Four games into Summer League action, the Warriors—NBA Champions and, yes, your California Classic Summer League Champions—are undefeated. Last night they beat the Los Angeles Clippers thanks to a clutch game-clinching behind-the-back dribble pull-up three-point shot by Josh Magette out of Division 2 Alabama Huntsville. Willie Green said back in Sacramento a few days before that Magette is a player the entire team loves playing with because of his competitive spirit, the way he involves his teammates, and his ability to hit shots. Magette finished the game with 10 points and 4 assists. Kendrick Nunn, as he did in the first game of Summer League, led all Warriors scoring with 18 points. He also had 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. Jordan Bell, who has been the Warriors best performer this summer filled the stat sheet with 11 rebounds, 6 points, 5 assists, 3 blocked shots, and 2 steals. Damien Jones chipped in 9 points and 3 boards, and Marcus Derrickson, for the second game in a row, was productive with 9 points and 5 rebounds. Below is a mid-summer league report card for the key players on the Warriors squad, but first an update on free agency.
Cousins Signs and Jerebko Commits
Demarcus Cousins arrived in Vegas and signed his one year contract with the Warriors. Wisely, he pushed back the timetable on his recovery and availability, stating that he would work with the Warriors and their training staff to decide when the best time for his return would be. In his meetings with reporters, he expressed an excitement to be on the team and to earn a chance to win a championship, every NBA player’s aspiration. He also made it clear that he was willing to work within the Warriors' system and be willing to sacrifice shots for teammates. Steve Kerr spoke with Cousins about this before he signed, and made it clear that there would times where the Warriors would feed Curry and Durant on several possessions in a row, and Cousins would not get as many touches or shots on some nights. But Kerr also was clear that Cousins would be the Warriors starter, and he practically salivated at the idea of having a center who can consistently score in the low block while also setting up in the high post and distributing as a triple threat from there. He suggested that the Warriors will go back to running some of the action they had in place when Andrew Bogut was on the team. This makes sense as they are both tremendous facilitators. The difference this time will be, the center will be able to consistently bang shots from between the elbow and the top of the key. The only minor concern is that Kevin Durant likes to operate there as well, though he gets there off the pick and roll, while Cousins will be setting up there and receiving the entry pass. They will have to take turns leasing that real estate. In one of the interviews yesterday, a reporter asked him how the free agent process went for him, and he responded by asking the reporter if he had ever been unemployed? Clearly, Cousins experienced high anxiety during the process, and his emotions seem to range from relief to humbled to resentful. Before the free agency period started, this kind of disappointment and sense of rejection was predictable. There is a scarcity of cap space around the league, and players were set up for disappointment while teams were extremely limited in what they could do. Free agents have felt spurned and betrayed and you could see it in their responses. According to Jonathan Feigen, Trevor Ariza expressed this sentiment. "Phoenix was the most aggressive team and the team that showed the most interest in me,” said Ariza. “We all want to feel appreciated and wanted. When a team shows that much appreciation for what you do, naturally you are attracted to something like that." Ariza is implicitly sharing that the Rockets didn't appreciate him. Zach Levine also initially felt rejected by the Bulls when Sacramento was the first to offer him the kind of contract he was looking for. According to Mark Spears, LeVine said, “I'm disappointed that I had to get an offer sheet from another team. But Sacramento stepped up and made a strong impression. It appears that Sacramento wants me more than Chicago." Though the Bulls proved him wrong, LaVine’s comments are indicative of the free agent landscape this summer. While the environment has proven to be disadvantageous to many free agents, it has proven to be a boon for the Warriors. The Warriors have been able to leverage their appeal to get an All Star in Cousins for pennies on the dollar. And they were able to re-sign a very good reserve in Kevon Looney for outstanding value. Boogie is the victim of a devastating injury and a tight free agent market, but the chance to play with a historically great team with a strong culture and very possibly win a ring is one hell of a silver lining for him.
For the Warriors, this not only makes them an even better team but it also gives them a new angle and a sharper edge that will help them cut through the mundane regular season slog with a little more focus and engagement.
