Portland Trail Blazers’ Arnett Moultrie goes up for a shot against Minnesota Timberwolves Adreian Payne, left, and Minnesota Timberwolves C.J. Williams, right, during the second half of an NBA summer league basketball game Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
The NBA Summer League is all about vision and the future. With participating teams stocked full of rookies, early NBA players and dispersed veterans just trying to land a roster spot, summer play doesn’t make or break a ball club’s future but it’s a pretty accurate gauge of incoming talent and who’s next in line for stardom. Play has been solid so far despite the pressure on the incoming rookies to up their games and showcase their NBA-level skills. With summer play set to conclude on July 20, the AFRO Sports Desk decided to conclude their two-week review on which team has shown the most promise over the early weeks of July. Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate who the next top ball club could be.
Riley: I was secretly hoping the Minnesota Timberwolves would’ve taken the cover off of sophomore forward Andrew Wiggins and added him to the collection of fine talent that the club has quickly amassed over the last two seasons. Minnesota opened summer league play with sophomores Zach LaVine and Adreian Payne and rookies Tyus Jones and Karl-Anthony Towns setting the stage for the most impressive club in Las Vegas. Minnesota is now locked and loaded with prime time talent and they’re going to be a team to watch as the seasons go on. Wiggins wasn’t the only young Minnesota player to get shelved as center Gorgui Dieng and swingman Shabazz Muhammad only practiced with the team during mini-camp but didn’t suit up for the summer. It didn’t matter, as the club’s young foursome showed that it will definitely be a force to be reckoned with as the quartet matures. Towns’ ability to shoot from range, post, rebound and block shots was on full display while LaVine’s early domination in only two games (22 points, 7.5 rebounds per game) was enough for the Timberwolves’ brass to sit him the remainder of the tournament. And don’t forget that 2010 draftee Nemanja Bjelica will finally join the team this season and he’s fresh off winning MVP of the Euroleague last year. Look out for Minnesota.
Green: The Los Angeles Lakers have been flat out horrible over the past few regular seasons but their summer season team was really good in 2015. Sophomores Julius Randle and the surprising Jordan Clarkson make for a nice point guard/big man combo while the draft’s No. 2 overall pick, D’Angelo Russell displayed the poise of a big league baller. Russell didn’t shoot well at all over the last two weeks, but the talent is definitely there. Russell’s shot will fall eventually as he develops as a shooter, but his defense, passing and moxie are already NBA-ready. Randle showed some rust as he arrives back from a broken leg but his rugged and tough play in the post will only get better as he gets more comfortable. Clarkson might be ready to rip up the league as he showed some further polish after a terrific rookie season. At 6-foot-5, Jordan can handle the ball, shoot it and dunk with ease. He’ll be a terrific fit alongside Russell and Kobe Bryant next season. The Lakers are on the road back.
Riley: If this is coming down to which team will arrive the soonest then hands down it has to be Minnesota. The Wolves already have an established point guard/center combination in Ricky Rubio and Nikola Peković who have been pretty good for Minnesota so far. Now, when you sprinkle in contributions from the rest of the roster the Timberwolves have a chance to be one of the youngest and deepest rosters in the Association. Another year with famed veteran Kevin Garnett barking commands and breathing life into the youngsters won’t hurt at all, and we still don’t know if 2013 top overall draft pick Anthony Bennett will ever become a player or not. He could be the wildcard for a young Minnesota team because if he ever becomes half the player that he was drafted to be then Christmas will definitely come early for the T-Wolves.
Green: Minnesota definitely has the assortment of talented bodies to boast about a bright future, but all the Lakers needed was a couple of young pieces to build around. The allure of the Lakers’ legacy as well as beautiful Los Angeles will always be enough to position the team as players in the free agency market. Their three-way core with Clarkson, Russell and Randle will be enough to motivate Bryant into having some patience, but the core should be talented enough for the Lakers to creep back to respectability. Minnesota just doesn’t have the history of success like L.A. does and you can’t ignore L.A.’s penchant for making splashes in free agency. The Lakers may not have the roster right now that makes you gush about them, but their core, prestige and ability to attract free agents should make them a major player sooner than the Timberwolves.