Vegas Summer League. Rockets guard Isaiah Canaan cleared out the left side of the court, then lobbed the ball inside to center Donatas Motiejunas. Motiejunas caught, leaned back, wheeled toward the center of the court and dropped in a soft hook shot to give the Rockets the lead and the win.

Motiejunas finished the game with 18 points and 13 rebounds in 31 minutes, another strong performance in the seven-foot Lithuanian’s brief history of terrific Summer League showings. Just two years ago, a 25-point, nine-rebound showing in his Summer League debut caused NBA TV’s Chris Webber to exclaim, “I came to Vegas and fell in love!”

But in two NBA seasons since then, Motiejunas hasn’t been able to consistently find the same kind of minutes or production with the Houston Rockets. So what is it about Vegas that brings out the best in Motiejunas?

“I don’t know, it’s hard to say. Do you like Vegas?” the man they call D-Mo says with a smile. “First time when I play it was just after the draft. I came here to prove to everyone I’m not just a simple European guy, a typical one, that I can fight and play. This year, I came here to get into shape for National Team, because the guys started training camp July 7, and my team said they prefer me to stay here and play a couple of games here. We lost two games in a row, I was pissed, and then we start winning, winning, winning. I could not say no, not to play. I just wanted to win.”

The Rockets’ winning streak has pushed this Vegas trip to the limit — after Monday’s championship game, Motiejunas will take an overnight flight to Houston, unpack and repack, and then hop on an evening flight to Frankfurt to join the Lithuanian National Team.

“It’s intensive, but I’m happy. I’m playing, I’m getting a lot of touches, I’m enjoying these guys. Like I said, they did an incredible job the last couple of weeks, separate players becoming team, not easy to do.”

Along with Canaan, Motiejunas has been Houston’s best player in Vegas, averaging 17.7 points per game to go along with 7.7 rebounds through six games. And with Houston trading away Omer Asik, as well as whiffing on Chris Bosh in free agency, the opportunity for Motiejunas to become a regular Rockets rotation player is there for the taking.

“His homework for Summer League was tougher post defense and rebounding, and I think he’s done both those things,” says Houston Summer League coach Chris Finch. “He’s very skilled offensively — he’s a guy that can score in the post and make plays off the dribble as a big guy. And those are things we can do with him in our offense with the Rockets once we can get him a consistent role. But the defense and the rebounding is what is going to get him that. He did a good job last season of working his way into the rotation, so he’s on the growth path.”

In other words, Motiejunas will have to fight and show toughness to earn minutes. Which is something he says he’s not afraid to do.

“I’m trying to show toughness! Trying to get there!” he laughs, grabbing my arm. “I don’t know, how is going on? Is it getting better?”

You look pretty tough to me, I said.

“OK! It means it’s working out.”

“D-Mo is tough. He is a fighter,” says Finch. “He works hard — you’re never going to find a guy who out-works him. He needs to learn to play with physicality without fouling, physicality without getting out of position, that kind of stuff. That’s why we’ve asked him to be more physical this year defensively and on the glass.”

For his next act, Motiejunas has to translate his Summer League showings into the regular season, finding a way to perform in the regular season as he has in the summer season.

Clearly, for the benefit of both Motiejunas and the Rockets, the trick to going forward is going to be getting what happens in Vegas to not stay in Vegas.

Kings say they are still behind McLemore


VIDEO: Ben McLemore scored 11 points as the Kings beat the Bulls

LAS VEGAS — Here’s a statement. Two of them actually, packaged into one big picture: Ben McLemore, the shooting guard the Kings drafted in the lottery in 2013, insisted he didn’t read too much into it when the Kings used another lottery pick on another shooting guard in the 2014 draft, and team officials, naturally, say they remain committed as ever to McLemore’s future in Sacramento.

It’s all good, right? McLemore came to summer league with the proper attitude, if pressing at first, and followed that up by playing well, making 52.2 percent of his attempts and averaging 14.6 points in five games as a major part of the Kings reaching the Sunday evening semifinals of the tournament format at Thomas & Mack Center, which concludes Monday. He is doing a lot of the right things and saying all the right things.

But, look. There’s Nik Stauskas.

The Kings just drafted someone who plays the same position, a year after being overjoyed to get McLemore in 2013, complete with the emotional bends of trying hard to trade up to get him, finding no deal, and then having the Kansas product fall to their laps at No. 7.

