For a summer league game, Saturday night's tilt between the Spurs and Knicks at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, which saw the Knicks prevail 78-73, had plenty of noteworthy storylines. For one, it was the NBA debut of fourth overall pick Kristaps Porzingis for the Knicks, since they weren't involved in the Utah or Orlando exhibitions. More importantly, from a historical perspective, it was the head coaching debut for Becky Hammon, making her the first female coach in the league. Jeff McDonald of the Express-News has a pretty solid recap here, including some wise words from Hammon that are far more important than anything that transpired on the floor.
"I just think it's important for society that women by rewarded for their brains just as much as any guy. Any people that have a young girl, or a wife, or whatever, to me it's about the bigger picture. You want to make sure when your wife or your daughter goes in for a job interview, she gets the same opportunity as a guy gets. That's the bigger picture.
Whether it's basketball, or in the army, or in CEOs or in operating rooms, we want women there. I think statistics will tell you it does pay off to have a woman in the mix."
Who knows, maybe now that Gregg Popovich has committed to coach for the duration of his five-year contract, maybe that will prove to be too long of a wait for the top seat for assistant Ettore Messina, who's already 55-years-old himself and has a long, accomplished head coaching resume in Europe. It's not too much of a stretch to see Hammon truly become a pioneer as Pop's successor one day.
As far as the people in the uniforms were concerned, the game also marked the Spurs debut for Jonathon Simmons, whom the Spurs signed off Brooklyn's summer league roster to a two-year contract with the first year fully guaranteed. Simmons, who played for the Spurs D-League affiliate the past two seasons, definitely exceeded my expectations in his 23 minutes on the floor.
Frankly, this kid must have had some off-the-floor issue or a bad reputation in the locker room, because I'm completely baffled how someone with his size, length, athleticism and skill-set didn't get drafted at all coming out of Houston. You see so many second-round draft picks who can't play dead, and Simmons definitely passes the eye test at first glance.
First, the positives: He's a tenacious and rangy defender, albeit slightly over-aggressive. Negotiating screens didn't seem to be a problem though and Simmons didn't allow his guy to do much of anything all game until he finally conceded a drive late. Simmons rebounds well for his position and boxes out hard. I didn't really get a chance to see his footspeed in transition because he was always in the backcourt waiting for the ball.
Offensively, Simmons' dribble is a bit high and at times not tight enough to his body, but it's an above-average handle for his position. His crossover is okay, but his specialty seems to be a hesitation dribble move that's definitely quality. What really sets him apart is that he can do it with either hand and drive left just as fluidly as he does right. Another thing I noticed --and this isn't common-- is that he can take off with either foot. He tried to cram it on people a couple of times early in the game planting with his right foot and was fouled the first time and should've gotten a call on the second.
In the third quarter however, he seemed to catch "The Greek Freak" 's older brother by surprise by planting with his left foot. (h/t Chris Itz)
Yes, that'll do nicely.
I was disappointed I only got to see one catch-and-shoot three from Simmons, but hopefully we'll get to see a few more in these coming games.
Simmons was a willing and unselfish passer and you could tell he was a lot more comfortable back in the system he played at Austin. He's definitely the shoot-first type, but he didn't force anything until the fourth quarter, where he made a couple of bad decisions and maybe ran out of gas a bit.
Most importantly, Simmons does not look meek or tentative out there. He is unafraid to challenge people at the rim and he won't need to be told to take open shots. The "Big Three," explained in their "Champions Revealed" interview that people have to bust out of the box that Pop puts them in, and that shouldn't be an issue for Simmons.
Negatives: Unnecessary reach-in fouls and backdoor lay-ups allowed will likely be an issue for him early on. As a jumper, he really gets up there, but he's not what I'd call a "quick" leaper. It takes him a while to load up with his right. His release seems a bit inconsistent to me. His guide hand sometimes got underneath the ball right next to his shooting hand and on fadeaways he seems to bring the ball near his right ear instead of shooting it squarely. Chip Engelland may want to tweak a couple of things. He repeatedly hit the man in the opposite corner, though it remains to be seen if he has any other clubs in his bag as far as finding the dive man on the pick-and-roll or anything like that.
The only potential red flags I saw are questionable body language tics here and there, too much jawing with the refs and the exultation after the dunk. That won't go over with Pop, and it's worth noting that Hammon sat him right after that. An aggressive, fearless attitude is critical, but at the same time Simmons will have to realize quickly that defense is what will earn him minutes and that a high percentage of his looks will come off the catch and from downtown. He's not going to be allowed to dribble or mess around with the ball too much with the big club, especially early on, which is a shame because I really liked his hesitation move.
