Griffin among rising stars at Summer League

Hasheem Thabeet’s week at the NBA Summer League began when he learned from Memphis teammates there was a barber available to make him look good on the court. Thabeet thanked them and sat down for what he thought would be a trim.

When it was over, Thabeet looked in the mirror. He had a Mohawk.

“They got me, being a rookie,” Thabeet said.

The week did not get much better for the 7-foot-3 Thabeet, the center the Grizzlies drafted with the No. 2 pick. He struggled throughout, averaging 8.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.2 fouls per game. One executive said that while he still could develop into a player similar to Dikembe Mutombo with hard work, he also could end up being another DeSagana Diop.

Meanwhile, that same executive said Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin has a chance to be Karl Malone. Griffin was taken with the No. 1 pick, and one now must wonder if this could end up being the biggest disparity between a No. 1 and No. 2 pick since LeBron James and Darko Milicic in 2003.

Nobody was hazing Griffin when he got to the NBA Summer League. In fact, after his first game, when he totaled 27 points and 12 rebounds, he had to fight his way through a crowd of autograph seekers at the team hotel.

“(It was) mostly grown men, so it wasn’t really my crowd,” Griffin quipped.

If Griffin, who averaged 19.2 points and 10.8 rebounds in Las Vegas, keeps that kind of play going, one thinks advertising executives will consider him a good target for all demographics.

Meanwhile, Griffin heads the list of honorees (and dishonorees) for the summer league:

Most Valuable Player

So while a host of Golden State players (more on that later) showed they could fill it up but not exactly dominate on defense, Griffin did it on both ends.

Being the top pick, Griffin had the most pressure on him during the week. He delivered, with exception being at the foul line, where he shot just 45.9 percent.

NBA commissioner David Stern watched the rookie’s debut from a courtside seat, and all Griffin did was hit his first eight shots. He has an old-school feel to his game, using the glass and the finger roll.

And, no, he doesn’t have a Mohawk.

Least valuable player

Back to that guy with the Mohawk.

Thabeet is a nice guy. Problem is, he might be too nice.

“Thabeet didn’t really impress me,” Hall of Famer Walt Frazier, serving as an analyst for New York broadcasts on MSG, said after one of his early games. “He wasn’t very assertive.”

Thabeet had a chance to wake up in a later game in which he went against Griffin’s Clippers. While Griffin totaled 18 points and 15 rebounds, Thabeet didn’t make his first basket until 30 seconds were left in the game and finished 1-for-3 from the field for seven points with three rebounds and seven fouls (it takes 10 for summer disqualification).

Adding to his woes, Thabeet also got outscored in a later game by Griffin’s brother, Taylor Griffin, a second-round pick by Phoenix.

All-League team

In 2003, a game in Long Beach, Calif., was interrupted so NBA journeyman Bo Outlaw could be inducted into the Los Angeles Summer Pro League Hall of Fame (yes, there really is such a thing).

Most players don’t want to play in so many summer leagues that they make a Hall of Fame. But with top draftees usually playing in one summer league and some other talented, rising players getting into two, there’s nothing wrong with being on an all-league summer team.

So here are this summer’s all-league team. Honorees will be treated to one Las Vegas buffet (lunch, not dinner):

Center: It’s hard to find centers doing much in the summer league other than Houston’s Joey Dorsey. Consider that former NBA bust Nikoloz Tskitishvili actually started at times in the pivot for New York. And Dorsey, at 6-foot-8, is a stretch to be considered a center. Then again, he played for the injury-riddled Rockets, who used 6-foot-6 Chuck Hayes at that spot in last spring’s playoffs. Dorsey, entering his second year, only averaged 9.8 points but shot 62.1 percent and led the league in rebounding with a 14.8 average.

Power forward: Considering his physique, Blake Griffin will certainly skip the dessert cart.

Small forward: Anybody named Anthony on the Warriors (see below).

