Summer League

Exum adjusting to level of competition


VIDEO: Dante Exum shows off the speed for the steal and throwdown

LAS VEGAS – Summer league was just a stopover. World tours are like that.

Home in Australia for the final season of the equivalent of high school play, ending with a national championship in December. Los Angeles in February for months of workouts to prepare for the NBA. New York in June for the Draft and being picked fifth by the Jazz. Vegas in July for Summer League. Australia on Tuesday for the start of training camp for the national team in advance of the World Cup. Spain in late August for the re-named world championships, as part of a team that could include Cameron Bairstow of the Bulls, Aron Baynes of the Spurs, Matthew Dellavedova of the Cavaliers and the country’s next basketball prodigy, Ben Simmons. Salt Lake City again, finally, in mid-September.

Dante Exum is attempting the biggest competition jump of anybody in the rookie class and he can’t even get his feet set for takeoff. Before Summer League, he mostly went against high school teams. Australian high school teams. There was the star turn at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Ore., in April 2013 against a United States squad that included Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle, but that was one game. There was another boost to his draft stock later that summer in the under-19 world championships in Prague, but, again, briefly.

Unlike the majority of every draft class that steels itself with years of AAU circuits and college play or leagues in Europe with older professionals, Exum not only has to make the transition at age 19 but with very little in his basketball background to prepare for the NBA. He has never been seriously challenged for weeks at a time, let the months waiting for him with the Jazz schedule as a rookie.

“The last games I played was high school games and I’m one of the bigger guys out there that can push guys around,” he said. “Here, I get into the paint and I’m getting knocked over.”

Literally and figuratively. Exum faced NBA competition for the first time and shot 30.8 percent in five games, ending with Friday’s victory over the Trail Blazers at Thomas & Mack Center, while averaging 7.2 points and piling up more turnovers (15) than assists (14). He had good moments, but nothing close to a good game, with making four of 10 shots and three assists against one turnover in the opener against Philadelphia probably holding up as the best.

“It’s been a big couple weeks for him,” said Brad Jones, the Jazz assistant coach who ran the team in the Summer-League games. “He’s got a lot going on. He’s had some ups and downs through this, but it’s also why we play Summer League, for him to go through the ups and downs. The little challenge, we talked to him at halftime about, we wanted to see him finish on a strong note. I thought he tried to play through and luckily made a great play and hit that little floater to kind of seal that game for us.

“Now he can go back and regroup a little bit. I know he’s going to his national team, but hopefully now he has a level of understanding of what he has to do every day to be successful. There were some times he showed some brilliant, brilliant things this last week. Then again, there’s been some times where he’s been kicked in the rear end a little bit. Hopefully he’ll take this, process it and come back in the fall ready to go and to help because we think he’s got a bright future.”

Exum considers himself a point guard, leaving new coach Quin Snyder with the decision early in his tenure of whether Exum and incumbent Trey Burke play together or have a position battle that is tracked on two continents. And there is the matter of how fresh Exum will be for training camp after the busy summer and a pretty quick turnaround from the end of the World Cup to the start of training camp, though Exum said he has been promised schedule breaks by the Australian national team. Almost everything, in other words, remains to be determined.

The five games in Las Vegas were a glimpse, for the Jazz trying to get him into the system and just as much for Exum facing major competition on a regular basis for the first time. That’s the perspective right there: Summer League counts as major competition. That’s how big of a canyon jump Exum is attempting.

Injury costs Len another Summer League


VIDEO: Alex Len made an impression in limited action at the 2014 Summer League

LAS VEGAS – He thought the right pinky was jammed or, at worst, dislocated. No big deal. Alex Len simply grabbed it with his left hand, popped the finger back in place and kept playing.

When they took X-rays on site at UNLV to make sure, though, the Suns found Len had actually fractured the finger. One game, and then no more Summer League. No more Summer League for the second year in a row, actually.

Big deal.

