Las Vegas

Brooklyn Nets

Jordan Mclaughlin – Brooklyn:  This very cerebral point guard ran the Nets summer league team in a very professional way.  As a four-year player at USC, Mclaughlin played with a maturity which was very becoming.  His leadership intangibles connected his teammates, and his ability to score when he has to should not be scoffed at.  The numbers do not tell the story.  He averaged seven points and four assists per game in only 19 minutes of action.  It’s the musicality and the ability to allow a random group of players to function properly is where Mclaughlin excels.  Given that there were other USC players playing well in the summer league, it’s surprising their team didn’t make more of a splash last season the in NCAA.  Nonetheless, Mclaughlin should be able to carve out a nice European career for himself, and perhaps could find an NBA situation down the line, if the timing is right.  He seems more like a player who could contribute in the Turkish league – maybe even within the likes of a Pathotonikos or Fenerbahce size club. 

Theo Pinson – Brooklyn:  This guy is a top-notch person with a well-developed sense of humor and a player who has long ago succumb to the idea that basketball is about connecting to other people.  Pinson has, for years, been one of my favorite college players on a team that I don’t particularly like watching, the University North Carolina.  His feel for the game is just stunning, and he’s so well versed that he can get away with looking like he’s playing nonchalantly.  He is always a step or two ahead of the action.  He never gets sped up and is always looking to connect in his crafty ways and, like Mclaughlin, his contributions go far beyond the numbers.

            In the Las Vegas summer league, Pinson led the Nets in minutes per game with 25, averaging 11 points and four rebounds and two assists per game.  Numbers that won’t set the world on fire.  Although Pinson is not a great shooter, he shot the ball nearly 50% from the field in summer league and made enough three-pointers to at least pose the question of whether or not he can shoot it sustainably.  I am under the impression that in the right situation and with the right confidence, he is capable of producing far beyond whatever talent-ceiling he has been branded with to this point.  He is a winner, who makes winning plays.  If I had to compare him to anybody in the league right now, I would say he is a smaller (6’6) and less athletic Andre Iguodala.  Pinson is the glue which keeps players communicating and connected.  There was something in his energy during the summer league which made me feel as though he may not believe that an NBA opportunity will present itself for him, but I hope it does.  He is a player I am unsure of for European basketball.  His gifts are better served in an American setting, where his knowledge and feel can more easily exploit weaknesses of IQ and feel in his opponents.  I’m not quite sure Europeans will appreciate his intangibles and may look to him to play an outsized scoring or raw data production role.  On a very good NBA team, Pinson’s original gifts would be thrust to the forefront, as would a team’s win total. 

Atlanta Hawks

          Trae Young – Atlanta: It took a long and windy text exchange with my friend Brad Botkin, an ascending sportswriter and television commentator for CBS Sports, to finally take some of the emotion out of my argument against Trae Young.  Brad, who has much more of a macro argument for Young explained, “the kid can shoot and pass like crazy.  That’s the only thing I’m sure of.” 

            So, my final argument is this:  Trae Young’s style is divorced from the ingredients necessary to consistently win basketball games and, maybe more importantly, if Young’s style is not dramatically altered, it will repel teammates and cause friction in the team’s internal dynamics.

            There was a brief moment after three days of the Las Vegas Summer league where the Atlanta Hawks led the league in three statistical categories.  John Collins was leading in points per game with 30.  Young led in assists with 11, and Tyler Dorsey randomly led the league in rebounds and minutes per game. 

            Ironically, for about the past nine months I’ve been harping about how, when Young was at Oklahoma and led the Nation in points and assists per game (which is incredible), Oklahoma could not consistently win basketball games with Young performing in such a communally bankrupt approach.  As maligned as his teammates were by the media (some justified) and as complicit as Lon Kruger was in not finding ways to connect Young’s talent to his teammates, Young was not without blame.  Young could have easily sacrificed 3-5 points per game, and even a few assists per game in order to bring out a higher functionality and connectivity with his teammates.

