Summer League 2010 Review

I just caught up on watching the weekend games after being out of town.  Since nothing revolutionary happened in Game 5 outside of Luke Babbitt busting out a little we're going to dispense with the blow-by-blow and get down to the Summer League capsule.

My first observation is also the easiest:  this was the most energetic, fun, and free Portland Trail Blazers Summer League squad in years.  Part of that boiled down to the situation.  For the last few years the Blazers have featured Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden, Martell Webster, Jerryd Bayless...lottery picks around whom the Summer League team was centered.  Those guys played with pressure on their shoulders.  Other players watched and deferred, knowing who the focal points were.  The result was teams heavy on talent and light on continuity.  There were no featured players this year, just a few second-year guys plus three draftees who were introduced in the same breath and with nearly the same status.  Everybody played like part of the team.  No doubt coach Kaleb Canales was an integral part of that dynamic as well.  He further cemented his reputation as a guy players like, respect, and want to play for.  Summer League is Summer League, but this outing didn't hurt Canales any.  

On to the individual remarks.

Armon Johnson was clearly the standout player of the week for the Blazers.  His stock rose enormously.  He played well on both ends, guarded a variety of players, kept his head in the game, and filled the boxscore on good nights and bad.  His physical qualities were exciting.  His production looked both solid and transferable.  You never decide anything based on one week in July but Johnson has inspired hope, if not confidence, among observers and team officials both.  As much as folks don't want to admit it sometimes, the Blazers point guard situation is still in flux.  Johnson's performance was enough to pencil him in as a possible partial answer to that conundrum.  "Possible" and "partial" aren't exactly ringing endorsements but given the lack of solid leads so far they look pretty good.

Luke Babbitt showed skills but he's going to have to re-invent himself if he's to make an immediate impact for the team.  He's pushing his deep shot as much as shooting it.  Even if he does make those shots opponents will quickly erase the time and space he needs to get them off.  His lateral movement with the ball won't be enough to get him free.   Based on what we've seen, nobody in the universe (particularly in red and black) is going to say, "Let's pass over Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Miller, Greg Oden, Jerryd Bayless, and Nicolas Batum (plus Rudy Fernandez if he's still here) to get Babbitt the ball."  That's the most optimistic assessment possible of his rank in the offensive hierarchy.   The one part of his game that could serve him well is his ability to take contact and still finish a play.  That's what he should build upon on both ends of the floor.  He needs to add core strength, get his conditioning to a superb level, and try to fashion himself in an Eduaro Najera mold, perhaps with a better long-range shot and more overall offensive ability.  The quickest way to crack the rotation would be to beat people up, grab rebounds, and defend while hitting whatever open shots he got blessed with.  He didn't give off the vibe of a gunner.  The possibility is there.  But it's going to take some self-realization and a lot of work from him.  Otherwise he's strictly a project for this year at least.

Patty Mills had a nice enough week.  His play will merit a second glance from the Blazers and other teams.  But he shaded too heavily towards his own offense for a second-year player auditioning for point guard and that offense suffered when his shot wasn't on.  His defense wasn't to Johnson's level either.  If the Blazers keep four point guards then Mills should be on that list but I'm not sure he showed enough to make them keep a fourth guy at the position.

Dante Cunningham didn't set the league on fire but he did a slow burn with enough flare-ups to roast the opposition.  His best contributions were hidden somewhat:  helping defend the middle, getting his body in annoying places, intimidating opponents.  He did hit shots when he had them.  He also played with a deeper confidence than the bravado that typified his rookie year.  The kid is going to be alright and Portland fans will be glad he's a Blazer.  He's also apt to remind folks that Luke Babbitt will be getting in shape in order to be the second physical dominator in the Blazer lineup.

Jeff Pendergraph is a guy you're not ashamed to have on your side because he works hard, throws his body around, and shows no fear when he's trying to stop someone.  This Summer League revealed that he has a long way to go before he can transfer those qualities into a secure rotation spot.  He doesn't have enough sense of space, either personal or in the team concept, and he fouls too frequently and too awkwardly.  His post moves are light years behind Greg Oden's when Oden played in his first Summer League.  He's just not there yet.  It's like watching a power line spark and spew out random energy because it isn't connected right.  He's probably not a center in any case.  He has another contract year to work on his game.  It'll be interesting to see how much experience will smooth him out. 

Ekene Ibekwe is the archetypal Summer League success story who won't be signed to the team he had success for because even though he played well he simply lacks the physical attributes to fit the NBA mold.  His reach is too short and he's not thick enough to play power forward but he's nowhere near quick or athletic enough to play small forward plus he lacks the skill set.  He did a great job this year and has a chance to get picked up somewhere as (essentially) a practice player but his true future lies overseas or in the D-League.

Bravo to the entire squad.  They made July basketball enjoyable.  While I don't think anybody we saw will be revolutionizing Portland's game soon I loved the attitude and approach and I'm comfortable that any players the Blazers choose to retain will fit the organization.

Ben will have more interviews and notes from the week in Vegas when he returns tomorrow.  Until then feel free to share your own thoughts on Summer League 2010.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com) 

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