Summer League Analysis

First off I'll admit that I'm only doing this because I'm bored and anxious about the Clippers next move.  We still don't know what we don't know and all that.  But we do know a little bit more than last week, at least, because of 3 summer league games, one I saw on NBATV and two of which I viewed in fits and starts on a soundless internet feed.  And unfortunately, not all of the info is good.  And I'll add that much of this was already covered in the FanPosts on the first two games, so I'll try to focus on the overall impressions.

The good news isn't exactly news.  More than anything else about the Clippers, the summer league confirms that Al Thornton is a solid, productive pro.  He's showing all of the things that we knew from watching him in second half of the season, a great ability to manufacture his own shot, good rebounding and physical play for an SF, good size and durability.  It's obvious that he's going to take advantage of his opportunities, and with Baron Davis at the helm and Corey Maggette (and Ruben Patterson) gone,  he's going to get even more of them than before. 

DeAndre Jordan also qualifies under good news, bolstered by a nice 10/10 line in the third game.  He's obviously young and very much a project, but his size and agility out on the court should assure him the final big man roster spot, and he can take his time stepping into a larger role as the season goes on and in years to follow.  He can block random shots, but he doesn't really know how to play defense yet, nor should he, but indications are that he'll be able to learn and he should have good tutors in Kim Hughes and Chris Kaman.  He can clean up around the rim and get dunks, and we need to see more about his hands and the way he sees the basket, but offensive expectations can be low.  His motor looked better than expected, and he seemed focused and ready to take advantage of getting minutes.  This may be because he knows he's a cusp guy who could be sent to the DLeague or elsewhere.  There are a lot of dominos out there, but it will be worthwhile to keep track of Jordan's deal status.  I said before, and still believe, that we should think of DJordan as if the Clips had picked him at 10-12, not 35, and he's the same kind of big man project as other guys drafted between 10-30.  The Clippers are looking at numerous big man permutations, but Jordan fills a handy niche:  he's an athletic true C, a protect the rim and gobble up rebounds guy, who can be a backup option to Kaman and could quickly become complementary to Kaman .  Davis, Fazekas, Thomas and Powell are very different types of players from Jordan, and that's before the Clips figure out who their starting PF will be.

It's probably worth going into Davis and Fazekas at this point and in the context of Jordan, and this takes us to the bad news side of the ledger.  First of all, Davis isn't here and on the team and ready to play yet:  bad news.  When he did play last year, before his extremely untimely injury, he was relatively ineffective as a backup center, never got untracked, and didn't hit his shot.  He got hurt just Thomas and Kaman were tweaked, and a ton of minutes would have gone to him that went to Josh Powell instead.  I liked the idea of Davis starting at PF alongside Kaman and bringing Thomas off the bench, which was never explored.  Davis seemed able to run a little bit, hit short jumpers, and clean up rebounds, but he had no defensive presence as a center.  If he had been healthy last year and proved himself clearly superior to Powell it might be different, but now he really seems to be in no man's land, and Jordan should be able to do a lot of what he did last year as a backup C.  And his roster status on the team seems to reflect this.

About all you can say about Davis is that he's more athletic than Nick Fazekas.  Given the Clippers current PF crisis, the failure of Fazekas to assert himself in Vegas is probably the worst news to come out of summer league.  Fazekas was brilliant in brief, meaningless stretches at the end of last season, so now is a good time to see if he can really be a contributor.   Maybe it just seems worse because his funky intangibles and soft touch were in evidence in the first game when Eric Gordon was relentlessly getting into the lane, and then he disappeared.  And his inability to make his presence felt in summer league is fairly disturbing.  Perhaps summer league is an up-and-down, quick shot game that doesn't allow Fazeke to make plays through hanging around and using his soft hands and positioning, but now isn't the time to be cutting him slack.  If Kevin Love can get 18 pts and 13 rebounds in his first time on the floor, Fazeke should be able to put up some decent rebounding totals, but he didn't, not in 3 games.  And then there's the fact that he's supposed to be a knockdown shooter from the perimeter.  I only saw him get open to take a couple shots, and he missed both of them.  The thing about summer league is that there are a lot of scrubs, and the guys who distinguish themselves are the ones who might have a future or a chance to contribute to a team.  By fading into the woodwork, Fazekas showed that he's a longshot to provide any assistance at all in the Clippers effort to replace Brand.  With Davis not around, Fazekas ineffective, and DJordan very raw, that leaves Josh Powell as the only likely big man candidate besides Tim Thomas to be able to make any contribution off the bench in the early part of the season.  Maybe it will work out better than that, and some of the dominoes might affect the situation, but expectations for this group should remain low.

As long as we're distressed, let's include Marcus Williams in the discussion of significant summer league disappointments.  The only thing to be said about Williams is that he is fostering a new appreciation of QRoss, and we know that that's a problem.  Again, Williams was virtually a zero-impact player in the first three games, when he should be showing genuine effectiveness against this level of competition as a sign of preparedness to play backup minutes for the Clips. He looks a lot like everybody else, and isn't making his presence felt.  I'm not feeling very bullish at all on Shaun Livingston these days, and Williams' poor showing leaves the Clips without any wing defenders and utility backups.  Capspace and dominoes might come into play here, and after figuring out the PF the Clips may still have some roster spots to fill behind Thornton-Thomas-Mobley-Gordon at the 2 and 3.

Mike Taylor didn't leave a strong impression.  I suppose he's doing okay, but it was hard to pick him out on the internet picture in the untelevised games, so it might not be a fair sample.  With Davis and Knight the Clips are in good shape here, surprisingly enough, and it was a disappointment that we didn't get to see Gordon run the point at all before he got hurt.  Gordon looked like he would be able to do just fine as a backup pg.  You wouldn't want him as your starting PG on opening day, but he'll be able to play some minutes at the position, and Mobley-Gordon may be preferable to extra Brevin Knight minutes.  And it will be important to keep Baron Davis' minutes reasonable, so that he doesn't get worn down.  Taylor does have good size and seems like he might be able to defend, which could be an asset as a complement to Knight.  Taylor didn't seem to control the game as a classic PG might, but he probably did well enough to have a good shot as a 3rd string PG on a team that also has Eric Gordon.

Gordon seems to have gotten mixed reviews in some places, but I was impressed and happy.  So he's more good news, although the injury was a bit of a drag.  He was aggressive from the very opening of the first game and was a high-impact, high-visibility player, even with Thornton out on the court.  And in the first game he was making other players like Thornton, Fazekas, and Jordan all better, with everybody feeding off his intensity.  He looked really strong and athletic, with the same hunger to score and create shots that Thornton showed last year.  His shot, which looks mechanically perfect, wasn't falling, or he might have had 30+ points, but he showed an almost Maggette-like ability to get to the line in both games.  Unfortunately, the spark wasn't there against a better team in the second game, and Gordon was notably less effective, and then he got hurt.  Thornton, Gordon, and Davis will all play really well together, but my guess is that in the beginning Mobley will start and Gordon's quick trigger will be very valuable coming off the bench.

If Gordon had stayed healthy I believe the Clips would have come out of summer league on the positive side of the ledger, given how Thornton is solid and Jordan looks promising.  And Gordon has the ability to energize other players and get them opportunities.  But with EG out, the team looks flat and some promising guys seem to be falling short.  Oh well.  Back to the dominos and no news. 

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