The Blazers entered tonight's game at something of a disadvantage because the Raptors had two previous chances -- games on Friday and Saturday -- to congeal as a summer unit. That didn't stop Portland from running out to a fast start, however, and for awhile it looked like they might cruise to a blowout victory.
The wheels starting falling off when Jerryd Bayless sat down for the first time as momentum swung almost entirely, almost immediately. In the second half, the Raptors simply outshot the Blazers, running their lead to double digits down the stretch and holding on for a solid 5 point victory.
A quarter-by-quarter, blow-by-blow account accomplishes little here. Instead, let's turn our attention to each of the three players that have a chance to make the Blazers roster.
Rex's explosive crossover is still a thing of beauty and, once properly harnessed, should lead to untold easy buckets for his teammates. He used it consistently to find the paint and draw attention (and fouls... he got to the line 8 times) and showed an improving ability to find open shooters on the perimeter off the dribble. His jumper looked nice, particularly in the first half, although his shot selection wasn't perfect. Given how easily he gets to the hoop in Summer League you would hope for better than 7-17 from the field. Bayless had a number of nice dimes that drew oohs, ahhs and fist pumps on his way to 22 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds.
On the flip side, Bayless struggled in two areas in which he struggled last year: on-ball defense and decision-making.
Rex was whistled for three quick fouls, primarily because he seems to enjoy getting up in his man's jersey and playing chest to chest defense in a way that shows off his lateral quickness. Unfortunately this is not legal in the NBA. At some point, one hopes his looks of disbelief towards the officials when he's whistled for a touch foul 30 feet from the hoop will be replaced by a savvier approach that doesn't draw the whistles. Still waiting on that. In the second half he also got lit up a little bit by Quincy Douby. Lightning strikes sometimes and Douby's hot streak included a few Hail Marys that had Bayless miffed.
Although Rex succeeded in finding the open man with good consistency -- if Thomas Gardner (0-8) had hit a few wide open shots this game probably has a different result -- he showed he still has a way to go in having a true feel for his teammates movements, particularly on his way to the basket. He struggled to hit moving targets in the right place, at the right time. The final damage was six turnovers. This is an acceptable tally in the first game of Summer League but not acceptable come October/November. It's not even really that acceptable come Wednesday.
Bayless was dominant at times but pressed a little too hard late in the game. Returning to Summer League was a very good decision on his part; this is already proving to be a great experience. One wishes Oden had made the same commitment.
Pendergraph showed a nice sense around the hoop and is a natural at getting garbage buckets (he totaled 12 points). This will serve him well playing next to solid rebounders and more-talented offensive players who will have the ball in their hands. The Graph doesn't over-think things when he does have the ball, training in nicely on the rim for a memorable and-one dunk conversion. 9 boards in 26 minutes is always a delight.
Unfortunately, Pendergraph was playing out of position at the 5 and was exposed a little bit on the defensive end. He's not really a lange-clogger or shot-alterer like Oden or Przybilla and Toronto's perimeter players didn't seem intimidated by him in the slightest. On multiple occasions, Pendergraph committed to the dribbler too quickly, leaving his man open for an easy layup. Certainly Portland's perimeter defenders bear some responsibility for those situations but Pendergraph's natural ease around the hoop on offense simply isn't there yet defensively. He is a glass cleaner, though, nabbing 7 defensive rebounds and making good decisions in finding his guards once he secured the ball. It's a shame the Blazers don't have a serviceable stiff to throw in the middle so they can play Pendergraph exclusively at the 4. Chalk that up to poor roster construction.
Last week at the end of one of the Summer League practices, Nate McMillan was watching Dante Cunningham work through his shooting drills. Cunningham came off a screen/roll, caught a pass from an assistant coach, and stroked an 18 footer. Nate remarked, loudly enough for both Dante and myself to hear, "If you hit that shot, you'll be a player in this league."
Dante looked nice shooting uncontested jumpers last week but I always try to resist the temptation to judge a player's shooting abilities based on practice performance. With that said, he never looked as nice in practice as he did in the game tonight, going for 21 points on 8-17 shooting. Expect the scouting report to change on him quickly, as he was shooting wide open shot after wide open shot from as close as 15 feet.
What was perhaps most impressive about Cunningham's performance was his confidence coming out of the gate. Bayless had remarked that the rooks had shown some hesitancy during their first practice. Not so in their first game. That's one of the most positive takeaways from tonight.
Cunningham was extremely active on the glass. This activity is where you can put to bed the obvious comparison to Travis Outlaw. (That and Trout's ability to shoot while fading or off the dribble, which we haven't yet seen from Cunningham.) Mike Rice won't need to threaten to shave his head because Cunningham refuses to board, that's for sure. But a note of caution: the smaller bodies in Summer League make for a lot more room for hustle/heart guys like Cunningham to grab loose balls. While you love to see that effort, it's important to keep perspective: Cunningham's slight frame will make it difficult to crash the boards that hard during the regular season.
Indeed, Dante gave up an offensive rebound, putback and-one to Paul freaking Davis. So that's an area of concern.
Based on tonight's performance I think he's more suited to defending NBA 3's than 4's and most suited to engage in freakshow physical battles with off-the-bench tweeners like himself. A fun player to have on the roster, without question, especially when you don't need to actually play him.
The first live-action looks at the rookies were nice confirmation of what we've heard about them throughout the draft process and the first real look at starter Bayless in a year was a great reminder of his potential. It's amazing that he's only 20 years old.
Before we wrap this up, let's take a quick look back at this afternoon's five things to watch for.
How well does Jerryd Bayless communicate with his teammates, particularly Jeff Pendergraph and Dante Cunningham? He's been talking about being a leader and making the right decisions all week, it's time to show and prove.
There were the inevitable first-game communication missteps but it's clear that his teammates trust Bayless and follow his lead; he needs to return that trust and continue to hit the open man no matter how many bricks they throw up.
How do the two rookies deal with jitters and nerves? Do they rise to the ocassion or shrink under the spotlight?
Both rose to the occasion better than could have been expected.
Do either Pendergraph or Cunningham demonstrate a go-to NBA offensive weapon, whether that be hitting the offensive boards, a mid-range jumper, or something else?
Cunningham unveiled a near-NBA ready feet-set jumper and Pendergraph showed he has a Summer League-ready nose for the hoop.
DeMar DeRozan. The 2009 lottery pick is coming off a 20+ point performance and is sure to provide some electricity with his leaping ability.
Antonio Harvey really, really loves DeMar DeRozan and DD's 15/6 explained why Raptors fans have dubbed him the "Heir Apparent" to Vince Carter.
Who helps Bayless pad his assist total? KP2 says look out for Bobby Jones.
Pelton strikes again by calling the leading scorer outside the big three; Jones' all-hustle, hard-fouling approach should land him on an NBA roster again this year.
For thoughts from inside the gym in Las Vegas, be sure to check out Rip City Project.
-- Ben (firstname.lastname@example.org)
PS BE's In-arena coverage from Las Vegas begins Wednesday afternoon before, during and after the Blazers' next summer league game, against the Houston Rockets.