The Kings made it a priority this offseason to add perimeter shooting, and that is Stauskas’ specialty, the primary appeal to taking him at No. 8 as part of a portfolio that also includes being able to handle the ball well enough to project as a secondary playmaker and the experience in pressure situations of one run to the national-title game at Michigan and another to the Elite Eight.

In the singular moment, with Stauskas surrounded in positives, the Kings had a good 2014 draft. It’s just that it may also become a new perspective on the direction of their 2013 draft. That is the other statement.

“I told him,” coach Michael Malone said of McLemore, ” ‘Listen, we drafted Nik Stauskas. That’s not any slight on you. We still believe in you. You’re still our guy and we still expect great things from you from Year 1 to Year 2.’ I think he came out to Summer League after one year in the NBA thinking he had to score 20 points a game. It’s not about that. It’s playing the right way as we try to instill more ball movement.”

Playing the first couple games like someone hearing footsteps, although saying he didn’t have a problem with the Stauskas pick, McLemore responded by scoring 18, 22 and 11 points the next three outings while shooting 64.3 percent and adding six rebounds on two occasions. Stauskas has also had a good summer, at 48.6 percent from the field in five outings, 57.1 percent from behind the arc, and 10.4 points.

Their play has been a key factor in the Kings reaching the semifinals against the Wizards. The winner of that game faces the winner of Hornets-Rockets on Monday night for the title.

Wizards’ culture shift in full swing


VIDEO: Glen Rice Jr. ties the game with a 3-pointer from the corner for the Washington Wizards

LAS VEGAS — That breakthrough season and playoff run was just the beginning for the Washington Wizards.

That flash we saw from the John Wall and Bradley Beal-led Wizards in the Eastern Conference semifinals is still going strong into both free agency and here in the Samsung NBA Summer League, where youngsters like Glen Rice Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. are busy doing work with their veteran peers keeping a watchful eye.

Wall and Beal were in attendance at the Thomas and Mack Center Saturday night when Rice went off for 36 points in a triple-overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs. Veteran free agent Al Harrington is working the sidelines as a volunteer assistant under Wizards assistant Sam Cassell, keeping his finger on the pulse of a team whose culture shift is clearly in full swing after years of building to this point.

“We’re trying to get our hands on that trophy,” a smiling Harrington said after the win over the Spurs. “It’s just a good vibe all around since the season ended. All of our guys, the young guys and the older guys, are grinding and trying to get to that next level. Everybody recognizes the opportunity that is staring us in the face and we have to be ready. Everybody has to be ready.”

In a summer that began with the Wizards making the first big splash by keeping free-agent center Marcin Gortat on $60 million deal, the hits have kept on coming for this crew. Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker departed in free agency, but  Wizards boss Ernie Grunfeld went to work and rebounded by acquiring former Finals MVP Paul Pierce on a two-yer deal and veteran big men Kris Humprhies and DeJuan Blair in sign-and-trade deals to bolster the bench.

And for anyone dismissing the moves — the Pierce deal in particular, due to the mileage Pierce has piled up over the course of his stellar career — his coach in Brooklyn last season, believes the Wizards have taken a major step forward this summer with the acquisition of these veterans.

“Washington got better,” Kidd told reporters here last week. “You’ve got a veteran guy who understands what it means to be a professional, comes to work every day and understand what it takes to win a championship. … He won’t have any problems [fitting with the Wizards]. He’ll be fine.”

The Wizards will be, too, based on the busy work they have done this summer. Teams either get better or worse with their offseason work. Staying the course, for anyone other than the champion Spurs, simply doesn’t work.

“It’s just a matter of the process of getting better,” Kidd said. “You see that with Gortat coming back. The backcourt is very talented. So they lose a player, a piece, but they’re not afraid to go out and get a player that can help them. They’re going to be one of the top teams in the East.”

That’s the plan. Harrington said that was the vision of all involved when the season ended. They felt like they let the Pacers off the hook in the playoffs. “Trust me, it won’t happen again,” he said. “Our guys are better now because of what we learned about ourselves in that series.”

LeBron James heading home to Cleveland leaves a void at the top of the Southeast Division. And much like the work the Wizards’ summer league squad is putting in to capture top honors, when the regular season begins the varsity crew will battle for the No. 1 spot with the Heat, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets.

