1. Williams Still Trying To Find His Place
A little more than a year ago, Derrick Williams was being considered as a possible No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft.
Some pundits wondered if the Cleveland Cavaliers would be better off picking Williams with the first pick and then grabbing a point guard with their next selection, No. 4 overall. The forward out of the University of Arizona had just electrified collegiate basketball with gravity-shattering dunks and deadeye shooting from beyond the 3-point arc. He seemed like a prospect who couldn't miss in many respect.
Fast-forward to the 2012 Las Vegas Summer League, and Williams is still trying to find a role that will help him stick with the Minnesota Timberwolves' organization. After a disappointing rookie season in which the Wolves forward took a back seat to No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving, and even his own rookie teammate, Ricky Rubio, Williams' future with the team became somewhat murky considering he plays the same position as the team's franchise player. It seems the natural fit for him would be to slide into the small forward position next to Kevin Love.
With his slimmed-down frame (from 248 to 233 pounds, he said) and a reconstructed septum, his quickness should be up and his fatigue should be down. With the Wolves mere hours away from finding out if Williams will be competing with restricted free agent Nicolas Batum for minutes on the wing, summer ball is a perfect jumping-off point for Williams.
A No. 2 overall pick in any draft should be able to come into the summer and dominate these organized exhibition games. At least, that's the perception among fans and many people looking to see the potential Williams once flashed in college. Let your expectations run wild and you'll expect to see 30-point games, flashy dunks and big rebounding numbers from a player with such assumed physical advantages to everybody else on the floor. But that's not what happened Tuesday night against the Charlotte Bobcats.
Byron Mullens happened.
Mullens exploded for 33 points on 13-for-24 shooting to help lead Charlotte to 81-78 win over Minnesota. Mullens, a one-time star high school prospect, was able to come out against the summer competition and be the dominant player that was perhaps once expected of him. It was the scoring of the Bobcats' center and the defensive pressure they applied to the Wolves that left Williams and his teammates at a disadvantage.
"It's just the way that they play -- that 2-2-1 press -- you don't really practice for that kind of stuff," Williams said. "I thought we did all right. We struggled at the beginning but picked it up toward the end."
Williams was able to score 17 points on 5-for-13 from the field and 7-for-12 from the free-throw line, but his six turnovers led the team in their 22-turnover effort against the Bobcats' pressure.
He failed to make a 3-pointer on four attempts and floated around a bit too much, something that has frustrated coach Rick Adelman in the past. During the telecast of Monday's victory over the Clippers, Adelman critiqued his second-year player by saying, "He does float. He can't do it. He's got to be aggressive all the time. He's got the ability."
But we also saw a concerted effort of Williams trying to drive the ball into the defense and make plays. He said after the game that he does "want to dominate, but it's not really about scoring 30 points." He wants to be a more efficient player by taking good shots and getting others involved. These are all noble goals for a player trying to find his way in the NBA.
At a certain point though, performances like Mullens' are what we yearn for Williams to provide. Through the first two games, he has scored 32 points total. Mullens had that beat in a single game. Is anybody measuring Mullens up to Irving, Kenneth Faried or Ricky Rubio? Mullens has gone from a project to a cast-off role player in Charlotte.
When he's dominating a game featuring a former No. 2 pick, however, you start wondering which one is the project and which one is the player people have forgotten about. For Williams, the organization believes in his talent but is trying to find ways to extract that to the actual games.
It's far too early to give up on such a young player and label him a bust. He just needs to find a fit for himself on the team that makes people remember he was once considered to be the best in his draft class.
Zach Harper is the host of ESPN.com's Daily Dime Live. Follow him on Twitter.
2. Spurs' Leonard Shifts To Star In Summer
Less than two months ago, Kawhi Leonard was a starter on a Western Conference finalist. His unique physical gifts and improving range from long distance made him the perfect soldier for the San Antonio Spurs, where the established hierarchy of stars meant filling the periphery with capable niche players. While Leonard may have just been a cog in the Spurs' immaculate machinery, flashes of his athletic ability showed something few Spurs role players have had in the past: the potential for a more dynamic role.
Leonard's efficient 27-point outing Tuesday in a 92-81 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers was his second impressive summer league performance in a row. His confidence was noticeable as he waltzed into the lane with crossovers and spins with a level of execution seldom seen last season. It has been a confidence that has steadily grown since becoming a key player on the Spurs and, more recently, since becoming a member of the 2012 USA Basketball men's select team, playing with and against some of the NBA's best and brightest last week in Las Vegas. For Leonard, summer league is the venue to show off the culmination of experiences he has had in the past year.
"I gained a lot of confidence since playing through that one season and going into the USA training camp [and I] just wanted to be aggressive and get better," Leonard said.
