What Happened in Vegas

July 23, 2012

For a period of a few days, New Orleans Hornets No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis was expected to join the franchise’s summer league squad in Las Vegas to participate in games and practices from July 14-21. Then fate intervened. On July 12, Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin sustained a knee injury, causing Davis to be elevated to the open roster spot on the USA men’s national team. As a result, the 6-foot-10 Kentucky product could not unite with his Hornets teammates, but will instead gain the invaluable experience of joining several of the NBA’s biggest stars in London.

By early July, the organizers of NBA Summer League had already scheduled the Hornets to play in the spacious Thomas and Mack Center for all five of their games, in order to accommodate the large crowds expected to watch Davis play. In addition, NBA TV put all five Hornets summer league games on its live broadcast schedule, with three of the contests taking place in a late prime-time slot.

Though Davis’ departure to Team USA caused crowds in Las Vegas to be closer to what you’d expect for the average summer league game, the Hornets still experienced an eventful week. New Orleans was competitive in four of the five games, but finished 1-4. Here’s a look at some of the highlights from the team’s trip to the desert:

MVP
The extremely popular Twitter account @NBAGuru perhaps put it best midway through the week in its description of Lance Thomas’ development as a player over the past year: “Remember when Lance Thomas had zero offensive game at Duke? He’s improved SO much. Would love to have him as a backup forward.” Thomas, who made his NBA debut with the Hornets last season, continued to emerge as an effective big, leading New Orleans in scoring (14.0) and rebounding (7.2) averages. He also shot 93.3 percent from the foul line, going 28-for-30.

BEST LESSER-KNOWN SURPRISE
Among the non-roster summer invitees, point guard Brian Roberts was the most effective player, providing the Hornets with consistently solid play. He was the lone Hornet to reach double figures in all five games, highlighted by his 18-point effort in the finale vs. Golden State. The University of Dayton product was most impressive in the shooting category, going 6-for-11 on treys and 15-for-16 on free throws. The 26-year-old made a strong case to be invited to training camp in the fall.

BEST PERFORMANCE (TEAM)
Since the Hornets won just once, this was an easy call. On Wednesday, New Orleans dominated Phoenix by a 78-65 count, in a game that was not as close as the final score indicated. The Hornets led by as many as 25 points in the second half, while limiting the Suns to 33.3 percent shooting from the field. New Orleans’ bread-and-butter of defensive stinginess was on full display in the third quarter, when Phoenix was held to just eight points.

BEST PERFORMANCE (INDIVIDUAL)
Despite being the fifth player off the bench in the opener vs. Portland and only logging a total of 19 minutes, Denzel Bowles registered the lone NOLA double-double of the week. The James Madison University product netted 18 points and 12 rebounds, production that earned him a starting role the rest of the week at center.

MOST ENTERTAINING GAME
With three lottery picks on the floor (Austin Rivers, Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard), the opening game between New Orleans and Portland included numerous twists and turns. A spectacular first half netted the Hornets a 46-29 intermission edge, but the Trail Blazers roared back into the lead by virtue of a 31-13 third quarter. The Hornets had two chances to force overtime in the final seconds, but Rivers and Roberts misfired on three-point attempts.

BEST DUNK
As the Hornets ran away and hid from the Suns in the fourth quarter on Wednesday, 6-foot-3 Jerome Dyson punctuated the spurt by taking a pass from Thomas on the right baseline, rising and throwing down an athletic, resounding right-handed slam.

WORST TREND
Injuries affected both of the two New Orleans draft picks who were on site in Las Vegas. Rivers missed the final three games due to lower leg soreness, while Darius Miller was hampered by a sore hamstring. Miller only played three minutes in the finale vs. Golden State. Several other players sustained minor injuries as well, including Jerome Dyson, who played only 1:16 vs. the Warriors.