NBA Summer League 2013 wrap: What we learned about the top Wizards

USA TODAY Sports

What can we glean from the Summer League performances of Otto Porter, Chris Singleton, Glen Rice Jr. and others. Our wrap from Las Vegas after a week watching and talking to members in the organization.

LAS VEGAS -- We talked a bit about Jan Vesely in a previous post, but what can be concluded from the play of the Wizards' other three important players on the roster? Let's run down some notes on Otto Porter, Chris Singleton and Glen Rice Jr. from the games I watched and conversations had with several members of the organization.

OTTO PORTER

No question about it: Porter's play in Las Vegas was disappointing until his hamstring injury. He struggled with his shot, seemed overwhelmed at times with the pace of the game and sometimes had trouble staying with players off the dribble. His length allowed him to be an asset as a help defender and he did do a decent job of getting out and running, but it's hard to feel that confident about some of the weaknesses he showed. We expected many of them -- thin frame, so-so ball-handling, lack of strength -- but seeing them on display was jarring.

The Wizards don't seem too concerned with Porter's struggles, as if they expect that he's perhaps not as ready to contribute right away as folks in the draft made it seem. They tried him out at shooting guard and only really played him at his natural position in the third game against the Nuggets, right before he got hurt. One Wizards source suggested the style of play isn't especially conducive to Porter's game, noting that he's especially good once the offense rolls into secondary options, except in Summer League, people tend to shoot after the first option. The poor point-guard play from Marquez Haynes and Sundiata Gaines also hurt because it made it more difficult to run an offense and prevented Porter and others from getting easy shots.

All this is true. There's a lot more upside and a lot less immediate impact to expect from Porter. But it still was scary to see his lack of strength compared to NBA athletes and some of his offensive struggles. Take this quote from Golden State Warriors guard Kent Bazemore, via True Hoop:

"My first two matchups, Otto Porter and [Ben] McLemore, their handle wasn't as tight as a lead guy," Bazemore says. "So I had ample opportunity just to reach. But coach always says, when you out there, act like you're in an NBA game."

Essentially, Bazemore was saying he could have stolen the ball each time from Porter if he wanted to, but didn't because the coaching staff wanted him to defend like he normally would in the regular season. That's a clear sign that Porter's ball-handling needs to improve.

In Porter's defense, he never had a chance to bounce back like McLemore did in the final couple of games. After the Nuggets game, he said he felt things starting to improve for him before the injury.

"I feel like I'm up to speed now," he said then. "It took me a couple games to get back up to speed, but once I get back to playing, I'll be alright. Once I started, got a couple easy baskets, I felt it slowing down, which was good for me."

Still, there's a clear adjustment that he must make to the open-floor, pick-and-roll-heavy style of the game. Earlier in the week, he said he felt like he was "learning all over again." Based on what we saw and the indications I sense within the organization, I'd be very surprised if he was starting at small forward on Day 1 of the regular season.

GLEN RICE JR.

By contrast, Rice opened some eyes with his scoring ability. He missed some decent looks, but flashed the ability to hit threes, get to the rim and show off an in-between game that's pretty rare in players his age.

"The in-between game, that's what's normally open. You beat your man, you've got to stop and pop."-Glen Rice Jr.

"That's an essential part of the game, because [with all those] 7-footers out there, you're not going to be able to get to the basket all the time," Rice said this week when asked to describe why improving his in-between game is so important to him. "You can't rely on just shooting the three. I feel like the in-between game, that's what's normally open. You beat your man, you've got to stop and pop, you've got to be able to get a quick floater up."

The Wizards ran Rice through their gauntlet of screens and he impressed several members of the organization with his ability to quickly rise up and shoot or go into a pick and roll when the shot wasn't there. At a lot of times, he reminded me of Gary Neal, the Spurs' skilled guard that succeeds with a ton of movement and the ability to stop and pop from anywhere. The Wizards will take that from him.

That said, there's still lots of development left in him. Coaches got on Rice a couple times for his shot selection, particularly his pull-up three in transition with the Wizards up by four with just over two minutes left against the Pelicans. Following the loss to the Grizzlies, I asked Don Newman how to balance keeping Rice confident while making sure he doesn't take bad shots, and he gave me a simple answer.

"The game is going to tell you what to do. If there's somebody in your face, you probably should be passing it. If there's not a guy around you, you probably should be shooting it," he said. "It's pretty simple."

Simple, sure, but something Rice still needs to pick up.

It's his defense that will probably cause him to play sparingly early on, though. The Wizards like his aggression, particularly with picking up full court and getting steals, but the coaches often pointed out how he struggled to play every possession with the same intensity.