It’s only July, leaving enough time to be ready for the start of camp, and it’s only a pinky, when anything is better than another ankle problem, but the No. 5 pick in the 2013 draft losing important teaching moments in back-to-back summers is still a blow to his development.

“It was disappointing,” Len said. “I was excited about summer league, to get some playing time, get back playing. To get injured in the first game, it’s not the best news.”

He was hurt when the finger got tangled in a Warriors’ jersey as Len was reaching for the ball in the third quarter Saturday night at Cox Pavilion. Len had played all of 25 minutes.

“This summer league was big for him,” said Mike Longabardi, the Suns assistant running the team here. “We wanted to get him those reps. The only good thing is this was like a freak injury. He should be fine. He’s worked really hard. I think he’ll be OK.”

A year ago, surgery on both ankles cost Len the chance to work out for teams before the draft, then Summer League, and then kept him to limited activities in training camp and slowed the start of his regular season. Len eventually made 42 appearances at just 8.6 minutes per as starting center Miles Plumlee capitalized on the trade from Indiana to Phoenix and the chance to play a lot, turning in a very encouraging 2013-14 of 8.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 51.7 percent from the field.

“I look at it as a positive,” Len said of the latest injury setback. “I’ll be able to work on my lower play — on my base, work on my legs — and still I can improve my left hand. I’ve just got to take advantage of that.”

McDermott gets buckets, seeks minutes


VIDEO: McDermott scores 31 to lead Bulls past Nuggets

LAS VEGAS – Convincing people that Doug McDermott is more than a shooter is like buying a Corvette and touting its fuel economy.

That was the case with McDermott Sunday in his second Summer League performance. The Chicago Bulls’ first-round pick out of Creighton lit up the Cox Pavilion so brightly – 7-for-12 overall, 5-for-9 from the arc, 12-for-12 from the line and 31 points against Denver’s squad – that anyone making a case for all the alleged other things in his game would have been drowned out, anyway, by the crowd’s reactions to each bucket.

Or would that be McBucket?

“I’m fine with that,” McDermott said afterward, his proficiency outside sparking the Bulls’ group to 19-for-36 on 3-pointers. “Really, that’s my biggest strength right now.”

On the night they drafted him, Bulls GM Gar Forman and coach Tom Thibodeau went out of their way to talk up other facets of McDermott’s game. They cited his ball skills, his movement without the ball, his ability to post up and even his defense, though it likely wasn’t up to Thibsian standards yet. “If you view him as strictly a shooter, you’re not casting the proper light on him,” Thibodeau said.

That’s fine. Some pageant winners really are whizzes at calculus, too. But that generally isn’t why you notice them.

The Bulls ranked last in the NBA in 2013-14 in field-goal percentage, 28th in 3-point attempts, 24th in 3-point percentage, last in effective field-goal percentage and 28th in offensive rating. So it’s OK if McDermott, especially this season, does mostly what he does best, without apologies.

“I’m trying to add things to my game every day,” McDermott said. “I feel like I’m a lot more than a shooter. I feel like I’m a complete player. And having a coach like Tom Thibodeau, he’s only going to help me.”

McDermott, a 6-foot-8 small forward who led the nation in scoring (26.7 ppg) this season and scored 3,150 points in his four years of college, did show other parts of his game. He posted up effectively, he worked well with Bulls second-year guard Tony Snell (23 points) in some two-man action and he moved his feet sufficiently on defense, one time forcing a Denver shot-clock violation when he kept Carlon Brown in front of him without options.

McDermott finished with one rebound and one assist, but he took contact better than in his debut, earning his dozen trips to the line. He also filled the wing and finished a break with an impressive dunk. Overall, he felt he played a better, more relaxed game this time.

“Definitely, that first one, just a little uptight,” he said. “Just so excited for my first game. Today it slowed down. Today, it felt more like basketball. Back to normal.”