In addition to signing Cousins, news came over twitter that Jonas Jerebko plans to sign a contract with the Warriors once he clears waivers. Jerebko is a stretch 4, who at 6’10” averaged 5.8 points per game on 46.6% shooting (36.3% from 3 point range) in 15.3 minutes per game for the Jazz last season. He’s another three-point threat off the bench, and he takes the Warriors 13th roster spot. The Warriors have two more spots available. They may use one to resign Patrick McCaw if he accepts their offer. Kendrick Nunn who has played well for the Warriors summer league squad and has a contract through camp in October might be another consideration for the 14th spot. The Warriors may put him on a two-way contract. They are expected to keep open the 15th spot to start the season. This indicates that the Warriors will not be bringing back David West and Zaza Pachulia. Both veterans were key contributors to the Warriors success on and off the court, and they will be missed. They were an important part of the Warriors' toughness on the court and culture in the locker room. It will be up to Jordan Bell and Demarcus Cousins to replace their grit and toughness. Besides Draymond Green, the Warriors could always count on Zaza and West to be enforcers.
Indoctrination and Branding
Summer League is a place where the Warriors carefully brand and indoctrinate prospects and draftees. Of course, every organization does this, and with the Warriors, the ideals and values of the organization become clear right away when you hear what the players have to say about the experience and see how they play and behave on the court. Each of the players interviewed so far has expressed the Warriors preach defense-first, working for the best shot, not just a good one, and making the simple play. Summer League coach, Willie Green, clearly expressed what they are doing with the players. “I think we’re tremendously blessed as a staff,” said Green. “Coming into summer league you’re [players] trying to prove yourself go away from the offense and try to get your own, but we’re trying to convince guys that the way you look good is we do it together. We move the ball and we keep the game simple. If you’re open take the shot and if not dribble, pass it and cut. That’s the way we play.” Jacob Evans said that defense is ingrained and central to what they do in practices. “Coach [Willie Green] preaches that we are going to play off our defense,” said Evans. “We get stops and get in transition it makes the game a lot easier.”
Marcus Derrickson echoes Evans. “We’ve been playing a lot of defense,” said Derrickson. “That’s been the point of emphasis starting camp. We have high expectations and we make it a point to play good defense, making hustle plays, talking [communicating], and playing together…You have to play defense to play for [Willie Green]. You have to be intense and talk constantly, share the ball, make the right reads, make the extra passes, play the game the right way.”
Jordan Bell has moved the needle in summer league as much as any player. Bell has not lit up the scoreboards, but he has been a consistent playmaker on the floor, and he has led the Warriors defensive efforts. Summer League play is sporadic. You don’t usually find a lot of coherent play on the court as players are playing together for the first time and haven’t established any chemistry. But Bell has given the Warriors chemistry and has established a tone. When Bell is in the game two things happen: 1) the paint gets clogged and the Warriors become very difficult to score on, and 2) the offense flows with Bell acting as point center. Certainly, Magette has been the point guard handling the ball on most possessions, and Kendrick Nunn and Jacob Evans have also done a lot of ball handling, but Bell has been the key ball mover. Wherever he gets the ball, whether it be in the high post or down in the block he is finding cutters or hitting open shooters on the wing. While he has looked for his shot more than he did last season with the big league team, he is still looking to facilitate first and shoot second. He has also been a catalyst on the fast break, making sure that once the Warriors get the defensive board the ball is pushed up fast in transition. There have many times where he has initiated the break off the rebound pushing the ball up fast and getting it players who have released ahead of him. On one play last night he grabbed the board and went coast to coast finishing with a strong flush. He has been a strong outlet passer as well.
On defense, he has clogged the paint and dominated there on defense. He is making blocks all over the floor: at the rim on dunks, closing out on shooters or players driving to the basket, coming from the weakside, and chasing down opponents on the break. His bursts of speed all over the court have really stood out. He’s able to get to spots quickly and make some game-changing plays. His defense has led the team and is probably the biggest reason the Warriors are 4-0 in Summer League action so far. The best example of this came in game 2 of the California Classic when he and Damian Jones held a very good Kings front line of Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles III to 5 for 25 shooting. In the four games, Bell has been orchestrating inside the key, acting like a linebacker scanning the field right before the hike and making split-second reads and decisions on the offense. His speed and reaction have been deadly. The game has slowed down for Bell, and his experience and confidence are elevated.