"I think he's got the tools He's just got to understand the mentality of it. It's an every day, every play type of assignment," Newman said.

It's easy to know the importance of always playing hard; it's harder to actually do it in the heat of the moment, when a bad shot just happened or fatigue sets in. There were a couple times when coaches and other players needed to pick Rice up after he missed an easy hoop. Sometimes, he responded, like he did against the Pelicans after blowing a layup in the third quarter, but it sometimes took a couple lousy possessions to happen. Rice admitted that's something he needs to improve.

"You gotta play through the good and bad times. That's the main thing [I've learned]," he said.

These are things that can improve, no doubt. Rice has much more of an inclination to do the little things than someone like Nick Young, for example. But this is why I'd be shocked if Rice ended up ahead of Garrett Temple in the rotation at any point this season. Temple defends; Rice is still learning. Heck, a D-League stint, even though the Wizards share an affiliate and likely will for at least the next season, is more likely.

CHRIS SINGLETON

The ongoing confusion about Singleton's role continues and dramatically affected his Summer League play. Singleton, at this point, is bigger and stronger than most players, so he put up decent numbers in the Wizards' five games. However, he seems no closer to finding his calling card that will make him a viable NBA player.

Part of the problem stems from his jump shooting. Singleton said Monday that he studied video of his shooting motion and found two problems: he doesn't jump straight up and down, and he gets no arc. He's worked hard to fix both problems, but said he regressed early in his Vegas trip.

"I had been doing a good job of it until I got here, out to Vegas. So it's just a habit I need to break. I need to try to break it," he said.

Then, there's the matter of the kind of shots Singleton was taking. I thought it was odd that he attempted just two three-pointers through the first two games, because he shot a lot of threes as a rookie and will need to convert on a decent percentage from beyond the arc to be a wing player or a Stretch 4 in this league. I asked Singleton about it then.

"I just haven't been popping to the three. I'm just making sure that, on the screens, I pop to the open area and just take those shots," Singleton said. "I'm not really conscious of [shooting threes]. I'm not really thinking about that."

Over the next three games, Singleton shot just three three-pointers. After the victory over New Orleans on Friday, I asked Cassell about what Singleton's defining characteristic in the league should be.

"I think he understands that he's a good 15-foot jump shooter if he goes straight up and straight down. If he starts leaning back, that's when he starts to have problems," Cassell said. "So he needs to keep working on his craft and his jumping, shooting the ball at its top peak."

I then asked if Cassell wanted him to shoot three-pointers and he quickly said no.

"I just want him to master the midrange. Master the 15-18 foot jump shot"-Sam Cassell on Chris Singleton

"No, no. I just want him to master the midrange. Master the 15-18 foot jump shot," he said.

I'm not sure that's the best strategy for Singleton, to be honest. Rather than shooting more of the least efficient shot in the game, why not take a few steps back and learn to space the floor better? Singleton wasn't that bad a long-distance shooter as a rookie, and whenever he tries taking mid-range jumpers, it's usually with a hand in his face. I guess Cassell wants Singleton to be closer to the hoop to be more aggressive, but I think Singleton's only chance to stick in the league is to become a decent three-point shooter. Telling him not to shoot threes seems counterproductive.

Without three-point shooting, it's just tough to tell what Singleton is. Nothing in Summer League really changed my mind on that front.

OTHER PLAYERS

  • I think Dennis Horner is worth a look in training camp as a potential Stretch 4 option deep on the bench. He surprised many by making the Nets back in the 2011-12 season, lasting a few weeks until the drop-dead date for guaranteed contracts. He played overseas for a year, then returned to the D-League last year, so he seems to want to return to the league. I thought he played excellent positional defense all week, and his shot came around by the end of his time here after it was missing early on. The Wizards prefer to keep a roster spot open for trade and injury purposes, but I'd bring in Horner to camp and see if he can make the squad.
  • Marquez Haynes played pretty well, but I don't see much of a future for him. Teams often bring in older veterans from Europe like Haynes, and they tend to play mostly for their next gig overseas and not to make an NBA roster. They should play better in Summer League because they've been pros for longer and are going up against younger players. Haynes certainly isn't as good as Dwight Buycks, the point guard that played in France last year and used a strong Summer League as a springboard for a one-year, fully-guaranteed contract with the Toronto Raptors.
  • I thought Sundiata Gaines was a potential training camp invite, but he played so poorly early on and lost his starting job to Haynes, making him irrelevant.

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