McDermott spent some time with Bulls assistant coach Andy Greer Sunday morning, going over video of his play against the Clippers Friday. He scored 10 points on 2-for-8 shooting, missed his three attempts inside the arc and turned over the ball four times.

One big adjustment: Spacing. He said he was “awful” at that in the opener. “Coming off screens, playing off others, spacing is huge,” McDermott said. “Tonight I was able to get a lot better looks because I was in the right spots.

“Last night [Saturday], I was being too quick around the rim, forcing some stupid plays. Tonight, I was much more calm and able to get to the rim a little easier, and finish.”

Given the big tease to this point – that’s what summer league proficiency often is – the next question will be, can McDermott get on the floor enough to get to the rim and show all those other marvelous skills besides shooting?

He is, after all, a rookie and rookies do not play a lot under Thibodeau. At least, that’s the conventional wisdom – with which Thibodeau takes some issue.

“Do the research,” he said, after suggesting that, league-wide, few rookies log long minutes, especially those drafted to winning teams.

OK, here goes:

  • No rookie last season cracked the top 20 in minutes played. Only four topped 1,900 minutes – MVP Kevin Durant led the league with 3,122 – and only three averaged as many as 27 minutes.
  • Only nine rookies averaged 20 minutes or more. Chicago’s Snell, the No. 20 pick, ranked 13th in total minutes (1,231) and 14th in average (16.0).
  • The top 10 players taken in 2013 – 11, but not factoring in Nerlens Noel – averaged 20.5 minutes as rookies. The bottom 10 picks in the first round averaged 12.4 minutes. In 2012, those numbers were 25.5 for the top 10 and 9.7 for the bottom 10.
  • Since Thibodeau was hired in June 2010, his rookies have been picked 30th (Jimmy Butler), 29th (Marquis Teague) and 20th (Snell).

McDermott was the No. 11 pick, so his minutes might be expected to fall closer to the top 10 than the bottom 10. If he earns them, that is, by not making mistakes that outweigh his contributions.

But the way he shot the ball Sunday, he might make it hard for Thibodeau not to play him.

Glen Robinson III fighting his college reputation

No. 40 pick Glen Robinson III looks to disprove doubters who say he coasts on the court.

No. 40 pick Glen Robinson III looks to disprove doubters who say he is too passive on the court.

LAS VEGAS – He should start a fight.

It doesn’t matter who it’s with, it doesn’t matter what it’s about. A cheap shot under the basket. The temperature on the team bus to the arena. Who should be first in line at the breakfast buffet. Anything.

Just start a fight.

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Glenn Robinson III said through a smile, getting the point but disagreeing with it. “It might happen in practice or something. I need to keep my head, keep my cool.”

He needs to show a fire. Robinson fell to the Timberwolves at No. 40 in the draft on June 26 because a lot of teams saw him as too passive in a 2013-14 at Michigan that was set up for success with the departures of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. but ended with questions about GRIII lacking intensity. They were frustrated that he didn’t seem more frustrated.

This summer league and the rookie season in Minnesota that follows is about proving he won’t cruise through games, that his attitude will match his billing as a small forward with the talent to be in the lottery conversation six or eight months ago. That talk faded, obviously, but the skill set did not, so Robinson begins the transition to the NBA needing to take on an image as well as every human opponent.

“Something that really helps me is just talking on the court, whether that’s smack talking or joking around,” he said. “It’s talking and keeping that motor up.”

It’s trash talking more than before.

“Oh, yeah,” Robinson said. “Definitely…. Whoever’s guarding me. Everybody talks out there. That’s something that’s a little trick that I’ve found to keep my motor up.”

The son of Big Dog Glenn Robinson, a two-time All-Star with the Bucks in the early-2000s as part of an 11-year career with four teams, is that conscious of wanting to appear locked in. Last season, he re-watched a lot of games the same night, sometimes with Michigan coaches and sometimes when he got home or back to the hotel room, not agreeing with the assessment that he was cruising but that there were “a couple possessions maybe I could sprint my lane a little faster or maybe try to grab some offensive rebounds.”  Also, that “a lot of people tell me the game seems to come easy to me. I think that’s more what it is. I have the same facial expression or am relaxed all the time.”

