For Die-Hards Only: Vegas In Mid-July

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The best way to sucker me into watching something like the Wolves-Mavs Summer League tilt in Vegas last night is to give me another deadline upon which to procrastinate. That was the situation, and thus here are my thumbnail takes on a meaningless game that may still have a tea leaf or two worth parsing over.

Biggest disappointment: The shot selection and accuracy of Corey Brewer.

They’ve got another ten pounds listed on his weight in the program over last year. And reports are that Brewer has stuck around and done everything the team has asked of him, which presumably means lots and lots of shooting practice. But in tonight’s Summer League opener, with Brewer obviously slotted in as the go-to scorer in an effort to further prime the pump on his offense, the guy seems to have retained and perhaps even exacerbated his rookie flaws.

Under the best of circumstances, the spin move in heavy traffic is problematical, usually reliant on either luck or formidable strength and a charitable whistle. Brewer uses it too much because he has a faulty brake in transition. At least twice, and I’m pretty sure a third time, his path on dribble penetration was impeded and he spun into other defenders, with predictable results–turnover, airball, travel or charge. The defenders on these Summer League rosters are not exactly NBA caliber, and yet Brewer persisted in snuffing his own shot by playing in traffic.

He hit his first two shots of the game, and his first shot of the second half. Other than that, he was 2-15 FG. Some of them were wide open looks that shooters make; some of them were ridiculously forced shots of the sort flailing players chuck up to wheedle a trip to the free throw line, only on a couple of occasions was Brewer flailing because he wasn’t strong or tall enough to create separation with a step-back move and felt compelled to try and heave it over his foe. At least one was a airball finger-roll that happened infrequently, but were still vividly memorable, last season.

To sum up, then: Brewer’s shot selection was horrid, the result of taking a regular-season fifth option and making him your primary scorer. His accuracy on "good" shot attempts was still suspect. His body control remains gawky and strained; his strength sub-par, his mechanics all over the place.

The silver linings are that the Wolves were playing their first game together of 2008-09, whereas Dallas had already played twice previously. This is a huge edge in experience at this time of the year and with this level of skill set among the players. Also, there are no decent ball distributors to help Brewer get a good shot. He remains better running the floor than pulling up and shooting. His early success indicates to me that his mechanics are different in practice and warming up than they are when he’s going full-tilt boogie on the floor; either that or he begins thinking too much when he clanks a couple.

In other words, it is very early and this is hardly the most significant barometer and sample size to judge a sophmore Brewer. But a lottery pick in his second year going 5-18 FG in a Summer League game? Bad sign.

Biggest satisfaction: Kevin Love’s effort on defense.

You’ve probably read by now that Love picked up four fouls in the first seven minutes. But most of that was simply the shock of his first NBA splash in the pool, which creates a different intensity, even at this minor level, than practicing against your own teammates. But then he settled down and committed only two more in the next 23+ minutes. Rotations don’t seem second-nature to him yet, and his hops are ordinary. But the willpower is glowing, causing him to rotate hard and decisively in the paint, especially in the second half when the Wolves beefed up their D. He also has the grit to camp out in the low block for offensive rebounds, but it remains to be seen if that is just the mediocre level of competition or whether he has the knack for getting position.

Love doesn’t have the NBA three-point stroke, as his first two attempts were front iron. But reports of his outlet passing are true and are truly second nature. When Love grabs a rebound, his first inclination is to spin and deliver an over-the-head two-handed pass, something he can double-pump on if the outlet lanes are defended. His numbers last night–18 points, 13 rebounds–were workmanlike more than spectacular, which is probably preferable in a 19-year-old kid. Caution: there was no genuine big man on either team to put the fear into anybody, but Love was being guarded by a lithe pogo stick in James Singletary, who had a pretty decent season for the Clips the year after the last and had about as much NBA experience as anyone on the floor.

The downside: Love has at-best mediocre foot speed and needs to recognize and position himself to defend dribble drives more diligently. But the fundamentals seem sound (after one day versus inferior competition in mid-July).

Miscellaneous observations:

Pooh Jeter and Brian Ahearn are not the answer as back-up point guards. For that matter, not a single Wolves players registered an assist coming off the bench. Jeter was really the only "true" point on the roster. and he’s undersized. Drew Neitzel was strictly a heat-check gunner, a poor man’s Ricky Frahm.

The roster is mostly bereft of athletes and foot speed (maybe that "crazy athleticism" Carney supposedly brings to the party will reveal itself tonight after he sat out the opener). Nobody could effectively turn the corner against the Mavs’ quicker lineups (starters and reserves), and none of the perimeter players besides Brewer could snap passes well enough to automatically avoid steals. The Wolves committed bushels of turnovers caused by a disparity in quickness.

Chris Richard likewise didn’t set the world on fire in his team-high 31:37 of burn against competition he should be besting. The kid from Rochester via Oklahoma, Longar Longar, played merely 4 minutes+ by contrast and occasionally seemed lost, but did stick around long enough for a pretty blocked shot and seems unafraid to add a physical dimension. Raw, but perhaps worthy of D League seasoning?

Carney and former Gopher Vincent Greer were DNP; ditto Gerald Green. But aside from Brewer and Love, I don’t see anybody on this roster getting within the top 12.

If you want to watch the Vegas games live on your computer, it is free with registration at NBA.com