Some Takeaways From Summer League In Las Vegas
The Wolves wrapped up Summer League play Friday night in Las Vegas, and though they didn’t win the whole thing like they hoped to, there were many positives that stemmed from the five-game circuit. It was the first chance for fans to get a full look at the rookies in action and it also provided a chance to see the development — or lack thereof — of some of the second and third-year guys. It started off slow for Minnesota, as the team stumbled in its first three games, but victories in two of its final three games left the squad with some positives to reflect back on. Those positives should be taken with a grain of salt, as Summer League competition is a fraction of NBA-level play. That being said, some of the skills could translate well come October.
Here are some things that stood out from 2014 Summer League in Las Vegas:
Zach LaVine Can Play The Point Guard
Zach LaVine was seen as a tweener coming into the NBA. Flip Saunders drafted him as a player he hoped could rid Ricky Rubio of some of his ball handling duties, but it was unclear whether LaVine could manage an NBA offense. LaVine was adamant that he had played point guard in the past and was confident he wouldn’t have much of a problem translating those skills to the NBA. His confidence was nice to see, but questions still remained 10 days ago. Those questions have been answered after his performance in Summer League. LaVine played both guard positions in Las Vegas, but appeared more comfortable with the ball in his hands, as opposed to running off screens. He had the knowledge of when to push the pace in transition and when to slow it down and set up the half court offense. It’ll be interesting to see the way he responds with NBA defenses in his face. LaVine also showed his passing skills while in Las Vegas, knifing through the lane before dumping off passes to big men on the low block. He definitely won’t take the starting point guard role from Ricky Rubio, but he’ll be a competent backup, and could also serve as another ball handler even if he’s playing at shooting guard.
Shabazz Muhammad Is A Power Forward Trapped In Shooting Guard Body
Shabazz Muhammad only played in three full games in Las Vegas, but when he did play, his effort was evident all over the floor. Muhammad snapped off for 27 points in the first game of Summer League and scored 24 points in the Wolves loss to the Sacramento Kings during the knockout stage. Those games showed he has the ability to fill up the stat sheet, but the nuances that didn’t show up on the stat sheet were the bigger takeaway from Las Vegas. Muhammad rebounded the basketball extremely well from the shooting guard position during Summer League play and also seemed to favor backing down smaller opponents. Muhammad clearly loves the baseline floater from the left side of the bucket, and he hit that shot at a fairly high clip in three games. His intensity is definitely something the Wolves can use on both ends of the floor next season. Muhammad still needs to vastly improve his skills on the defensive end, but the array of ways he can score the basketball, namely on the low block, could translate well if given the opportunity next season.
Gorgui Dieng Played Some Power Forward In Las Vegas
Gorgui Dieng got his opportunity to play for the Wolves last season after Nikola Pekovic went down with an injury toward the middle of the season. Dieng actually responded well and exhibited he can be a defensive stopper and more than capable rebounder as an NBA center. If Summer League was any indication, though, it looks like the Wolves might use Dieng at the power forward position sometimes next season. Dieng wasn’t a standout of Summer League last week, but a bigger takeaway was the position in which he played at times. Minnesota’s coaching staff decided to experiment putting Dieng next to the 7-foot-1 Kyrylo Fesenko in the frontcourt, and the two seemed to mesh well together. Dieng showed he could still rebound from either position as he hauled in an absurd 19 rebounds in one game in Las Vegas, but also showed he can hit the midrange jumper if given the space. That will help with spacing if he does play power forward next season. Dieng will still likely backup Pekovic most of the time, but it’s interesting that the Wolves decided to experiment with him at another frontcourt position.
Alexey Shved Still Has Some Room To Grow Before The Season Starts
Alexey Shved only played in two games during Summer League and was the Wolves leading scorer in both of those games. That being said, he didn’t dominate play the way some would expect a third-year player to at the Summer League level. Shved looked uncomfortable with the ball in his hands and seemed more in tune with the pace of play when he was the off guard in the offense. Flip Saunders has said he envisions Shved as a backup point guard this season, but Shved definitely didn’t seem ready for that role based on his play in Las Vegas. He showed he could score when given the opportunity and also got to the free throw line during his two games of action, but still seemed to lack confidence. Shved didn’t play in the final three games in Las Vegas, as he had a minor injury, and so younger players could get more in game experience. His spot on the Wolves roster next season is pretty much a lock at this point, but he will need to improve more if he hopes to crack the rotation more than he did last season.
A Few Players Could Make An Impact Next Season, Just Not On The Wolves
There isn’t a whole lot of space on the Wolves roster next season, which means even if someone stood out in Las Vegas, it probably wasn’t quite enough to earn a roster spot come October. That, however, doesn’t mean those players can’t make an impact elsewhere in the NBA, or overseas. Though the Summer League circuit, at its core, is about impressing NBA executives, there are tons of overseas scouts at those games, too. That means even if players like Kyrylo Fesenko and Brady Heslip don’t make it on the Wolves, or in the NBA for that matter, there are still opportunities for them to showcase their talents. Fesenko undoubtedly has a place in professional basketball with his large frame. He may not be the most fluid mover on the court, but his size alone is a difference maker in the game. Fesenko used that size to dominate down low while in Las Vegas. There is a logjam in the Wolves frontcourt at the moment, so Fesenko likely won’t make the team, but his size could help someone else down the road. As for Heslip, he can flat out shoot the ball, and that always has a place in some realm of professional basketball. He might be too small to make it at the NBA level, but he could provide some nice floor spacing for a team overseas. There are a few other players that stood out at times during Summer League, but Fesenko and Heslip made the biggest impression in Las Vegas. It still remains to be seen if it was enough for either of them to earn an NBA roster spot.
Now NBA fans wait. As soon as Summer League play wraps up late Monday night when the Sacramento Kings take on the Houston Rockets for the title, it’ll be about two months before fans get another taste of NBA action. October can’t come soon enough.