Wanting to be much more than a what-could-have-been, GRIII is using the same level of self-analysis at the start of his NBA career. Because not agreeing with the assessment is different than not taking the comments to heart as a way to get better.

“I never felt like I was drifting or I never felt like I wasn’t playing 100 percent,” he said. “But if it’s there, you have to make adjustments. You have to change that.”

So, he trash talks. He jokes on the court. Anything to get a reaction. No fights, though.

Even if he should.

Wizards need Porter to plug Ariza hole


VIDEO: Otto Porter scores 25 points in the Wizards’ opening Summer League match

LAS VEGAS – Normally, Otto Porter‘s performance in his summer league debut Saturday would have been ripe for superlatives: 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting in 28 minutes, seven rebounds and three assists.

Given its timing, however, and the situation in which his Washington Wizards team suddenly found itself, a request was more in order:

More, please.

Come to think of it, the Wizards might be inclined to drop the “please” and go with a straight demand.

Porter is due and, with the loss of forward Trevor Ariza as a free agent to the Houston Rockets – effectively and finally, during the very hours Porter was on the floor at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday afternoon – Washington needs him. Now.

“I mean, hey, the door opens up,” Porter said. “He [Ariza] had a tremendous year last year. Now guys are moving on and stuff, it’s time for people to step up and fill those shoes.

“This is just the beginning of it … But I’m definitely feel I’m gonna build on today’s game.”

Losing Ariza hits the Wizards hard for a couple of reasons. First, according to multiple reports, the four-year, $32 million deal he signed with Houston is no better, on an annual basis, than what Washington had been offering. Turns out, Texas’ absence of a state income tax was a selling point worth a couple of million dollars, net, in Ariza’s pocket.

The 10-year-veteran also had probably the best season of his career. Ariza, 29, averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds, hit 40.7 percent of his 3-pointers. He was a defensive wet blanket when thrown on the opponents’ most dangerous wing scorers. And he provided some helpful leadership for the team’s young talent, from backcourt mates John Wall and Bradley Beal to Porter.

That’s why the Wizards had made re-signing Ariza, along with center Marcin Gortat (who did re-up), such a priority. It wanted to keep intact the core and maintain the momentum of the budding East contender that pushed Indiana to six games in the conference finals.

“We’ll be all right,” coach Randy Wittman said, unconvincingly, on his way out of the arena, with the news of Ariza’s exit still washing over the Wiz.

The move hurts even more because Martell Webster, a backup last year, is sidelined for three to six months after back surgery. And the Wizards’ options to add a replacement is limited both by the salary cap (no Luol Deng, for instance) and the shrinking list of available fill-ins.

Even with one Washington media outlet suggesting that this all might set up the Wizards financially for a run at D.C.-born Kevin Durant when he becomes free agent in 2016, that’s two seasons away with zero guarantees.

That Ariza will be missed as a solid teammate and even mentor is just a, er, bonus.

“To have him gone, he taught me so much,” Porter said, “especially on offense and defense. Being there, showing me the right things, the ins and outs. Now I’ve got to put ‘em to use.”

Ya think? Porter had one of the most disappointing rookie seasons of anyone drafted so high – the No. 3 pick overall – in recent NBA memory. He appeared in only 37 games, averaging 2.1 points in 8.6 minutes while shooting 36.3 percent.

His problems began almost immediately with a thigh strain that curtailed his summer league work, followed by a hip injury that messed up his training camp and kept him inactive till December. Porter was drafted after two years at Georgetown – with multiple scouts claiming he was a perfect fit and ready to help – with the idea he would replace Ariza.

Well, now is his chance. More, please.

