Las Vegas summer league is the perfect breeding ground for NBA overreaction.
A rookie assembles a triple-double against a bunch of guys who will be playing in Turkey next season, and he's a blooming superstar. And when another lottery pick shoots 4-of-17, he's destined to be a bust. Neither is a precise indicator.
But summer league does have value in exploring young players' relative strengths and weaknesses heading into training camp in September. Based on the Charlotte Hornets summer entry's first three games, some thoughts on the players:
▪ First-rounder Miles Bridges' weight loss (roughly 20 pounds) since the end of last season at Michigan State appears a wise move in preparation for playing small forward in the NBA. I knew he could make a jump shot, but his dribbling and passing were better than I anticipated. He still needs to figure how to get to the foul line with more regularity, which was the knock against him in college.
▪ For the second straight year an injury has disrupted Malik Monk's summer. He broke his right thumb late in the Hornets' first summer-league game after scoring 23 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Best thing I saw from Monk in that one game? How much he has taken to the new coach James Borrego's edict to make quick decisions with the ball.
▪ Rookie Devonte Graham has played with savvy at point guard, making lots of simple, smart plays (although he played much better in the first two games than in the loss to the Boston Celtics). He played four seasons in Kansas and his experience is reflected on the court. I can see why general manager Mitch Kupchak felt strongly enough about Graham to trade two future second-round picks to the Atlanta Hawks to take Graham at No. 34.
▪ Center Willy Hernangomez, acquired in a February trade, seems very motivated. Since the season ended in April, he has worked both on his body (losing weight but increasing strength) and on adding a 3-point shot. He arrived in Charlotte with a refined post-up game and is a good rebounder, particularly in traffic. Shooting range would significantly change how defenders must guard him, opening up the rim more.
▪ Shooting guard-small forward Dwayne Bacon knows there is opportunity with the Hornets, but he must also see all the options Borrego has at Bacon's two positions. It's felt like Bacon has pressed at times in this summer league.
▪ J.P. Macura, the undrafted guard the Hornets signed to a two-way contract, lives up to his billing: Intense, full of energy and willing to take a beating to be a disruptive defender. The coaches have to love it when a guy takes charges in summer league and probably didn't mind when he drew a technical foul Monday. He should be a popular player for the Greensboro Swarm.
▪ Arnoldas Kulboka, the young European pro the Hornets drafted 55th, can score and is a better playmaker than I anticipated. He could play several positions at the NBA level, but only once he gets a lot stronger. He knows that, and will work on it next season in Europe.
▪ Forward-center Mangok Mathiang, who played on a Hornets two-way last season, hasn't really looked like a player who has evolved much since training camp last September. We'll see whether he's invited to training camp with the new basketball administration.