“It’s there for the taking,” Harrington said. “You see the way we are working now in the middle of the summer. We changed the culture. And now we’re feeding the beast, making sure everybody knows what goes on when the lights come on in the regular season. We need [Rice Jr.] and Otto ready to go from the start. Our depth is going to be our strength. It’s go time from the first day of training camp.”

Payne works to adjust to the NBA game


VIDEO: Adreian Payne gets high for the flush on the break

LAS VEGAS — When Adreian Payne was 15 years old, he realized he needed a summer job. He was, after all, a teenager, and Payne heard the same siren song of commerce that appeals to adolescents everywhere.

“I wanted to be able to buy myself something,” Payne recalls. “I wanted to go to the mall with my friends and stuff like that.”

And so Payne, who grew up in Dayton, Ohio, went out and got a job. As a janitor at his own middle school.

To Payne, it was a great gig.

“I swept, took gum off of the desks, mopped. It wasn’t bad, because I knew everybody there at my school, and it was the summer so there wasn’t anybody there. But I knew the janitor, I knew the lunch lady, all the staff. It was kind of fun. Being young I played around sometimes, but it was fun.”

Once he saved up enough money, Payne went to the mall and bought a pair of shoes. These days, as the recent first round pick of the Atlanta Hawks, with the requisite rookie scale contract, Payne’s shopping horizons have broadened a bit: “I’m looking for an apartment right now, actually. That will probably be the next thing I get.”

Payne spent the past week in Las Vegas with the Atlanta Hawks at the Samsung NBA Summer League exhibiting the drive and skill that made the Hawks interested in him to begin with. As a four-year player for coach Tom Izzo at Michigan State, the 6-foot-10 Payne developed into a deft outside shooter, knocking down 3-pointers at a 42 percent rate as a senior. That combination of size and shooting ability should fit perfectly into the spread-and-shoot system the Hawks implemented last season under first-year head coach Mike Budenholzer.

“Being able to shoot the ball can translate to anything, any level,” Adreian said. “But [the NBA game is] a lot different, the speed of the game, and the players are more athletic. So it’s just a matter of you just getting more comfortable out there, trying to find the pace of the game so your shots still come and you’re in rhythm, still. So I’m just trying to get my shot off quicker but not in a rush. But just quicker, more efficient, less movement.”

Payne helped lead the Hawks’ summer squad to a 2-3 record in the round-robin format, and played 28 minutes today in the Hawks’ 78-71 elimination round loss to the Houston Rockets. Payne finished with 11 points but struggled from the field, finishing 4-for-15, including 1-8 on three pointers.

“They were telling me to get my shots, try to slow myself down, run the offense and let them come. They was coming, they just wasn’t falling,” Payne said with a laugh.

Hawks assistant coach Darvin Ham coached the Hawks summer league squad, and saw plenty to like from Payne.

“It’s one of those situations where you always love the fact you have to tell a guy to slow down as opposed to pick it up. He just needs to know how to be quick but not in a hurry,” said Ham. And then, to emphasize the point, he repeated it quickly and in a hurry: “Quick but not in a hurry.

“He gets going and he’s going full speed and that’s normal for guys coming out of college,” Ham said. “They want to do everything a thousand percent, at a hundred miles an hour, and you can’t fault him for that. He’s from a heckuva program and Coach Iz[zo] did a great job with him. We’re just going to try to refine him a little bit and teach him how to play with a change of pace, so to speak.”

Coming into today’s loss, Payne averaged 12.8 ppg on 40 percent shooting from the field in Atlanta’s five previous games. Ham said the Hawks know he can get his shot going.

“His shooting element is there,” said Ham, “the defensive element is there, making athletic plays, we just gotta get him to stop fouling so much.”

Is that easier said than done with rookies?

“Oh, absolutely,” Ham continued. “Because in college, they actually play a lot more physical than we do in the NBA. At the NBA level, the big key is not to impede progress, so referees are a little more ticky-tacky with how they call fouls as opposed to in the college game, where you can get into guys and put your forearm into ’em when they face up and all of that. So it’ll take some time, but he’s a smart kid, a smart player, he’ll make the proper adjustments.”

One adjustment Payne has made thus far has been trying to add shotblocking to his defensive repertoire, something he says he wasn’t able to display at Michigan State.

