Five summer league impressions
LAS VEGAS -- Five thoughts from Vegas and my 2008 All-Summer League team as I prepare to enter week two in Hell's playground.
1. Jerryd Bayless is the real deal
I know, I know -- summer league statistics need to be taken with an entire box of salt. I'm still smarting over Marco Belinelli following a 22.8-points-per-game performance in the 2007 summer league with a 2.9-point regular season with the Warriors. But by all accounts, Bayless, the dynamic Trail Blazers guard, is legit.
Showing uncanny explosiveness, Bayless averaged 27.7 points in four games, knocking down an absurd 44 out of 55 free throws on his way to winning the award for the league's top rookie handily.
"He's got a lot of talent," an Eastern Conference personnel executive said. "He plays a little for himself, which makes me wonder whether he can be a true point guard. But he is going to be a very good player."
Bayless' ability to pick up the point guard position will be worth watching. "He's going to have to work on [playing point guard] a little bit," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. "He can score; that's his mentality. But we need him to do more. He has to be able to set [the offense] up and create opportunities."
The Blazers will show patience with Bayless. McMillan said incumbent Steve Blake will be the opening-night starter and Bayless will have to battle for minutes with third-year playmaker Sergio Rodriguez and Rudy Fernandez, a 6-foot-6 combo guard who is coming over from Europe after spending the last seven seasons playing in the elite Spanish ACB League.
Bayless, however, may have something to say about that.
"I think it's [an open competition]," Bayless said. "Obviously, we're teammates and you have to keep a positive attitude, but when we're out on the court everyone is going to compete."
McMillan said the door is wide open for Bayless to play a significant role this season. The Blazers' coach can envision a Bayless-Blake backcourt -- "We could play some zone there," McMillan suggested -- and said that if Bayless can fill it up like he did at Arizona (19.7 points as a freshman), he has no problem leaving him on the floor.
"Even though we want him to play point guard, we need him to score," McMillan said. "Jerryd will have to work for minutes, but if he can help us win, he'll play. That's just the way I coach."
2. Still no love for Love
If you read this space regularly -- and I know there are at least three of you -- you know that I am not a member of the Kevin Love Fan Club. It's not that I don't see him having a long NBA career; in fact, I think Love can be a serviceable forward for the next 10-12 years. But when you are taken with the fifth pick in the draft (and traded for a potential star like O.J. Mayo), you are expected to be more than a more skilled Bryant Reeves.
Statistically speaking, Love acquitted himself well in Las Vegas: In four games, he averaged 18 points and a league-best 13.5 rebounds. He was unquestionably one of the most skilled players on the floor and at times showcased a well-placed mean streak. But dominating Lorenzo Mata-Real is a lot different than picking apart Tim Duncan.
"You see all those pump fakes?" an Eastern Conference coach said. "He can do that against this competition. But he tries that [stuff] against Duncan or [Kevin] Garnett and it's going nowhere. At the end of the day, you have to remember he's a 6-8 guy who plays below the rim."
Here's something more disconcerting: Love is considered by some to be a major injury waiting to happen. An NBA front-office source with a team who worked out Love described him as a "train wreck" physically, pointing to his surgically repaired knee as the biggest point of concern.
Then there is the question of Love's weight. Several league sources I talked to expressed concern that Love, who dropped 15 pounds and reduced his body fat from 15-16 percent to 11-12 percent in the months leading up to the NBA draft, will put that weight back on once the regular season starts.