(Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

Summer League Impressions

by Brian Witt

Look, the streak had to come to an end at some point, right?

As impressive as the Warriors’ 16-game Summer League win streak was, let’s just say the buzzer-beating tip-in by the Lakers that brought it to an end wasn’t exactly the end of the world. The reality is that while many teams have Summer League rosters loaded with young players expected to play for their NBA team this upcoming season, the Warriors don’t necessarily fall into that group. With the exception of a few individuals, in all likelihood, this roster has been formed with the intention of building up the depth of their D-League team, while not ruling out the possibility of finding a diamond in the rough. That speaks to the current talent on the NBA roster, as there are only a couple open roster spots to fill. And as such, the fact that the Dubs were a half-second away from going undefeated in their first three preliminary Summer League games could actually be considered somewhat of an unexpected result. Combine the roster with the fact that Steve Kerr is getting his first taste as a head coach in this league, and you’d have to think Golden State would take that nine times out of ten.

Summer League has provided Steve Kerr and his staff their first coaching experience together as a group, and the early returns have been favorable. (photo: Jack Arent/NBAE/Getty Images)

Still, the impact of winning cannot be overstated. Although these games carry very little weight in the grand scheme of things, there is something to be said for developing a winning mentality, ingraining it in the minds of all players throughout the system, so that winning is no longer the goal, but rather, the expectation. It’s a process, and it’s one that began years ago, which is a big reason why the Warriors have had more success in recent seasons. You may see 2-1. I see valuable, game-tested experience that will undoubtedly serve both the players and the coaches well down the line.

For instance, how about that would-have-been-game-winning shot by Justin Holiday in that same game against the Lakers? Talk about real game experience. The coaches drew up the play, and the players executed it, all in a critical moment. It’s debatable whether that speaks more to the shot or the play, but the grander conclusion is simple: it’s a good thing, regardless. Now, when that situation repeats itself later in the season, all parties involved will have greater experience and confidence with which to draw upon, which can never be a bad thing when the game is on the line.

Justin Holiday could be the next chapter in the storied history of Golden State Summer League breakouts. (photo: Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

Speaking of Holiday, he may just be that diamond in the rough. After a modest showing in the first game, Holiday exploded for 29 and 26 points in the following two, including a game-winning layup, and the aforementioned would-be dagger. On the whole, he’s averaging 19.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game on 48.7% shooting and 42.9% from deep. Those are pretty impressive numbers for the volume of shots he’s taken, and it speaks to his overall consistent impact on the game. He always seems to be around the ball, and he’s proven he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Perhaps the least surprised by his performance is the Warriors organization themselves, considering they traded for his D-League rights last season, despite the fact he was playing for Szolnoki Olajbanyasz (say that three times fast) of the Hungarian League. They obviously saw some talent, and now he’s getting another crack at breaking an NBA roster after playing nine games for the 76ers at the end of the 2012-13 season. It remains to be seen if Holiday has a shot at making the Warriors opening day roster, but at the very least, you’d have to think he’s earned a training camp invite.

Holiday isn’t the only one making an impression, however. Orlando Johnson has shown flashes of the potential that made him a second round pick out of UC Santa Barbara in 2012, and he’s no stranger to the NBA game with 96 games under his belt with Indiana and Sacramento over the past two seasons. James Michael McAdoo has displayed a ton of bounce that has made him such an intriguing draft prospect over the past couple years. And you can count me in the Aaron Craft Fan Club, where Steve Kerr might just be the President. The diminutive guard is nothing but a relentless animal on the defensive end, hounding the opposition into countless turnovers and uncomfortable situations. At one point, he led a full-court press….by himself. He still has a ways to go as a shooter, but he possesses good court vision and an adequate handle, and when you combine that with his pestering defense, it’s easy to see why he was a coach and fan favorite throughout his four decorated years at Ohio State.

When asked about Craft's hustle following a game, Steve Kerr responded, "How about Aaron's hustle every day and every night?" (photo: Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

This is what Summer League is all about. It’s a second chance to see what may have been once overlooked. An opportunity to put words into action, not just say, but do. It’s certainly beneficial to all who are involved, and the good news is, the fun is just getting started. Today begins the knockout portion of the Summer League tournament, and as incumbent Summer League Champions, the 11th-seeded Warriors are out to defend their title. Each team will compete in at least two more contests in Las Vegas - a minimum of one game in the single elimination tournament and then either compete in a consolation game or in the next round in the championship bracket. First up for Golden State is a meeting with the 22nd seeded Atlanta Hawks today at 3 p.m. on NBA TV, the winner of which would advance on to play the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round.

Make sure to tune in to see if these Summer Dubs have a little more magic left in them. At the very least, you’ll be witnessing progress in motion.

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