Aside from Simmons the only Spur who stood out, as one would expect, was last year's first-round pick Kyle Anderson. You have to understand San Antonio was facing something of a "loaded" summer league roster against the Knicks. A bunch of their guys, Langston Galloway, Travis Wear, Ricky Ledo and Cleanthony Early played in the NBA last season, and they had two top-20 picks on the floor as well in Porzingis and Jerian Grant. They also had their regular coach, Derek Fisher, which... okay that kind of ruins my point. Still, I was surprised the Spurs even stayed in the game, let alone led by nine with a little over seven minutes to go before the Knicks caught fire from outside.
I've been pretty critical of Anderson here, but I will admit there are two above-average tools he's developed as a scorer. His primary weapon on the drive is a floater, which he releases anywhere from 6-10 feet from the basket. He still front rims it too much, but he's getting better at it. His other go-to move is a solid head-fake, which he draws a lot of fouls with. (Oh, and he's very good from the charity stripe.)
Knicks announcers Mike Breen and Walt Frazier likened him to Paul Pierce, with his herky-jerky moves and "old man game," and I think that's a much better comp than the Boris Diaw one we threw out last season. Anderson has good floor vision as a passer, but it's not in Diaw's class, and he's too slender to operate in the low or high post. He tried a couple of moves against the Knicks and got rejected by Antetokounmpo. Trying to drive against Porzingis also proved disastrous. The Latvian rookie practically fed him the ball.
Anderson's jumper remains a work in progress and it remains to be seen if he can get it off against quality defenders. His dribble is not nearly as good as he thinks it is and he's been very clunky with it during Summer League, turning it over numerous times. He can't cross up or drive past anyone, but he simplified things against the Knicks. He has quickened his release on the jumper but his three-ball is by no means consistent yet.
Anderson cannot move laterally at all on defense and he has to play well off people to not get blown by, but he stuck to assignments well enough against the Knicks. One thing he's pretty adept at is using his long reach and timing to get steals. He's also well above-average for a wing as a rebounder, on both ends.
My concern with Anderson, as with Simmons, is that they won't get to play with the ball the way they're accustomed to in the D-League. With Pop, they have to be catch-and-shoot guys an not shot-creators. Can either excel in that role? Certainly you'd think Simmons would have more of a chance to, because of his defensive capabilities.
As for the other Spurs in summer league, it was a blah showing against the Knicks. Livio Jean-Charles is a physical defender and an athlete, but he has no offensive game to speak of. His jumper is broken and he can't dribble or even catch. He's a long-term project. Cady Lalanne's hands are even worse. They might be worse than Jeff Ayres' honestly. He's got a decent-looking stroke on his jumper, but his touch around the basket is poor, he's not very coordinated and balls have been clanging off his mitts more often than not whether it's potential rebounds or passes intended for him. My guess is he winds up in Austin.
Among the guys who aren't former Spurs draft picks, guard Dairis Bartans couldn't hit a thing against the Knicks but he's got decent mobility, a solid handle for a two guard and good floor vision. He's not a bad combo guard, but so-so in his own end. I wouldn't mind seeing him in Austin, but he'll probably go back overseas for much better money.
Will Cherry started at point guard and he actually played 69 minutes for the Cavs last season, and he was terrible tonight and hasn't impressed me at all in any of the games. Neither has Casper Ware, who started most of the games in Utah. The Spurs were actually a lot better with Shannon Scott, a rookie out of Ohio State, and he's somebody I will watch more closely. Brandon Davies is a stretch-four who's played for the Sixers and Nets the past two seasons. Treveon Graham showed some flashes in the Utah games but didn't get much playing time tonight.
Meanwhile, we should enjoy ridiculing the Knicks while we can because it's not going to last much longer. Porzingis, 19, is going to be a player in a year or two. He's 7-2, skilled, and nobody can challenge his shot. Grant is going to be a good two-way point guard and Early is a versatile, rugged scorer. They have a lot of young players worth watching over there. The only downers about the organization are the owner, the coach, the fossilized offensive system the team president insists they play and the millstone that is Carmelo Anthony. Their future looks far brighter than Brooklyn, Boston or Philadelphia from here.
Also, I really want Maurice N'dour to make the roster because of the Star Wars jokes.