The Las Vegas Summer League concluded July 17, with the Los Angeles Lakers emerging victorious. (SUMMER LEAGUE CHAMPS 2K17) Laker rookie Kyle Kuzma shined in the Championship game and Lonzo Ball dazzled throughout the week. Without any big-time rookies playing, the spotlight was not on the Brooklyn Nets in Sin City. (That lack of spotlight could be a recurring theme throughout the season.) But still, the Nets played several key rotation players throughout Summer League’s five games.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Caris LeVert, Isaiah Whitehead, Spencer Dinwiddie and Archie Goodwin all played major minutes for the Nets Summer League squad – and may see increased minutes in the 2017-18 season. These were the key players featured throughout the eight-day Summer League stint. With Kenny Atkinson coaching the team, some principles seen in July could carry over to the 82-game grind.
Here are some observations from the Brooklyn Nets Summer League that may show the direction of the Nets in 2017-18.
Much has been made of the Nets’ offensive evolution under coach Kenny Atkinson. The shots came from deep, the offense flew fast, and the ball was kept moving. But the Nets’ post-All Star Game turnaround was spurred by great defense. That carried over to Las Vegas – at some points. The Brooklyn Nets held opponents to below 40 percent shooting in three of five games, including a 95-66 win against the New Orleans Pelicans.
When the Nets’ defense was clicking, it was lethal. The Nets caused several shot clock violations due to their airtight D at some junctures. The position-less combinations of Dinwiddie, LeVert, Hollis-Jefferson, Goodwin, Whitehead and Jacob Wiley switched fluidly on defense. They rebounded and rotated smoothly, often clogging up the lane and preventing crisp ball movement. I know, Summer League has a reputation for being glorified pick up. But the Brooklyn Nets looked like a well-oiled defensive machine several times.
Both the Nets’ Summer League and regular season roster is littered with guards. The Nets’ best and most experienced Summer League players shined from the guard spots. Whitehead brought The Cyclone to Las Vegas. Dinwiddie continued to be consistent. Goodwin played aggressively. LeVert showed assertiveness. The Nets roster carryovers carried the brunt of the team’s scoring load. Offensive sets were catered to guards either shooting from the perimeter or driving to the basket. Big men were often used as chess pieces to get guards open, rather than as spotlighted players.
Even some non-roster guards showed signs of life. Jeremy Senglin, the Weber State scoring guard, showed a quick, consistent perimeter stroke. Senglin thrived off of the penetration of the Nets’ veteran guards. He was not shy from the three point line, shooting 42.9 percent on 6-of-14 shooting. He may be undersized, but the Nets could use an injection of shooting.
After not playing the first two games, Milton Doyle really impressed. His staccato dribbles and smooth drives to the basket definitely opened eyes for commentators and fans alike. Doyle, a bit older of a prospect, was originally a Kansas commit before transferring to Loyola Chicago for his collegiate career. Almost similar to LeVert, Doyle projects as a playmaker from the wing. Both Doyle and Senglin may see training camp invites and could be candidates for the second two-way contract for the Brooklyn Nets. In a post-Brook Lopez world, the Nets could turn to Brooklyn’s (new) backcourt for future success.
Up and Down RHJ
While the Brooklyn Nets did not focus too heavily on play from their big men, some of the Nets bigs showed some nice skills. That starts with Hollis-Jefferson. Heading into his third year, Hollis-Jefferson still has some key areas of improvement – namely his shot and discipline. Hollis-Jefferson did show a solid perimeter jumper at times, mostly as a spot up shooter. Shooting off the dribble, his shot did not look as crisp. RHJ did show more comfort as a defender in the paint, with an ability to switch out to the perimeter at times. However, his perimeter defense eroded, especially in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers. He allowed Kuzma to score 26 points, often biting too hard on fakes.
Diamonds in the Rough
Three Nets Summer League bigs, Jacob Wiley, Nathan Boothe and Vincent Poirier showed promise as well. Both were not major scoring threats but did enough to garner some future interest. Wiley, an explosive, but undersized forward, showed nice hustle and versatility on defense. He played more as a center in a souped up Eastern Washington system but played more as a center. He looked a little uncomfortable around the perimeter but played tough on the offensive boards and as a roll man. Wiley was rumored to be a Nets two-way contract player, but his future is still uncertain.
Poirier, the French traditional center, essentially fulfilled the “role player” slot well. He rebounded and boxed out well, snagging 11 rebounds in 15 minutes against the Pelicans. Poirier set screens well, opening up the lane for the Nets to penetrate. He rotated well on defense and was an intimidating protector at the rim. Poirier may have only scored five total points in five games, but his role as an interior presence on both ends was promising.
Boothe may have been the most impressive Nets Summer League player not on the current roster. After spending last season in Italy, Boothe stretched the floor for the Summer Nets in July. Boothe showed a diverse range of skills. He was an ideal floor spacing big, earning the respect of defenses with a deadly perimeter shot. Boothe played his way onto the Nets’ starting lineup, replacing Prince Ibeh. The Toledo product also played smart, making the right passes at times and playing defense instinctively. Unfortunately, Boothe has signed with Sakarya of Turkey for the 2017-18 season. Oh well.
It’s About Progress for the Brooklyn Nets
While the Summer League Brooklyn Nets shined at times, the team is still a work in progress. At several points, the offensive flow struggled to generate an open shot, with some plays breaking down to one-on-one. Even the Nets’ best players showed areas of improvement. Goodwin, LeVert and Hollis-Jefferson struggled from the perimeter for several games. Whitehead and Dinwiddie struggled to finish at the rim at times. These struggles will need to be worked on leading up to the season opener in October.
The Nets’ defense fell apart in the team’s final game against the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Ball and Kuzma. Brooklyn’s 115-110 loss to the Lakers was by far its worst defensive performance of the game. The team showed a lack of discipline, often biting on fakes and failing to rotate. The paint was left open way too many times after an initial breakdown. The Nets’ perimeter defense crumbled when faced with passing and spacing. The lack of attention prompted Jeff Van Gundy, color commentator for the game, to lament how poorly defense was being played.
But yes, it’s Summer League. It’s about improvement and progress. The Brooklyn Nets went to Las Vegas to show improvement. With coach Atkinson on the sideline, the Summer Nets learned experientially. With Summer League in the books, the focus has shifted to the season. The Brooklyn Nets will look to progress further for success in 2017-18.