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Getting Ready for Summer League

I'm not going to write a 'who to watch' post for all 22 teams in Las Vegas.  Kevin already did that for TrueHoop, and Kelly Dwyer pulled out a few names to watch on Ball Don't Lie as well.  And head over to the Clippers web site to review the roster and game schedule, or read the bios for the players. 

But if we want to get a read on how good these players may be, it will be important to see them against decent competition.  As it happens, many of the top rookies from last season are NOT playing in Las Vegas - no Derrick Rose, no O.J. Mayo, no Brook Lopez, no Kevin Love.  In fact, one wonders to some extent why Russell Westbrook and Eric Gordon are doing it, since they don't really have a lot to prove.  Of course, we're certainly happy that EJ decided to play, and it may present a chance for him to work on his point guard skills some.  We'll see.

Despite the absence of the bigger sophomore stars, the Clippers' five summer league opponents should provide at least a few interesting matchups based on their rosters.

July 13 - the Lakers.  OK, this is arguably the saddest summer league roster I've ever seen.  Of course, they had one pick (number 59!) this year and didn't have a rookie on last season's roster.  So basically, the usual pool of interesting summer league players is pretty shallow for them.  They also happen to be the defending champs, with almost everyone coming back.  So it's not like their particualry interested in what's happening in Vegas - it's a million to one that a summer league guy is going to play his way onto the Lakers regular season roster.  There is one guy who is already on that roster - three year veteran and major draft bust Adam Morrison.  Morrison missed his entire second season in Charlotte with a knee injury, and never got a chance with the Lakers after he was traded.  So in many ways he's starting over.  Morrison scored 24 points in his first summer league game Friday.  As for the matchup with the Clippers, not much to see here.  Griffin and Jordan will be bigger and stronger than anyone on the Lakers roster, and Taylor and Gordon shoudn't see much resistance either.  Let's hope the Clippers don't play down to the level of the competition in this one.

July 14 - the Hornets.  This one could be more interesting, beginning with the New Orleans backcourt.  First round pick Darren Collison of UCLA and second rounder Marcus Thornton of LSU are both NBA-level talents.  Meanwhile, Julian Wright is a stud, if only Byron Scott would let him play some.  Up front, Courtney Sims has been a D-League stalwart,and many think he could be an effective backup center in the NBA if given the chance. 

July 16 - the Grizzlies.  On paper, this is the best and deepest front court the Clippers will see this summer.  This game should provide a real test for both Griffin and Jordan.  It starts with second overall pick Hasheem Thabeet of course.  We've mused around these parts several times about how DeAndre Jordan could be as good or even better than Thabeet - after all, he actually has a greater standing reach (9'5.5" vs. 9'5") and is way more athletic.  Thabeet has a defender's mindset which DJ lacks, while both youngsters need to work on their offensive games.  (By the way, I asked DJ yesterday if he had any regrets about coming out after his freshman year given the relative weakness of this year's draft and he said he thought about it some during the draft, but feels like he's in a good situation where he is.)  Beyond Thabeet, the Grizz have several other interesting bigs as well.  Darrell Arthur started at power forward for them most of last season, and he and Blake Griffin had some battles in the Big 12 the season before that when Arthur played for Kansas and Griffin for Oklahoma.  They also have seven foot Iranian Hamed Haddadi.  In the backcourt, the Grizzlies feature former Clipper Daniel Ewing and former first round pick Marcus Williams, who was cut by the Warriors last season.

July 18 - the Wizards.  The Wizards didn't have any draft picks in June, but their team does feature four players from their regular roster:  JaVale McGee, Dominic McGuire, Nick Young and Javaris Crittendon.  McGee had one of his best games as a pro against the Clippers, so my viewpoint of him is surely skewed, but he looked great in that game.  He's just insanely long, and has a nose for the basket.  It will be interesting to see how Jordan does defending him.  The backcourt of Young (6'6") and Crittendon (6'5") will likewise be a good challenge for the more diminutive Clipper backcourt.

July 19 - the Suns.  There are several interesting story lines in this one.  For one thing, Blake Griffin will be playing against his older brother Taylor, though they won't be playing the same position.  The Suns also feature Robin Lopez, one of the more experienced NBA centers in Las Vegas, which should provide another challenge for Jordan.  Lottery pick Earl Clark will of course be the man to watch for the Suns.