Las Vegas Summer League is where legends are prematurely anointed and where disappointments are buried even quicker. The sample of games the players play may not correlate to actual successes or failures in the actual league, but rendering snapshot judgments is fun, even irresistible.
There’s a glaring problem there, though: Roster construction and team role are always starkly different from what appears on opening night of the NBA season. Summer league is an invaluable event to measure a player’s ability to learn and adjust on the fly, but rarely is it painted with such subtle strokes.
For the Charlotte Bobcats, the distinction between July and October is rather fine. The Bobcats’ summer league squad might be as close as it gets to the real thing. Down the stretch of their 86-80 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, the Bobcats had four key rotation players (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Jeff Taylor and Bismack Biyombo) in the game. This is highly unusual for a summer league team, which is generally composed of a single first-rounder, maybe a returning second-year player and a supporting cast recruited from the D-League and Europe. The team’s newly appointed head coach, Steve Clifford, was at the controls -- also unusual, as most teams assign the task of coaching summer league to an assistant.
Finding offensive potential in the team’s youth should be a top priority. Charlotte ranked in the bottom three in offensive efficiency last season, and is desperate for a few of their young cornerstones to emerge as viable options. At the fore of all this for Charlotte is Kidd-Gilchrist. The second-year forward had miserable results shooting anywhere outside of the restricted area during his rookie season. He’s working with Bobcats shooting coach Mark Price, whom the Cats hope will be the miracle worker to take Kidd-Gilchrist’s percentages to acceptable levels.
On Sunday, Kidd-Gilchrist shot a judicious 4-for-4 from the field in the Bobcats’ 86-80 win over the Dallas Mavericks. He wasn’t quite working with picturesque form, but looked a little more confident and comfortable with his release.
Among other developments: a new routine at the free throw line. Last year, Kidd-Gilchrist, a decent, but flawed free throw shooter, shot the ball on his very tips of his toes, almost causing him to leave the ground with both feet. Here in Las Vegas, that extra bit of elevation has morphed into a full-blown hop on his free throw. It’s highly unusual, but it’s staying.
“I think it’s something new,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I’ll just keep on doing it. I’m just comfortable with it, and that’s why I go from there.”
Perhaps he should be getting lessons from Cody Zeller, who shot 9-for-9 from the line in his eye-opening 21-point, 13-rebound performance. A big man who can convert free throws at a high clip is rare, and this should instill confidence in Zeller’s capacity to be on the floor late in games. He’s already the most versatile big man the Bobcats have on the roster with his ability to make straight-line drives, his athleticism and his comfort in the pick-and-pop game.
Bismack Biyombo, who is going into his third season in the league, is far more troubling. Biyombo’s first shot attempt came in the fourth quarter. It was a baseline fadeaway. It barely grazed the rim, if at all.
By putting so many of their key pieces to heavy use, the Bobcats have more on the line at Vegas than just about any other team competing. Summer league will always offer a distorted view of the future, but with such a large contingent of their core on the court and roaming the sidelines, what we see of the Bobcats in Vegas might actually be what we get.