Summer League is over, sans tonight’s first-ever championship game.
The Clippers returned from Las Vegas on Sunday after their five-game slate ended with an 11-point loss to the New York Knicks in a consolation game Friday. But wins and losses, even with the newly formatted 22-team tournament, are secondary in the summer. It is more about growth for young players and an open audition for the numerous veterans and former college stars still trying to find their way into the league.
The Clippers’ roster had several players who fell into those categories. And despite losing their final four games in Vegas, there was a lot to digest from the experience. Mining through what happened in five games, two practices and a week and a half on the world famous Strip, here are some takeaways from Summer League 2013.
Reggie Bullock can play.
This seems obvious considering he was the No. 25 overall pick in the Draft, a former McDonald’s and Jordan Brand All-American and a three-year player at the University of North Carolina. But in five games Bullock affirmed why the Clippers were happy to see him available when they selected last month. He averaged 18 points, topping 20 points in each of his final two games, and was praised by teammates and coaches for his willingness to shoot and defensive potential. The Clippers made a point of emphasizing the importance of seeing what Bullock was capable of from day one. On the first day of practice, prior to leaving for the desert, Bullock passed up an open jumper. The coaches pulled him aside and said he was brought in to shoot, so he should never hesitate to hoist an open jumper. He took the message to heart, taking a team-high 78 shots in five games.
However, they were rarely bad shots. Bullock showed a knack for getting open, working to find space, leading defenders around screens and settling into spots where he is comfortable. Maalik Wayns said Bullock “always looks open.” Bullock shot 11-for-39 from 3-point range, but showed he is comfortable doing more. He played a couple of possessions in the post in the team’s fourth game, scoring on turnarounds and fadeaways. In the fifth game, he made a point of trying to get to the rim. By the end of Summer League, Bullock may have been fatigued. He averaged a team-most 32 minutes and effectively was being swamped with information from coaches, media demands and basketball activity in his first two-week stretch of NBA life. That said, Bullock is more NBA-ready than most gave him credit for on Draft day and will no question be a helpful addition to the Clippers. It may even come quicker than anyone expected.
Best surprise: Jerome Randle
It was the third Summer League for Randle, the 5-foot-10 guard and all-time scoring leader at Cal-Berkeley. To say he’s been a journeyman in his quest to reach the NBA is like saying Kobe beef is a simply a piece of meat. Randle has fought through three years, including stints in six countries (including the U.S.), and has not made an opening-night roster. Still, Randle is committed to making a difference as an NBA role player and despite questions about his stature and ability to lead a team Randle had a commendable showing for the Clippers in Vegas. He scored, rebounded, played passing lanes and made enough plays for his teammates that he said he was "putting smiles on their faces."
He also put on plenty of dribbling displays, using a crossover and quick first step to erase a primary defender, get into the lane and find a cutter for a dunk. He also freed himself up for jumpers and while he shot just 42.6 percent from the floor he did a little bit of everything. He finished with 7.6 points, 5.4 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 0.8 steals. He is confident, but not to his detriment. He is explosive, but not out of control. But the thing that stood out most is Randle’s desire. He wants to prove his worth as backup point guard. Perhaps this is the year Randle gets a chance to prove he could have a J.J. Barea-like impact for someone.
Defense, Defense, De-Fense.
The most-used word over the Clippers’ time in Vegas was “trust.” The players and coaching staff all said the most significant and vital factor of becoming a better defensive team will be trusting teammates to have your back and they did not wait until training camp to start delivering the message. While Doc Rivers was merely watching from the stands through the team’s first two games, the concept was delivered often by his assistants, most-often by Summer League Head Coach Tyronn Lue.
There were elements of Rivers’ defensive scheme already on display with the Summer Leaguers, not limited to the age-old emphasis of “playing on a string” and communicating. Brandon Davies, an undrafted rookie out of BYU, was arguably the most consistent communicator of the bunch, rotating and making calls with regularity. However, the relative inexperience of the group as well as the limited time together proved challenging at times. They allowed the Knicks to shoot upwards of 50 percent in the finale, two games after holding Dallas under 40. Either way, it was clear that despite a number of offseason acquisitions geared towards shooting, defense will remain the major point of emphasis with Rivers in tow.
A variety of big men.
Whether it was Davies, who had a breakout shooting game against the Knicks when he connected on three jumpers outside of 20 feet, Samardo Samuels, who showed a combination of power and finesse around the rim, or JaMychal Green, who Lue said he liked as a stretch big man, there was no shortage of options among power forwards and centers in Vegas.
The Clippers could have as many as 13 roster spots locked in already, but there is no question the team will entertain the possibility of adding another big. Davies, Samuels and Green played well for stretches in Summer League as did Vernon Macklin, a big-bodied center who was waived by Detroit last season, and JaJuan Johnson, a lanky jump-shooting forward and former first-round pick by Boston. The variety of the group is what made them interesting. Samuels averaged 11.2 points, a team-high 6.8 rebounds and shot 61.3 percent from the field in five starts.