Four Things To Watch In Nets Summer League Games
NBA Summer League games often have the feel of pickup runs at the park. You can expect a plethora of wild shot attempts, turnovers, and defensive breakdowns. In addition, what happens in Las Vegas often stays in Las Vegas, as Nets fans who went gaga over Cam Thomas’ co-MVP performance a year ago can attest. Thomas had a few moments of glory in the games that counted as a rookie but ended up playing less than a minute in Brooklyn’s four-game sweep by Boston in the first round of the playoffs.
Still, as the Nets prepare to transition away from a star-led culture with the inevitable departures of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, positive signs from some of the youngsters participating in this year’s made-for-NBATV event starting Friday night versus Milwaukee just might prove to be sustainable into the regular season.
In particular, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the following developments:
1) Kessler Edwards’ release
Fresh off a newly-signed two-year NBA contract after starting last season on a two-way deal, the Nets’ 2021 second-round pick should pick up his offensive production this go-round, as is often the case with returning Summer Leaguers who then saw extensive action in the Show. I’m less interested to see how he’s improved in areas like how he attacks close-outs or makes the right reads in help defense than I am in breaking down his three-point shot, which was erratic despite finishing last season with a league-average 35.3% efficiency. Three-and-D wings are all the rage in today’s NBA and the 6-foot 8 Edwards has the right body type to develop into a player who has a lengthy career. He had been receiving pointers from Nets assistant coach Kyle Korver, who possessed one of the NBA’s all-time greatest three-point shooting strokes, on his form, so the hope is that we’ll soon start to see the work bear fruit. I found Edwards’ release last season to be a little too low and a little too slow, and when the intensity picked up, you could tell by the wayward results that he wasn’t comfortable when rushed. Then he’d start missing the wide-open looks too. Still, there were stretches where he showed he was capable of going on hot streaks. If anything, Edwards should enter Vegas with supreme confidence in his abilities, so it should just be a matter of finding a quicker shooting rhythm that will allow for greater consistency.
2) What can Alondes Williams do?
Brooklyn’s newest two-way signing is the reigning ACC Player of the Year out of Wake Forest. Don’t get too excited—he’s 23 and didn’t break out until he transferred from Oklahoma prior to last season. He was literally a man against boys. Still, Williams is reputed to be a premier playmaker, an area where the Nets could be lacking depending on the returns from the trades of their stars. Can he get by in other areas, though, especially coming off a year where he shot 28% from the shorter collegiate three-point line? At 6-foot 5, 210 pounds, he should have the body to defend at the higher level, but the scouting reports on that end aren’t too kind. Despite displaying high-level athleticism when he has the ball in his hands, he has had issues staying in front of opposing ballhandlers. Maybe the urgency of his situation will light a fire under him and he’ll flash like David Duke Jr. did last year. Or maybe not.
3) Day’Ron Sharpe’s range
You have to believe that the Nets brass is looking at a bevy of options to boost their center position, as the only fives under contract are Nic Claxton and the undersized Sharpe. The 2021 first round pick (No. 29 overall) has an insatiable motor when it comes to hunting rebounds—on both ends—but his other skills trend mediocre. He was an absolute mess in pick-and-roll coverages and was a foul magnet. Per NBA.com, 14 of his 149 field goal attempts were blocked. Therefore, it will be helpful to Sharpe’s cause if he developed the ability to step back and knock down three-pointers off pick-and-pops—he made just 2-of-7 attempts from deep in his 32 appearances last season. Anytime you’re talking about running out a lineup with Ben Simmons as your lead guard, spacing is bound to be an issue. Claxton isn’t of much help with that, but Sharpe might have it in him. Sharpe always talks about how he plans to showcase that skill—well, show us.
4) Cam Thomas’ playmaking
It was easy to fall in love with Thomas’ game a year ago. It wasn’t just his explosive scoring—he was clutch. Unfortunately, what he was—and has pretty much always been—is a one-dimensional volume scorer. Sure, he could come back to Vegas and chuck up a shot off every touch and put up a boatload of points, but what good would that do? I’d rather he use the experience to advance to the next stage in his development—that of an all-around playmaker. It’s not that Thomas is a lousy passer; he just hasn’t been a very willing one. I’ll give you an example: Thomas and Durant shared the court for 347 minutes last season, per NBA.com. Want to know how many times KD scored off a Thomas assist? Eight. Meanwhile, Durant registered 17 assists on passes to Thomas. That seems backwards until you realize that Thomas has a lot to learn in terms of making the right basketball plays whereas KD is awesome. The underlying problem is that Thomas too often looks to pass as a last resort, which can lead to turnovers. We know you can score, Cam. Las Vegas is a great place to expand your game, among other things.