1. Williams Starting To Reach His Goals
If you were to fill out a checklist of what you want to accomplish, what would you jot down on that piece of paper?
Maybe you'd hit the gym and lose a little weight?
Perhaps you'd decide to build a raised garden bed in your backyard or fix that shaky fence, which is always in danger of blowing over during a big storm.
But if you are an undrafted D-League player and have dreams of turning your lifelong passion into a life-changing career, your list is going to look a lot different.
Reggie Williams started putting together a checklist of goals and future accomplishments during his junior year at Virginia Military Institute -- roughly 170 miles from his hometown of Prince George, Va. -- and taking that piece of paper everywhere he went. It was the idea of VMI alum Jerry Acuff, a motivational speaker.
For Williams, it was the perfect tool to help him stay focused and work toward every dream he ever wanted to come true. The checklist has both long-term and short-term goals many have doubted he could accomplish. But he's been able to use his tireless work ethic, motivation from his friends, family and teammates, along with his previous experiences to secure himself a spot on an NBA roster.
As he finished his third summer league season Thursday afternoon in Las Vegas, Williams was able to draw on the experience of going through "Hell Week" as a freshman at VMI -- the only college to offer him a basketball scholarship.
"VMI makes you grow up immediately," Williams said with a certain hint of exhaustion. "It's one of those things you can't explain. The Hell Week they put you through is the worst time of your life."
It consisted of waking up at 5 or 6 in the morning and working harder than you ever imagined as a teenager. It continued until 11 p.m. without breaks. The ritual was designed to tear you down a little so you could be built back up into a more mature person. Williams took away a level of discipline that he remembers needing. Through exercises like Hell Week and the checklist, Williams now feels prepared for the process of building an NBA career out of essentially nothing.
Williams went undrafted after his four years at VMI, despite being the nation's leading scorer his junior and senior seasons. After spending a year in France, he joined the D-League last season. He played for the Sioux Falls Skyforce and put up 26.4 points per game on 57.6 percent shooting. He watched more than a dozen players get called up before he received his chance. But he never got discouraged enough to stop working for what was on that list. His teammate and roommate on the road, Leemire Goldwire, made sure to get him into the gym late at night when he felt too tired. He drew on the strength of his supporters to keep working on what he did well and what people said he couldn't do on the basketball court.
Once he secured his first 10-day contract from the Golden State Warriors and then a second, Williams took advantage of a roster short of players to secure his first real NBA contract. He was signed through the 2010-11 season, which allowed him to check "get an NBA contract" off his list. He was able to move on to smaller goals on the list, like averaging 16 points, five rebounds and four assists in his time in Oakland.
Williams came up a bit short of those goals -- 15.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists -- but now has more motivation to accomplish them next season while writing down more items on his list.
He's using this summer league experience to work on his defense and explosiveness going to his right with the ball. He's hoping to improve these aspects of his game in order to help get the Warriors to the playoffs and himself to the rookie-sophomore game. The long-term goal? Getting to his first All-Star Game.
"Even though it's hard, people also said I couldn't get to this point and I did it," Williams said.
If he can accomplish these things, it will lead to financial security in his next contract, which is an item on his list. He's hoping that checking off that item will allow him to own one or two businesses at the age of 24, then turn that into five or six entities by the time he turns 30. Those also are goals on his list.
Williams enjoys what he does in the present and feels very fortunate to be where he is. He recognizes the steps it has taken him to get to this point of his career and believes in the opportunities for guys like him who fall through the evaluating process. He makes sure to praise the D-League, and to thank Don Nelson and Larry Riley for giving him a chance. Without this chance, he wouldn't have his foot pushing through the doorway of a professional basketball career at the highest level.
"The D-League is a great tool to prepare you," Williams said, sporting an appreciative smile. "Now my foot isn't all the way in the door, but it's partly in there. I don't have to knock on the door for the next year. My first 10-day contract was getting my pinky toe in. The second one was getting two more toes in, and then when I got my contract for this coming season, I got the final two toes in. Now my foot is creeping through the door."
After scoring 18 points in the first half of his final summer league game, Williams finished with a scoring average of 22.6 points per game -- good for second behind J.J. Hickson as of Thursday. Williams sat out the second half with a strained hamstring and now will head into more workouts to prepare him for his first full season in the NBA.
With a player who has the scoring and playmaking ability of Williams, it's easy to see how he's been so successful despite having to fight his way more than most promising prospects. It's hard to find large holes in his game without nitpicking. Because of that, he's crossing off things from his list at a rate most people never expected. Through it all, he's being mindful of the one item he puts at the bottom of every list he makes: Be happy and live every day like it's his last.
These are the things Reggie Williams puts on his checklist.
So I ask you again -- if you were to fill out a checklist of what you want to accomplish, what would you write down?
Zach Harper is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime.
2. Jones Makes His Mark With Defense
"Go get him, Nique!" was the call from the Dallas bench as John Wall revved up to make his move against Mavericks rookie Dominique Jones. A naturally dogged competitor, Jones stayed light on his feet and locked in against Wall. The top overall pick unleashed his crossover, but Jones defended him in both directions. Wall then elevated for a jump shot, but the ball never got past Jones' outstretched arm and was swatted away.