“[Coach Izzo] wanted me to stay on the floor — I was getting in foul trouble. So the rules here are a lot different than they are in college — you have verticality here, in college you don’t. So it’s a lot different.”

Accordingly, another part of Payne’s adjustment has been studying tape of the NBA game to increase his familiarity with the league. While at Michigan State, he said, NBA games weren’t often on his TV — “I watched a lot of college games.” Video games were no help either — “I suck at 2K.”

“I’ve been watching a lot more NBA now, and I love watching it,” Payne said. “Now that I’m here in the league I’ve been watching a lot more film, been watching film with Coach Ham, and just trying to get better.”


VIDEO: Adreian Payne gets the stiff rejection against the Rockets

Hawks’ Schroder has eye on big stage


VIDEO: Dennis Schroder leads all scorers as the Hawks take down the Warriors

LAS VEGAS — Dennis Schroder knew he was up against the clock.

“I watched until the 70-minute mark, then I went to the game,” the Atlanta Hawks’ 2013 first-round pick said.

He was in Las Vegas with the Hawks’ Summer League team and they had a game Sunday evening, taking him away from watching his countrymen in the FIFA World Cup final against Argentina.

“We watched it in the locker room a little bit,” said Schroder, who grew up playing soccer before he took up basketball. The Hawks, though, had to take the floor before the match got to the 113th minute, when Mario Goetze scored to give Germany the 1-0 lead and the championship.

“It’s always good when our nation wins a world championship or a European championship,” Schroder said.

The 20-year-old won’t get the chance to compete on the world stage later this summer as a full-fledged member of the German national team. The Germans did not qualify for the FIBA World Cup (which until now has been called simply the world championships) in Spain.

The Germans weren’t helped by the fact Dirk Nowitzki has not played for the national team since 2011 in the European championships when Germany failed to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.

Schroder, the first native German drafted in the first round since Nowitzki went No. 9 in 1998, will play for Germany in the 2015 European championships with hopes of getting his country back to the Olympics for the first time since Nowitzki led them to the 2008 Beijing Games. Schroder has hinted in recent interviews that Nowitzki could decide to play once again in an effort to get the country to Brazil in 2016.

But before all of that, the 6-foot-2 point guard is focused on his NBA career and carving out a consistent spot in second-year coach Mike Budenholzer‘s rotation. Schroder played in 49 games last season and went through long stretches of watching from the bench.

The level of competition, Schroder said, was an intense eye-opener after playing two years professional in his home country where at times he could put in cruise control, yet still be the best player on the floor.

“You have to compete every night and I think that was the biggest adjustment for me is to compete every night against the best point guards in the world,” Schroder said. “That was the toughest thing to do.”

There is opportunity for Schroder behind starting point guard Jeff Teague. The Hawks traded Lou Williams to Toronto, leaving Shelvin Mack, as his prime competition.

Schroder is a quick penetrator and a primarily pass-first point guard whose shooting need works. He can be flashy and breathtaking with a first step that darts him toward the basket. His lightning-quick first step might be the reason he showed up to Vegas with a gold stripe running through the front of his hair.

“It’s me,” Schroder said of the stripe. “Everybody knows it’s me.”

The goal is for everybody to know who he is by his play on the floor. So far in Las Vegas, he has delivered both up and down performances. He put up a highlight-reel effort with 30 points on 9-for-14 shooting, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range and 9-for-10 from the free throw line in Sunday’s double-overtime loss. However, he also had eight turnovers in 32 minutes against a team made up exclusively of D-League players.

Through three games Schroder’s averaging 18.0 ppg and 3.3 apg. He’s shooting 44.7 percent (17-for-38), which is an improvement over his 38.3 percent last season (23.8 percent from 3). The No. 17 overall draft pick last summer is a skilled and confident player, but he also knows there is work to be done before he reports to training camp in October looking to play a much more significant role for the Hawks.

“What I’m working on is leading a team, talking to them, and try to focus on my shot a little, 3s and 2s, but the biggest thing is lead the team,” Schroder said. “I don’t worry about it [his role next season]. I worry about practicing hard and try to do the  things that I can control.”

At peace, West seeks another chance


VIDEO:
Delonte West talks about trying to get back into the NBA

LAS VEGAS – As undrafted rookie Tyler Johnson left the arena Monday, he shouted out to the guy he’d spent most of the night chasing around, and vice versa, in the clash of Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers summer league squads. “All right, Delonte,” Johnson, a 22-year-old from Fresno State, said.