Shooting guard: Maybe Outlaw will have company one day in a summer league Hall of Fame. Washington’s Nick Young is a three-year veteran of Las Vegas, and he’s finally starting to really get it right. Young averaged 23.8 points, third-best in the league. He showed his range extended to Hoover Dam, shooting 12-for-30 (40 percent) from 3-point range.

Point guard: It remains to be seen if the Timberwolves knew what they were doing by taking two point guards in the lottery, Spain’s Ricky Rubio at No. 5 and Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn at No. 6. But they sure knew what they were doing in drafting Flynn. He relentlessly attacks the basket, often dishing off to teammates for easy buckets. He averaged 15.0 points and 7.4 assists and always looked under control.

League’s best name

A record hasn’t fallen this quickly since Michael Phelps was hitting the water last summer in Beijing.

Last Tuesday, Warriors forward Anthony Randolph scored 42 points to tie the NBA Summer League record that had been shared by Marcus Banks and Von Wafer.

Randolph barely had time to catch his breath before another Anthony — Warriors swingman Morrow — shattered the mark by scoring 47 points Thursday.

Randolph was a good teammate. With the fans chanting for Morrow to score 50, Randolph also wanted it to happen.

“I told him, ‘You needed three more points,'” said Randolph, who led the summer league with a 26.8 scoring average while Morrow was second at 24.7.

If Golden State had any more games left, rookie guard Stephen Curry could have taken aim at the record. He scored 27 points in the second half of one game after having just two at intermission.

In the end, though, it was a good summer league to be named Anthony. Two other Anthonys, Chicago’s Roberson and New Orleans’ Tolliver, averaged in double figures.

Biggest surprise

And you thought that after Billy, Richie’s brother Chuck was the best Cunningham ever to play basketball.

Turns out that distinction might end up going to Dante Cunningham, who wins honors for the biggest surprise of the summer league. Cunningham, a 6-foot-8 forward, was taken by Portland with the No. 33 pick in the second round but looked at times like a lottery pick.
Cunningham averaged 18.3 points and 5.8 rebounds.

He showed that once again the Trail Blazers are masters on draft night, if not necessarily during free agency.

Best son of a coach

For those who thought Coby Karl was placed on Denver’s summer team simply to give head coach George Karl a reason to stick around and watch all five of his team’s games from the stands, try again.

Coby, who played sparingly for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2007-08 before spending most of last season in Spain, averaged 15.0 points and shot an impressive 61.5 percent for Denver.

“It would be something that would be a great gift,” the dad said of the chance of becoming the first father ever to coach his son in an NBA regular-season game.

There is precedent for that in other pro sports. John McKay, coach of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, managed to keep son J.K. McKay on the roster from 1976-78. And Cal Ripken Jr. (as well as brother Billy Ripken) played baseball for dad Cal Ripken Sr. with Baltimore in 1987 and 1988, although one thinks the superstar son might have had more to do with that one.

Most notable ejection

No wonder NBA discipline czar Stu Jackson showed up at the summer league. One never knows when there could be trouble.

There were four players ejected from games, with San Antonio’s Ian Mahinmi, Chicago’s Taj Gibson, Phoenix’s Robin Lopez and Cleveland’s David Harrison all getting heave-hos.

Harrison’s was notable because he continues to torpedo his NBA hopes after being a first-round pick in 2004 and playing four uninspiring seasons for the Pacers. Harrison got two technicals in his final game, one for complaining to officials and another for getting tangled up with Detroit’s Austin Daye, with a double technical being assessed.

The 7-foot Harrison usually was overweight during his Pacers stint. He played in China last season and said he did come back to the U.S. in April weighing 250 pounds because “the food wasn’t good” there.

But Harrison hasn’t wasted any time making up for it. Since his return, he said he’s gained 20 pounds while not playing much basketball, and it showed with the Cavaliers.
No doubt Harrison visited a few buffets in Las Vegas, although he probably didn’t hit the Chinese section.