Free agency hoopla has taken the NBA landscape by storm, and with good reason. In the span of a week, we’ve witnessed the entire league figuratively flipped upside down.
All of the pieces started being put into place when LeBron James announced he would be returning home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. A great story and even more exciting for those of us that cover the NBA.
However, there was something else going on on Friday night that was also very interesting, and not just because it involved LeBron’s future new old team.
Cleveland’s first overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft was on display in Las Vegas as Andrew Wiggins saw his first action under new coach David Blatt. His first opponent: the man who he will be compared against the rest of his career, the second overall pick of the Milwaukee Bucks, Jabari Parker.
Unlike last year, this year’s batch of rookies offered a hot ticket for Summer League play. Instead of Anthony Bennett, it was Wiggins taking the spotlight, but Parker wasn’t just going to hand it to him without a fight.
Fans were turned away in droves as the arena was sold out of tickets for the day, numerous media members filled the seats, and then some. It was Wiggins-Parker Round 1, even if it isn’t technically a round yet.
Wiggins’ name was hot all day long after LeBron’s announcement. This was due to the fact that the Cavaliers had made it known that they would go after Kevin Love in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves should The King return to his throne.
He did, so Cleveland quickly began picking up trade talks again for Love after missing out on one before the draft. Of course, Minnesota isn’t going to part with their franchise player without getting a very hefty return, and their main target from the Cavs has been Wiggins.
So far, Cleveland has made it known they’d try everything they can to get Love without also giving up Wiggins. So far, no deal.
Until that happens, Wiggins had a game to focus on.
It took a little bit for both Wiggins and Parker to get going in their first NBA Summer League game, but it was the second quarter when both rookies started taking over, putting their best assets on display. In the beginning, Wiggins settled for long, contested 3s, one of his biggest issues at Kansas.
With his athleticism and overall skill set, Wiggins should be attacking the basket. For the most part, Summer League rosters aren’t much better than the Big 12 competition he faced all of last season.
Each matchup is essentially a mismatch when managed properly. Wiggins didn’t figure that out right away.
For Parker, he found himself sometimes out of control, but in a good way. He got ahead of the play a few times and caused turnovers and fouls.
Once he got under control, Parker took the game over with nine points in the second frame. He put his entire arsenal on display: drives to the basket and finishing at the rim, nice mid-range jumpers and complete aggressiveness.
His offensive game was not a problem at Duke and didn’t look to have much of a problem on Friday.
Wiggins missed his first five 3-point field goals, mostly because he was out of rhythm. He’d catch a loose ball and let it fly or try and do too much to get the shot to fall.
He finally hit his first 3 in the third quarter on a wide open, in-rhythm assist from Matthew Dellavedova. The rookie sensation also started to become more active all over the court.
Matched up against Parker frequently, Wiggins caught two early fouls because of his defensive positioning and aggressiveness. The effort is there, the rest should take care of itself over time.
One thing Wiggins did do very well on Friday was show off his impressive step-back jumper. On at least three occasions Wiggins knocked those tough shots down while just letting the game come to him.
The thing that he’ll have to work on the most is just playing with the flow of the game. Especially with LeBron coming in and already having Kyrie Irving, Wiggins can’t force the action unless the situation calls for it.
That was one of his biggest weaknesses coming out of college: learning how to read the game, knowing when to take over, when to take a step back and how to mesh with the rest of the offense. A very raw but talented player, Wiggins is certain to learn a lot from James.
Parker and Wiggins really put on a solid display for a Summer League game that was close the entire way. Wiggins had 18 points through three quarters and finished with the same output on 7-of-18 shooting.
Even while fatigued throughout the second half, Parker still showed aggressiveness at getting to the rim and drawing a foul on a dunk attempt. He also had nine points in the second quarter, finishing with 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting and 7-of-11 from the free throw line.
Everybody in the game looked decently exhausted throughout the fourth quarter.
Aside from the two top players from this year’s draft class, Bennett and Giannis Antetokounmpo were both impressive for their own reasons. Giannis continued to show his athleticism and length through the game, while Bennett looked leaner, healthier and more active all game long.
However, because it is the Summer League, both really got out of control here and there. Giannis still has some transitioning to do with his footwork and defense, while Bennett really shot himself out of a solid overall game, forcing shots that didn’t need to be taken.
Bennett also had eight fouls in three-plus quarters of play. Lucky for him, they don’t could people out in Summer League games.
Nate Wolters against Matthew Dellavedova was also a small highlight for viewers both in the arena and enjoying the game at home.
In a close game at the very end, down three with 11 seconds left, Parker took it inside against Wiggins and finished with ease, cutting the deficit to one. Wolters narrowly missed a 3 at the buzzer as the Cavs took the game 70-68.
Wiggins finished 1-of-8 from 3 while Parker added nine rebounds to his 17 points.
The rivalry of the modern era has begun. Two teenagers entering the league at the same time battling in the same division picked one after the other in the draft … it’s going to certainly be a fun ride.
Friday night was just the beginning. Should Wiggins remain in Cleveland and not be packed off to Minnesota for Love, James should have a lot of fun tapping into his potential.
Parker looks ready to take Milwaukee by storm.
This should be good.