Leonard's starring role on San Antonio's summer team has led to new responsibilities. The Spurs' coaching staff has experimented with Leonard's role on their summer team. He is, at once, the team's primary shot creator and secondary facilitator, creating from the elbow for himself and operating in the occasional pick-and-roll. Many of his eight rebounds led to Leonard pushing the ball up the floor to create for himself and his teammates. While it wasn't evident last season, pushing the ball comes naturally to Leonard.
"That's what I did in college and high school," Leonard said. "Get the rebound and push it up court ... just showed more effort today, just not walking the ball up."
Leonard's assertiveness in San Antonio's two summer league games should come as no surprise. His strong rookie season and his time spent training with USA Basketball has given him a sense of where he stands against the best. Leonard has dutifully served as a role player in both cases, but if his development continues at the rate it's going, Leonard's role in the Spurs' periphery may quickly shift into the fore.
3. Faried Still Energized After Breakout Season
For a young, emerging player who has been showered with praise early in his NBA career, there's great risk in falling victim to complacency. If you had the kind of rookie season that Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried did, you might be particularly vulnerable.
If Faried never improves a lick from his 2011-12 campaign, he'd still justify Denver choosing him No. 22 overall in the 2011 draft. He posted a line of 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and a player efficiency rating (PER) of nearly 21.94.
Faried's ascension from late-first-round pick to steal of the draft was both swift and exciting. He displayed the rare talents of high-rate rebounding and efficient scoring, and soon garnered a rotation spot.
But beyond his weighty production, Faried excited those who love the game in a way few players can. The Nuggets' fan base was energized by the play of Faried, and his presence helped buoy the team during an injury-plagued season.
Now Faried has arrived at Las Vegas Summer League with the hopes of not only improving his own game, but leading other important members of the Nuggets' future, including second-year wing Jordan Hamilton and rookies Quincy Miller and Evan Fournier.
"It's going to help them a lot, because it's going to help them get on the floor quicker," Faried said.
Though Faried hasn't dominated the competition, he has distinguished himself in typical fashion: with voracious rebounding and an energy that never fades. On Monday, he scored 16 points, gobbled up 15 rebounds and swatted 5 shots in the Nuggets' 85-81 win over the New York Knicks.
Faried conveyed the same energy when he discussed the impact of playing with other young Nuggets on his game.
"It helps me, because when we do our stuff on the floor together, they know how I play already," Faried said.
Players who don't grow usually learn in difficult fashion that the league will eventually write up a game plan to challenge them. Faried can't anticipate how other teams will adapt to his game, but he can do his best to expand his strengths and the chemistry he shares with his teammates, a chance that Vegas amply provides and that Faried has seized.
4. Coach's Corner
ESPN.com's head coach, David Thorpe, gives his impressions on Portland Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard.
One glance at Lillard tells us he has the perfect body and build to play point guard in the NBA. One long look at his game tells the rest of the story, and it's one that should get Blazers fans excited.
Physically, he bears a strong resemblance to Derrick Rose -- slightly less powerful but still strong and long. And like Rose, he reminds me of a tailback in football when he has the ball, darting through traffic while lowering his hips to help absorb contact without breaking stride. This also enables him to change directions quickly, which is why he has no trouble getting by most of his defenders.
Lillard weighs 190 pounds or so now, but I suspect his weight program in Portland will be better than what he had access to in college, so seeing the 6-foot-3 point guard at 205 in a year or so can be expected. That is a lot of power in a guy who knows how to move with explosiveness.
Lillard also shows a nice shooting stroke and a confidence that he can make the deep 3-pointer with ease, yet I have not seen him hunt for that shot. Instead, he has been running the offense with an eye on both getting his teammates the ball while also being mindful of his role as a scorer. Not an easy concept to grasp for anyone but a pure point guard, which Lillard looks to be.
He may not ever be Rose as a pure scorer, but he has better vision and instiincts as a passer. With the right work ethic and coach, he's fully capable of being an upper-echelon NBA point guard, and possibly an All-Star.
David Thorpe is an analyst for Scouts Inc. Follow him on Twitter.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Best Of The Night
Josh Selby, Grizzlies: The second-year guard is killing summer league. Coming off a 20-point performance on Saturday, Selby scored 35 points on 12-for-21 from the field, including a scintillating 7-for-8 from beyond the 3-point arc. He was also a pest defensively, racking up seven steals in the Grizzlies' 83-77 loss to the Wizards.
7. Worst Of The Night
Nolan Smith's injury: The Portland Trail Blazers guard sustained a concussion and was taken off on a stretcher with 49 seconds left in their loss to the Houston Rockets and was sent to a local hospital for further treatment. He took an elbow to the head from Houston's Zoran Dragic, then bumped against the stanchion, stumbled and collapsed to the floor. Play was suspended after the incident.
8. Sooner Or Waiters
9. Quote Of The Night
"I think a lot of people overreact on that kind of stuff. B.J. Mullens came out here and had 33 points in the third quarter. He really could have had 50 on us. It's not really about dominating."
-- Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams, as told to Zach Harper.