Finally, Bell has improved his jump shot. While Bell will never be a go-to option for the Warriors on offense, it’s very important for him to be a threat to score when he gets the ball. Many times in the regular season Bell would pass up shots the Warriors needed him to take. That is why he has been working with coaches this summer on his shot and using Summer League to fire them up. He has done that and the results have been promising. Jordan Bell has made "cash considerations" a bad pair of words in the NBA.
Warriors first round draft pick Jacob Evans has not made a huge splash in Summer League, but he wasn’t expected to. If he were not the Warriors first round pick, to be honest, I am not sure he would be noticed. But when watching him closely, one can see what he brings to the team. He does not have any weakness on the floor. He makes plays all over the court, and he has a strong sense of where to be on defense. He’s a very springy player and he doesn’t give up on plays. He also makes solid decisions on the floor moving the ball well, passing quickly out of double teams, cutting to the basket, and reading what the other team is going to do on offense well. Like Bell, he has been sagging off his man and defending the whole court. The only negative has been his low percentage on the 3 point shot. He may have to adjust to the NBA's long distance.
Willie Green spoke of Evan’s acumen. “He’s a knowledgeable kid on the floor,” said Green. “He can pick up things fairly easily. He has great timing and is a really good defender. He’s young with a lot of upside.” Teammate Marcus Derrickson said something that spoke volumes about Evan’s potential. “You wouldn’t even know he’s a rookie, especially in training camp,” said Derrickson. “He looks like a vet out there. You know, talking to us, telling us where to go. Constantly picking us up, [and encouraging us to] bring energy. It’s like he already knows what it’s like to be a Warrior."
Kendrick Nunn has been the Warriors most reliable scorer. No one on the Warriors has filled it up like Nunn this summer. He’s a natural scorer, and he scores well on the catch-and-shoot as well as off the dribble. Nunn is smooth and gets to the basket effortlessly and has the balance and good hands to finish in traffic. Known as a shooter out of college, he is a surprisingly good passer. While he is not shy about shooting the ball, he is a willing passer and feeds guys who are moving and cutting. He has created a lot of easy shots at the rim for his teammates by driving into the lane and finding them at the basket. The Warriors have one spot left, and it looks like that spot will be given to either Patrick McCaw or Nunn. Of course, the Warriors can always sign Nunn to a two-way contract and stash him in the G-league. But they don’t want to fill their 15th roster spot at this time. One thing is fairly certain: another NBA team will come calling for Nunn if they don’t sign him beyond camp.
Damian Jones has had a fairly good summer league, but he has not been consistent. Some games he seems to fade, while others like last night’s and the game against Sacramento he is more assertive and engaged. The biggest concern right now is Jones’ defense. If he has to switch onto a guard or wing he hasn’t proven he can stop them. Away from the basket, he struggles. At the basket, he has been strong, blocking shots and making it hard on opposing centers to score. On offense, he is explosive when he gets his feet set. He had a very nice reverse layup in traffic yesterday, and the Warriors hope to see more of that this summer.
Marcus Derrickson, the undrafted forward/center out of Georgetown has had a very good summer league. He is active and assertive and he has been able to score out to the 3 point line and in the paint with good moves. He rebounds well too. He has been one of the Warriors' most efficient players so far. Derrickson is a player who could be picked up by another team at the end of Summer League.
Coach Willie Green
Finally, Willie Green has been doing a very good job. The soft-spoken coach has the respect of his players. Nunn said of Green, “He’s a great coach. He’ll motivate you. He helped me transition to the point guard position. He’s helped me be more vocal and get guys organized.” Green has been able to get the players to accept their roles and do what he’s asked of them. He is very pleased with his squad and has been careful not to assess them in front of the media in a way that would show favor.
The Warriors have two more games before the Vegas Summer League playoffs start. Their next games are Sunday at 4:30 pm (ESPN2) and Monday at 4:30 pm (NBA TV). If you’ve never been to Summer League, I highly recommend it. You get close to the action and you get up close to every level of the NBA community. It’s really a hoop junkie’s paradise.
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