Vegas, Baby.  Vegas.

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I made my second trip to the Las Vegas Summer League this weekend to watch the handful of players who will ultimately play for the Timberwolves. I previously went in 2010, i.e. the Summer of Wes Johnson, so I had appropriate expectations for the Summer of Shabazz.

I am a HUGE fan of Summer League. $25 gets you a full-day ticket. You can move freely between two venues and sit wherever you like, other than a few reserved seats along the court and behind each bench. I sat a few rows from Del Harris. And I sat next to a guy with a striking resemblance to our own Christ Johnson--does anyone know if he has a brother? While Summer League won't provide you the highest-quality basketball, you can get a lot of basketball from great seats with a real chance to interact with players, coaches, and executives. It's glorious.

As for the game, it was actually pretty good. You can see highlights here: Both teams tried hard. After building an early double-digit lead, the Wolves offense stagnated and let the D-League All Stars back into the game. It was hard fought at the end, until Stefan Hannah made 3 key plays (and-1 around Christ Johnson, drawn charge, something else) to seal the win for the D-League. He's pretty good, but he looked to be about 5'10".

Here are some random observations:

  • The team ran a very balanced attack that prevented any one player from dominating. There was a lot of high pick and roll and a little bit of high post action.
  • I arrived a little late, so the very first play I saw was a Shabazz Muhammad 3 from the left corner to give the Wolves a double-digit lead. Unfortunately it was not the start of a trend.
  • Shabazz spent a lot of time in that left corner on offense, usually while the team ran a high pick and roll with the point guard and a big man (oftentimes Christ Johnson). He got a couple of open looks off this, but only made the one. He also ran a couple of secondary pick and rolls after receiving a pass on the wing. He twice made pretty nice pocket passes to a rolling Chris Johnson, but nothing came of them.
  • Shabazz's best pass came on a broken play. After a scramble for the ball, he received a pass on the right low block. He quickly dumped it to Robbie Hummel cutting from the left side of the court. It was a good, quick reaction to turn down a scoring opportunity in favor of a better one. I was happy to see it.
  • On defense, Shabazz worked hard but had mediocre results. He guarded Elijah Millsap for a good part of the fourth quarter. Millsap seemed to think he was better than Shabazz, and wanted to show it. Millsap blew by Shabazz a couple of times and generally did not have much trouble with Shabazz's defense.
  • Lorenzo Brown looked pretty good in the first half. The offense was running really well with him when I first arrived in the late first quarter, and then bogged down a lot when he left the game. He had a nice pull-up from the free throw line of a pick and roll, but for the most part he was not looking to score. He also seemed like an active defender.
  • Gorgui Dieng looked really passive in the first half, on offense and defense. His defensive rotations were a little late. He turned down a pseudo-fastbreak post opportunity with a quick pass for an open 3. That play worked out, but it might have been a little too unselfish. He looked better in the second half, and I think his drive and dunk in the fourth quarter to tie the game was my personal highlight.
  • Christ Johnson was definitely one of the better players on the court. In the battle of tall-skinny-guys-who-can-jump, however, he got rejected pretty fiercely by Mickell Gladness. For what it's worth, Gladness did that to a few guys.
  • Hummel looked solid but unspectacular. He has the smarts and skills to play at that level, but was among the least athletic guys there. I don't think he can make it at the next level. He's just not a good enough shooter to overcome his other deficiencies.
  • Othyus Jeffers was fun to watch. If he was a few inches taller, he'd make our league the NBA.
  • Luke Sikma was badly overmatched. 3 ugly turnovers in just 12 minutes.
  • Joan Niessen and Jerry Zgoda were sitting next to each other watching the game from the press area under the basket. Neither seemed particularly interested in the game. Only one of them still covers the Timberwolves.
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