Does the NBA Summer League mean anything for the Bucks?
The Milwaukee Bucks wrapped up NBA Summer League play this weekend in Las Vegas, five games of ball designed to get rookies Doron Lamb and John Henson some tutoring under assistant Jim Boylan and youngsters Tobias Harris and Larry Sanders some much needed court time.
In those games, all performed reasonably well – most notably the 6-foot, 8-inch Harris, who was named to the Summer League All-Star team.
A rookie last season who did not get the advantage of playing in summer league games due to the lockout, Harris just turned 20. He played in just 11.4 minutes per game last season, if his development is legitimate, he could be the big wing player the Bucks seem to be lacking.
Sanders is entering his third year this season, and has begun to establish himself as an elite rim-protector. If he were to have averaged starter's minutes (36) last season, the 6-foot, 11-inch forward would have posted 4.3 blocks and 9 rebounds per game.
He was sent to the summer league however to work on a limited offensive game that, for now, consists primarily of dunks and easy put-backs.
As for Henson and Lamb, it was a good chance to get their feet wet against lower level NBA-level competition and to start to learn the Bucks' offensive and defensive sets. Lamb, drafted for his shooting prowess, did not disappoint. And after overcoming an early stomach illness, Henson also flashed some skill at the offensive end to earn All-Star honors.
The performance of these four begs the question – what will it mean for the Bucks this season?
When the year ended, head coach Scott Skiles said the team would be dependent on each player getting better this summer. If that happened, he felt the team would be a of a playoff caliber.
Is this evidence of improvement on the part of Harris and Sanders? Is it a glimpse into what Lamb and Henson could be?
Let's put the rookies aside – it's impossible to predict right now. Most summer league rosters are full of fellow rookies or roster fillers. We'll get a better idea about them once training camp begins and pre-season games begin.
Harris and Sanders were the key to the Bucks summer plans. They should be dominating the summer league, but the results were mixed.
Let's start with Sanders.
The team wanted to see if he could take the next step into being a legitimate power forward. His athleticism makes him a matchup nightmare for nearly every power forward in the league, if he proves he can create space and occasionally hit a mid-range jump shot. You can make a living off pick and rolls and lobs from Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, but the Bucks want to see if he can be something more than a defensive replacement. Unfortunately, despite starting, he wasn't able to establish himself on the offensive end.
Sanders didn't play in Game 3 or Game 5. In between he put up a double-double in Game 4 against Boston with 11 points and 15 rebounds.
Harris, on other hand, was a revelation.
He assumed a scorer's mentality, beginning with a 19-point game that was followed up with a 20-point, 12-rebound effort in the second game and 21 and 11 in the third. He added another 20-point performance against Boston before ending the league with 18 points against Chicago.
The Bucks have two legitimate scoring threats in Jennings and Ellis, and are clearly banking on Ersan Ilyasova to continue his upward trajectory following a 13-point, 8.8-rebound per game season, but they are missing a big body that isn't afraid to go inside to score, but also can knock down jumpers.
Harris, who essentially moved into the Cousins Center as soon as the season ended, may be that player.
Right now, all four players who participated in the summer league are starting the season on the bench with a probable starting lineup of Jennings, Ellis, Ilyasova, Drew Gooden and Samuel Dalembert. The Bucks passed on using the amnesty clause on Beno Udrih or Gooden, meaning Lamb will enter camp as the fourth or fifth guard, depending on how Mike Dunleavy is utilized.
Harris, Sanders and Henson will be trying to find front court minutes, along with Ekpe Udoh and Luc Mbah Moute.
Skiles and general manager John Hammond have insisted they like the current group of players and don't mind the logjam at power forward. But that logjam bleeds over to the small forward position as well, especially since Ilysova isn't a traditional low post presence.
Mbah a Moute is considered an elite defender, but he's not a scoring threat. Neither is Dalembert. Gooden has the most effective jumper of the power forwards, but he is just a career 12-point per game scorer and will be 32 in October.
What the summer workouts and games have showed is that Harris warrants a real shot at either starting at small forward, or at least being the first or second option off the bench. Sanders, however, may have hurt his chances at earning a legitimate shot to leap over Udoh, Gooden or Henson.
Much can change between now and the start of training camp in the fall, but the summer league has proven helpful to the Bucks in determining a game plan going forward with this current roster.
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