If you’re playing the Summer League, it means one of two things (possibly both):
You’re either a rookie acclimating to the professional ranks or a veteran proving he has a particular skill or role to play off the bench. Superstars rarely waste energy in the summer months.
While Mo Wagner may indeed become the next Dirk Nowitzki, Derrick Walton Jr. needs to show he can run an offense and Duncan Robinson needs to consistently hit threes. That’s the difference between watching them in the pros versus possibly reading about them on some team in southeast Lithuania — Vilnius is beautiful this time of year.
All three flashed pro potential yesterday in the final day of the Summer League’s California Classic. Walton and Robinson carried the starters in an 86-76 Heat victory over the hometown Kings, and Wagner earned a double-double in the Lakers’ 77-71 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
The former Michigan point guard dished out seven assists, facilitating some nasty dunks by Derrick Jones, Jr. in the process.
Also, this no look to Bam Adebayo.
Nice no-look pass from Derrick Walton Jr. to Bam for the slam pic.twitter.com/PAmI1uhTQO— Joseph Beguiristain (@JoeBeguiristain) July 5, 2018
Assists are nothing new for Walton this week. He totaled 20 assists over three games. The only difference between last night and the first two games is his shots started falling, too.
After making only 2-of-18 against the Warriors and Lakers, he canned his first two threes en route to 10 points. While he struggled at the rim — 1-for-6 on 2-pointers — getting the deep shot back will be vital to him locking down a roster spot somewhere.
Heat summer coach Eric Glass trusts him, but emphasizes his improvement on defense.
“I think you all have seen it the first three games,” he said to the Palm Beach Post. “He’s really taken a commitment. He wasn’t doing that stuff consistently all year and he’s really taken it upon himself to take the challenge on that end. And he’s battling his butt off.”
Duncan Robinson continued his scorching ways from beyond the arc. After only three points in the opener, he canned 9-of-13 threes the next two games, including a 4-for-7 outing last night.
The former Williams College transfer is earning rave reviews for his on-court IQ and range. Erik Spoelstra has utilized 3-point specialists in the past, most notably during the 2013 title year with James Jones and Mike Miller.
Lastly, Wagner rebounded from an inconsistent performance on July 3 for an efficient double-double. In only 20 minutes, he scored 13 points on 10 attempts and snared 13 boards.
He also flashed other skills, including a sequence where he lunged for a steal, led a fast-break and finished with a scintillating push pass to Svi Mykhailuk for the finish.
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In addition to the steal, he continued his aggressive defense with four blocks. As discussed previously, it’s very risk-reward. After fouling out against the Heat, he racked up five more fouls last night — 20 minutes divided by five is a foul every four minutes.
Another concern is he’s racking up turnovers. With four last night, he has coughed the ball up 11 times in the three games in Sacramento. Most of them occurred as he lost control in the lane.
The fix is either adjusting to the quicker hands of the NBA or learning to abort ill-fated crusades towards the basket with some contingency plan — a kick out, a drag dribble, etc.
The Heat resume Summer League play in Las Vegas on Saturday against the Pelicans (NBA TV, 3 p.m. EST). The Lakers get a primetime ESPN game against a Joel Embiid-less 76ers.
Fellow Wolverines Caris Levert and D.J. Wilson start Summer League play today. Levert and the Nets face the Magic (NBA TV, 5 p.m.), while Wilson and the Bucks follow that up against the Pistons (NBA TV, 7 p.m.).
Former Wolverines Tim Hardaway, Jr., Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III, Nick Stauskas, Ekpe Udoh and Jamal Crawford are sitting out.