Joe G's Vegas Summer League Blog, Pt. II
After six days covering the Wine and Gold’s Summer League squad in Sin City, I tagged Fred McLeod in. And the TV play-by-play voice of Cavs will be keeping us informed for the duration. The upcoming Tournament’s seedings were released on Wednesday, and the seventh-seeded Cavaliers’ first contest is set for Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. EST against the Spurs.
When we got to Vegas last week, residents were praying for rain to put out a wildfire that – from the air as we were flying into town – looked like the plumes of smoke coming from an erupting volcano. And after six days in 105-plus temperatures, Cleveland’s humid heat wave seems almost comfortable. (Not really.) But it’s still really great to be back.
As the second half of the VSL tips off – with Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller eventually peeling off to join Kyrie Irving at the U.S. National Team’s mini-camp – here’s seven observations from the front end of the summer invitational. (I was going to go with ten, but a six-ace is more appropriate for Vegas) …
1. Not your father’s Mike Brown -- I have little doubt that Fred McLeod will write the same thing as he takes in Cavaliers practices this week. The Cavs new/old head coach doesn’t seem like the same guy he was during his first stint with the Wine and Gold. A more confident, demonstrative Brown was in full hands-on teaching mode during his three-plus hour practices at Desert Oasis HS just outside the Strip. His pillars are still there from the first time around – physicality, playing smart, no excuses/complaining to the refs and, of course, defense, defense, defense. But he’s doing it in a more forceful manner and maybe with a little more cussing.
2. The Cavs’ big cat -- One player who a defense-obsessed Mike Brown has to be happy with is 2013 second-rounder, Carrick Felix. The long, lean swingman from Arizona State can do a little bit of everything – especially on the defensive end. His length and lateral quickness will make him an excellent pick-and-roll defender. He consistently gets his hands on the ball and has great recovery speed. He can shoot the three-pointer, is an explosive leaper and gets from end-to-end in a hurry. All this and he’s a great kid – coachable, intelligent, eager.
3. Smiles, everyone! Smiles! -- I know it drives Austin Carr a little crazy that Tyler Zeller smiles a lot. But after watching he and his brother, Cody, play over the week at VSL, two things are evident: the Zellers just smile a lot when they play and both kids have a bright NBA future. Zeller put on a few pounds of muscle, but the coaching staff is still imploring the sophomore center to be more physical. They think he runs the floor as well as any big man in the league. But the new staff wants to see him be more physical in the post. But actually, that was the message for the squad through much of the practices we watched. Be physical, make them feel you.
4. Wine and Gold wise men -- One thing that you notice about the new coaching staff is the amount of experience Coach Brown will have to draw from – notably Brown’s first real NBA mentor, Bernie Bickerstaff – the guy who gave him his first shot in Denver and briefly took over for him after Brown was let go in L.A. There’s nothing in this league that Bickerstaff hasn’t seen. And every member of the coaching staff and roster has to respect his knowledge and gravitas. Brown also deferred frequently to another assistant, Jim Boylan, who has two head coaching stints under his belt and has been an NBA assistant since 1997 (after a five-year stretch as a scout with Cleveland).
5. Ball hard, D. Waiters -- If there was a more entertaining player to watch at Summer League than second-year shooting guard, Dion Waiters, I didn’t seem him through the first three games. After a truncated VSL stint last summer, a slimmed-down Waiters was feeling more like himself this year. Waiters has been entertaining for fans, maybe less so to the coaching staff for his shot selection. Waiters has been a good playmaker – finding a great rhythm with 2012 classmate, Tyler Zeller, and looks more engaged on the defensive end, but he’s shooting under 30 percent and has looked disconnected from the offense at times. By the time Training Camp rolls around – and definitely when it raps up – Waiter and the staff will be on the same
6. Job seekers -- Some of the players that have worn the Wine and Gold this past week will be donning different uniform colors during this upcoming season – either in the NBA, D-League or overseas. Summer League is as much an audition for undrafted players as anything. Through some marathon practices and three games of action some Cavaliers have been pretty impressive. Point guards Matt Dellavedova and Cory Higgins have had solid stretches on both ends of the floor. Coaches really seemed to like Dellavedova’s hustle, leadership and shooting ability. Stretch-4, Kenny Kadji – a 25-year-old rookie from Miami – has a nice stroke from the perimeter and blocked five shots in his last two games. Talented journeyman, Jermaine Taylor, has been physical and aggressive.
7. Tournament talk -– Not everyone out West is a fan of the upcoming Tournament – a first for Vegas Summer League. But it should ratchet up the competition over the next few days. Cavs coach Jamahl Mosley, an excellent communicator that players really respond to, will want to see how his players respond when the NBA guys depart for U.S. National Team mini-camp. Which player will step up and can he parlay that into a regular season roster spot or, at least, a Training Camp invite? The old sports cliché states that winning breeds winning. And every kid that’s taken the Cox Pavilion floor is a natural competitor. It’ll be fun to see how the Cavaliers fare. Our guy, Fred McLeod, will let us know as the Tourney tips off on Thursday afternoon.