Delonte West interrupted a conversation to get him back. “Good game, young fella,” said West, in that moment transporting himself back a decade.

“When I was a young guy,” said West, “and an older guy would say, ‘Aw man, I saw you play at St. Joe’s,’ I’d be like, ‘Appreciate, appreciate.’ I’d go home and text [friends], ‘Paul Pierce used to watch me in college?!’ ”

That’s time, y’know, and it passes quickly. One moment you’re the rookie looking to impress and hoping to get noticed, the next you’re a veteran of eight NBA seasons and five teams trying to revive that career. It’s gone fast and it’s been bumpy for West, who will turn 31 on July 26 and whose travels and most recently two-year absence from the league had little to do with his basketball skills and everything to do with off-court issues and the bipolar disorder from which he suffers.

West’s bouts of mental health problems spoiled his three-year run in Cleveland, where he played with LeBron James but got enmeshed in scurrilous rumors related to James’ mother Gloria. He also was arrested in 2009 for riding a motorcycle while carrying a large number of firearms.

His disorder clouded a second chance in 2010-11 with Boston, the team that had drafted him No. 24 overall in 2004, and it finally put him out of the league after getting sideways with the Dallas Mavericks in October 2012.

West gathered himself enough to spend a year in China, playing for the Fujian Sturgeons in the Chinese Basketball Association. He played well and added facets to his game. Last summer, he and his wife Caressa became parents to an infant son. That was another step in West’s maturation and new found stability.

“That’s a part of the game,” West said. “The life game for me. It was great going out there, going and growing up. Put the toys behind me. Being grown up and being a man, sometimes there’s things you have to do… take the trash out. But that’s what going away for me did.”

In his eight NBA seasons, West played in 432 games, scored 4,198 points, made 58 playoff appearances and, according to basketball-reference.com, earned about $16.2 million. Whether it was the game, the paydays, a shot at redemption or some combination of all three, West reached out to Clippers coach Doc Rivers for this latest, perhaps last chance.

“It wasn’t hard. He called me and I said yes,” Rivers said, watching as a spectator as the Clippers squad beat Miami, 91-85. “Literally, that’s how it happened.

“I think we all knew he could play. But it’s good for people to see it again. He’s in a great place in his life. A new baby… And because his life is doing well, his basketball’s good.”

West played well against Johnson and the Heat, scoring 12 points with eight rebounds and five assists. While all the young guys were running around at 100 mph, trying to do everything at once, the 6-foot-3, something-less-than-180-pound West was a stabilizing influence, orchestrating and letting the ball find him.

Except for plays such as this: Just before halftime, West leaped for a defensive rebound, then dribbled through a swarm of three Miami defenders. Clearing the pack, he found Amath M’Baye for an alley-ooped and-1. It stuck out as an NBA pearl among, let’s face it, more than a few swine in raggedy summer-league action.

More of the same and West might land the training-camp invitation he’s seeking.

“The next step is teams, including us, are looking at him, and he’ll get a lot of interest,” Rivers said. “I was sitting over there with Thibs and Flip [Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and Minnesota president/coach Flip Saunders]. Delonte scores three buckets in a row and you can hear them talking about him. ‘Damn, he can still play.’ That’s good.”

Said Thibodeau: “To me, that’s the beauty of summer league. There’s something for everybody. Like a guy comes out of college, maybe he wasn’t drafted, so he goes overseas or plays in the D-League and he gets better. You see him three years later and he’s a lot better. There are guys trying to revive their careers. So the picture of him is not from three or four years ago, it’s where he is now.”

West these days is in a good place. He’s grateful for the chance Rivers has given him. He spoke at length about the relationship he forged in Dallas with Mavs owner Mark Cuban, even as he spiraled out of the league. He even mentioned the NBA per diem he got and the steak he ate Sunday, helping him get back to proper playing weight.

Generally, West sounds like a man with no expectations now, appreciating what he has and what he survived to reach this point.

“It’s already been a success,” West said of this summer-league stint. “I got an opportunity to put a jersey on and be back in the fraternity. The chance to get up there and get some NBA bump, hey, anytime you’ve got a jersey on – it don’t matter who you’re playing for – you’re there. You’ve got a Clippers jersey on.

“This is big for me and my family. We’re going to celebrate. It’s one step to more steps.”