"I like playing against people like [Wall], because they compete," Jones said. "All I try to do is make it hard for the defender. I try to predict what they're going to do and I try to reach. I've got a 6-10 wingspan, so I'm trying to get lucky, too."
Add that wingspan to Jones' quickness and anticipation, and the Mavericks have a stifling perimeter defender. Jones spent most of the afternoon blanketing Wall, who finished with 21 points on 4-for-19 shooting from the field and 13-for-15 from the line.
On the other side of the ball, Jones was the most creative guy in the gym (Jeremy Lin's ridiculous 270 aerial spin move notwithstanding). Jones, chosen 25th overall by Memphis then dealt to Dallas on draft night, is yet another dynamic combo guard for the Mavericks' stable. His advanced ball skills give him limitless options, primarily as a scorer but also as a playmaker. The trick for Jones is seeing the court, then exploding from the top of the floor.
"The plan is to get into open space," Jones said. "Pull up in the paint, get to the rim or make things happen for my team."
For a high-volume shooter, Jones works efficiently -- his hallmark at South Florida, where he led the Big East in scoring. On Thursday, he scored 28 points, converting nine of 17 from the floor and 10 of 12 from the stripe. Summer league rosters are loaded with wings clinically addicted to straight-line dribble-drives. Not Jones, who has a far more sophisticated approach with the ball than the average scoring guard.
"I just look at angles," Jones said. "It's basically reading your defender and knowing where you are on the court."
Jones' propensity for drawing contact and getting to the line isn't accidental -- it's a staple of his aggressive, but methodical game.
"I look at my defender when I'm in the lane," Jones said. "If he's coming to me at full speed, then I'll make that contact. Once I get that contact, I have a chance for an and-1."
Jones played the point at South Florida and can distribute the ball in traffic, then make use of himself off the ball. He recorded four assists Thursday and turned the ball over twice, which is a minor miracle for an active, high-usage guard in summer league action.
"I love the point guard position, as people can probably tell the way I work with the ball," Jones said. "But whatever the Mavericks need me to do, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to try to prepare myself and learn from Jason Terry and Jason Kidd so that when the time comes at either position that I play, I won't be a liability."
For an aging Dallas squad, the time might come sooner than later -- and Jones seems far more of an asset than a liability.
To read the entire blog entry, click here.
3. Green Focusing On The Little Things
Gerald Green is hoping Thursday's contest versus the Spurs is a mirror of his professional basketball career.
Green, the 18th pick in the 2005 draft and a former dunk contest champion, started off on fire. He used his athleticism and Gumby-like frame to get around the corner, draw defenses and sink midrange jumpers. Then, just as his career evaporated after stints with the Celtics and Mavericks, his shot dried up. Wide-open jumpers from the wing refused to fall, and he forced shots.
But if there's one thing the summer league's got a ton of, it's hope. Lots of hope.
Green heated up again after a particularly vicious block he leveled on a corner 3 attempt. You can't teach length, and Green has about 15 miles of it. After that play, he came alive again, finishing with 18 points and seven rebounds. Perhaps most impressive was the decisiveness with which he made his decisions. He rarely showed the lost look he so often displayed on NBA courts. As he said later, he's focusing on the basics.
"My attitude is to go out and let me show what I can do," Green said. "It's not about me going out and scoring 30 or 40; it's trying to show the little things that they may not know I can do."
Green can get up. Everyone knows that. But it was the catch-and-swing moves he made on the perimeter that opened up his game. With his midrange going, he looked very much the part of the NBA-ready wing. It's easy to forget that Green is only 24 years old. And with his game focusing more on those little things (zero turnovers) and less on the flashy dunks and boneheaded plays he was known for during his first stint in the league, this is the kind of game he needed. It wasn't a statement game but, as with most players in Vegas, another step in the process.
Matt Moore is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime.
4. Daily Dime Live Recap
ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Thursday's games -- all in Daily Dime Live.
5. Breaking Down McGee's Wall
JaVale McGee has played with a bunch of NBA point guards, if you use that term liberally. Gilbert Arenas, Randy Foye, Earl Boykins, Dee Brown, Mike James, Javaris Crittenton -- not exactly the most pass-first bunch. Aside from a brief time spent receiving the ball from Shaun Livingston, McGee has mostly had to look out for himself on offense.
OK, that's taking some liberties given that many of McGee's non-dunk field goal attempts mimic a game of hot potato. This is largely of his own, impatient design. Still, he's never played alongside the capabilities of someone like John Wall, a player who relishes in the assist.
"I know at least two out of three times I roll, I'm going to be getting the ball or he's going to throw it up at the rim or he's going to draw everybody to him when he lays it up, and I'm going to score and get the rebound," McGee said after the Wizards' 88-82 win over the Mavericks on Thursday evening.
But it's not just about scoring opportunities for McGee; it's about Wall's ability to get those to rally around his energy and passion, also known as leadership. "When we go out there, we're just together," McGee said. "Everybody is just amped up because of his leadership and the way he's amped up."
