By Aran Smith
The top performers of day three were Team China’s Yi Jianlian, the Laker’s Javaris Crittenton, and the Clipper’s Al Thornton.
Dallas Mavericks 72 – Portland Trailblazers 68
Greg Oden still has some maturing to do, and that’s just what the summer league is set up for. He’s showing his lack of experience, but also gaining valuable lumps along the way. DeSagana Diop provided an excellent test for the bigman as a formidable shotblocker for the Mavs. Diop sent at least two Oden hook shots right back to sender, and limited Oden’s effectiveness for much of the game. Oden was able to break free for a dunk early but was called for a bs technical after supposedly holding onto the rim too long. Apparently these (numberless) refs are trying to make a name for themselves too.
Oden got into foul trouble again, with a number of questionable second half foul calls. He got yanked out of the game with 3 minutes to go after committing his 9th foul, one away from the limit, (which he hit on Friday in Day One) and got back in with 1:30 left. In the final minute he converted two excellent offensive plays on Diop, one in which he weaved through two players to the right side of the rim and converted the and one, minus the free throw. Oden then absorbed the contact of Diop after receiving the ball and knocking Diop off balance ala Shaq, and then threw down a monster jam. Unfortunately the play happened just before time expired and Portland was still down by 4. Oden also finished with 4 blocks giving Diop some of his own medicine a couple times.
It would be foolish to expect a finished product from Oden right away as his offense still has years of maturing to do. He gets the ball in the block and still lacks any real polished offensive moves. But his touch, athleticism and willingness to work give his offensive game great promise in the future, but it will obviously take time.
JJ Barea was the story for Dallas once again. His experience (in international play) and moxie makes him one of the top overall players in the summer league. It’s amazing, but at this point in time he’s probably more valuable to a summer league team than Oden. He outplayed Sergio Rodriguez who was solid, but may lack the athleticism and quickness to ultimately take his game to the next level. Barea makes all the right plays and converts on incredible drives to the basket. He’s a defensive liability in the NBA, as teams are able to post him up. But with his amazing craftiness and passing ability, he’s turned himself into a 5-11 poor man’s Steve Nash. At the summer league level, as he would likely be in Europe, he’s an absolutely dominant player.
LaMarcus Aldridge did his thing running the floor fluidly and knocking down a few 15 footers as well as a couple of dunks. He’s definitely a lot more effective without having to worry about the beasts of the West pushing him around the block every possession. Despite putting on some pounds of muscle, he lacks the body strength to finish after contact. But a solid effort with 16 and 11. As long as he can stay healthy, his style may be a good fit with Oden who plays strictly inside.
Undrafted Caleb Green was very impressive going a perfect 6-6 from the field for 13 points. He’s a 4/3 but gives great energy and effort and could find a spot in the league as a role player.
LA Lakers 66 – Milwaukee Bucks 64
An interesting match up with the GMs for both squads in uncomfortable situations for different reasons. Mitch Kupcheck entered the building to a few hecklers holding up signs which read, "What’s next Mitch?" and "The next Lakers GM" with an arrow pointing down. The hecklers laid into Mitch who quickly ducked out of the gym for 5 minutes to apparently cool off and then were right back on him once he re-entered. One thing you can’t accuse Kupcheck of is making bad selections as Bynum has worked out terrifically and based on today’s game Javaris Crittenton looks like the Lakers PG of the future. Crittenton’s rally at the end of the first half brought a smile to Kupcheck’s face.
At the opposite end of the gym was Bucks GM Larry Harris, who sits in a precarious situation with the whole Yi Jianlian situation. Yi is threatening to not play for the small market Bucks. Harris didn’t like the outcome of his team’s game. However the following game, with Yi hitting a big shot in the final second to clinch the game brought a big smile to his face.
Javaris Crittenton outplayed Jordan Farmar by a mile in their first summer league game making a big statement about who should be the Lakers starting point guard next season. Crittenton had 18 points (8-13) with 2 ast and 2 stl, to Farmar’s ugly 5 points on 1-8 shooting with 1 ast and 1 stl with 7 turnovers. Crittenton instantly ignited the Lakers team with a steal and pass to set up a basket and then a break away dunk. He’s not the traditional point guard that sets everyone up ala Deron Williams, but he’s a talented athlete that can put points up and should become a factor for the Lakers in the next few seasons.
Team China 85, Cleveland Cavaliers 84
It was beginning to look like another one of those day’s as Yi started very cold once again with limited points in the first half. But Yi went on a big run in the second half helping Team China to keep the game close. After Yi the back end of 2 foul shots, Matt Walsh hit a 3 pointer which put the Cavs up by 1 with 14 second to play. Team China ran the clock down to 4 seconds and gave the ball to Yi who made a great move and converted on a bank shot to seal the game. Yi finished with 20 points shooting just 3-11 but 14-17 from the line and hit the big shot when it counted.
For Cleveland, Daniel Gibson and Shannon Brown are really the only quality players they have. So it was no coincidence that Team China was able to hang with them and eventually knock them off to claim their first Summer League game. How big a win is this for China? It’s huge, because after losing to the Under 19 USA team, going winless in the summer league would have been a blow. This win gives them something to build on going into the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and the confidence that they can play with NBA players, regardless of the fact that most of the Cavs summer league guys are not NBA level players. This game was also a big boost for yi’s confidence who seems to be on a roller coaster ride each day. Watching the Chinese National team play has been a lot of fun, it was a great idea to allow them to play in the summer league. And the games seem to mean much more for the team than the rest of the team’s participating.
Today was Wang ZhiZhi’s 30th birthday. Who like Oden looks about 40 years of age, however Oden happens to be 19 not 30.
Point guard Chen Jianghua saw action in the first game going up against Mike Conley and was somewhat impressive at times matching Conley’s quickness. Unfortunately Chen is out for up to 2 months with an ankle injury.
Denver Nuggets 108 – Los Angeles Clippers 104
Al Thornton was the player everyone stuck around to watch in the night cap. As a lottery pick and one of only two 2007 draft picks in the game (Jarred Jordan being the other), Thornton did not disappoint. His relentless attack the basket style makes for great basketball. He seems completely unafraid of getting injured as he tried to dunk on almost every single possession and draws fouls on his opponents more often than not. He scored on one turnaround jumper, and hammered the ball home on the break on another occasion. He came very close to having a bad leg injury after blocking a shot and having a Nugget come down on his leg awkwardly. His incredible athleticism can be credited for his ability to avoid injury as a lot of players might have broken their leg on the play. Thornton finished with a game high 24 points using an array of polished face the basket moves and post moves. Corey Maggette’s stay in Los Angeles may be nearing it’s end. Thornton along with the Warrior’s Belinelli could be among the league leaders in scoring for rookies.