Wiggins vs. Parker, season 1, episode 1


VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker generated plenty of buzz in their first pro matchup

LAS VEGAS – It wasn’t LeBron James showing up unannounced or anything on the first night of Summer League action here, but it was close in terms of crowd and buzz and curiosity.

Cox Pavilion, smaller sidekick to the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus, was crammed to its modest 2,500 capacity and beyond. Some fans were standing against the wall behind the top rows – and they were the lucky ones. Others couldn’t get in at all, and when they were shooed from the two congest entrance/exit bottlenecks, they were offered refunds on their $25 tickets.

Which isn’t nearly the same as being able to say, years from now, that you witnessed the first NBA clash of Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.

Sure, it was played in the desert, the rules were different (10-minute quarters, for instance) and the scores, stats and standings largely were immaterial, surely forgotten 10 days out. But when the No. 1 pick in the Draft goes head-to-head with the No. 2 pick, when the two have been linked since their high school days and when there was genuine mystery – right up until NBA commissioner Adam Silver read Wiggins’ name — which one might be selected first, it ranks as a showdown, a matchup, something special to cap an NBA day full of same.

“It was crazy,” said Wiggins, the rookie from Kansas, said of the Cox Pavilion atmosphere. His new team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, had learned during shootaround Friday morning that James was headed back to the franchise. But Wiggins’ and Parker’s debuts stirred imaginations on their own.

“Our game was probably the most packed,” Wiggins said, no offense to the other five Friday. “It was crazy. The fans were excited, which made the game more fun than if you didn’t feel them.”

Wiggins’ team won the game but the battle with Parker, happily grabbed second by the Milwaukee Bucks, was essentially a push. Wiggins scored 18 points in 31 minutes on 7-of-18 shooting. He was 1-of-8 on 3-pointers, including an air ball. Parker shot 5-of-11 scored 17 points He was 7-of-11 from the line and grabbed nine rebounds. They guarded each other occasionally, but the sturdier Parker – 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds to Wiggins’ 6-8 and 194 – more often squared off with power forwards, including Anthony Bennett, the 2013 No. 1 pick.

The two rookies enjoyed the encounter without dwelling on it, just as they shrugged off a few mistakes. Parker talked of communicating more with the other four Bucks on the floor and gave himself a grade of “B-minus.” Wiggins looked forward to the opportunities in Cleveland’s upcoming games and enjoyed the moment with his rival/cohort.

“It was a great feeling,” he said. “On the court, we just have to battle. But off the court, we’re good friends. He’s a great player, able to score in multiple ways, very smart, intelligent player. It’s always good to play against him.”

Each lived up to his pre-draft evaluation: Wiggins showed his natural athletic ability merely running up and down the court, but pushed it into gear when soaring for an errant alley-oop pass or draining a nifty step-back jumper. Parker carries a more-ready-to-contribute label that was evident in some of his post-ups and his aggressive rebounding. The one-and-done Duke player also unsheathed a slick pass or two.

“He showed that he is somewhat of a ready player, that he can step into the league and play,” Bucks general manager John Hammond said. “Neither one of those guys surprised me. Both of ‘em have a chance to be special players in this league, and what Andrew showed tonight was a total glimpse of that.”

A pair of soon-to-be-sophs showed flashes, too. Bennett, who has lost weight and looks more serious after his disappointing first season, seemed driven to make an impact. He had one monstrous dunk and seven rebounds, but he also shot 6-of-16 and racked up eight fouls (summer rules).

For the Bucks, it was last year’s find, lanky 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo (playing at 6-foot-11 after another growth spurt), pushing the pace and loping around the court with boundless energy. “The Greek Freak” scored 17 points and hit a couple 3-pointers, to go with seven fouls and five turnovers.

As closely as Wiggins and Parker have been linked – in case you didn’t already know it, both are the sons of former NBA players, Mitchell Wiggins and Sonny Parker – their shared path might have diverged some Friday.

