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Mavs Summer League Review

July 27, 2013

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It’s July in Texas which means it’s too hot to go outside and do anything and the only sport on TV is baseball which to me gets rather boring if you watch it more than twice a week so every year I find myself checking out NBA Summer League games. I don’t really know why I do this as it’s glorified street ball at times and almost all of the best players don’t show up but it’s still fun to me and it gives me a chance to see some of the younger players in the league for an extended amount of time. Below I’ll share my thoughts on the Mavs youngsters and what I saw from them in their 6 games.

Jae Crowder: He’s lost about 10-15 lbs and no longer looks like an undersized PF but finally appears to have a legit SF body. That being said Carlisle in an interview said last year Crowder played the 2, 3, and 4 positions for them and he expects that to continue this season due to his elite defensive skills. I loved Crowder from Day 1 as he’s exactly the type of high energy, role playing defensive player that the roster needed last year. This season he’ll battle with Wayne Ellington for minutes as they have similar profiles but with Crowder’s strength and rebounding skills I’m sure he’ll get at least 20 minutes a night somewhere. In the summer league he showed off his 3 point shot and, while it didn’t fall with regularity, it did look much improved both mechanically and confidence wise. He pulled up for a three on a break but otherwise shot it while wide open after a pass in a half court set and looked sure of himself when launching it. That’s a clear improvement over last summer when each three he took seemed to be a test for him and something he wasn’t even sure of himself. I suspect Crowder has been spending hundreds of hours in the gym working on this part of his game and, while he needs to spend more time on it, I see clear progress.

Gal Mekel: Elite ball handler that easily got into the lane and kept his dribble alive throughout. He has a little pizzazz to his game with a number of behind the back passes and unique drives to the basket. He didn’t shoot the three regularly but when he did it looked bad as his form didn’t impress me and it appeared like he barely had the strength to get it there from the NBA lengthened line. It’s something to monitor during the season as an undersized PG without 3 point range likely won’t get burn on a roster like the Mavs that is so stacked at the guard spots. Yet his handle was elite and the more I watched him the more I enjoyed what I was seeing. He really knows how to run an offense, has underrated strength which makes him a solid defender, and had complete confidence in his game. That last part is important as a lot of foreigners come over and have the deer in the headlights look to them when the upgrade in size and athleticism confronts them. Mekel took it all in stride and in a few games towards the end he actually was the Mavs best player.

Bernard James: James is a defensive oriented center to begin with yet that doesn’t me he shouldn’t be able to occasionally finish around the basket from dump off passes on penetration. In fact he’s the type of player that should shoot +50% every game as those are the only shots he should be taking. So it’s disappointing to see him struggle with his touch so close to the basket as he was 0-5 within 3 ft of the goal in the first summer league and he exhibited a lack of feel for where the basket was when he was underneath it in traffic. It’s not a skill that can really be worked on very well (maybe the Mikan drill?) and appears to cap his development at a backup center with great weak side defensive skills. He’ll always have a place on an NBA roster due to his quickness and length but in Year 2 I was hoping to see some improved skills offensively and there is absolutely nothing new to report on that front. Update: The Mavs cut Bernard James yet re-signed him yesterday after he passed through waivers. It was a move done for salary cap reasons and I’m glad they were able to get him back as their frontcourt depth is iffy even with him but it says a lot when the kid making close to the league minimum wasn’t claimed by any of the 29 other NBA teams. James to me looks like a career #3 center for a team unless he develops better hands and a softer touch around the basket. He missed far too many “bunnies” in summer league for my taste.

Josh Akognon: He was one of the final cuts last year for the Mavs and it surprised me that they never brought him back as I bet he would of helped them more than Derek Fisher or Mike James did at the PG position last season. He’s really a SG in a PG’s body as he has good quickness and handles but has no feel for running a team. Mario Chalmers is similar though and Akognon will have a similar role in an offense as he’ll bring the ball up the court, pass it to a playmaker on the wing or in the post, and then become a spot up shooter. His shot is his bread and butter as it’s smooth, has a quick release, and goes in consistently. At times he was the Mavs best player in summer league and it was no surprise when he was signed by the Memphis Grizzlies. The Mavs are ridiculously stacked at the guard spots so he once again was not going to make their roster but the kid has NBA talent and could very well develop into a capable backup for the Grizzlies this season.

Ricky Ledo: He’s an extremely long wing player with an emerging mid range game but without an NBA handle or any real sense of how to attack a defense. He is light years away from contributing but the talent is there as he has a Paul George type body and makes sense as a long term project type. Due to his skill set and his rawness it made sense for the Mavs to sign him to a 4 year deal with the final two years being a series of one year team options. If he develops they’ll have a great trade chip as he’s extremely cheap and if he doesn’t develop they can cut ties to him after 2 seasons with no financial penalty. I also think it’s interesting that this is the first signing under new Mavs GM Gersson Rosas whom they stole from the Houston Rockets organization. Houston is all about drafting and developing young talent so it’s no surprise that his first signing was a longer deal than the ones the Mavs usually give out to their rookies. Last year they only inked promising young player Jae Crowder to a 2 year deal and as a result he will hit free agency next summer. His short contract both limits his value as a trade chip and makes it likely that Crowder will be making $3-5 million a year in 2014 instead of the $800k he could have been making if the Mavs had been smart last summer and signed him to a 3 or 4 year deal. I’m very happy they added Rosas as the “Rockets way” has proven to be much better at improving a team than the Mavs way under Donnie Nelson. Thankfully Cuban admitted it and took the correct steps to change the way the Mavericks operate as a franchise.

Shane Larkin: He broke his ankle and never played a minute of summer league. A similar thing happened to Jared Cunningham, the Mavs first rounder last year, and he went on to play only 8 games at 3.3 minutes per game for the Mavs so it’s a pretty horrible beginning for another young kid the Mavs hope to develop. Word out of summer league practices though was Larkin was exactly the uber athlete, penetrator that they thought they were getting when they drafted him. Most scouts had him being selected around where the Mavs took him so it was decent value but when they took him I mentioned that I would have preferred Mason Plumlee over him (https://dfwprosports.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/nba-draft-analysis/) and Plumlee put on a show at the Orlando Summer League with one of his games turning into a dunk fest for him (video here: http://probasketballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/07/09/only-in-summer-league-mason-plumlee-dunk-fest-video/). Considering how overcrowded the Mavs backcourt situation is right now and how spare the PF/C backup spots look I will say that my analysis looks pretty good right now. Of course it is only summer league and Larkin will be ready for the start of the regular season so to say it’s too early to tell is very reasonable. While I preferred Plumlee and the Mavs preferred Larkin I also will be curious to see if they regret moving back with the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for only salary cap relief. The Hawks took on Jared Cunningham’s contract to move up a spot and selected German born 19 year old Dennis Schroeder. He was the talk of the Vegas Summer League as he was clearly the best defensive guard there and showed off great vision, quickness, and penetration skills on offense. He reminded me of a young Rajon Rondo and in 3 years if he develops into an All-Star PG, which after seeing him in action I think is VERY possible, then the Mavs will be kicking themselves for making such a shortsighted trade with the Hawks.

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