"They loved to get assists; they both like to make everyone else on the team happy," newest Wizard Hilton Armstrong said when asked what he knew about Wall's game, considering his time with Chris Paul in New Orleans.
To play with Paul, you have to be focused on offense and always ready for a pass. Wall has the same ability to transfer focus upon McGee, a guy who's shown the offensive tendency to hop on Oceanic Flight 815 en route to an island in his head.
"He has so much freedom. You never know what he's going to do, but you know he's going to make the right play," McGee added. Sounds like a guy who has a lot more confidence in his point guard. Now if only Wall could get McGee to focus on defensive rebounding.
Kyle Weidie is a regular contributor to the Dime.
6. Young Puts On Offensive Show
The rims at the Thomas & Mack Center are surely glad to see Sam Young leave.
The second-year Grizzlies forward did a number on them Thursday night, dunking early and often on his way to 35 points on 12-for-17 shooting against the NBA D-League Select team. A known athlete, Young was able to get out in transition, and if there's one thing Sam Young has always been able to do, it's finish in transition.
"I always want to make the crowd go wild," Young said.
Young was known mainly for his defense heading into summer league, but he's not concerned about the perception anyone has of him.
"I know what people perceive me as, but I perceive myself as a scorer; I love to score," he said. "I'm trying to put the ball in the hole, especially in one-on-one situations."
And isolations were a success story for Young all night. Few of the D-Leaguers had Young's combination of strength and quickness, something he used to his advantage repeatedly. While Young feels he can capably contribute on offense more next season, that doesn't mean offensive improvement was high on his list of things-to-do this offseason.
"I want to make sure my shot is getting a lot better," he said. "I want the coaches to see my shot getting better and work on my awareness."
Young showed off that awareness work by repeatedly attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line. A notoriously poor outside shooter, Young played to his strength by hitting 11-for-13 from the charity stripe.
If next season Young can give the Grizzlies even a fraction of what he did Thursday night, rims all over the NBA will be feeling the effects.
Jeremy Schmidt is a regular contributor to the Dime.
7. Wall Shows Up Beaubois
LAS VEGAS -- These games aren't really about the score, but how the players play, particularly players a club is counting on when the real season starts. It's been an inconsistent summer league so far for Roddy Beaubois and it took a strange turn Thursday night in Game 4 of 5 -- an 88-82 loss to the Washington Wizards.
Beaubois went scoreless. His game went south early with four fouls in six minutes and five in nine (summer league affords 10 personal fouls). It never got any better. It was an awful performance especially considering the hype of playing against John Wall. Wall didn't shoot well (4-of-18), but he finished with 21 points and got to the free throw line 15 times (he made 13 -- the last four came as the Mavs fouled late as a last gasp). Wall added 10 assists -- he's averaged 9.0 a game so far this summer -- and seven rebounds.
Beaubois seemed to be out of sorts. He took just three shots and one of his three turnovers was a fumble of a pass out of bounds, a pure lack of concentration play. He had one assist and one rebound. Just an awful night knowing he was going up against the No. 1 overall pick. Beaubois played less than 16 minutes and he was effectively benched for most of the third quarter and the entire fourth quarter.
To read the entire blog entry, click here.
8. Cousins Needs To Mature
David Thorpe is covering the NBA summer league for ESPN Insider. Below are his observations from early play in Las Vegas.
DeMarcus Cousins, Kings: Cousins was as special as advertised -- and as immature. He left no doubt that he was the second-best prospect in the draft, with incredible displays of talent including great passing, energized play, terrific skills and a love of the game. But he also showed why teams passed on him even though he was so clearly deserving of the second overall pick. He was constantly talking to his opponents in inappropriate ways and reacting too much to some calls. He can outgrow his immaturity, but no one else in this draft can grow to Cousins' talent level if he continues to work.
To read the entire blog, click here.
9. Crawford Showing Good Instincts
In his first two summer league appearances, Jordan Crawford displayed good basketball instincts. That's not unusual to see in summer league, but rarely in this setting does that trait come with both the athleticism and skill to take advantage of good instincts. The results: 36 points on 27 shots, seven assists against just four turnovers and six steals in his first taste of professional basketball.
In his third game, Crawford's youth betrayed him. Matched up against DeMarcus Nelson for much of the game, Crawford struggled to create space for himself against the similarly framed but markedly older and stronger defender. He still scored 12 points but he needed 12 field goal attempts and six free throw attempts to do so. Lesser numbers to be sure, but far from shameful for a 21-year-old facing an NBA-quality defender for the first time.
The game wasn't a complete washout for Crawford. Those good instincts were still apparent. In transition, he looks to pass ahead as often as he looks to finish. When the Hawks' motion offense stretched the Bucks' defense in the half court (as it did often in the 83-60 victory) Crawford consistently made himself available, often with the next pass rather than a shot for himself in mind. He earned three more assists, committing just one turnover.
It's unlikely that Crawford will get significant minutes for the Hawks this season. Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford and Maurice Evans all figure to slot ahead of him in the rotation. As time passes, and if his body matures to match his game, it's easy to imagine him proving to have been a tremendous use of the 27th pick in the NBA draft.
Bret LaGree is a regular contributor to the Dime.