James’ arrival changes the Cavaliers’ dynamic from merely a young and promising team – Wiggins might find himself a few less opportunities but a whole lot less pressure. Parker continues as a Bucks’ cornerstone, his learning curve assumed to be shorter and steeper.

But that’s OK, because his self-critique afterward showed a young guy driven to improve.

“It’s been a pretty good transition because Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] has prepared me,” Parker said. “A lot of the language, a lot of the stuff we did with Duke has helped me so far.”

His early NBA lessons? “That games are won on the defensive end and there are going to be a lot of runs. You’ve got to keep your composure and play on both sides of the floor, and you can’t have any sense of complacency.”

Forget complacency. In what’s looking suddenly like a Central Division on steroids, there figures to be lots of NBA competition and more than a few comparisons between Wiggins and Parker in the coming years. This was the start.

Caboclo gets another new experience


VIDEO: Brazilian Bruno Caboclo scores 12 points in his Summer League debut

LAS VEGAS – The big surprise is giving way to the little moments.

Bruno Caboclo spent another 90 minutes with an English tutor at the team hotel on Friday, just as the Brazilian has been doing regularly for about three weeks, even before the Raptors pulled the shock of this and many other drafts by taking Caboclo at No. 20. The same Caboclo who was not in the top 60 on the draft board in a lot of war rooms. The same Caboclo who was as stunned as anyone when he got a call while riding in the back seat of a taxi in New York that, yes, he actually had just become an NBA first-round pick.

He spent much of last week in Los Angeles, working out with new teammates DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson and others, trying to accelerate the growing pains and get ready for 2014-15 in Toronto, not another season in Brazil. The Raptors wanted him to learn about life on the road in North America, and basketball too.

“He saw a lot of stuff,” general manager Masai Ujiri said. “It hit him in the face a little bit. It’s a learning process.”

Friday afternoon, Caboclo played for the Raptors for the first time. Another little thing. It was only Summer League, only the opening day of Summer League at that, but something of an unveiling, a name and a face almost no NBA fan would have recognized before the night of June 26 facing the Lakers at Cox Pavilion.

He logged 24 minutes, made five of seven shots, contributed 12 points and two rebounds to the 88-78 victory as part of the transition that will surely include stints, and possibly long stints, in the D-League. As with the other progress reports, the experience matters to the Raptors more than what happened in the moment.

There are more games here and the fresh milestone of interpreter Eduardo Resende returning home to Brazil on Sunday, a big step for an 18 year old seeing a lot of new places before he has a chance to get settled in Toronto. Some veteran Raptors have been more than glad to help him pick up a few words and phrases in particular, of course.

“They teach me all kind of things,” Caboclo said through Resende.

People around them laughed, getting the point in any language.

“He’s learning pretty quick, that part,” the translator said.

Those helpful teammates.

“He’s a young player, he’s going to grow,” Ujiri said. “He’s a very young player. We just want him to experience the NBA practices, the NBA game itself when we can, the D-League, get stronger. All that stuff. He’s going to go through the process.”

He’s going to go through all the little things.

MCW feeling good about self, Sixers


VIDEO: Michael Carter-Williams talks with the NBA TV crew during Summer League

ORLANDO — It seems there are always questions about Sixers point guard Michael Carter-Williams in the offseason.

A year ago they were mostly about his struggling play and shaky start at the Orlando Pro Summer League. This year they revolve around his recent shoulder surgery.

“I’m good and I’m still ahead of progress,” Carter-Williams said when he dropped in at in the Amway Center to watch Philly’s youngsters. “I’ve been shooting the ball and I have full range of motion in my shot back, so I’ve just kept working out and do what the doctor has told me to do to get back to 100 percent.

“I really don’t have too many limitations. I really can’t do any heavy lifting right now, so I’ve been doing the simple things like swimming and shooting the ball and dribbling, things that don’t require a lot of weight or me to reach backwards. I’m going to start doing a lot of heavy lifting just to bulk up, once the shoulder gets there.”

