The Boys of Summer
Wine & Gold Wrap Up Their Summer League Run in Vegas
There aren’t many events in pro sports where winning and losing really don’t matter. NBA Summer League – a time for teams to get their first look at rookies, a second look at young vets, and a look at kids on the fringe – is one of them.
The Bucks went 1-4 and the Suns finished at or near the bottom of every statistical category over their week-and-half in Vegas, and odds are their executives didn’t fly home hanging their heads.
There’s still a single night’s slate of games on Tuesday, but the Wine & Gold have completed their run – bringing a 2-3 mark back to Cleveland with wins over Orlando last Wednesday and Phoenix to wrap things up on Monday night.
With just over a month to go until Training Camp tips off for the eagerly-awaited 2021-22 campaign, here’s a brief recap on what went down in the desert at Vegas Summer League.
Well-Rounded Rook -- The biggest question headed into this summer’s session in Vegas was whether Cleveland’s top pick – Evan Mobley – would suit up for the squad, something that was still unknown on Draft night. The No. 3 overall pick did. And he did well.
All the intriguing aspects of Mobley’s versatile skillset were on display in his three appearances. He notched double-figure scoring in two of the first three games before struggling from the floor against New Orleans. But even in that contest, he led the Cavs with 11 boards.
As with any young rookie getting his first taste of NBA action, Mobley looked lost at times. He turned the ball over five times in his debut against Houston, but he also finished with 12 points, five boards and a team-best three swats. The Rockets Alperen Sungun, the second pure big off the board (No. 15 overall), led everyone with four blocks to go with 15 points and 15 boards and talked to the ball between free throws.
In Mobley’s second outing – a win over Orlando – he didn’t shoot well from the floor, but still notched 14 points, seven boards and a game-high six assists – one more than the point guard (Jalen Suggs) drafted two spots after him.
The 20-year-old from Southern Cal is just taking his first baby steps of what could be an outstanding NBA career. All of his tools were on display in Vegas – and the Cavs will make sure he sharpens them before taking the floor for real in October.
Ice Ice Baby -- The youngbloods from Isaac Okoro’s Draft class never got the opportunity to lace ‘em up in Vegas, so when the sophomores got a chance to show out, they did exactly that.
Aside from Okoro – who was outstanding in his two appearances, starting at off-guard in each game and leading Cleveland in scoring with a 16.0ppg average on 13-of-22 shooting. Okoro did a little bit of everything and, at times, looked like a man amongst boys. The second-year man from Auburn – who started 67 games as a rookie – went 6-for-9 from the floor with five boards and three dimes in the win over Orlando.
More than anything, Okoro showed his newfound confidence on the offensive end after his late-season surge last year, netting double-figures in 12 of Cleveland’s final 13 games this year. He’s been in the gym at CCC all summer and should be champing at the bit come Training Camp.
Okoro was one of several sophomores – including Memphis’ Desmond Bane, the Sixers’ Tyrese Maxey, Chicago’s Patrick Williams and New York’s Obi Toppin – who took full advantage of the summer session they missed out on.
Boston’s Payton Pritchard and New York’s Immanuel Quickley were 1-2 in assists headed into the final night of games. The Suns’ Jalen Smith – the forward from Maryland with the cool specs – added some muscle and along with Philly’s Paul Reed (pick 58th overall last year) led Vegas Summer League in rebounding.
The top +/- guy was Toronto’s Ishmail Wainright, who played power forward and tight end for the Baylor Bears.
And a rookie – Cam Thomas, who led all freshman in scoring (23.0ppg) last season at LSU and was taken 27th overall by Brooklyn – has been the Summer League’s top point-getter.
Rolling the Dice -- While Koby Altman had to be extremely pleased with his past two draft picks in their limited action in Vegas, some of his other young acquisitions had to make him just as proud.
Lamar Stevens, the four-year man from Penn State who went undrafted last year, was outstanding – starting and netting double-figure scoring in all five games for Cleveland, including a 21-point effort in the loss to New York, going 9-for-16 from the floor to go with seven boards and a pair of blocks.
Stevens was very good on both ends of the floor in Vegas, netting two swats in three of his five outings, and looked like a guy who should be right back in J.B. Bickerstaff’s rotation as a sophomore.
Mfiondu Kabengele, the 27th overall pick in 2019 who the Wine & Gold signed to a 10-day deal last April, parlayed some solid showings at the end of last season into a good opportunity with Cleveland – and he was very good in spurts over the five-game run.
Kabengele had good bookend showings – opening with 13 rebounds against Houston in the opener and doubling-up with 11 points and 10 boards in Cleveland’s Monday night win over Phoenix.
And finally, Brodric Thomas – the Cavs best Cinderella story from a season ago – also had some nice moments on both ends of the floor.
Inking a deal in late February after a circuitous route to the NBA that went from Truman State to Southwest Community College back to Truman State, through the G-League and finally to Cleveland, Thomas appeared in 28 games with the Cavs last year.
Thomas posted back-to-back double-digit performances – dropping 15 points on the Pelicans and 16 on the Knicks – last week in Vegas, and like some of his familiar teammates, he’ll be scrapping to get into the rotation when things get serious in just over a month.