            Look – I’ve been on Young’s case Hard, and riding him for, what I still believe are Very Specific Reasons – reasons which involve basketball’s inner-secrets and embedded spirituality.  Earlier today, I briefly watched a “Details” segment Kobe Bryant did on Young, where Kobe spent the majority of the segment breaking down a ball-screen scenario Young performed in the Utah summer league.  Although Young made the wrong read on this particular ball-screen, the play was an illustration of what I have felt ever since I began watching Young:  He has the physical ability to be an incredibly effective guard, but he chooses to rather be fed by a pre-existing external narrative about how he should play, or an internal narrative about how he wants to play. Both are misleading, and a lot of his play throughout summer league is consistent with this notion. 

             Overall, based on the shooting numbers, Young was outrageously inefficient – but so are many young players in their first summer league experiences.  Young ended up shooting about 30% (30-99) from the field.  In the first few days of summer league, the only field goal attempts Young was converting were incredibly tough two-point field goals in the paint from isolated dribble penetration.  He showed the ability to finish tough plays, but it also foreshadowed how unsustainable those finishes will be in the league.  From a defensive perspective, that’s what you want to force Young to do.  Make physically difficult two’s in the paint.

            Throughout summer league, Young’s shot selection was consistently questionable at best, and usually divorced from the current flow of the game or possession.  His shooting calculations were seemingly more based how many possessions it had been since the last time he shot it, or whether a certain switch on a matchup played to his ego.  Many of Young’s decisions have nothing to do with what is happening in the moment.  Often times when Young is making the right basketball plays it involves him making a pass – even a simple one. 

            Then, suddenly, he will make a great play – showcasing that he possesses the physical and mental ability to briefly unburden himself and make the plays which the current moment demands.  Without having seen him in person, I’m suspecting those who have would attest to his unusual quickness, lightness on his feet, and how he rarely labors to get past a defender off the dribble. 

            Young biggest issue to date is that he has no genuine interest in connecting with his teammates.  Even in “Details” clip, he showed a complete lack of connection with his teammates.  Toward the end of the clip a teammate came to give him dap and Young, perhaps inadvertently, shrugged him off to gripe about something else affecting Him.  He doesn’t talk on the floor.  He doesn’t engage his teammates and encourage them.  He doesn’t seem to view his teammates as equals.  His entitlement reeks of a young guard who sees his teammates as pawns to help him in his branding endeavors. 

            Young came into the University of Oklahoma with an anointed disposition. His individualized style of play was magnetically so dissonant that he mainly attracted back to himself exactly that, dissonance.  One must admit, there is a false magnetisms and dissonance when a player can lead the NCAA in points and assists, only to lose 12 of their last 16 games and get eliminated in the first round of a tournament where, really, they should not have been granted entrance.

            The one time I have observed Young wanting to connect with his teammates was in their miraculous comeback in the game against Indiana in Las Vegas.  Once he was subbed out midway through the third Atlanta finally started to play as a team.  They quickly evaporated an over 20-point lead, and, to Young’s credit, he became engaged in the game from the bench in a way I had not seen.  He was actually communicating with his teammates for once, cheering them on, and engaged himself in a collective energy which his teammates created.  Once he entered back into the game late in the fourth, he was completely in the flow, made great plays, and Atlanta ended up winning by Young taking them across the finish line in crunch time.

            But with all this said, I also want to address some of the talk in summer league regarding Young.  In the words of the robotically short-circuited Marco Rubio, let us dispel with the notion that Trae Young is the next Steph Curry.  Yeah, they are both undersized guards who can shoot from deep, handle, and have the ability to make thrilling passes.  But aside from that there is Absolutely Nothing which the two have in common, especially energetically, spiritually, and in terms of their relationship with the Karma of the Game.

            Young simply does not make others around him better yet, and I have not been under the impression that his teammates enjoy playing with him.  The End.