Of course, last summer’s question marks turned into a debut NBA season that was an exclamation point as Carter-Williams became only the second Sixer to be named Rookie of the Year. He finished the season as the top rookie in scoring, rebounding and assist average.

He sat on the bench Wednesday watching last year’s fellow first-round Draft pick, Nerlens Noel, continue his comeback from a torn left ACL. All along, Carter-Williams was wishing he could be out on the court, too.

“It’s been tough (just watching),” Carter-Williams said. “I wish I could be out there playing and doing what I love, but I know it’s a process and it’s best for me to chill out a little bit and get healthy.”

His rehab schedule has him working three days a week and even though he will travel with the team the Las Vegas Summer League, Carter-Williams will only take part in practices and not compete in games. The normal recovery time from surgery for a torn labrum is two to four months, which means he should be at full strength and ready to go when training camp begins in late September.

Carter-Williams says he’s ignored rumors that have put his name into trades and didn’t panic when the Sixers chose point guard Elfrid Payton with the No. 10 pick in the Draft before trading him to Orlando a short time later, stressing that he’s kept in constant touch with general manager Sam Hinkie and coach Brett Brown.

“I’ve been with Sam and Coach this whole time,” he said. “Regardless of the rumors or who said what, we stayed in communication and we’re always on the same page. “I’m happy with what the team did. Sam and Coach still have a plan to be put in and I’m real excited.”

Caldwell-Pope bouncing back big


VIDEO: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope drops 30 points on Day 2 in Orlando

ORLANDO, Fla. – Nobody had to tell Kentavious Caldwell-Pope that it was time for him to step up his game this season.

The Pistons delivered that message when they brought in free agent shooting guard Jodie Meeks on a three-year, $19 million deal to play his position.

Two days into the Orlando Pro Summer League, Caldwell-Pope’s response has bounced loudly off the walls of the Amway Center. He followed up a 26-point, six-assist effort in his first game with 30 points and 12 rebounds Sunday as the Pistons beat the Grizzlies 85-82.

“Just creating my own shot, getting to the basket and finishing strong,” said Caldwell-Pope. “I been working on that a lot during the summer and it’s coming on.”

It didn’t hurt that he banged home back-to-back 3-pointers on the Pistons first two possessions of the game. But much more impressive has been the way the 6-foot-6 guard has played at both ends of the court with a competitive zeal and self-confidence that had drooped considerably during a rookie season where he yo-yoed in and out of the starting lineup. He shot just 39.6 percent from the field and 31.9 percent from behind the 3-point line.

Caldwell-Pope showed flashes of his potential, but only just enough to make everyone to want more from the player that Detroit made the eighth pick in the 2013 draft. He became quiet, even sullen and it showed.

Here in the first two games, he’s been vocal, always aggressive and constantly on attack.

“It’s just coming more natural,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We have a lot of different players on our team right now. We have to learn how to communicate, how to talk to each other.”

In addition to hitting 18 of 39 shots in the first two games, he’s been trying to affect play any way that he can.

New Pistons head coach and team president Stan Van Gundy has said the big scoring from Caldwell-Pope is secondary to being aggressive and sinking his teeth into games defensively. The team also wants him to improve his ball handling.

“Our expectations are for him to play well every night and he did again tonight,” said Pistons assistant Bob Beyer, who is running the summer league team. “Not only statistically. But he was matched up in the beginning of the game against (Jordan) Adams who had a great game yesterday shooting the ball. He took the challenge defensively as well. One thing I really like about KCP is just his overall spirit and competitiveness.”

A year ago, Reggie Jackson of the Thunder came to the summer league and dominated in every game he played, then used that as a springboard to having his best NBA season.

“I don’t want to say no. I hope yes,” said Beyer. “There’s a lot of guys that go through the summer league and some guys use this experience to do exactly that. Some other guys struggle through it and they come around eventually. I just think it’s a great, great stage for KCP to kind of demonstrate all the things that he can do as an NBA player.

“I think the one thing, and we’re gonna continue to put him in pick and rolls, we want his ball handling to get a little bit better. But the way he attacks the glass defensively, the way he’s aggressive in catch-and-shoots, that’s been very impressive and he’ll get those opportunities during the regular season as well.”

One opportunity Caldwell-Pope is looking forward to is giving his own response to the Pistons’ signing of Meeks.

“Something like that,” he said. “I am looking forward to it. I just want to continue get my game better so I can get ready for the season coming up and for training camp.”

First Noel finally arrives in summer


VIDEO: Nerlens Noel scores 19 in his Summer League debut

ORLANDO, Fla. – You’d probably figure that after all the work, all the wait, all the anticipation of finally getting back out onto the court to play a game, the first thing Nerlens Noel would want to do is simply pick up the ball and jam it through the hoop.

So it he did.

It was just 20 seconds into his first summer league game, on his first offensive possession when Noel turned and made his first basket for the 76ers a resounding slam dunk.

“Oh yes, definitely,” Noel said. “It helped the jitters. It set the tone for the game. I was confident.”

He was also ready, active and rather effective playing his first real game in almost 1 1/2 years, following surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. Noel shot 6-for-11 from the field, scored 19 points and made four steals in just over 26 minutes of an 83-77 loss to the Magic.

“It’s very validating,” Noel said. “It’s been 18 months since I was able to play and it felt great today. I didn’t do as much as I wanted to as far as rebounding and being active defensively. That will come through as I build more stamina, able to be more active and it felt good.

“No mental blocks. It’s been 18 months out. I haven’t been thinking about the knee for a long time. I’m definitely going to continue to work to get it stronger, strong as possible.”

Noel moved smoothly around the court, showed off some slick moves around the basket and was not at all reluctant to get down onto the floor for loose balls.

The 6-foot-11 center was the consensus choice for the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft until suffering the knee injury on Feb. 12 of his only season playing college ball at Kentucky. His stock dropped on draft night until Noel was chosen No. 6 by New Orleans and promptly traded to Philly for Jrue Holiday.

“I’m a Philadelphia 76er,” Noel said. “I’m not focused on what happened on draft night. I’m just going forward and gonna continue to grow as a player, person and leader for this team. It motivates me for rehab, but I’m here, I’m a 76er and that’s all I’m focused on.”

Sixers assistant Lloyd Pierce, who heads up the summer league team, was impressed with the long-awaited debut by Noel.

“One of the scary things with him is he had a couple of steals in the pick and roll coverage,” Pierce said. “That was one of the things I stressed early in the week: How would Nerlens do in the pick and roll coverage?

“He’s got great hands…We want him to be athletic. But we want him to stay disciplined in the scheme. He’s got great timing as a defender and you saw some of that tonight.”

After waiting so long to finally get a glimpse of a player the Sixers believe will be a foundation for the future, the NBA world also saw an impressive array of offensive moves. He was especially impressive on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter. First, he caught the eye of forward Hollis Thompson in transition, took a pass just over mid court and drove through traffic for a nice layup, was fouled and converted the three-point play.

“I’m a little quicker than most big men,” Noel said. “I definitely saw the big man lagging back, so with my first step I was able to get by to my left and and at the end he wasn’t able to wrap me up and I was able to finish the play,” Noel said.

The next time down the floor, Noel scored on a feathery teardrop shot from about eight feet.

“I’ve got a lot of reps on those as well,” he said. “I think that’s gonna be big part of my game as well. I’m just expanding my game.”

That expansion included a perfect 7-for-7 night on free throws, the product of a totally reconstructed shooting stroke. He shot just 52.9 percent from the line at Kentucky and team president Sam Hinkie joked last year that 60 percent would a good goal.

“Yeah, I’m real happy,” Noel said. “But I can’t get too happy. It’s a long road ahead of me and I’ve got to stay focused and keep working to get better and better. It’s no time to celebrate now.”